While we’d all love to be back in the dance studio or performing on stage right about now, life has thrown us a bit of a curveball. Spending more time at home doesn’t mean you can’t stay inspired and motivated as you continue to work toward your goals. One such empowering project is understanding the business side of show business. What exactly does that entail? Everything from creating and marketing your “brand” to cultivating your online presence on various social media platforms. The Dance Journalist caught up with branding expert, Katy Kauffman of Hustle by TRSK (aka @therealslimkaty), to learn more about how just a little knack for business can empower any dancer.
What are your dance background and professional experience?
I’ve been dancing all my life! Growing up in Hershey, PA, I trained rigorously in a ballet conservatory and always sought out the best training in my area. It was a natural progression to pursue dance professionally. I received dual degrees from Towson University in Dance Performance (BFA) and Advertising/PR (BS). Upon graduation, I moved to NYC and lived in the full-time job world for a bit while gigging in concert dance land. I made the transition to musical theatre after a year of pounding the pavement and feeling very unhappy, and it was the BEST decision I ever made! Some favorite credits include understudying Lise and performing in the ensemble of Westchester Broadway Theatre’s production of An American in Paris and performing in the ensemble of Legally Blonde at both Riverside Theatre (Vero Beach, FL) and Walnut Street Theatre (Philadelphia, PA).
How did you get into branding – building websites, SEO, social media management, etc.?
What a great question! Part is ingrained in my DNA. My dad worked in television all his life and my mother runs a successful, award-winning advertising agency in Pennsylvania. I always knew I wanted to continue my education and double major in school and challenge the status quo on the “starving artist” mentality. My summers during college weren’t spent training for my dance career at intensives or performing in summer stock shows. Instead, I interned at the top advertising agencies in the world, on account giants such as Verizon, DuPont, and BP. I also did my honors college thesis on the successful marketing best practices of the esteemed Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre, where I interviewed their marketing director and agency of record, to gather tactics for arts organizations looking to strategically utilize free digital marketing platforms. I have my mother’s entrepreneurial drive, for sure! I constantly focused on honing in on my craft and growing my skill set. My natural curiosity helped me gain my vast array of knowledge and my passion for applying it to my specific market of artists simply lights up my life.
Why is branding important for the professional or aspiring professional dancer?
The word “branding” is something that scares artists because it might feel like it puts you in a box. The idea of branding is something I redefine for my clients. You see, branding is innate. How you express your brand, either online or in-person, has a lasting effect on your audience (in this case, casting, choreographers, directors, other artists, etc.). It’s important to really take some time to get insight on the messages you are putting out into the digital space and even invest to refine those messages. You are in control! With the rise of technology also comes our responsibility to respond and utilize these tools. A web presence, specifically, is imperative. You must be relevant on a Google search. The people who want to hire you are doing the work to find you. Make it easy for them!
Why must dancers also be savvy when it comes to business?
I always say this — the success of the arts depends on the ability of us, as artists, to know our worth and operate as a business would. That includes providing value, asking for or declaring our worth when negotiating compensation and promoting ourselves accordingly. It elevates us as an industry!
How has branding evolved in the age of social media? What “sites” or “platforms” does every dancer need?
A professional artist website, in my opinion, is the top priority. You can create your own site on a variety of platforms, including Wix, Weebly or Squarespace (my preference). Of course, I highly recommend hiring a professional, and I’m not saying that because that’s what I do. A trained, professional eye can really take your website to the next level. Imagine a rando with no dance experience rolling into a dance ECC for a Broadway show. If you don’t have the professional skills or best practices, it shows. It’s well worth the investment.
As for social media, it has evolved SO much. If you scroll back to the dawn of Instagram on anyone’s feed, it is clear how our photos, captions, and messaging have changed since our first few posts. Social media is just another creative outlet to showcase your art and share it with the world. I think if every dancer or artist thought of their feed in that way, it would take the stress out of what to post and what to say. Because Instagram is a visual tool, it makes it a great platform for dancers. It also links well with Facebook. Other sites that should be top of mind include casting sites, such as Actors Access, Casting Networks, and Backstage.
And a side note: I am interested to see how the rise of TikTok integrates with the dance industry long term. As many dancers are trending on this app and it has the world moving together (even non-dancers), I think there is a great opportunity for us in that space. I’m currently working on learning my way around this new platform and developing new content!
Should you separate your personal from your professional social media?
I could go two ways with this. First and foremost, I believe this is a personal preference. If there are things you want to share to a smaller community and keep your private life private, I think it’s smart to differentiate the two. However, on the other hand, I think it’s important for artists to be HUMANS first. That means your feed isn’t just over-saturated with dance photos and class combos. Showing that you’re a multi-dimensional person is intriguing. Remember to be real!
What services and resources do you provide?
I provide a variety of marketing, design, and business services for artists of all kinds. I work with dancers, choreographers, music directors…even fitness professionals! Whether you want to focus your brand, need a website, are looking to revamp your marketing materials, or strategize your business idea, hustle by trsk is a full-service branding experience. It’s about synthesizing your vibe into physical/digital elements that express your inner artist, but there is also a huge mental component. I consider my work an empowering process. It’s eye-opening. It’s defining.
A potential client asked me in a call once “so… why do you love making websites?” To be honest, it’s not the web design that I’m passionate about. I’m more passionate about fulfilling my mission of empowering artists and helping them showcase what makes them competitive and unique — why they are an important part of our industry puzzle. No matter how successful an artist appears on my client roster—from Broadway performers to successful entrepreneurs—they always have underlying fears that they bring into our work. It’s my job to help them take the sheet off from over their eyes, focus their goals, and package their gifts to share with others!
What is an artistpreneur? How did you “find your calling” and how do you encourage others to do the same through your work?
An “artistpreneur” is a term I coined for my artists who are also exploring other passions as side hustles. This sector really excites me! We are very creative beings, so we truly make the BEST entrepreneurs. I help people create business plans and brand them from the ground up, so they can do more of what they love with a “right-brain consultant” on their side. I’ve built a business myself, so to be able to pass along guidance to artists just starting out felt like a natural progression for me.
I found my artistpreneur calling after realizing I like to be my own boss. From working full-time to freelancing in-house, I realized I liked holding the power and the final say. It also provides flexibility for auditioning as I’m able to make my own hours and set my own rates. It’s black and white from when I moved to the city working 40 hours a week. There’s not a day that passes by where I’m not eternally grateful for this beautiful life I built for myself.
My advice for others: if you have a business idea you are really passionate about, just jump in and do the work. In the field of arts/entertainment, you face a lot of rejection and challenges. Diversifying your life’s work brings a level of freedom that creates new opportunities that you never dreamed were possible. A beautiful balance. Just go for it! Let’s bring that idea to life. Give me a call. 🙂
To learn more about Katy’s services and resources, visit www.hustlebytrsk.com and follow her on Instagram @hustlebytrsk.