…The reason artists were thriving during the Renaissance was because artists were able to become entrepreneurs with the sponsorship (patronage) of small business owners. Before that, if you wanted to make money as an artist you either worked for the church or the state. This really hasn’t happened on a big scale since the Renaissance. In the past few decades, big corporations have put a lot of money into sponsorship, but for small businesses, it’s rarely used.
As a part of my series about “Ideas That Can Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Austin. Julie is an award-winning author, inventor, futurist, and innovation keynote speaker. She’s an internationally known thought leader on the topic of innovation, and CEO of the consulting firm Creative Innovation Group. She’s been an innovation keynote speaker for corporations such as Procter & Gamble, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Northrop Grumman, and Cognizant Technology Solutions. She’s also been featured in the books “Patently Female” and“Girls Think of Everything”. Her patented product, swiggies, wrist water bottles, have been a NASDAQ product of the year semifinalist and are currently sold in 24 countries. Julie and her products have appeared on The Today Show, The Queen Latifa Show, HGTV, Lifetime, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX News, Inc. magazine, Fast Company, and the Wall Street Journal, along with dozens of TV shows, magazines and radio shows around the world.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I worked in the entertainment industry for most of my life, both in front of the camera and on stage, and behind the scenes in production and TV sponsorship. I invented a product called swiggies, wrist water bottles, and was planning to license the product and just move on to the next thing. But after a deal fell through I ended up having to manufacture and distribute the product myself. It became a NASDAQ-winning product that is now sold in 24 countries. When the bottom fell out of the economy I fell back on my acting career and became a professional speaker. I was constantly being asked to speak for free and I asked if it was possible for me to get my own small business sponsor to pay. So, the meeting planner got a great speaker who wasn’t selling from the stage, the sponsor got a targeted audience for their company, the audience was happy, and I got paid. Other speakers asked me how I did it, and I realized there was a market for creatives of all kinds to make a great living with small business sponsorship. So, as you can see, it’s come full circle!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I’ve had a lot of interesting adventures as an entrepreneur. When I first started out with swiggies, I drove cross country, stopping in every big city to do a spot on the news. On slow news days, the news crews would spend hours taping creative spots for swiggies. So, I got to see interesting parts of the country with a news crew as tour guides. I also got to travel around the world doing international trade shows and speaking engagements.
Can you tell us about your “Idea That Can Change The World”?
I wrote a book that is coming out soon called “From the King’s Court to Kickstarter: Patronage in the Modern Era” about how arts and education has been sponsored throughout history. The reason artists were thriving during the Renaissance was because artists were able to become entrepreneurs with the sponsorship (patronage) of small business owners. Before that, if you wanted to make money as an artist you either worked for the church or the state.
This really hasn’t happened on a big scale since the Renaissance. In the past few decades, big corporations have put a lot of money into sponsorship, but for small businesses, it’s rarely used.
My sites, Indie Sponsorand Speaker Sponsorare an innovative way for artists and speakers to get small business sponsorship. In the same way crowdfunding changed arts and education, small business sponsorship has the potential to do the same. There are only around 18,000 big corporations (who rarely sponsor up and coming artists), but there are over 24 million small businesses just in the US alone. My first big sponsorship came from a small business in Europe.
How do you think this will change the world?
It’s a new payment model for artists in the same way crowdfunding was when it started. For small businesses it’s a marketing tax write-off and a way for them to reach a targeted audience for less money, and for speakers and artists it’s a way to make a great living as an entrepreneurial artist without having to hold your hand out and beg for a job. You also get to choose what you want to do and who you want to work with.
There is also a section for speakers who have causes. With corporate social responsibility, small business owners can sponsor a speaker or artist with a cause they’re passionate about. The public can also sponsor speakers or artists with a cause they’re passionate about.
The only thing I could think of is if one side doesn’t keep up their end of the bargain. Which is why you need a very simple contract between you that lays out what is expected of both parties. As far as the long-term law of unintended consequences, I guess it might create even more people who want to become an artist but crowdfunding and the Internet has already done that.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
The tipping point was when I was first asked to speak for free. Being a speaker is a LOT of work. I couldn’t understand the point of doing it for free, when the person sweeping the floor for the event was getting paid. So, I found a way around it that was a win-win for everyone. Speakers were always coming up to me at conferences asking why I got paid and they didn’t. That’s when I knew I needed to create a marketplace for small businesses and artists to meet for a mutually beneficial arrangement.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
Publicity and word of mouth is the best way to spread the word. I have speakers and artists who are making a great living with small business sponsorship and the testimonials speak for themselves.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.
· Selling people isn’t the same as selling cars — I think like a business owner and have sold products in the past. But artists aren’t objects. I have to be more aware that I’m dealing with emotions as well.
· My job is like being a matchmaker — Knowing the personalities and capabilities of each artist is important when you’re trying to match them up with the best sponsor for them.
· You can’t know everything — The bigger the sites get, the more information overload. Even though the sites are set up by categories, that doesn’t mean every artist is a perfect fit for every sponsor.
· The job requires a lot of intuition — It’s similar to being an agent and knowing who a good sponsor for each artist would be.
· It helps to have contacts — This is especially true when you start a business like this one. Luckily, I’ve been in business for many years and have built up a huge database of small business owners.
The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?
Become your own boss! This is the beauty of small business sponsorship for artists. It’s always been typical that artists have to beg for work and are expected to work for free, especially in the beginning. So why not monetize those free jobs with sponsorship and stop holding your hand out begging for work? As a speaker I never worked for free because I always had my own sponsors. You can make as much or as little as you want. With over 24 million small businesses just in the US alone, an artist will never run out of opportunities to make money.
Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?
Since I’m already at the point where I am working as many hours as I can, I would have to first invest in a few more employees. Even though the business model is very sustainable, getting the word out to more small business owners is crucial. It’s a new concept for small businesses, who may not even know that sponsorship on their level is possible. So, advertising and face to face meetings at trade shows is invaluable.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
The only entrepreneur role model I have in my family was my grandmother. She was 17 years old, an orphan, with no college degree, no experience, and no collateral, but she walked into a bank and asked for a loan to open a gas station/grocery store. She promised to pay them a penny for each gallon of gas she sold until the loan was paid off, which she did. She literally worked there until the day she died. So, her principles of hard work and strong ethics have guided me as an entrepreneur. I dedicated my first book to her.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
I think the first thing is to choose a career path that you enjoy. The money will always follow if you work hard and never give up. Sounds simple, but true!
Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
The Speaker Sponsor/Indie Sponsor business model is very sustainable and has potential for multiple offshoot products. There are manybusiness models that operate on a free business model who have to sustain it with advertising. This one is pay up front. Also, the innovative “management team” is very passionate about connecting the business community with the art community. With the latest trend of downtown revitalization, small business sponsorship is a perfect fit at the right time.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.