In this issue ~~
Every once in awhile, I come across someone who has a great story to tell, one that's instructive as well as inspiring. Mark Fort started a business called Victory Art, to help fine artists market their work. In the process, he created an exciting career for himself.
SHARON GOOD: Hi, Mark. I visited your website (www.victoryart.com). I know it's in its initial stages, but I can see there's a lot of thought behind it. What brought you to create this business?
MARK FORT: For the last 6 to 7 years of my career life, I owned a staffing company, here in the Silicon Valley, placing technical consultants to technology companies. I got into that business because it was the best opportunity when I sold my last business, and I was quite surprised at the high feel-good value that recruiting and staffing had.
When you're helping somebody to find a job and helping a hiring manager fill a role on his team, you're actually creating some very important relationships, very significant to those individuals, and the rewards are really high. But since the tech boom has kind of collapsed, it's been tough to earn a living doing that. So, I found myself at a crossroads. I thought about waiting until the economy turned around, but I thought, Do I want to wait?
I look back on my career life and realize that I've probably been, like a lot of people, just being opportunistic. Sometimes, you find yourself on a career path due to some real haphazard circumstances. Something is presented, and it's the best opportunity at the time, so you take it.
I'm 39 now, so I'm becoming more aware of my mortality and some of the issues I'm faced with as far as the longevity of my career life, and I decided that it was really important for me to take this opportunity to make the right decision. And so, I decided to design my own career: If I could create the perfect job, what would it be?
If I look at my inventory of talents, I do have quite a lot of experience and talent in the business world and sales and marketing. I've always really admired artists and their talent and their courage to embark upon that career path. And I also have a passion for golf and the golf industry. This business model I've embarked upon, Victory Art, is really a thrown-together business model of all the things I'm good at. And it's also what I would consider to be the perfect dream job for myself.
Helping and working with artists on a daily basis is something I've always enjoyed doing. I love creative people and their belief systems, their philosophies, their demeanor, everything about them. And it would be my pleasure to work with them and help complement their talents with whatever talents that I might have in business and sales and marketing.
SG: And to use your own creative talents as well.
MF: When it comes to my creative talents, even though I certainly do have some artistic talents, I think that I'm very creative with respect to my business talents and the entrepreneurial qualities that I have.
SG: You're living what I teach: that creativity is not just in art, that you can use it in any endeavor. How are you going to use your business, sales and marketing talents with Victory Art?
MF: I think sales is really all about relationship and people skills. And I think the most successful people in sales and marketing have found a way to understand the needs of those who they're selling to. And so, what I'm trying to do is create a win-win-win situation.
I want to help artists, and so I've tried to look at their needs. So many artists are spending their weekends traveling around to art festivals and shows, sitting in a booth all day in a parking lot or on a street somewhere that's been blocked off for this particular event. And chatting with artists, it seems to be, really, their least favorite part of what they do, but it's necessary for them to create the revenue.
So, in trying to provide artists with other marketing avenues, it's about looking at all the markets that are untapped and creating markets. For instance, in the golf world, every golf club has annual Christmas events, spring leagues, awards banquets, charity fund-raising events and such. And so, one of my first thoughts for marketing would be to bring in a bunch of artists prior to an event and have them create individual works of art that feature the signature holes or the most beautiful scenes on a particular golf course and then put these pieces on silent auction at these events.
And that's creating a market where one didn't exist, because that Christmas party would have gone along just fine without a silent auction or anything art-related. But it would certainly be an enhancement to that event, plus it helps the artists to expose themselves to the right kind of people in their communities and to generate relationships with a whole new client base.
If you really care about the people you're selling to and if you really believe that the products are something that they need or will enhance their lives and their job, then it becomes just a matter of trying to find a way to present it to them.
SG: I see that you're displaying artwork on your website, and you're also working locally. How does that work? If somebody wants to auction a particular item, do they need to have the item on their local site?
MF: Most likely, yes. And that's going to work through regional partnerships with, probably, gallery owners or maybe even eventually some type of a franchise opportunity to somebody that's already involved and connected in the art community in their geographic area.
SG: How does the website fit into your business model?
MF: The website is a tool for generating relationships with artists. So, I'm building the website to offer to artists free services that are needed and will enhance their ability to promote themselves to their communities.
It's also a tool that I need, because if I'm going to go to event planners and say, "I have this stable of artists. Here is their work. And these are our local artists for this particular region. Would you like to bring in some of their work for silent auction to generate funds for your charity or your cause?", then I really have to have that portfolio to show them. And so, the website becomes a perfect tool for that.
SG: I see. And your role in this is as an agent or rep for the artists?
MF: Well, not really, but yes, kind of in some ways. I like to think of myself as a business or marketing partner for the artist. I'm just providing them with some tools and resources that are going to help them to expose their work to potential buyers.
And at the same time, because of the costs involved in developing and building a website, yes, there will be a sales commission associated with any artwork that actually moves through the site, but it's like 20 percent. Typically, a gallery owner takes anywhere between 45 and 55 percent.
SG: So, you will derive your income through commissions and also through memberships to the website?
MF: Yes, those are two of the revenue models that are present. I'm providing a basic level of services on the website that will be free, and at the same time, there are a lot more enhanced services that could be provided that I can't afford to give away. So, if an artist wants a higher level of services, then I'm willing to go out and do those things. But it's going to cost a little bit, so there probably will be a monthly service fee to the artist, certainly something less than $20 a month.
SG: What other types of services do you see yourself offering?
MF: There are a lot of relationships that the entire business model will generate just by virtue of its existing in the first place. One of those relationships is exposing the artist to publishing companies. Publishing companies are often looking for talented artists, and at the same time, it's a really big deal for an artist to be published and for their work to be in every poster shop and frame shop across the country. It's a great exposure and resume-builder, an enhancement to the career and credentials of an artist.
And so, I'm talking with publishing companies now about offering them visibility and access to the artists that are published on the site. I'm going to have to be very proactive and aggressive about pursuing these relationships with publishing companies, and that's going to take quite a bit of time and energy, so that's one of those enhanced levels of service that I'm talking about.
SG: That's wonderful. I'm sure a lot of artists would love to have somebody else doing their sales and marketing for them.
MF: And for me, it's the perfect job. It's meeting people and developing relationships that are more in-depth than just making a sale and walking away. It's an ongoing partnership.
SG: It sounds like an offshoot of your work doing staffing, putting people together.
MF: Yes, it's exactly that. The experience I gained in the staffing industry has really helped me to define myself and what I enjoy doing with my career life.
SG: It sounds terrific. You mentioned that you're focused on golf-related art, but I'm hearing that you're looking for different types of art to feature on the site.
MF: Yes. I think that my pursuit of that one specific niche market comes from my own desire to create a reputation in the golf world for being a provider of unique, individual works of fine art that are golf-related. I always thought it would be cool to be involved in the golf industry somehow. And when I started looking at designing my own perfect job, there was definitely a desire to be involved somehow there.
And when I also started looking at the art world and what I could do for artists with my business skills, it made sense. The golfing community tends to be more affluent, with a little more disposable income, if you will. There's also the whole phenomenon of explosion that's happened in the golf world in the last 5 or 10 years – probably since Tiger Woods came on the scene – and as a businessman, I identified the golf market as one that's going through some explosive growth.
And there's a trickle-down effect. There are a lot of industries that have gone through explosive growth through their association with the golf industry. And so, I think that the golf market, with respect to memorabilia and fine art, is an industry that will catch up. And I think it'll be doing a service to the artist to try to find ways to tap into that market.
SG: I'm seeing in coaching that there's a big trend toward "niching" and branding your business, and this is a way of you doing that for your company.
MF: Yes. If there's any particular niche market that I feel qualified in, it's golf. I'm an avid golfer myself, so I do feel like I have my finger on the pulse of that industry. I know enough about it to feel like I could make intelligent business decisions.
SG: But you're still looking for a wider range of art.
MF: The Victory Art.com site in general is a nonspecific sales and marketing resource for artists who sell their fine art. Golfers are simply one very affluent niche group of potential buyers who host events on a regular basis. I have decided to focus on this particular market early on; it's just one of many potential markets. I certainly don't want to scare any artists away thinking that it's just about golf art.
As far as the artists are concerned, Victory Art.com is an across-the-board marketing tool and resource for artists of all kinds. If an artist is posting their work, or if a visitor to the gallery is doing a search for something specific, they're going to be able to search by medium, artist, theme, or any combination of keywords that might apply to a piece that would fit their specific needs – everything from painting to printmaking to sculpture to carvings to glass. All artistic mediums are represented there.
If somebody's going to be putting on a charity event that has to do with, say, children's issues, we'll do a keyword search on "child," "children," "youngsters," "infants," "babies," whatever, to see what we have that might lend itself to the theme of their charity in the first place.
At the same time, they can look at the work of a particular artist, and if they really like an artist, but weren't able to find anything specific that lent itself to that theme, we can contact the artist and ask the artist to create something. A lot of artists are open to commissioned works, and this is like a commissioned work, but on contingency – they're not paid for it until it actually sells, but they're almost certainly guaranteed that it will sell, because it'll be on silent auction at this event.
SG: So, you've got a lot of creative marketing ideas.
MF: I'm just not the kind of person that likes to do something that everybody else is doing and try to jump into a market that everybody else is already in. It's the kind of stuff that keeps me awake at night, thinking of new ways to do something. And so, that's, I guess, where these concepts have come from – hours of sleepless nights. (laughs)
SG: I know the feeling. Is there anything else that you would like to add?
MF: The only thing I could share would be my own personal experience, in that so many of us end up in places based on taking the best option at the time. And that often leads us to financial success, but not necessarily the spiritual rewards that we would get from pursuing our dreams and really being proactive about deciding, What am I supposed to be doing based on what I know about myself?
I'm more energized about this particular project than I've ever been about anything in my life. And it's because I have more purpose now than ever before, because this is something that I listened to my heart when I decided what I should be doing, rather than just taking a job that paid the most or buying or creating a company because it was a financially sound decision at the time.
I'm excited about this, because I'm doing it for all the right reasons spiritually for myself. I'm sure the financial rewards will come, because I have so much energy to put into it, I can't see how it would ever fail, even if it just stays a very small boutique business and I get to deal with artists and event planners locally for the rest of my life. I can't imagine anything more rewarding than that.
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My thanks to Mark Fort for so generously sharing his new business idea with us. I invite you all to visit the Victory Art website at www.victoryart.com. Mark is happy to hear from interested artists of all types.
Where else in your life, besides your art, can you use your creativity? Choose an area where you're facing a challenge right now. How can you be creative in finding a solution? Start with solutions you may have used in the past, and then brainstorm as many new ideas as you can come up with. From there, choose your best option, or combine two or more ideas for the best result.
"For most of us, working toward our own vision, following our own intuition, and respecting our own authority all feel incredibly bizarre. . . But don't let the alien sensation of taking your dreams and ambitions seriously deter you from what you really want to do: create a life you love."
"It is only with the heart that one can see right; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
"Do what you love and love what you're doing, and you'll never work another day in your life."
(click on the book graphic to see a description at Amazon.com)
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