One of the most common questions I get about B Street is "How did you start customizing shoes? Normally I jump into the story about how I was customizing hats and got asked to paint on shoes.
But as the years go by I've come to realize this question is usually vailed with what came first, the chicken or the egg? It's a niche thing to be painting shoes. So without articulating it, people wonder, did I have an audience and get into painting shoes, or did I get into painting shoes then build an audience? People want to know, was there one big break like painting custom shoes for a celebrity, or was the business of customizing sneakers built little by little?
In this article I'll explain how I passed $1,000,000 in sales of custom sneakers without a huge audience, and how you can do it too.
1. Focus on your building a good product, not a big audience.
Sometimes sneaker artists DM me on Instagram and ask me to repost their work. They tell me they're "trying to get more known." I click on their profile and notice they have only painting a few pairs of shoes. Or even worse, they're a private account. If you're starting any sort of creative business, getting some examples up on your social profiles is the first step towards building an audience. Without this, potential followers will lose interest and click off your page quickly. The sooner your page can get filled with art, the sooner your audience grows.
At the time of writing this I have more than 2,970 Instagram posts. That's years and years of painting custom sneakers and posting them for people to see. When people click over to my page, whether they're a sneaker artist, or looking to buy some shoes, they're going to scroll for a while. This increases the chances of someone hitting that follow button. For every piece of art that goes up on your page, you can count that as earned audience in the future. There will people that are drawn to different pieces of art on your page. So creating a variety of art will attact a variety of views .
2. Get found by the people who are searching for you.
The Internet is a Massive Place. People have become more comfortable with online shopping every year. Building relationships with people online is now normal. Following your favorite celebrities, coworkers and people you admire is something everyone does. With access to the entire world from your mobile phone, searching for something unique is easy.
Getting a bunch of unique custom sneakers designs on my social media accounts, website and other platforms became top priority when starting out. I wanted people searching for custom sneakers to find me. This seemed easier than selling to people who were following me. It's the same exact reason why you want to show up higher on Google than Facebook. Facebook is people scrolling, Google searches is people with intent to buy. This is how you make money as an artist with no following. People searching for something you make.
3. Cultivate Relationships
My friend Javier got a job as a graphic designer at the Beverly Hills Print Shop. They made business cards and flyers for local businesses. They had been in business for more than 25 years. When I asked Javier how they got business, he told me they had repeat customers that kept coming back year after year. The Print shop had no social media presence, had a basic website and spent almost no money on marketing. But they offered a good service which caused their customers to keep coming back.
I tell this story because it shows the importance of making friends with your clients. If they spent money on your art once, they will do it again. For my custom sneaker career, I've tried to think about how I can offer personalized products to my repeat clients rather than finding new clients. After a few years, of building relationships, building a social media audience became very low priority.
I hope you found some value from this post. If you're interested in seeing more behind the scenes of my custom sneaker business, subscribe to my YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGuK4EMnJEs6FlMfTGsARzA