This interview is designed to profile popular influencers and small business owners making waves. The purpose of this Q&A is to inspire and provide helpful tips to like-minded individuals, providing a resource for all stakeholders in the influential marketing industry.
In the world of influencer marketing, you are only as relevant as the content you produce. No matter you are selling, the content you create will go a long way in setting you apart from the competition.
One of the young influencers really making an impact in the Greater Toronto Area and abroad is calligraphist, artist and designer, Alicia Spence, owner of Alicia Spence Designs. With nearly 10,000 followers on Instagram and more than 5,400 subscribers on Youtube, Alicia is using her art to reach a global audience of design enthusiasts, hobbyists and event planners.
Self-taught in the arts, she loves teaching others what she has learned through the years practicing and instructing lettering and art. She thinks everyone should learn the art of writing and keep calligraphy alive in the modern age!
1. RS: Tell us more about how you got into calligraphy?
AS: I was working as an art instructor so I was painting and experimenting a lot, and I always loved fonts and graphic design. I started an Instagram account to share my artwork, and I started watching calligraphy videos in total awe. From there, I started slowly learning what it was all about, and realized it is so much harder than the videos made it look! It took a while, but I finally got it and fell in love with this lost art. I started doing weddings and custom gifts and really enjoyed making people’s special days or gifts even more special.
2. RS: When did you decide to do workshops, sell prints online, teach classes etc?
AS: I was at a transition point in 2017, and a new workshop space opened up down the street from me. I had thought of the idea before and when I saw the space, I knew I had to start the workshops up! This was after a year or so of being super busy with wedding calligraphy and custom work. I was let go of my job as a graphic designer and was looking for something else to sustain my income. After being so busy with calligraphy work, I knew there had to be a demand to learn it!
3. RS: What inspired you to become an “influencer”? Talk to me about your content strategy and how you use your art to reach clients?
AS: I try to remain an artist above everything else, and just share what I do on a day-to-day basis on my feed. I try to be as organic and authentic as possible and let my images and artwork speak for itself. This lets me just focus on the art instead of putting in a lot of time to planning a strategy. I feel sometimes like these types of strategies don’t really feel like ‘me’, and I end up frustrated trying to figure out a plan. Instead, I just kind of keep it like a snapshot of what I’m working on at the moment or my past work. I keep a rule of only using my own content so to keep with the visual portfolio aspect of my feed.
4. RS: How hard was it to find suppliers, what approach did you take? Do you keep small inventory or print-on-demand? Talk a bit about your business model and how you’ve created new avenues for yourself over time.
AS: It’s definitely hard to find the right suppliers, but I follow a lot of artists who share what they use and where they get things from. It’s helped me a lot over the years to avoid the headache and money pit of testing and experimenting. There still will always be testing, but by doing some research you’ll test only the best products.
5. RS: You have more than 9,500 followers on Instagram. How have you built your audience? How much time do you focus on your customer engagement?
AS: I’ve had my Instagram account for over five years, and I’ve shared my art journey ever since I started taking it more seriously. I try to follow and engage with other accounts and answer a lot of DMs with questions about techniques, materials, etc. A lot of budding and professional calligraphers follow me, especially lots of my past students and always have lots of great questions about how to do things, materials to use etc. I learned a lot by asking others so I like to pay it forward.
6. RS: Do you believe that social media ad campaigns have helped you in your strategy to grow your audience or is it the organic authentic following you try to build and maintain? Talk to us about your approach to content creation and marketing.
AS: I definitely used to do ad campaigns when I was teaching in-person workshops. I would target audiences where I was teaching and made it a regular ad campaign. I’ll definitely go back to advertising when I finish my online courses. I also really love doing giveaways and contests to grow my following and engage with my followers! It’s a great way to use those advertising dollars to directly benefit my followers and gain new ones.
7. RS: How important has it been for you to connect and partner with other creatives doing print-on-demand drop shipping? How have those partnerships boosted your audience/following, if at all?
AS: I’ve definitely connected and partnered with different players in the creative industry, and a lot of that was from just being out there teaching people on a weekly basis. Eventually others in the community heard about it and would request to teach at their store, or work with their products and create content using their products. I realize that everyone is trying to promote something, whether it’s to step inside their store to get a product personalized or take an interactive class, or use their products when your making these things and post content with them. It’s been really fascinating to see unfold over the years, and obviously I am missing these public events very much!
8. RS: What social media platform works best for you and why? Instagram is key for creatives but you also have Patreon. How has that platform helped you as a hyper-creative, print-on-demand drop shipping business?
AS: Instagram is how I started, and for anyone doing anything with a visual aspect to their work, it’s the best for creating basically a mini portfolio that’s easy for anyone to see. Using hashtags and following and engaging with others is also a really great way to utilize the community aspect of the app. I recommend all my students to create an Instagram page even just to keep track of their own creative journeys. That’s how I started and it’s the same mentality I try to keep today. If you have something you can offer your audience, Patreon is a great way to make them happy. I share printable worksheets that I create every month and it’s a fun way to give back to everyone that is learning calligraphy and wants some fun inspiration to practice with every month. People use Pinterest, Facebook, TikTok etc. but I just don’t have time or the interest to keep up with them, but I probably should!
9. RS: What is your mission and goal with your overall brand? If it’s to inspire, say why? If it’s about money, or is it about expression? Both? Do tell.
AS: Inspiration, expression, making a living is all tied together to why I’ve taken this path. It’s not easy to achieve all 3 of those things, so keeping your finger on the pulse of what people need and how to keep yourself creatively inspired is how you’ll successfully transition from a hobby to your business. My goal was always to share and inspire first, and that led me to so many other things that I wouldn’t have even been able to plan or think of. I still have so many goals that will require me to take the next steps to realize how I can accomplish the next chapter of my life.
When I made the leap to instructor, I realized just how essential inspiring others is to my happiness. I definitely try to inspire others to create, in whatever way they can, because it’s good for the soul. I think everyone has something they enjoy being creative in, and helping people find something they love to do brings me a lot of joy. Basically, it comes down to passion. There are lots of people online, but the passionate ones will be able to really connect with others and create meaningful content that will help others on their own path.
10. RS: How has the pandemic changed your approach to content production?
AS: The pandemic changed the biggest parts of my business — teaching workshops, live on-site calligraphy and weddings and events. It’s definitely been a blow, but it’s also been a time to reflect and pivot. I’ve started painting again which made my dream of becoming an illustrator more real and prominent.
11. RS: What do you have planned for 2021?
AS: I have my online course release planned, which will open up a lot of my time from not teaching workshops to working on artwork and painting. I’ll be continuing and ramping up my calligraphy crew subscription on Patreon where I make new lettering worksheets and colouring pages every month. I’ll also be delving into my other passions of writing, music and holistic living. I’m hoping it will be a very fruitful and relaxed year!