Last Fall I enrolled in a lifelong learning class titled “Aligning Your Idea to a Market” held by the Small Business Development Center of the Salt Lake Community College Miller Campus. Most of the other attendees of the class were inventors and product developers. However, I kept an open mind and found that a few key principles related to collaborating with my target audience were relevant and invaluable to the success of my business.
Determine the target audience for my product. Who are the distributors, the retailers, and the end-users?
The audience for my product as a teaching artist is not just the youth I teach. I also need to sell myself to the “distributors” of my product: the foundations, arts councils and other organizations that help to fund my work and the “retailers”, the schools, community centers, after school programs, or other entities where my students are found. Their perception of what I am going to accomplish is as valuable financially to my business, or possibly even more valuable, than that of the “end-users”, the students I teach.
Work with my audience to develop my product
The class members talked about creating focus groups involving members of their target audience. This way they could find out directly from their potential clients which aspects of the potential product were valued and which needed to be changed.
After taking this class, a close friend of mine who is a writer told me had had been visiting schools to share about his craft. The idea dawned on me that we could work together to create a creative arts assembly program. In order to test the market, I asked a trusted elementary school principal if she would let me talk with her about our rough draft of the assembly. She and another administrator at her school told us which parts they thought would be the most effective and gave advice on how to keep the kids’ attention during the program. They also shared their ideas of what they most wanted from a school assembly. We then presented our rough draft of the assembly for free to two different after-school programs in order to develop the product directly with students.
Figure out who my “early adopters” are
The business class introduced the idea that products often have a bell curve in their popularity. The first people to try out a new product are called “early adopters.” These people are often willing to try new and innovative products. If they are satisfied, they then share with others and create buzz to build the product’s popularity. Successful products then go mainstream for as long as their popularity lasts.
In thinking about the assemblies, I identified two “early adopter” segments of my audience. First was a local arts council that had funded innovative art projects for me in the past. The second group was comprised of after-school programs and schools in low-income neighborhoods that wanted more arts programming but lacked the budget. As such, I wrote a grant to the Salt Lake City Arts Council to help us present our assembly for free with three after-school programs and five schools, as well as for me to do six-week classes on art brainstorming with two of the after-school programs. Happily, I have received a letter of intent to fund the program, confirming the validity of the “early adopter” concept.
Know my competition and be prepared to explain how my product varies from theirs
Products can be popular either because they are less expensive, or because they fill a specific niche. I want to be seen as valuable rather than cheap. Therefore, I contemplated how my artistic services compare to the many other high-quality local art programs. I determined that my focus on large-scale projects with underprivileged youth gives me direct and extensive experience with their communities, making me uniquely qualified to serve their needs.
Know what others value in my business
At the time of entering into the business class, I had been considering making teaching art a second-tier part of my career, and focusing more on commissioned murals and mosaics. However, when the time came to share with the class what I do, the overwhelming response was that community involvement was what made my work special and valuable. As such, in the past six months I have re-branded my business from its former name of ten years “Roger Whiting Murals and Illustration” to its current name “Community Arts of Utah”. My business name now more closely reflects what I want to accomplish as a teaching artist.
The class taught me that I am a business just like any other. Armed with this new name and marketing approach for my business I have found it easier to approach clients with confidence. I plan to continue my business training as my career develops so I can find more effective, common-sense ways to align my artistic vision, my humanitarian goals, and my business practices.