Inspirational true-life stories can be a very powerful form of motivation toward taking action or making a positive change in your life. And when it comes to business success stories, nothing motivates me more than seeing people achieve financial prosperity while pursuing their God-given passions.
So today I introduce you to a young woman who is making a full time living as an artist, doing what she loves to do. Here’s the twist: she owes her success to the internet, and she’s built her online art business by combining the power of YouTube and eBay.
Her name is Valentina, and I’ll tell you how she found success on the internet. More importantly, I’m going to tell you how you can use the same principles that she’s discovered to create success for your own business.
Valentina (Val for short) has been painting since she was three years old and always knew that she wanted to be a painter.
“It was only natural that I went to an art school after my high school graduation,” she says, “My art career had a very bumpy start though. Once I entered the adult life I was in for a cold shower. It’s not easy making a living as an artist and I had a horrible time trying to do something else with my life.”
She got involved in the film industry, working as an art director on an independent film, and doing some commercials. After learning how to edit video, she eventually started her own small video production company.
“All this time I had to put painting on the side as I was too busy doing things that would pay my rent,” she recalls, “I wasn’t very happy and felt frustrated that I had so little time for painting.”
Little did she know that the video production and editing skills would eventually help her become a full time artist and bring her paintings to a larger audience than she had ever imagined.
A New Way of Doing Art
In October of 2006, one of Val’s friends emailed her a link to a funny video of an animated cat, and she was instantly hooked on YouTube.
Even now, Val can’t help but laugh when she thinks about the video;
“It had a song that went something like “˜I’m a Kitty Cat. And I dance, dance, dance and I meow, meow, meow… I loved it! The song got stuck in my head and I was showing the video to everybody. I started clicking around and found a lot of more funny videos.”
At the same time she was seriously considering devoting more of her time to art, but was finding it especially difficult to find an audience for her work.
“The traditional fine arts are often seen as snobby, and elitist,” she explains. “It is hard for a painter to make an average person interested in his or her work. The presentation of artwork in galleries and museums often does not attempt to reach out and explain the intentions of the artist. That’s why the proper artist’s statement was always very important to me.”
Val felt that people who took their time to look at her art should receive the benefit of knowing what her intentions were in creating it. However, writing was not her forte, and she struggled to create cohesively written artist statements.
So she thought, “Why not let myself ramble a bit on camera as I paint? Wouldn’t that make it a truly ideal statement?”
She posted her first video artist statement on YouTube as an experiment in November of 2006, and that’s how “Val’s Art Diary” was born.
While hoping that some people would stumble upon her video and find it in their hearts to give her some feedback on her work, she never expected any serious results. After all, she saw YouTube as little more than a place for goofy videos of accidents, awkward moments, and “Kitty Cat” videos.
Little did she know that her life would change almost instantly.
Not only did a few people find here videos and give her some feedback, a year later her videos have been watched by over 7 million people and she has more subscribers than the official YouTube channels of Clinton, Obama, Giuliani and Thompson combined.
“I would have never suspected that so many people cared about my art and the creative process,” says Val, “But what surprised me more than that number was the support and appreciation for art I found among the viewers who post comments under my videos.”
Capturing Her Work on Video
Val, whose favorite artist is Van Gogh, prefers to paint with mixed media on canvas. The underlying theme of her paintings is a question: “what does it mean to be human?”
“I try to answer this question by tackling the smallest, often trivial things about our lives” she explains, “In one of my art diary episodes my addiction to Coca Cola, for example, was an inspiration for a painting. I allow myself to be spontaneous and paint about whatever currently happens in my life. At first it might seem as there is no direction but it’s the exploration and struggles of day to day life that inspire me and create an underlying theme to my work.”
She films the entire process, which she then uses to produce an entertaining and very palatable video “diary”, which is typically posted to YouTube every Sunday. Her thousands of loyal fans have become accustomed to watching a new episode each week, and after posting each video, Val takes some time to respond to comments and interact with viewers as they discuss her latest piece.
“Making art can be a very lonely activity, and YouTube made it rewarding by giving me a loyal audience,” she says, and then adds, “To be honest, I owe my career as an artist entirely to YouTube.”
She proves that she truly does appreciate her fans by randomly giving away a painting every week to one of her subscribers, in a ritual she has dubbed the “Art Lottery”.
“I often heard from my subscribers that they liked my work, but unfortunately, couldn’t afford to purchase it. I wanted to make sure that everybody watching my videos has a chance to own my work. That’s how the lottery idea was born. Anybody subscribed to my videos on YouTube has a chance to win a painting every Sunday. I print out all the names of my subscribers and glue them to a board. I update that list every week and throw a dart in its direction. Whoever gets hit by my dart wins a painting.”
It’s easy to understand why Val has become a well-loved YouTube “celebrity”. One needs only to watch one of her videos to see that there’s a true artist with a deep personality behind the cute face. (Disclaimer: I haven’t watched all of Val’s videos, and I don’t have control over which one is being shown in the channel below, but the ones I’ve seen have been good)
Watch Val Now:
Making Money Doing What She Loves
At this point, you might be thinking”¦ that’s wonderful that she’s gained such a following, but how has it paid off?
Slowly but surely, her online popularity has translated into profits for her paintings.
Before finding YouTube, she had tried selling some paintings on eBay, but found no success.
“It’s hard when you have a small number of views on your auction and you are an unknown artist,” recalls Val. If you’ve ever perused the vast ocean of art for sale on eBay, it’s easy to see how a newcomer’s art could be extremely undervalued, if not totally overlooked among the thousands of competing artists.
When she got the idea to put her Art Diary on YouTube, she combined it with a stroke of genius that compelled her to sell her paintings on eBay at the same time, and provide links to the eBay auctions next to her videos.
The result is a unique experience that I can only assume has appealed to myriad collectors, while simultaneously making collectors out of fans who previously had never purchased a piece of artwork.
It makes perfect sense. If I was going to buy a painting, I would find it to be a much more interesting and enjoyable experience to see a video of that particular painting being created, along with the artist explaining the spirit in which it was created.
It makes the purchase more meaningful, and adds a touch of personality that can rarely be found even in artist’s galleries.
She posts a new painting for sale on eBay each week, in conjunction with each new episode of Val’s Art Diary. So far she has sold every single painting since she started a year ago.
These days her paintings are fetching bids in the $500 – $1000 range, and the overall trend continues upward as she gains more fans and collectors.
Multiple Streams of Income
Here’s where it gets really interesting. In addition to the profit from her sales on eBay, she is earning income from a variety of other sources related to her art online.
She gets many requests for commissioned paintings, which has resulted in a stream of income, although she doesn’t have time to accept many of them.
She also sells prints of her work on DeviantArt, along with other
merchandise like coasters, puzzles, mugs, t-shirts with her “Eat Your Cookies” slogan.
This enables more of her fans to buy her artwork for a fraction of the price of owning a Valentina original.
In May of this year, YouTube announced their Content Partner program, and Val was among the very select group of initial invitees.
In a nutshell, YouTube’s Partner program works like this: they place ads on the pages where Val’s videos are seen, and they share the profits with her from those ads.
On October 8th, Google (the owner of YouTube) announced a new addition to their AdSense program that takes YouTube’s Partner program to a whole new level.
Google AdSense publishers can now select video units to display on their websites, and among those video units they can choose videos from YouTube Partners, including Val.
In other words, YOU can make money by posting Val’s videos on your site using AdSense video units. And with potentially thousands of AdSense publishers beginning to post these video units, Val can expect her own viewership to continue to rise (and increased profits will be sure to follow).
Another side effect of her ever-growing popularity, is that companies are contacting her more frequently with requests for product endorsements, or placement on her YouTube channel.
When you consider that the ability to reach a maximum number of eyeballs is a motivating factor when it comes to advertising spending, it’s easy to see how it could become a lucrative side business for Val, who has a captive audience in the tens of thousands.
I also recently gave Val some advice on adding some more revenue generators to her business.
For example, she could seamlessly integrate some affiliate marketing into her current business model (even eBay has an affiliate program), which would generate additional income with virtually no extra work.
Another area that I’m advising she work on is list-building and management (I recommend Aweber). With a proper auto-responder strategy, she could begin to convert her thousands of visitors into passive income, and then generate additional cash-on-demand with broadcast emails.
As she becomes more savvy to the world of internet marketing that she has inadvertently found herself within, I expect that she will explore these avenues. Nevertheless, I am certain that she will also continue to blaze her own trail, and discover new ways of monetizing her craft.
In Case You Were Wondering
Val has done a good job at keeping her personal life a secret from the online world.
We don’t know her last name or her age (her MySpace profile says she’s 100). Other questions that top the list include where is she originally from, and where does she live now?
I certainly don’t blame her for trying to avoid those details, especially for a girl with as many fans as she has. But I think the mystery has also really played to her advantage, so that’s something you might want to consider before creating your own online persona.
Some people have gone so far as to call her a “fake”, insinuating that she’s nothing more than an actress like lonelygirl15.
“I actually find it quite amusing that some people think I am a “˜fake'”, she retorts, “I mean… they do see me paint my paintings in my episodes so it’s quite clear I am the one who painted them. I guess they doubt my ability to edit video which frankly I find sexist. There are tons of guys on YouTube who do a better job editing their videos and nobody questions whether they are fake or not. Believe me, there are many female editors out there in the industry. Just go to a post house near you and you are likely to meet one. Visit a film school and you will see many girls proficient with Final Cut or Avid. I guess most people don’t know that I actually used to make a living as a video editor.”
Enough said on that 😉
Tips For your Business
Based on Val’s success, here are some tips I’d like to reiterate.
1) Pursue your passion. Interestingly, I am not one of those people who believes that your business should inherently be centered on something you love. Sometimes you just have to focus on whatever will make money. But if you’re finding yourself unhappy, or unable to spend time doing what you love, then maybe its time to do what Val did. Take the plunge and do what you’re most passionate about. If you fail, at least you can have the satisfaction of knowing you tried. And if you succeed, you may find yourself like Val””living a life more exciting than ever before.
2) Take an old-fashioned practice (like writing artist statements), and find ways to innovate it by applying Web 2.0 strategies (social networking, wikis, and other interactive media such as YouTube).
3) Be yourself, and let your personality shine. As Val says, “My advice would be to NOT to try to appeal to everybody. Show your interests, show yourself, or your product and if you work hard enough you will find people interested in what you have to offer. Television tries to appeal to everybody and if people look for generic traditional entertainment, they will turn to TV. They turn to YouTube when they look for the unusual, and unique. Speaking strictly as an entrepreneur I would say that YouTube is perfect for niche audiences and markets.” This doesn’t mean you have to disclose everything about yourself. Keep in mind what I wrote above about Val’s online “persona”.
4) Love your customers/subscribers/viewers. Look for ways to add value and express appreciation. Val’s “d’Art Lottery” is a perfect example.
5) Create quality content. I think this will continue to be the driving force of the internet forever. How could it not?
6) Be prepared to work hard. While making money on the internet can be easy in some ways, it almost always takes a good deal of hard work to get to that point. Val told me that that she’s hardly had a break since she posted her first episode to YouTube last year. I think she’ll have a difficult time scaling her business because she’s the sole star of it. You’re better off from an entrepreneurial standpoint if you can create a business that doesn’t depend on you (I’ve learned this the hard way too). But if you choose to go the artist route, there are still ways to leverage the internet to make your business less dependant on you (like autoresponders, outsourcing, etc).
Give Some Feedback
Val said she would love to get some feedback from everyone who reads this article, about how she can improve her business. Of course you can comment on her artwork too!
Likewise, I would like to see some comments about how these principles could be applied to other businesses. Did this article spark an idea for you? Let us know, and hopefully we’ll get some comments that can benefit everyone.
As always you can post your comments here on the blog.
Have a great day!