Small Business Month Cyber Forums: Marian Call
On Wednesday, May 23, Alaska folk musician Marian Call was the guest for the third Small Business Connection Facebook forum.
A singer-songwriter by trade, Call's work has taken her through all fifty states and Canada. She organizes concerts and markets her music through social media and fan-requested appearances, and has turned her musical passion into a thriving business.
KTVA: It sounds like you started developing your business chops at a young age. To what extent do you use them today in your current musical career?
Marian Call: Today, most of my work is business rather than music. I spend most of the day writing e-mails, doing scheduling, going to meetings and working logistics -- oh, and developing my own custom infrastructure on the web to keep trying to simplify my operations. Not at all musical! Music is the reward I get for all that business. But it only takes up five to ten percent of my day, while business takes up 90-95 percent. I think a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs don't realize how much time they'll spend on operations, promotion, and -- well -- business. They imagine they'll get to just do what they love all day, when in fact they might be doing more of what they love if they had kept it a hobby. Not to knock being a professional musician, it's great! But it only works for me because I enjoy business. Musicians who loathe business have a much harder time being a professional musician.
KTVA: We've often heard aspiring entrepreneurs advised to follow their passion - what's your advice for budding small businessmen and women to turn a hobby into a profitable, sustainable career?
MC: I think that first, they need to carefully consider whether they want to. Ask yourself, if you want to turn passion into business, what will my day really look like? And do I want that sort of day? Then, make sure your craft or product is really exceptional. Devote your whole self to providing an exceptional product or service. If it's not exceptional, if it doesn't turn heads or deeply meet a need, don't try to make it a living.
KTVA: When and how did you make the decision as a musician that it's not 'you either make it or it's a hobby,' and turn it into an actual small business whose product is art?
MC: I think I decided I could really do music, for a full-time living, when Myspace first came about. With social networking and instant sharing of content between friends, the gatekeepers of my industry disappeared. I realized that instead of finding millions of fans, I could find just a few, just 10,000, say, and make a living. That small number seemed reasonable to me, and it still does. So I'm still at it!
KTVA: 50 states and other countries - what are your goals, in a business sense, to expand?
MC: My goals are simple: get out of debt and get health insurance. When I do that, I will consider my work a triumph. I think I can do that by developing a sustainable income, through selling music online and through concerts and touring, and then growth will just be a matter of slowly accumulating a few more fans and creating new content. I'm not anticipating explosive growth; if my business model is working right, hopefully I can grow slowly and steadily, take advantage of whatever lucky breaks come my way, and just become sustainable.
KTVA: Sounds reasonable! Speaking of money, most "traditional" entrepreneurs would seek out investors before opening up for business: What's the equivalent in your line of work, and what financial steps did you need to take to launch your career?
MC: I invested myself, initially, and produced my first record on my own dime. Thankfully technology has made that cheaper today than it used to be. Once I had something to sell, a product to demonstrate my work to people, it was easier to gather more "investors" in the form of fans who are willing to support future work. I very much have investors in the form of my Donors' Circle, a group of fans who effectively funded my most recent album - I have them to thank for its existence! Kickstarter is really a way lots of artists/creatives/inventors are effectively collecting investors, which is nice. It's like a return to the direct patronage system that supported artists generations ago. I'm thrilled about the possibility there. Several Alaskan musicians have already funded records that way!
KTVA: That about brings us up to the wire (and thanks for staying with us). Any last questions? Here's ours: In a word, entrepreneurship is _________.