The majority of my career has been the equivalent of processing fish. People lined up to get tattooed and I tried to get through the day as efficiently as possible without losing quality. I don’t regret the early years of 8-10 tattoos a day. Without those formative years and work in a short time frame, I would not have the foundation needed to grow. The issue is moving away from a customer-based career and into a client-based career.
To be fair, customer-based tattooing IS the backbone of American style tattooing – BUT, it’s a ‘Wham! Bam! Thank you, ma’am!’ grind. It is surrounded in fear and greed. A shop is constantly protecting it’s turf and namesake. Crews are built up to defend the title of the shop, and an institution is set into motion. Soon the shop is bigger than the artists, and the stations are more important than who works in them. The shop is there to advertise and process fish. The minute an artist becomes an asset, he becomes a liability. The shop doesn’t need more cogs thrown into the gears of the machine. The machine stays in motion or it dies.
These fish are customers, they are not clients. To be clear, a customer has no dedicated ties to you, the artist. They need a service, and you may be the most convenient choice. Your shop is a walk-in shop right? How many people are walking in from 20, 50, or 100 miles away? A client will get on a plane and fly to you. A customer hopes you are working saturday, but will get tattooed by whoever is available.
Let me use an example from the oldest trade on the planet – Let’s talk about prostitutes. Bambi is a street walker on South Jefferson. Laura is a call girl operating by referrals only.
Bambi’s work shift starts at about 2pm. She will start walking a 2-block corridor up and down South Jefferson for the next 12 hours. Many cars will pass and a few will stop. She offers oral for $20. It’s a ‘take it, or leave it’ business transaction. She needs 20 transactions a shift to fill a self-imposed quota. That’s a net of $400/day. Not bad money, but the income isn’t guaranteed. The perks of the job are that very little effort and customer service are required to get a sale. The hard part is the stress of how many sales she needs per shift to live the lifestyle of her choosing. The worst thing is that she only gets to proposition customers on a two block stretch of South Jefferson.
Laura is a call girl. She has a schedule that is pretty flexible. She has 10-14 clients on her schedule. Each client has built a trusting relationship with Laura and together they have explored more unique and comfortable experiences. Laura work 4 days a week. She services 1-2 clients on a work day. She will prep and primp herself preparing for an encounter. Laura knows the needs of her clients, and caters to them individually. A transaction from Laura starts at $600. She has no restrictions on her location. She will meet clients from West County to downtown St. Louis. She only needs to schedule 6 transitions a week to live the life she is accustomed to. It required more preparation and scheduling, but the rewards and steady income are worth it to her.
So to review, Bambi will hopefully make 2400 dollars working 6 days. She will put in 72 hours in a given week. If Laura works 4 days with 8 clients, she will make 4800 dollars a week. Luara will clock about 24 hours max to achieve this weekly income. She has freedom to work where and when she wants.
So the question is, when you learn how to do your job well, when do you stop chasing customers and start building clients?