“It’s going to take time” something Hillary Butler wishes she could go back and tell herself on day one of her business. Now eleven years into being a professional artist, Hillary has a thing or two to say about staying in the game, pivoting with the times, and being innovative while keeping true to yourself. She can remember the days of making connections over handshakes and selling art to friends, the rise and fall and rise again of social platforms like Facebook and Instagram, and the not so glamorous reality of putting your head down and doing the work.
If you want to stay in business for the long haul, take note from those who have done it! Over a decade of painting and selling things, Hillary Butler shares insights on sticking it out through the ebbs and flows of recessions, marketing strategies, slow seasons and pinch me moments. Today’s guest is a client turned lifelong friend, the incredible artist Hillary Butler!
“I thought I was going to be an interior designer.”
That’s how semi-abstract painter Hillary Butler describes the start of her career. Like so many entrepreneurs, she didn’t set out with this particular path in mind.
“I was always drawing and painting. Even as I grew up, I envisioned myself in a creative job. I just didn’t know how that would happen.”
By the time she reached college, Hillary picked a major, not based on passion but instead, based on aesthetics.
“I was going to be an art major. Actually, that’s how I started off, but then I got burned out really quickly. I changed my major pretty quickly because I was tired of being covered in charcoal. It’s so stupid now, but at 18, I changed my major simply because I wanted to look cute on campus. It’s the worst reason that anyone should ever change a major!”
After graduation, Hillary’s hopes to enter the creative field in some way were again put on the backburner, this time because of practicality.
“David and I were getting married, so I just took any job that came my way. We needed to make money!”
Her first job? An administrative assistant at a tech firm. That position carried her through until 2008, when the economy crashed and she, like many, was laid off. After trying desperately to find a new job, she made the decision to go back to school and supplement her education with an associate’s degree in graphic design. Quickly, she took on a position doing design work, but again, she found herself struggling to stay afloat in a company and a job that just wasn’t a fit.
Eventually, Hillary made a brave decision.
“I had a big dream to paint, and I kept coming back to it. Finally, one day, I was like, ‘If I don’t do this now, I don’t know that I ever will do it.’ We had a very tiny amount of money in savings, so it was definitely scary to go from two incomes to one. But I just knew it was the time to try.”
So, she quit that job and began taking steps to pursue her big dream—the dream of being an artist.
But as all creative entrepreneurs know, starting out is the hardest part!
“I just threw everything at the wall to try and make it happen. I started a blog, built my business on Facebook, did every art festival, and took any work that came my way. It was very gentle, gradual growth in the beginning.”
In those early years, Hillary kept her head down and focused on her craft.
“I was kind of painting what everybody else around me was painting. Even though I had a big background in art, I didn’t have the benefit of having been through a program to hone my style. So, I was just painting whatever I thought people wanted to buy, not necessarily what I was passionate about or what was unique to me”
Within the first year, that approach was paying off, at least financially. The business was profitable, but not booming the way Hillary had hoped. Something in the way she was starting out had to change.
“I hit this point where I was like, ‘Screw it!’ I decided I was going to paint what I wanted to paint. And I was really surprised to see just how well people responded to that. My business really took off when I made that change, and it’s been growing ever since.”
With her business officially growing and her style of painting officially selling, Hillary found herself wondering why the numbers didn’t seem to add up.
“Looking back, I was pricing super, super low. I just wanted anything to sell, no matter how much it cost to make. Clearly, I had no idea how to price.”
Fortunately, Hillary made another brave decision in the early days of business: to learn her numbers and make them work for her.
“Learning my numbers and how to price my product was huge for me. It was a total game changer for my business and my confidence.”
The key for Hillary? Learning to price for her value.
“Picasso used to say that people would come up to him and ask how long it took to do a painting. He would always answer with his age at the time. That really resonated to me in the way I needed to shift my pricing. Right now, if you get one of my paintings, you’re getting 38 years of experience and technique. It means the value of the work will increase in price over time because you’re getting more and more experience in my work.”
With her pricing set and her income growing, Hillary kept working consistently to build, keep, and grow her following and clientele.
“Anything you do consistently, you start to do well. So, I just focused on getting a following of collectors, painting consistently, and letting my work and the words of my clients speak for themselves.”
To market her work, Hillary focused on Instagram, building a platform and connecting with clients there.
“I started changing my feed to feature my work, and it really started massively growing. To this day, Instagram is one of the top places people find me.”
Beyond that, Hillary focused on growing a mailing list and finding other unique ways to connect with her clients in a real, personal way.
“I got really serious about nurturing my mailing list and the relationships I was forming with my most faithful clients. I just saw everything as a tool to use for client relations, and that perspective helped me enjoy marketing my business in a new way.”
Last year, Hillary hit what she calls a “weird year” in her business. She found herself in a downward slope that could have left her frustrated and on the verge of closing up. But for Hillary, that downward slope only confirmed that she was on the right path.
“I kept thinking, ‘Why would I want to do anything else?’ Even in a weird year that was really frustrating for my business, I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else than this.”
Hillary stayed the course, and eventually, that downward slope turned around. Now, she’s building her business again, moment by moment.
To hear the rest of the story and what Hillary is up to now, press play on the player above for the full interview or click here to download the full transcript.
Steal like an Artist book by Austin Kleon
What is Enough? Episode with Shanna
Philosophy of Leisure Instagram
Hillary is a semi- abstract painter who has been filling walls with elevated color soirées since 2011. She’s a podcast junkie, lover of long dinners with good friends and Sunday afternoons with a good book. She and her husband live in Memphis, TN. and have two frenetic redheaded boys who keep them on their toes and make life really exciting. She is honored to have work featured on ABC’s hit show, Nashville, and has had the opportunity to show at Agora Gallery in New York. Several hit blogs have featured some HB work. Among these are Better Homes and Gardens, Domino, & Design Love Fest.
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December 15, 2022
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