Jessica Gardner at Artglish (check out her Instagram account) coaches artists how to use the language to craft more compelling portfolios so they can share their work with the world without reservations. I first learned about Artglish in a forum a few years ago, and I remember thinking, “This is such a bold move, to blend Art and English, way to go!”
The courage to create something that doesn’t fit the mold inspired me to connect with Jessica and we’ve been working together in our community for a few years. In the beginning Jessica was struggling to find her voice and to speak less like a teacher and more like an artist so she could attract the right crowd. In the past year she has learned to use Instagram to her advantage and reached the people she’d always wanted to reach. In this interview she shares her journey. ~ E.M.
I’ve been an online language coach since 2017. I help artists and designers explain their work clearly so they get more opportunities to succeed.
I also give workshops for art and design organizations to help creatives improve the writing in their portfolios.
#1: Where were you in your business 1 year ago?
I was still feeling pretty lost at the start of last year. I had ideas about what I needed to do, and I had my niche figured out, but I didn’t have a firm grasp of my sales funnel or how all the pieces were supposed to work together. I didn’t have a good primary offer in place or a good freebie. My website needed a lot of work and my social media accounts were doing nothing for me. I hadn’t been posting to my blog or writing my newsletter because I taught at a college the second half of 2019 and had no time for my business. I had an almost nonexistent mailing list.
#2: How long had you been on Instagram prior to taking our course and what prompted you to make changes?
I started my IG account at the end of 2017. In the beginning, I didn’t really get or enjoy Instagram. My approach to social media was to come up with a post idea, splash it across five different accounts (FB, IG, Twitter, Google +, Pinterest), and check it off my list. I was doing this every day or two and it was going nowhere.
In early 2019, Elena suggested that I post only on Instagram and that I make my posts more personal and focus on engagement. So I tried to do that, but I still didn’t really feel like I knew what I was supposed to do. It still felt like a chore. So when the course came along, I knew I needed to join it.
#3: What was your frustration with Instagram and how have you changed your approach?
The biggest frustration at first was that I just didn’t get it. I wasn’t enjoying the app as a user. So one of the first benefits of the course for me was learning how to use IG better and taking time to just enjoy it. As I started to find and explore more accounts I liked, I felt more inspired to be creative with what I posted.
Now, I truly enjoy the challenge of deciding what to post about and creating a good image for it. It feels more like a creative way to connect with my audience instead of just a box to check on my to-do list. I try to notice and apply my experience as a user to my strategy when I post. I also follow people who inspire me with good posts. If you follow a lot of people who post boring or uninspiring stuff, you’ll be more likely to copy them. Don’t.
'If you follow a lot of people who post boring or uninspiring stuff, you’ll be more likely to copy them. Don’t.' ~ Jessica GardnerClick To Tweet
#4: Tell us how you connected with your target audience. Where did you get the courage to collaborate and present at workshops?
I think the best approach is to just put yourself out there and see what happens. Here are three examples of how that’s worked for me.
In early 2019, I attended a free workshop at my local library about networking. After the event, a UX designer approached me and said “I think I’m your target audience.” I had just decided what to offer as my main service, so I provided it to her for free in exchange for her feedback and a testimonial. It was a great opportunity.
Then last spring, I felt like I wanted to do something to connect with more potential clients and offer help during the pandemic. So, I contacted a local arts organization and offered to do a free webinar on portfolio writing for their members. Everyone was scrambling to find online events at that time, so they were delighted. It went really well, so I kept doing one per month for the rest of the summer. Every group I offered it to accepted, I got more people to join my mailing list, and I felt like I was helping some people in need. I chose one person each time for a giveaway and got more feedback and testimonials as I refined my service.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, I didn’t do much posting to IG, but I still spent a little time commenting on other people’s posts. One woman who’d been following me a while posted a picture of a gorgeous turkey. I complimented her on it.
Two days later, she emailed me asking for help with her portfolio writing even though my website is down because I’m in the middle of a redesign. When I asked her how she found me, she said she came across my account through a friend and was immediately struck by my content because most English teachers only post about teaching English and my feed is more about art and design. She bought my most expensive package.
#5: Looking back, what would you say takes the most time when it comes to building a business online?
I’m laughing as I write this, but I have to say the mindset shift. When I first started following Elena, I liked much of what she had to say, but I wasn’t sold on the mindset shift idea. I was like, “so if I just believe I can make a living doing this, then I will, huh? Sounds unlikely.” But now I see how trying to play it safe and doubting myself and being distracted by all the other things I felt I should be doing just slowed down the process.
And one day, I just realized I could do it. Somehow it all made sense finally and I knew that I needed to keep trying even if I wasn’t getting great results at the moment. It was very weird, but that was last spring when the pandemic was getting really bad and it would have been very easy to give up. Since then my anxiety has really lessened and I’m just doing as much as I can do and trusting that it will work out.
#6: What are some things you could have done differently in your business if you had started again?
I would have wasted less time being in denial. I have spent so much time trying to save money by attempting to learn on my own or by trying to find a safe and easy path in my business. It doesn’t work that way. I wish I had just accepted right away that building a successful business takes a long time (by this I mean years) and that I needed to set realistic expectations in terms of my time and finances.
No one is going to pay you until you know what you’re doing, and it takes time to learn how to do something new. So don’t create an expectation for yourself that you’ll be able to bring in a lot of money until you’ve done the work. Set realistic goals and don’t waste time trying to figure it out by yourself when you can get help. It isn’t going to work until you let go of your hesitation and guilt and go all in.
- Jessica took our Instagram Course for Language Teachers in January 2020, and it gave her more ideas and insights on how to use Instagram for business.
- We have worked together in the Smart Teacher’s Library since September 2018.
- In July 2019 I reached out to her to give her some suggestions of how to make her Instagram strategy more effective. It later prompted me to think of a special course that would help other teachers do the same.
- A few months after the course Jessica began reaching out to artists organizations about running workshops and events, which helped her connect with more potential clients and brought more subscribers to her list.