Lessons Learned From A Great Student, Eric Rhoads


Every teacher will tell you that from time to time someone comes along who is an exceptional student. For me, that student is Lori Putnam.

Lori asked me to guest blog, which frankly is something I suggested during my Social Media Marketing Secrets Revealed session with Lori McNee. If you invite guest bloggers, you’ll not only be associated with the people who appear on your site (I call it “halo marketing”), they’ll also spread that post to their audiences, thus building awareness for your blog (or in this case, Lori’s blog.) It’s not evil. It’s not even manipulative. It’s smart marketing, and I’ve learned that Lori, as a great student, does pretty much everything suggested by a teacher she trusts. Most do 5 percent of what they’re asked. Lori does 95 percent.

I’m sure it is a little discomforting to Lori for me to talk about her in this guest post, but there is a method to my madness, and some lessons in this for all of us.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are you’ve already heard Lori’s rags-to-riches story. Lori is the “poster child” I refer to in a lot of my marketing because her story is so remarkable.

Lori was on the skids — her husband was out of work, her art career was not going great, and she was ready to throw in the towel. About that time she learned that I was adding the Art Marketing Boot Camp™ to the Plein Air Convention as a way to draw in a few more people. My appeal for attendees struck a chord with Lori, who decided she had to be there because she was determined to be a success. Though she couldn’t really afford the trip across the country and to pay for a hotel to attend the convention, she set a goal to get there, followed my “eliminate that $5 cup of coffee for a few months” suggestion, and managed to skimp and scrape to get there.

Lesson #1:Know what you want, and be so determined that nothing gets in the way of your success.

In my first session onstage, I suggested that of the 500 people in the room, only five would take any serious action, and only one or two would be so committed that they would follow every step and succeed. She stood up and said, “That’s me. I’m that person who will succeed.”  I was impressed.

Lesson #2: Make a commitment in front of others so you’ll have to make it happen.

During that first Art Marketing Boot Camp, I laid out a series of must-do items that required real time and financial commitment, including advertising nonstop in every issue of a magazine, even when you’re afraid it’s not working. I even explained that six or eight months in, artists would feel like they are spending money with no return and would want to back out. They’d have to be patient and let momentum build.

Lori didn’t have the money to become a regular, consistent advertiser at that time. But she trusted my advice, which told her that if she followed my advertising advice exactly, for a year at a time, each year with a different commitment and program, she would become a well known national brand within a few years. Of course, after six months, as predicted, the call came in. She was not seeing results and wanted to back out. I let her know that was a natural reaction and that most people would back out — and then never really know if they could have built their brand because they didn’t hang in there. I assured her that I’d been through this many times with clients over the years, and she would beat the odds by sticking to the plan.

I don’t know about you, but when someone is trusting you with their livelihood and all their money, it makes you question your own convictions. I really did not want to be that guy who gave advice that brought someone else disaster. So I asked myself at that moment, “Do you believe this with all your heart?” My answer was yes, so I encouraged her to keep going.

“It won’t be long, but you’ll start hearing from people,” I told her. “You’ll start getting invited to events as a guest artist. You’ll start getting some mild inquiries from galleries. You’ll start hearing from people who want to study under you. But nothing much will happen right away. You’re being tested. Just hang in there.” With her teeth gritted and lots of pressure at home, including tremendous financial pressure, she agreed.

Lesson #3: Building trust is a process, but once trust is built, you have a huge foundation for success. Soon Lori started to see the cracks in the dam, and everything I suggested would happen started happening. As time passed, more and more of it occurred.

Lori has attend Art Marketing Boot Camp four years in a row. Even though she was there, she’s also bought the DVDs for each one and tells me she watched them again and again and picked up new things every time. She has been obsessed with learning to market, and, unlike most, she does almost everything I tell her to do, even when she challenges it. She is that student every teacher loves.

Lesson #4: Become obsessed with learning something new. Invest in yourself and your reinvention. The point of all of this is to show you a living example of what is possible. Almost any proficient artist with desire can achieve what Lori has achieved, a rags-to-riches story in five years. She’s gone from having no money to attend an event and no money for advertising to building her career until she’s seeing critical acclaim for her work, invitations from major galleries, producing a video and a book, and selling a tremendous number of paintings at a time when others say paintings aren’t selling. Best of all, it’s fun to watch her build her new home and studio, which she couldn’t even have dreamed of a few years ago.

Learning Isn’t Enough In the course of five years, thousands of people have bought my videos or attended my events, and I’ll be the first to tell you that arming you with ideas and knowledge is not going to solve your problem. I can pretty much tell which students are going to do something with the knowledge when I meet them, based on the questions they ask and the way they approach me. It all starts with your passion and determination. The good news is that it’s not just Lori who is a great student. I’m honored to have helped hundreds of artists take action and see their careers make giant leaps. But Lori is a great example of what is possible; when you look up the word determination in the dictionary, you see her picture.

Talent Alone Is Not an Indicator of Success After dealing with thousands of artists, there are a few things I’ve noticed. Most use the excuse that others are more talented than they are, so of course someone as gifted as Lori is succeeding. Yet historically, those who succeed are not especially advantaged. There are better painters who will never be known in the art world because they don’t believe in themselves, and they assume someone like Lori is an exception. Yet it’s simply not true. Talent alone is not an indicator of success. The world is filled with brilliant unknowns, and there are some less talented artists who are very wealthy. One defining factor in success seems to be the ability to open yourself up to things you don’t understand and be willing to do them even though they seem counterintuitive. Another defining factor is a burning desire to make a significant change in your life and your circumstances, which makes you willing to adapt, to move out of your comfort zone, make sacrifices, and do what it takes to be the success you want to be. People who get really down tend to be the ones who get sick enough of it that they rise from the ashes.

You Can Do This It is my belief that almost anyone can become a household name in a decade, be a well-known artist in prominent art circles within five to eight years, and make significant progress within a year to two years. Those who win and win big are the ones who understand the principles of momentum, one year building on the other, in continuous motion. Those who typically lose are those who start, then stop, start again, then stop, moving from one publication to another and never building any momentum or awareness.

Fake It Till You Make It Though I’ve never been one who believes that positive thinking alone will bring pots of gold to your rainbow, it does start with mindset. I spend a tremendous amount of time on mindset in all of my marketing sessions, because it’s the foundation of all success. You must believe in yourself and fake it till you make it. Before long, faking it is no longer necessary.

I Had No Idea I’d Be Giving Art Marketing Advice This whole art marketing thing has been a giant surprise to me, because I never intended to do it. I’ve spent my life in marketing, and when I started the magazines, someone suggested they needed some help, so I started blogging. Then, when I needed to goose sales for the Plein Air Convention in the first year, someone said, “You oughta do a session on marketing — everybody needs help.” That led to my doing the marketing sessions every year and the release of my five DVDs on art marketing.

I never set out to do this, but it’s extremely gratifying when I hear from people who follow the ideas and get great success from them. In fact, in July I came up with an idea, blogged about it, and just yesterday an artist sent me a note saying she followed through on the idea, and got a big commission as a result. That makes everything worth it.

You Too Can Learn From Lori If you’re an artist with a dream of making a living at your craft, or you have specific dreams of things that today seem impossible, take a lesson from Lori Putnam. Set your mind to it, open your mind to new ideas, be committed, and those impossible dreams actually will come true. It’s not just positive thinking; it’s that, combined with specific goals, a system and an action plan to get there. Lori e-mails me her goals each year, and I can tell you that she is so specific about the exact things that are going to happen that it’s clear why she is succeeding. I’m thrilled to have played a small role in helping her get where she is today — which, if you could see her goals, is not even halfway to where she intends to be! Eric Rhoads

Eric Rhoads is publisher and founder of Fine Art Connoisseur and PleinAir magazines and the PleinAir Today and Fine Art Today weekly newsletters, and is chairman of Streamline Publishing, which was just named to the INC 5000 as one of the fastest-growing private companies in the world. Eric is also a painter.

You can read his art marketing blog at http://ericrhoads.blogs.com/artist_marketing/.