What is a Tribe and how to I find them? I struggled for so long to figure it out. I’m totally an Artsy Lone Wolf, I like creating in private, locked away in my studio with just “The Office” and Michael Scott to keep me company while I make beautiful things. Marketing was not my strong point, and I can be sort of awkward in person, so in making sales I rested a whole lot of faith that my Art would sell it’self, and a few pieces would sell here and there, but I was missing something. Through 7 years in front of a classroom as an Art Teacher, I gained speaking skills and learned from some gifted co-teachers about how to be effective. I used those skills at Art Shows and “educated” my customers about my art, and sold twice as much.
As teachers, we had a common goals, to have our students know the material, become great little humans, and even have a little fun while consistently making gains on test scores. When the Math teacher had a fully engaged classroom, I never felt like I was a bad Art Teacher, I simply watched, learned, and tweaked my teaching to deliver my content in a different way next time. I was part of an educational Tribe. When I left teaching to tattoo, I was terrified about working with other artists. They would be good, (they are good) and they would have more experience, different styles, and I was nervous, how would I be able to gain customers, to build a business, when I’m surrounded by amazing talent? MINDSET… the truth is we each have very unique talents. While I am constantly soaking in every single thing my mentors have to say about tattooing as I am working through this apprenticeship, I have built an amazing side business that consistently sells art and become a go-to for how to diversify talents to make more money. All of us are making more money, gaining more clients, and having more fun, because we are sharing ideas, critiquing each other, and building our brands.
Making art or any other creative venture for fun is great, but it’s not a way to run a business. Which is why finding your Tribe is essential to your creative business. Because the truth is, as saturated as any market is, there truly is room for ALL of us to be successful, but it won’t feel successful if you are on your own. The hardest lesson I have learned is that another person’s success is not my failure (when that becomes clear it’s truly powerful). That’s not to say that it’s easy to find your Tribe, or trust that they are truly on your side. I have learned a thing or two. After I closed my first Paint Party and Gallery Venue I had a “friend” who literally stole my website pictures, my classes and ideas and use them in her new business. She even had the audacity to keep me in the loop, and dumbfounded, I really had no idea what to say ever except, good luck! After a month she was out of business and asked me how I did it because “I made it look so easy”. The truth is, She didn’t have the people skills to run that kind of business, and eventually opened her own store that just sold supplies and did just fine. We all have a niche, learning how to use knowledge and strength from your Tribe while remaining true to our own brands is a learning process. No one should have to say “Don’t use my pictures on your website, offer a free class and take your own.” But the truth is, if you can’t say that to someone in your Tribe, they don’t belong. But, this isn’t about who NOT to have in your Tribe, it’s about building your Creative Tribe of Awesomeness!
So here it is, the 5 essential members of any creative’s Tribe:
- THE MENTOR EXPERT: someone you look up to in every way. The one who has their shit together, makes beautiful things, sells them, and makes mega money. People love them, want to be around them, and they are a ball of positive energy. The trick here is finding someone that is not just an expert with a Tribe of their own raving fans, but is also a good mentor and offers advice and support. This member of your Tribe is often the hardest to find. The trick for me has been to pick a mentor expert that has a slightly different business than me. I make art, draw, and teach. So I might pick an amazing Cake Maker in my town that I envy for her beautiful work, amazing customer service, and customer base. How do you take this busy lady (or man) and bring them to your side? I use a three step process… 1) I become a really loyal customer and raving fan (be genuine, if you don’t feel that they have great products and service find a new prospect), 2) Share your story and passion, find a way to make your interests work together. In this example, I asked the cake maker to be the exclusive dealer for my Cupcake Buffets. 3) Follow up, often, and get more personal in a non-creepy way. The goal here is to build a genuine, natural relationship with someone you admire, Don’t fan-girl them.
- THE TOUGH CRITIC: someone who shoots right from the hip, tells it like it is, and isn’t afraid of your feelings. You need this person, and you’ll learn to like this person more an more as your relationship grows. When I’m sketching, I have a friend that tells me when things don’t look balanced. Sometimes I’m so far in it’s a pain to change it, but she’s always right. I have another that proof reads my marketing stuff like and English teacher. Sometimes it means tracking down my posts and deleting them, but it’s always worth it!
- THE CHEERLEADER: the one person who thinks everything you do is the most amazing thing they have ever seen. They share every single post, comment on all your IG photos, and almost all your referrals stem from them. This person may not ever buy a single product, but the value they bring your business is invaluable. They rally the troops, and keep you going on your “I just can’t do this days”
- THE TRENCHMATE: that friend that is going through the exact same thing, and is at the same point in business as you are. Every stage has it’s pains, and it’s hard to bitch to a business owner that is just starting about the pains that come after 3 years in business. You need someone that you can vent with and share both triumphs and tragedy. Go through it together. It’s easiest of all to feel like you are in competition with this person. So, be mindful to help them celebrate successes. If they land their first wholesale account, send them a coffee card, take them to dinner, or praise them on Social Media. Remind yourself often that her success is not your failure.
- THE WILD CARD: is always down for something crazy. It’s the person that will go with you to a show 3 states away because they had a last minute opening. They help you with your crazy marketing schemes (maybe even in a costume), and can make you laugh or distract you from anything. You need at least one Wildcard to keep you sane. You can’t work ALL the time, and they should remind you of that!
The exact formula isn’t science. Surround yourself with people that excite you, inspire you, critique you, push you, and love you. Then, Love them back. Learn from each other, grow with each other, and celebrate success together. My Tribe is full of a few of each of these “people”, some live hours away, some exist only on-line, and some I get to see everyday. It doesn’t matter where you find them, it only matters THAT you find them.
I would love to hear what you have learned from your Tribe below in the comments!