I went to school to be a writer, and while I have used the skills I learned in college to write for newspapers in my early out-of-college years and I’ve used the marketing and advertising skills over and over, I haven’t attempted to submit anything other than my own blog posts in a very long time. This spring, that changed, and it was hard to decide what to write about. I do lots of cool stuff. But a constant in my business is the online world. I wouldn’t sell without followers, and y’all wanting to see exciting new stuff and follow the crazy life of an artist is why I’m growing my business! So I wrote about serving my followers in challenging times.
Check out my article in ShowMe the Ozarks Magazine, where I talk about making a shift into the online world amidst the pandemic and Farmer’s stroke. You can also read the UNEDITED text below, which is before I pared it down from 1250 to 500 words.
If you’d like to schedule a workshop for you and a friend, go HERE to the Metal Workshops tab on the main menu.
SHOW ME THE OZARKS
How a pandemic changed my creative business.
How I changed the course of my creative biz amid a worldwide (and at-home) health crisis.
As a creator, losing access to retail venues like large weekend events was a game-changer for my business, and it was easy to see by April 2020 that I needed to make a shift in order to keep selling my salvaged materials and art without the junk shows. Our entire year of scheduled events had been wiped clean in the course of a few weeks.
You may have seen my ads or features in past SMTO issues. My Junkyard Farmgirl studio is still in business on the north side of the Lamar square, although the last 15 months have seen some setbacks in my growth.
The pandemic stopped me from having regular studio hours for about 8 months. In May 2020, I rented space and created a selling atmosphere for salvaged materials in Kansas City’s West Bottoms, which has been great for me. KC re-opened with COVID restrictions in June, and I’ve been selling there ever since. I opened the studio again from Thanksgiving until mid-February, when my husband suffered a stroke. We spent 17 days in the Neuro ICU at KU Med Center, then a week closer to home at Springfield Rehabilitation Hospital. I helped him rehab from home after that point, and he went back to work in late May. As soon as he was fully released by the doctor, I dove back into the studio, cleaning and re-arranging, changing things around as my creative mind is wont to do. My customers have been happy to see me back to work.
Throughout that period of recuperation from February to May, I had to stay close to Casey, so I had a lot of time to watch what other people were doing. I’m a “stay in my own lane” kinda gal. I usually don’t take the time to pay much attention to what other businesses are doing in the online space. But there I was, not willing to leave my husband at the hospital, so I bought a set of earbuds so that I wasn’t sharing with him or the medical staff what I was listening to or watching. I dove into the new business setup on Facebook, which prompted me to closely follow other creatives and their businesses. What caught my eye was these gals were LIVE streaming while painting furniture and canvasses. It was fantastic! They were teaching while creating a product to sell.
Skip back to October 2020, when I travelled to southeast Iowa and set up what I call a “LIVE ART Workshop” in little Bonaparte (population 850) during the Scenic Drive Festival, which is an event spanning seven small towns dubbed “The Villages of Van Buren County.”
I took my plasma cutter, an old ironing board for a work surface and a lot of salvaged metal containers like freon canisters from my HVAC friends, fuel cans, vintage handheld torches, little hand oilers, and 1-gallon cans that I collect from my mechanic friends. I used a generator to power my plasma cutter while I cut Jack-o’-Lanterns and holiday designs. People gathered to watch me, and after a little while I’d have to shut down my machine so I could make sales, talk with everyone, pass out business cards and encourage people to go out junkin’ and bring me back something to cut for them.
It turned out to be a tremendous weekend. I cut teapots, coffee cans, vintage oil cans, hubcaps, a car muffler, a few defunct garden sprayers, a grain bin lid and a couple of stock tanks by the time it was over. I cut all sorts of flowers, butterflies, names, unicorns, snowmen, trees, Santa Claus, and a barn scene complete with windmill. I ran on a creative high from constant engagement and inspiration. More importantly, I connected with my customers in a way that I had never experienced at a junk show. I had usually just set up a booth, then worked the booth and sold my stuff for the weekend. This was different. There was a Silver Dollar City feel to the whole thing. Something about watching me make the product right there in front of them was really appealing. They wanted to know more about what I do, and many of them went out and bought something (or several things) metal and brought it all back for on-the-spot custom cuts.
Before I even rolled out of town to head home, I had already decided I wanted more of THAT.
I had turned down applications for Silver Dollar City in previous years, once because I was pregnant and once because I was farming grain full-time, which naturally conflicts with the amusement park’s giant Harvest Festival. Since I quit row-cropping over 3 years ago and my youngest is nearing 5 years old, I don’t have those types of scheduling conflicts anymore, so I sent an inquiry email to SDC, and a few weeks later, received an application. I had gotten serious about gathering product photos and was prepping to do some videos to send in with my application when Casey had his stroke.
Once we were back home from rehab and things began to look more normal, I decided to shelve SDC once again, but those artists I had been watching live-streaming on Facebook got me to wondering if I could get the same kind of customer experience through online channels.
In May, I began setup for my first online subscription group, Warp & Weft. We meet LIVE in the group once a week and I teach them all about weaving beads on a loom to make artisan jewelry. I did this LIVE from Casey’s hospital room in Kansas City while delivering updates on his condition, and immediately churned up interest from people wanting to learn how to bead. The group is $12/month and includes access to tutorial videos and DIY information, but the main thing is my clients get to hang out with me for a couple hours each week. The connections are wonderful, and the flexibility associated with teaching and learning on our own time is so sweet.
I go LIVE from my junk shed at least once a week. I just work on whatever I want, and sometimes I share while I work on custom orders. The video is available for playback at any time, so my followers don’t have to be online when I’m streaming. The feedback has been encouraging, and it has boosted my online sales and custom orders.
Other LIVE streams I offer include soldering, sewing and painting furniture and canvases. I can’t just choose one thing to specialize in because the scope of the salvaged materials that I gather is not limited to one avenue of repurposing.
After a year of not offering any classes, I’m back to scheduling plasma cutting workshops for this summer and fall. I’ve always done DIY classes and workshops, and it’s nice to get back to one-on-one instruction, which is where I get the most fulfillment from my career. Other workshops like window art, fall/Christmas decor and Cricut/Silhouette operation are on the schedule for fall.
I’ve always thought that my purpose is to inspire others, and now I’m really digging deeper within that area to get an extra spark of personal connection. I don’t want to sit behind a counter and take money; I want to DO THE ART WITH ALL the people!