While in NY this past February, I met with people from three businesses. Openhouse Gallery. Wix. And Help A Reporter Out. Talking with Jonathan Daou, Victoria Monsul and Peter Shankman taught me much about how I want to develop Cloudhead Art Foundation.
One thing I've found distasteful about running a business is the constant sell. In order to make your business grow traditionally, you have to be out there hustling all the time. Constantly talking about yourself and your work. Pushing your product. It felt too self-focused. And by that, I guess I mean selfish. To much ME, ME, ME!
What inspires me about these three businesses is the way they work with people -- potential customers -- to fill a need within the greater community. Talking with them lead me to Seven Basic Principles of building a successful business by giving things away for free.
The Holy Bible of a Free Based Economy
1. Develop A Public Face That People Can Trust
2. Business & Friendship Overlap
3. Money Is Not the Only Capital
4. Always Keep An Eye To What You Can Give In Return
5. No Strings Attached Means No Expectations
6. Transparency Is Key
How I Apply What I Learned to Cloudhead
First and foremost, I think of what Cloudhead can give to the community.
We Give: A place for artists to stay for free. A place to work. A place for artists to display their work. Access to my social media connections in order to develop resources and sell their work.
The cameras so many of you donated to Cloudhead are also part of what we give.
Last January, before going to NY, I put out a call for cameras. You all responded, and we easily met our goal of 20 cameras. We now use these cameras for all the Cloudhead projects. Teaching English Through Photography & Social Media to 12 year olds at the local university's experimental high school. Next month, we will visit a Wichi community in Tartagal, in the north of Salta province, for children in the community to take photos. And finally, we are lending the cameras to a local Salta city community project designed to bring street safety awareness to children in Salta's Solidaridad neighborhood.
We Get: Artists creating work, giving workshops, using their expertise to helps us develop projects in the house: a dark room, a composting system, preparing gallery space for exhibitions.
This in turn helps us market our products that are for sale: Photography, lightboxes and artwork from our various artists.
The Anatomy of A Win-Win!
When people leave Cloudhead, they tell others about us. They write about us on their blogs. They write articles about us. In essense, they market for us. And it’s the best kind of marketing. Not because they’re paid to do it or because they have to, but because they want to. Marketing us means marketing themselves. They have a good experience with us and thus want to help us develop our community which in turn helps them develop their own network of contacts at the same time.
We also rely to a certain extent on philanthropy, another form of free. People donate money, cameras, computer equipment, gallery space. In exchange, they receive anything from updates on the people who receive their donations to a good feeling that they are doing something worthwhile and are part of a larger community.
Which brings me to the final principle of Free.
Free is self propagating.
All three of the businesses mentioned in this article grow by word of mouth. You won’t see advertising on TV or on Google Ads. You will see them pop up in articles like this one, on personal web pages and you’ll hear people. Wix’s marketing budget is primary for the Wix Lounge. HARO's popularity grew, because who doesn’t want free publicity for their business? And OpenHouse attracts advertisers because each exhibition and installation has been created with you in mind.
Your organization will find people naturally follow you on Twitter, Facebook. You'll gain a greater audience because people come to you by sheer force of the fact they really want to be there, really want to tell their friends, really want to write articles just like this one to spread the word.
That, in a nutshell, is free. Whatever you give for free should give something the receiving party truly wants in return for something you want as much. Win-win. No one feels cheated and there’s a give and take between the two parties for mutual benefit.
For a more in depth discussion of how you can make Free work for you, check out my article How to: Run A Successful Business By Giving It Away for Free on Matador Life.