Where are they now? Ilena Finocchi, multi-disciplinary artist

In this new episode in the “Where are they now?” series, I reminisced with multi-disciplinary artist, Ilena Finocchi, originally featured in my first book, Self-Promotion Online (in 2001!).

She shares her most effective marketing tools and, more important, the attitude that’s allowed her to avoid the “starving artist” syndrome. 

I met Ilena at one of my early speaking gigs at a HOW Design Conference in 1996. She approached me afterward to introduce herself and asked for my address so she could send me her self promotion mailer.

The result?

I hired her to do illustrations for my printed newsletter, The Art of Self Promotion and, even better, I featured her in my first book, Self Promotion Online, in 2001.

Now, we’ve reconnected more than 25 years later when she found my online course at Domestika.org, Writing a Winning Proposal: Land Your Dream Clients, where I outline my Proposal Oreo Strategy. So she reached out again and, of course, I had to have her on the podcast to share her journey and the role of self promotion along the way.

She talked about which tools she’s used most effectively to get the gigs over the years and what it means to focus when you’re a person with multiple talents. 

Here's the baby step Ilena suggests:

Just do one thing a day – no matter how small. It all adds up and compounds over time.

You can find Ilena online at ilenaf.com and on Instagram @ilenasworldasif.

Lots of great lessons here for everyone, so listen here (or below): 

And if you like what you hear, we’d love it if you write a review, subscribe on Apple Podcasts and sign up for Quick Tips from Marketing Mentor.

Read the complete transcript of #445 with Ilena Finocchi

ilise benun

Hi there. This is ilise benun, your Marketing Mentor. And this is the podcast for you if, and only if, you are ready to leave the feast or famine syndrome behind, and I mean for good. 

In this new episode, in the “Where Are They Now?” series, I chatted with multidisciplinary artist, Ilena Finocchi, who met me at one of my very early speaking gigs, a HOW Design conference, in 1996. She approached me afterward to introduce herself and ask for my address so she could send me her self-promotion mailer. The result? I hired her to do illustrations for my printed newsletter. Oh yes, it was The Art of Self Promotion. And even better, I featured her in my first book, Self-Promotion Online, in 2001.

Now, after 25 years, we've reconnected when she found my online course at Domestika.org. It's called Writing a Winning Proposal where I outline my Proposal Oreo Strategy. And so, of course, she reached out again, and, of course, I had to have her on the podcast so she could share her journey, and more important, the role of self-promotion along the way. 

In our conversation, she talked about which tools she's used most effectively to get the gigs over the years and what it means to focus when you're a person with multiple talents. Lots of great lessons here for everyone. So, listen and learn. 

Hello, Ilena. Welcome to the podcast.

Ilena Finocchi

Hello, ilise. Thanks for having me.

ilise benun
You're welcome. One of the things I love about getting old — and especially being in the same business and being in the same circles or industry for a long time, and I'm almost to 34 years here (actually, in April it was 34 years) —one of the things I love about it is that people come back around and then it triggers all these memories. Good memories for the most part. And that's what happened with you. And so, I just want to ask you to introduce yourself first and then I'll tell a little backstory.

Ilena Finocchi
Sure. My name's Ilena Finocchi. I consider myself a multifaceted artist, these days. I have gone down several roads: been a sculptor, an educator, I do public art, and now I'm into surface design, and am an independent filmmaker and animator.

ilise benun
And when we met—and you can tell the story of how we met—but after a little bit of contact, I included you in my very first book, Self-Promotion Online, which came out in 2001. And I might just read aloud from that book, but that was kind of when we had most of our contact, and you were doing something very different from what you just described. 

And so, one of the things I want to talk about as you tell your story is the difference between being focused—because you might remember, and you might have heard me saying this over and over, I try to help people focus because if not, I like to say, “you become a blur in the eyes of the market.”

But it's not black and white, and I think people evolve their focus and evolve what they're doing. But I want you to just speak to this idea of being so multitalented and multidisciplinary, how that affects your ability to focus. So, take that where you will.

Ilena Finocchi
The story of how we met was, I believe it was 1996 at a HOW Design conference I went to. I was working full-time internally as a graphic designer, an illustrator for a healthcare organization. And at the time, I was freelancing and I was working on a self-promotional piece that I was just about wrapping up when I met you, and it had three components to it. And I went to your talk about self-promotion and I still think this is one of the best pieces of advice I've ever gotten about self-promotion was from you ilise. 

During your talk, you said that you really shouldn't be hard selling yourself; you should just really be telling your story. And I knew that I was a pretty good storyteller. And so, I met you after your talk and told you about my self-promotional piece—I would like to send it to you—and you thought that was a great idea and we ended up doing some work together on your self-promotional newsletter. And then the book ended up being shortly after that or a few years after that, actually.

ilise benun
Okay. So let me just stop you there. So, we met at the HOW conference, which I'm sorry, I don't remember, but it was 1996, and … (Laughter).

Ilena Finocchi
You've done many more than that.

ilise benun
I have. I have. But you were obviously open and primed to hearing what I had to say. And one of the things I said really struck you and you liked the idea of telling your story. And I think when we talked recently, you talked about the fact that it comes from a place of authenticity, this idea of telling your story, as opposed to being salesy. And when you came up to me and said, “Can I send you my mailer?“ —did that take courage, chutzpah, confidence? What did that take for you?

Ilena Finocchi
You know, I think if I had gone up to anyone else and not had your advice before that and just watched you talk about that, maybe that would've been way more difficult. But I thought, “Who best to try this out on would be you.” So, I thought, “Well, I'm going to be putting this marketing piece—it was a three-part mailer that I had designed—and I thought, “If I'm going to be putting that out there, who best to get some advice from would be you.” 

So, for me at the time, I think I watched this procession of other designers going before me talking to you and introducing themselves. I would say like five of them, in front of me, didn't say their names to you. And I thought, “Wow, this is really hard for people.”

And I knew it was hard for me in the sense that I could talk about other people's work, I could talk about work, but when I talked about my work, it became this sort of tipping point of you didn't want to be a salesman in that respect. And that part of telling your story … so I told you a quick little bit about my story: that I was working, where I was working, and that I was trying to take the next step and go out on my own. It really made sense and it was easy at that point. So that, sort of, the shift of storytelling made it much easier for me.

ilise benun
And just the fact that you were already working on a self-promotion piece in the first place speaks volumes, I think. So maybe, again, tell us a short version of your story weaving in the role of self-promotion and marketing—because obviously you've been doing it throughout and I can assume you've been successful. You've been able to make money at everything that you're doing. So just, I don't know, pick and choose which parts of your story do you think are the most interesting?

Ilena Finocchi
I will say that being a graphic designer, having that background, has never failed me. That has been a piece that I have always used for self-promotion. So, I do know how to do that aspect of promoting myself. It's not something that exists in someone else's hands. And I have full control of that and that is really, I think, a powerful tool. 

So, when I met you, I was doing graphic design and illustration, and I started teaching. When I went to working for myself, I actually started teaching part-time. A professor had talked me into teaching some classes on graphic design. And so, intermixed with when I went on my own full time, I started overlapping teaching into that. And I loved teaching. And I'd been doing that for a few years, working on my own, and I got so busy to the point where I had sort of decided I need to either hire someone—it was just becoming so overwhelming and I really loved teaching.

And I ended up deciding to go back to grad school to be able to pursue teaching on a more full-time basis. And when I went back to grad school, I went back in ceramic sculpture, which was very different from being a graphic designer. But I will say that I totally interwoven my ... I knew how to take photographs of my work because I used to be an art director. I knew all those aspects. So that was really helpful to me. And when I was in grad school, I had a friend who was in animation. I was super interested in animation and my work sort of went out of … I was still freelancing graphic design while I was going to grad school. It helped pay for grad school.

Then I went to ... when I got out of grad school, I ended up being at a point where my fine artwork was selling in galleries so much that I sort of cut off my work in graphic design and illustration. And I pursued that sort of fine-art career for some time and even curating. And all those things, any role that I took on, self-promotion or promotion of anything that I was doing was always an important element. And I ended up meeting my husband because of that. We went to undergrad together. He moved out to California and I did a show out here and that's how I met him. I did an artist residency. And when I moved out here, after we got married, we ended up doing a stop-motion animation class together and that's what really sparked my animation gears rolling again. But it really took me five years of work. I've always juggled different things at the same time.

At first … I've been reflecting on this as I've got gotten older. I'm 52 now. I've thought about, “why am I always sort of juggling all these balls that are kind of maybe something that I could be focused on one thing?” But I'm the kind of person that that's not going to work for me. And in the sense that those things, like my animation, feeds my public art; like now I am including animation in my public artwork. So, I think focus is important, in the sense that you have to have a goal and you have to know where you want to take whatever avenue you're going in. But I would say, for me, diversity is what feeds those avenues I like to travel down.

ilise benun
And one of the things I'm hearing as you tell your story is the nuances of this idea of focus. Because as I said before, it's not black and white, and most people think about it that way. I have to either do this or I do that and I can't do both. But the way I think about it is there's something that's going to be the moneymaker. Where does the bread come from? Where does the money come from? And then, how do you make sure that you're doing the marketing to support that, so that you can do all the other things. So in that context, whether now or at some point in your past, how did you think about that? Is that what the teaching was for?

Ilena Finocchi
The teaching at the time was part of it. I was also still making money as a sculptor doing gallery work. So, I sort of split the two. And then public art sort of entered the picture by chance and I sort of took that as a sign to “this is my ‘in’ on public art.” It's hard to get into public art unless you've had some public art experience. And so, I took a job that I might not normally take. It was my opportunity to do that kind of work. So that's what ... It was actually a huge public art project. And the thing of life is timing. And some of that ended up being timing, for me.

And when that public art project came in, it was a year-long project. That's when the stop-motion component happened for me, as well, as far as getting some education on that. And so, I would do public art in the day and stop motion at night. And none of those projects … I would say, my stop-motion stuff has been a quick occurrence—it took over three years’ worth of work over a five-year period to get my first film done.

ilise benun
And that's not a moneymaker, I assume.

Ilena Finocchi
Not right now. Actually, I met one of the teachers that I took the online course from when I went down to LA and we even talked about that: you know, monetizing everything that you love doing, maybe, isn't always the smartest thing.

ilise benun
Why?

Ilena Finocchi
I think because it changes the intention of it in some respects. If you come into ... For me, stop-motion animation, I consider it artwork. And that's something that, much like my fine artwork, I didn't really want to have someone tell me, "Hey, I'd like this made this way.” In that respect, I really wanted to have the freedom to make what I wanted to make. And there was also the other component of that we talked about, selling the rights to your work. And I am not really ready to give up everything that I've worked on and give the rights away. And unfortunately, in a lot of the media and film categories, promotion ends up being giving away a lot of your rights. 

So that was kind of the deterrent on that for me. And then that's not to say I won't change that, but for right now I have another project in the works. It's not my intention to start that way, but if it turns into something that I can make some money off of, and collaborate possibly with some spoken word poets, then I might look to that.

ilise benun
And if I asked you, Ilena, “How do you market yourself and your work?” What would you say?

Ilena Finocchi
I would say I market myself in multiple ways. I have gotten on the online kind of social media way. I like to show my process of what I'm doing. So, for people that's kind of interesting as far as stop-motion animation goes, or even my artwork—my public artwork has been; I show the process of that and sharing that with people.

ilise benun
And so that's what? Like a YouTube channel?

Ilena Finocchi
That's Instagram and I did start a YouTube and a Vimeo channel. And for me, I also still do snail mail. 

ilise benun

(Laughter) What?!

Ilena Finocchi
I still do snail mail.

ilise benun
What do you do with snail mail?

Ilena Finocchi
I still send out ... One of the, I still think, is most important piece, is when you've had a great experience with a client, is a thank you. I do a sort of a thank you packet of promotional work, whether it's from my film from a film festival that I've done, I will send them promotional pieces from that as a thank you. And I still think that matters. I've gone down to LA for another film festival and I met one of the interviewers from another film festival that I did and he remembered who I was. And that's never failed me. I know people think snail mail is gone and dead, but I think we live in a physical world and sending people physical things still matters.

ilise benun
I agree. And I think this is the time when I should read aloud from my book, Self-Promotion Online, because in it, I wrote about number one, the fact that, and again, remember this is 2001, so not everybody had a website and it wasn't so easy to put together a website. But, what I wrote about was the fact that you were promoting your web presence, even before your website was done, because it was taking longer than you wanted it to, which still happens to most people. Right? So that's hysterical. 

And then I wrote, "But Finocchi didn't let her own slow process get in the way of self-promotion, and she didn't wait until her site was perfect (or even finished) to start promoting it. She began by putting her web address on everything: her stationery, business cards and monthly promotional postcards. At the time of this writing,” so again, 2001, “Finocchi is still working on her website, but she's already printed the materials to announce it so that when it is ready to launch, she can get the word out without delay. Playing off her North Lima …" You lived in North Lima …

Ilena Finocchi
North Lima. Yeah.

ilise benun
“North Lima,” thank you, “as in the bean, Ohio location, she's created a whimsical little flipbook called The North Lima Bean Machine in which a lima bean goes through a machine and comes out the other end, holding up the web address. She'll follow up that mailing with a simple letter and a bookmark that, of course, reminds recipients to bookmark her site.” I think that's relevant, kind of timely, in the sense that you are still using snail mail, right? And people remember you because you sent The North Lima Bean Machine flipbook.

Ilena Finocchi
Yeah, absolutely. I'm starting a whole new collection of surface design and that's kind of going to be where I'm moving towards making more money in. And I intend to use that same model as far as sending out clients actual real mail and following up with emails or phone calls.

ilise benun
Okay. And let's come right back to the phone calls, but the idea of surface design … so for people who don't know exactly what surface design is, say what it is and then why it's kind of perfect for mailings.

Ilena Finocchi
So surface design, it follows a lot of different genres. It can be from fabric to wallpaper to a notebook that you hold, or your calendar—the artwork on the calendar. It can follow a lot of different genres. But what makes that great is it's perfect for a mailer that if I have a collection that I want to promote, I can promote that in an actual mailer the way it's designed and send that out to prospective clients.

ilise benun
And is it hard to get people's mailing addresses?

Ilena Finocchi
I think Google has changed that, for forever. I don't think it's hard. I think if you do some research and you know who you want to target, I don't think it's that difficult.

ilise benun
I guess, just bringing it full circle, and I'm going to ask you, maybe, I think my final question is going to be about the phone calls because I think that's important to talk about. But bringing it back full circle, the reason this is part of my “Where Are They Now? Where Is She Now?” series, and the way I found you and you found me was you took my proposal course, my Proposal Oreo Strategy course on Domestika. It's called, if I can remember the name, Writing a Winning Proposal and Your Dream Clients. I saw your name in there.

Ilena Finocchi
Yes.

ilise benun
And I was like, “Ilena!” And I think you probably reached out to me, right? “Hey, it's me.” But it was just kind of amazing to see you in there after all this time.

Ilena Finocchi
Yeah. So in my plan to target my clients for surface design, I knew I needed to start writing proposals. And I thought, “Well, I need to start looking that up.” So, in my research, I found your class and I was like, "This is going to be great." And I checked out your preview and I was like, "This is actually perfect. Perfect timing." 

So, I'm halfway through the course and I love the Oreo concept. I actually have a public art project where I have the contact of the potential client and I'm actually going to try the Oreo process out on this client.

ilise benun
Awesome.

Ilena Finocchi
So that, for me, is a big game-changer because normally I don't think I would call before I send work. And now I think that asking the questions, when I do have the contact information to do so, I'm definitely going to apply that method.

ilise benun
And so last question for you, Ilena. Actually, I thought of another one. That always happens. Last question, maybe second to last, penultimate, my favorite word … You said in your mailing campaign, you might even call them on the phone. And a lot of people say, “What? You're still using the phone? Nobody's going to answer that. I don't like calling people. It's cold calling.” What's your take on … how do you think about using the phone these days?

Ilena Finocchi
I still call. I've never stopped calling people. (Laughter)

ilise benun
And do people answer?

Ilena Finocchi
Yes. Surprisingly, yes. People still answer for work. People might not answer personally. They'll text each other, but it definitely still works. I have gotten in touch with almost, I would say 90% to 95% of the people that I call. And if they don't answer, they'll call me back. People still use, surprise, the phone. 

Plus, I think when you could talk with someone, I know that I feel like I'm better in-person with someone. I think as an artist, I used to think I was this sort of closeted kind of person, that I like to hide behind my artwork. But after the pandemic, I realized I actually do like to kind of be around people. And so, I realized I'm good when I'm around people because I can be myself and I can tell that story better.

So I think the same applies to the phone. I think you can kind of just get to your point quicker than you can in a text where you've got to word things ‘just so,’ or an email has to be really, I think, more well-thought-out than the conversation can be. So, I don't have a problem calling people and I also don't have a problem failing. I know sometimes things just don't work out. So, I think there's part of “being comfortable with being uncomfortable” is important in life and in business.

ilise benun
So that does lead to my last question, which has to do with baby steps, because something new I've been doing on the podcast, this year, is giving people one, or maybe two at the most, baby steps they can take based on the conversation to move in the direction we're talking about. So, if I said to you, “What is the one baby step you would advise people to take?” What would you say?

Ilena Finocchi
I would say the one thing I really learned from doing stop-motion animation, because it became this very big overwhelming project, was the one step a day. Even if you have a goal, if you work even a small portion—it might be 15 minutes on something that you're trying to achieve—that little one step a day will get you actually where you need to go, because time will pass anyway. And as long as you're moving forward, I think if you just keep that on your schedule, you will get where you want to go.

ilise benun
Awesome. I love that. All right, Ilena, thank you so much. It's so good to be back in touch with you.

Ilena Finocchi
Thank you, Ilise.

ilise benun
Yeah. Please tell the people where they can find you online.

Ilena Finocchi
You can find me online on my website, which is ilenaf.com. I'm also on Instagram @ilenasworldasif.

ilise benun
Excellent. And we will put the links for that all in the companion blog post that will go along with the podcast. And that can be found at marketing-mentor.com. And again, thank you so much, Ilena. So good to speak with you.

Ilena Finocchi
Thank you, Ilise. It was a pleasure.

ilise benun
What fun to reconnect with Ilena. And as for the baby steps, you heard her singing my song. Just do one thing a day, no matter how small. It all adds up and compounds over time. 

So, did you learn a little something? I hope so because that's how this works. One baby step at a time, and before you know it, you'll have better clients with bigger budgets. 

Speaking of better clients, you know they're not going to fall in your lap. Right? That's why I keep hawking my Simplest Marketing Plan. If you want to build a thriving business, on your own terms, you really do need the 4.0 version. It is packed with all new content, including six new case studies and six new lessons. You'll also get three different planners, plus access to the free monthly Office Hours group coaching session, where you'll meet other creative pros who are practicing what I preach, and taking control over their business and their life. 

You can find it all in the Marketing Mentor shop at marketing-mentor.com. I'll be back soon with more conversations with creative professionals who are doing what it takes to ditch the feast or famine syndrome. Until next time.