There are a few challenges in starting your own business, you need to get your name out there, if no one is aware of your services then they can’t hire you, and you need to get some credibility, art is valuable (monetarily, sentimentally, and culturally) and your potential client wants to know your reputation, and if are not established as some sort of ‘expert’, your potential client will be wary. You also need to know what you are selling is not conservation, preservation, or restoration, it is YOU. You are providing your clients with your services, your expertise, your advice, your time, your skills. This is what makes you different from every other conservator working in your area or in the world, they are selling themselves, you are selling you.
To establish a reputation you can work with established institutions, everyone recognizes the local museum and if you had a project there that was popular or got some press even better (outreach is your friend).
You can sit on committees and become involved in local organizations that will further establish your reputation amongst other professional colleagues. For example, I am a member of CAMA - Central Arizona Museum Association, I attended a workshop on exhibitions at the Phoenix Airport Museum, I am working to secure recommendations for a position as a panelist for the Arizona Commission on the Arts, and the WAAC meeting this year will be held in cooperation with the annual meeting for the Western Museums Association in Palm Springs, California, so there will be opportunities to meet museum professionals from all over the Western United States.
Here are a few suggestions for more ways to establish yourself as an expert, taken from Make your business survive and thrive: 100+ proven marketing methods to help you beat the odds and build a successful small or home-based enterprise. Huff, Priscilla. 2007.
- Nominate Others - foster networking relationships with your business colleagues,
- Nominate Yourself - research awards given in your community and profession, if you do win write a press release and send it out, sometimes just being a finalist is worth a mention as well.
-Writing columns, offer to write a column for a gallery’s newsletter, website, local newspaper or newsweekly, etc. Do your research to see if there are existing columns and ask if a publication uses freelance pieces for columns. You write up a few articles and distribute it to a number of websites or news sources, and as long as you are cited perhaps you could include a link to your website? If possible, only sell ‘first rights’ to your article and retain other rights so you can offer reprints or revisions in non-competing publications.
-If writing a whole article sounds too daunting, experiment with a letter to the editor, comments on a blog post, or answering questions on LinkedIn questions or Quora. Keep it short - 150 words or less, and professional, it is your expertise you are showing, but it needs to be understandable to a broad audience or you will seem pretentious.
- As well as writing, you can offer to give presentations at local organizations and institutions. Seminars can be developed on a few different topics and you can offer a series, like one general seminar for free, and a follow-up that is for a small fee.
- Establishing Scholarships, for as little as $100 a year, you can sponsor scholarships that high schools, private learning centers, art schools, and others award annually to students. Your business name will be listed as a scholarship donor in programs and directories distributed to attendees of the graduation and awards ceremonies.
- Professional Panels - for businesses or non-profits, this will put you in contact with other experts and potential clients.
- A Day, International Museum Day is May 18th, May Day for disaster preparedness is May 1st, International day for monuments and sites is April 18th, find the day, promote a project on that day, send out a press release. Or you could write an article or Op-Ed about why you enjoy working for museums and send it to the local paper for International Museum Day.