In this episode of Beyond Consulting, sponsored by ECA Partners, we welcome with Joya Cousin, a former management consultant and a self-taught portrait artist currently running her own art business, Joya Cousin Fine Art. Joya joins us to share her story and discuss the joys and challenges of entrepreneurship and pursuing your passion.
The Beyond Consulting Podcast is hosted by Ken Kanara and co-hosted by Steven Haug. Ken leads this week’s episode.
Ken Kanara: I’m Ken Kanara and this is Beyond Consulting, the only podcast focused on your career, health, and wealth after consulting. This week, we welcome Joya Cousin to the studio. Joya is a former management consultant and now runs her own art business. Joya, thanks so much for joining us.
Joya Cousin: Thanks so much for having me Ken, it’s great to be here.
Ken Kanara: You bet. Joya, I have to tell you, I think you’re the first artist we’ve ever had on the show. I would love to hear about how this came to be.
Joya Cousin: Thanks so much, it’s great to be the first at something. Yes, I am a full time artist and I have been, in terms of business, for the last three years or so. I started painting for myself back in 2017, but I had a roundabout way towards becoming an artist. It wasn’t something that I necessarily dreamed about in university. I majored in computer science and accounting and went straight to work for Ernst & Young, and then a couple of the other Big 4 firms. I worked with PricewaterhouseCoopers in the Caribbean, and also KPMG, so I did that whole Big 4 thing for about eight years, mostly auditing, but a little bit of management consulting as well. Then I went into industry. I was a financial controller at a resort. It was real estate, marina, your typical Caribbean huge resort and I loved that as well. Eventually, after the financial crash in 2008, I made a little bit of a pivot into telecommunications and that was pretty exciting as well. It was a lot more demanding and more unfriendly than the hospitality industry. The thing about the hospitality industry is, we work very, very hard, but it’s very friendly as well, whereas the telecommunications industry is a lot more competitive. It’s all about landing those clients and hitting targets all the time.
After a few years of that, I went back to hospitality. When I turned 40 back in 2015, I just felt a little stirring in my spirit. I can’t explain exactly but it was, I had just been given a raise and I was actually changing companies under the same umbrella. I was very excited to be doing what I was doing, but I just felt that something wasn’t quite right. For no good reason at all, I decided to resign from my job and head back home to my home island of Antigua and Barbuda and wouldn’t you know it, within a few days, my very good friend, who is an Italian Antiguan suggested I meet a Frenchman who is visiting at the time and actually staying in the same neighborhood as me. I said, “Well, I’m not going to call him, but if you want and you trust him, you can give him my number and we can see where that goes.” He called me up and we decided to meet up for sushi and basically, the rest is history. We fell in love that same night, and although I got a job straight away and moved to another island with another telecoms company, he decided to move there with me.
Six months after that, I was like, “Okay, I’m going to give this whole love thing a try,” and we moved to France and we got married shortly after. Within a year, I was just a housewife. I didn’t speak any French, so I’m learning the language, and I started experimenting a little bit with a 100 day art projects. It started, literally, with some squiggles and colored pencils. A few days later, I started with a portrait and the world shifted for me. I felt like this is something I can really explore. I talked to my husband about it and he was totally supportive, he was like, “Let’s go get some art supplies.” The more I did it, the more I loved it, and here I am today.
Ken Kanara: We’ve got a few things to unpack there: we’ve got a love story, we’ve got an adventure…and for those of our listeners that are only able to hear on audio and not video, you would not believe Joya if she told you that she was 40, which I’m able to see.
Joya Cousin: That is so kind of you! I’m actually 47 now.
Ken Kanara: …don’t believe her, I’m already suspicious. She looks far younger, but okay, that is such a cool story, by the way. Starting with the art, is this something you had always been interested in as a kid, or was this a totally new thing when you moved to France?
Joya Cousin: I think most kids love art. Every kid that I’ve ever met loves drawing and using crayons and that sort of thing and I was no different. Maybe I was a little bit better or, I don’t know, I just remember that I placed in a Sailing Week art competition one time when I was around eight years old. That’s not a great recommendation, but by the time I was maybe 11, there was nothing. There was no drawing, there was no painting, there was nothing. I went to private high school and it was in the middle of changing from having the nuns to being more of a lay school, so a lot of the quality dropped off a bit. A lot of the things that were previously offered in the curriculum and which are offered today, weren’t at that time. We didn’t have an art program at all. All through high school I didn’t have the opportunity to do that in a classroom setting and I certainly didn’t do it on my own either. After high school, we have a program called A level, which is like a junior college and in my second year I, on a whim, decided to sign up for art. This was really a stupid thing to do, but my parents supported me. I dropped chemistry and took up art and I put together a two year portfolio in something like six weeks. This was completely new for me. I’d never used any of the materials before and I was super proud of myself for doing this, but I ended up with a “C” grade and so I was like, “Okay, I guess you’re not as good as you thought you were, forget about that art stuff.” I just continued along my merry way, studying accounting and physics and whatever else, forgetting all about art, literally for 25 years. I did not pick up a paintbrush or sketch or nothing, at all, for 25 years…
Ken Kanara: Wow.
Joya Cousin: …until this project, If I show you my first ten things that I did, you would not look at this and say, “Okay, there might be some talent there.” You would just think that this is someone in their 40s deciding to experiment with something. I’s quite miraculous and that’s why human beings are capable of anything. If there’s anything that you really love and that you want to learn, if you commit to it, you can because I have developed all the skills I have just through practice, and through devotion–by loving it.
Ken Kanara: That’s incredible, and I couldn’t agree more. For those of you that haven’t seen Joya’s work, it is incredible. She often shares her portraits on LinkedIn. We’ll get into that in a little bit, but let’s talk about that though, because you moved to France and you did two things. One, you took up what seems to be an entirely new skill to learn, and two, you had the added advantage of loving it, which is good, so then you start your business. How long did it take before you started your business and this moved from a passion project to an actual business?
Joya Cousin: Okay, that took two years. When I started, I literally shot up the mountain. The work that I produced in those first few months, honestly, I don’t know how I did it. I look back and I think, “Wow,” but it was totally fun. There was flow. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the concept of flow, but it really is different when it comes to, I think art and music, more so than I’ve ever experienced in my work life before, so that was pretty incredible. Then, of course, the doubt starts to come in. It’s like, “Oh my God, wow.” I sold my first few paintings right off the bat and I was like, “Wow, okay. Does this mean I could be an artist?” That’s when it really became scary.
By the beginning of the next year, I was painting less. I was scared of filling up my entire house with just canvas upon canvas and I just didn’t believe in myself. It was like, “What are you doing? You’re an accountant, you’re a manager. What are you doing?” It was just really, really terrifying for me. I went smaller and I experimented more. I quit social media. I was just really scared to tell you the truth. I didn’t think I could be an artist. I’m an extrovert, I love being around people, my ego was extremely attached to my job and just power and the responsibility, and the deadlines. Being an artist is really solitary. It’s lonely and it’s intimidating because there’s no one there to say, “Okay, you’ve done a good job.” There’s no benchmark. You may have people say, “Oh that’s great, but what’s the standard?” There is no actual standard to see if you’re really good, or this piece is really good, how are you going to be measuring yourself? I really struggled with that but eventually, in 2019, I said, “Okay, I’m going to do an experiment. I’m going to see if I could paint every single day, if I have what it takes to actually do this as a career, if I have that discipline, and if I love it enough without getting bored. If I can make it through the end of this year then I will make this my business and make this my new career. It actually only took me until May to be sure. By May, I was like, “Okay, I love this. I think I can do this for the rest of my life. I think I can apply the pressure to actually make some money, make it a new career. Literally two years after I started just with my first little scribble, I went and registered myself as an artist here in France.
Ken Kanara: Talk to me a little bit about struggling with the ego thing, because I think that’s an interesting point that you just made. A lot of people struggle with this, call it going from consulting or going from finance to and then fill in the blank. It could be anything, right? It could be a different job. It could even be someone has a child and they’re going to become a stay-at-home-dad or mom. How did you struggle and handle the ego thing?
Joya Cousin: Yes, it really was a struggle, and to be honest, I still struggle a little bit with that. If you’re a high performer, if you’re a go-getter, or if you that type A personality, you’re defined by very specific things. They are very specific things that keep you going and I’ve always been this way. I was a terrible student, but the moment I started working I was a star. I wanted to be a star, I worked really hard. I would say that somebody can be smarter than me, but they’re not going to outwork me.
I wasn’t a victim, I just loved it. I was thirsty to learn and just thirsty to be the best at what I was doing. For me, even leaving consulting to go into industry, I never got to the point where I burned out of audit. I loved every day I went to work. I loved serving my clients. Some of them didn’t like that very much because that was back in the day when the consulting side was a little bit fuzzy with accounting, so we’d have these huge management letters at the end of every audit and that was like my thrill.
Ken Kanara: Of course! Yeah.
Joya Cousin: I loved that. Not having that immediate feedback, the big salary and the promotions every six months can be tough. I mean entrepreneurs, I think, are a different breed maybe because they’re probably rebels a little bit. They’re okay with not necessarily being conservative and I love that about them, that they’re natural risk takers. I see myself as more of an “intrapreneur,” so I don’t necessarily have that independent spirit, and I like helping the entrepreneur meet their goals and helping a business meet its goals. Stepping away from that completely was really, really difficult but I think it’s important to recognize what’s going on with yourself.
One of the books that really helped me in this journey was Susan Cain’s book, Quiet. What I really learned from that book was that, although I’m an “extrovert,” inside of all of us there is a quiet element. There’s that introvert lodged inside of each of us and it does us good to learn to tap into that person. I thought back to all the people I’ve worked with in the past and all the opportunities I may have missed with introverts on my team. Maybe I didn’t nudge them out of there shell a little bit more. I thought, “Okay, what if I tapped into that introvert inside me and bring those strengths to the floor now. All of the other strengths have already shown, now I have an opportunity to bring that other side of myself and bring out some additional strengths, so I took that as a little bit of a challenge as well.
Also, I had to disconnect from some of the voices and the expectations. I actually had somebody saying to me, thankfully not a lot of people, but somebody said to me, “So when are you going to get a real job?” They were disappointed. This is somebody maybe 15 years younger than me that looked up to me as a mentor and I guess he was just disappointed to see me “throwing it all away” for art.
Ken Kanara: Oh no!
Joya Cousin: I guess there may have been other people, but thankfully nobody said it to my face. But, I did have to step away from that image of myself that I built up in the eyes of others and I said, “Okay, who are you going to be for yourself now? This is something you love, but it’s going to take a little bit of sacrifice in order to achieve it.” That was part of the journey for me and I think it’s important for anybody making that switch to learn to center themselves, to quiet the noise.
I also, hairyfairy, took up meditation and I did that every day for almost five years–at least four years. I actually don’t meditate every day now, and that started earlier this year. I started exercising more and maybe that’s taken a little bit of the edge off. I’m not really sure, but I feel just as centered without doing it. There was a time when I absolutely had to do it just to quiet the anxiety and be able to put myself into a position where I could paint.
I journaled every day as well. I started doing some things that I’d always longed to do, but didn’t do before in order to take on this new me. It was almost like putting on a new personality to venture off into this new thing–art, which is a quiet métier, something that is solitary, something that depends on going inside of my core and finding creativity, as opposed to just trying to impress others, trying to hit targets, meet budgets, and hit marketing targets like I did before, for the last 20 years of my life.
Ken Kanara: Well thanks for sharing that, especially that concept that you shared with the book Quiet, that’s a unique perspective I actually haven’t heard of that before. As an extrovert myself, I actually get wrapped up in some of the same things. I like benchmarks, I like to be able to see progress, right? I like metrics. It makes me feel better and I never actually thought about it from that perspective. You talked about daily meditating for five years, consistently, how did you do that?
Joya Cousin: I started off, literally, with one minute because it was so hard I couldn’t do it. I mean, I think I tried the first 10 minutes or something and I realized that my mind was just really wandering all the time and it was becoming not good. I started by setting a timer for just one minute. I maybe only did one minute for three days before moving to something like three minutes, then five minutes, then 10 minutes, then 15 minutes. I actually went to 12 1/2 minutes at one point, before going to 15 minutes. I know a lot of people do long meditation sessions of a half an hour or 45 minutes, or whatever. I never went to that and I didn’t feel like I needed it. Ten minutes is actually perfect for me, just to achieve that. Some people use music. I don’t remember if I did at the beginning, I don’t think so, but I started off just going slowly. At that time, even before Atomic Habits came out, I used to follow James Clear’s website, and he actually had…
Ken Kanara: Oh really?
Joya Cousin: Yes, he had two e-books before, I don’t think they’re available anymore. I noticed that my rating on one of them on Goodreads actually switched automatically to Atomic Habits, but they were very, very good. Very small, but they have all those little things in them and so that’s where I got the concept of doing things every day. Before, I don’t know if it’s Steve Martin, no, it’s Jerry Seinfeld, I think, has that thing of you do it every day, don’t break the chain, so check, check, check, check…I remember one time I went gluten free 640 days and on the 641st day, I was going through the airport in Barbados and decided to have some KFC, of all things, and once I did that, that was the end of my gluten free journey. With James Clear, his whole thing was, it’s not about, I mean not breaking the chain is something he recommends as well, but instead of just falling off the boat completely, track your progress over time.
You talked about metrics, trust me, I still have major metrics. Airtable is my best friend. My entire life is on Airtable. I track every single hour that I paint. I’m very deadline focused, so all my clients know exactly when the painting is going to be done. I’m not like the artist that says, “Well, you know…” I don’t wait for inspiration to hit me, I’m painting every day. Somebody asked me recently, “Do you see what you do as a calling, a job, or a career?” Well, it’s all three for me because I treat it like a job. My workspace is there and I treat it as if I’m being paid to do what I do because I am, but it’s also calling, a passion and a career.
I’ve kind of gone off track there…
Ken Kanara: No, no, that’s great. Go off track. That’s why we’re here.
Joya Cousin: I think it’s so important just to start small and work on consistency at whatever we’re wanting to do. That’s how I’ve started exercising for the first time, basically, since I was a teenager, as well. I just do a ten minute workout and now it’s become a 30 minute workout and I actually really love it. I can’t believe I’m actually saying that, but starting small, starting simple and going for consistency is something that I think works for almost anything.
Ken Kanara: Okay, I was asking partially out of self-interest because it was actually that book, Atomic Habits that has led me to make a lot of changes and actually discover some of the things that I’m good at and why I’m good at them, and it’s like, “Oh shoot, okay, I’m very physically flexible, like abnormally so, and people always ask me and I never actually realized it because I do it every day for 20 minutes, but on the meditation thing, I’ve sucked. I’ve tried to start and stop forever and I think it’s because I have these insane, unattainable goals. Now my new thing is for this year I’m just going to do ten breaths, that’s it. I don’t do a timer, I just do ten breaths every day. And I don’t let myself have a coffee until, and so I’m not allowed to have my morning…
Joya Cousin: That’s the habit stacking, right?
Ken Kanara: Yeah, so whenever I hear someone’s consistent, I’m like, “Tell me your secret!” Cool, awesome.
Joya Cousin: Maybe you don’t need it, though. Maybe you don’t need it. Sometimes we pressure ourselves to do things and that’s also something that I’ve learned. Trusting yourself is really important. Trusting what you need, trusting where your heart is leading…if we have everything mapped out on paper, on a spreadsheet, or on list of must-haves, then it doesn’t really leave much room for the epiphanies and the magical moments. If I had…
Ken Kanara: Yeah…meeting the man of your dreams and moving to France, right?
Joya Cousin: Exactly! I trusted myself to be like, “Let’s move on,” and it was insane, but I did it and I have no regrets whatsoever.
Ken Kanara: That’s a really good point, too because spontaneity is…I’m totally going off track now here too because, he’s a famous artist and I have no clue…but there’s the guy that got his ear cut off…?
Joya Cousin: Van Gogh!
Ken Kanara: Yes, and he actually used to say something about…I’m totally going to butcher this because I have no realm to talk about art history, but basically it was like, he was a creature of habit, and then I think something about creativity actually comes from habits and then going outside of your habits or something like that.
Joya Cousin: I haven’t heard that quote, but I’m going to look it up. I’m actually reading a biography of Van Gogh at the moment, but it’s a bit depressing so I’m going very, very slowly.
Ken Kanara: Wow, okay. Let’s transition to your business now, because you mentioned that it’s not just about being a creative artist, and you have deadlines and everything like that. How did you start with your first client and then how did you build your business?
Joya Cousin: Okay, so my first client came along before I actually launched the business. It wasn’t something that I was doing necessarily, it was just that a couple of people asked me if I would paint a loved one. Once I did start, I put on an exhibition here in France and I quickly realized that it wasn’t going to work. If I was going to try to sell my art here in France, that was just not going to work, especially not where we were living. I could have gone the route of trying to find a gallery and all of that, and there were a few galleries that were interested, but I just decided, and I don’t even know why I made that decision to be quite honest, or how, because I was doing a few commissions, but then I just made this snap decision at the end of that exhibition to go straight into looking for commission. That’s when I started my LinkedIn journey. I had been on LinkedIn since 2008, but I ramped up my presence on LinkedIn from that point and by around October or November of 2019, just a few months after really pursuing it, the orders just started flowing in. Before the end of the year, I was booked until the following June.
Ken Kanara: Wow!
Joya Cousin: Yes, it was amazing. I was like, “Okay, I guess this is going to work. Here we go.”
Ken Kanara: What specifically were you doing on LinkedIn? I know you have 36,000 followers on LinkedIn. You have quite a presence and a lot of the stuff that you put out is obviously very compelling. What’s working or not working? I’d be curious to learn more.
Joya Cousin: To be honest, at that time, because that’s now something that I’m asking myself because I’ve gone back and looked at everything and I have every single post that I’ve ever posted in Airtable, and I did post a lot back then, but LinkedIn was a different creature then. I would post just a painting with me next to it and it would get 150,000 views to 180,000 views. The exposure was just immense at the time. That’s virtually impossible now. I do have a few posts that go, not viral, but they’ll reach 100,000 or something like that. Mostly now, it’s just the personal stories that ignite with people, amazingly enough. The thing is, at the time, I could post a lot of artwork and a lot of me painting because I had footage preparing for my exhibition and I could post that. Now, the painting I’m working on right now, I can share it, but it’s rare. Normally my paintings for clients they’re going to be gifts. They’re surprises and I can’t share as I go, so it’s been…
Ken Kanara: Oh!
Joya Cousin: When I went back and looked at what did really well, I’m like, “Oh, it’s because I’m posting progress, progress, progress, and people are watching the paintings unfold and it was really interesting to watch. I’m like okay, how do I get some more of that going in, because basically I made a post recently about the SSI. Back then my SSI was 89, then at the end of May it had gone down to 70, my social selling index.
Ken Kanara: And what is the social selling index?
Joya Cousin: Basically, it’s a number that LinkedIn gives to you based on your activities. It’s mostly for sales people but it gauges the power that you have on LinkedIn. It’s the power of your brand and it affects your reach, so when you post something, you have a high SSI and a lot of people in your network and outside your network are going to see what you post immediately. The higher your SSI is, the faster and the more views you get. The algorithm changed, I think, about a year and a half ago. It changed last year and I’m hearing rumblings that it’s been changed again this year, so it’s becoming tougher, and tougher, and tougher to do business, at least for my kind of thing where it’s very visual on LinkedIn. I have been looking at ways to bring it back up because I was down at 70…it dropped 19 points. I’ve managed to get it back up to 80, but not so much from posting. I’m posting a little bit more, but the increase has come more through making contact with people that I know, with sending out an endorsement and having conversations that sort of thing. I think LinkedIn values communication very, very highly and that was something that I did in the beginning when I didn’t have a lot of followers–I communicated a lot with the people who responded to my posts and so forth, and I had a lot of interaction and I think that always goes a long way, unlike some of the other platforms.
Ken Kanara: It’s funny that you mentioned that because I feel like I used to see your content a little bit more, I don’t know, 12-18 months ago, at least the frequency now. Again, for those of our listeners who haven’t seen Joya’s work, it’s incredible. Check it out, and we’ll get to the information at the end and we’ll also drop it in the description. For those of us that don’t know, because I actually don’t know, the social selling index…how do you figure out what that is? Then, you mentioned you’re working on improving it because the algorithm changed. How would one determine your SSI?
Joya Cousin: It’s a really simple link, it’s linkedin.com/sales/SSI. I hope I got that right. You click on that and once you log in to LinkedIn it will click on it right away and it will show you your score. It’s broken down into four components. It’s something like, I can’t remember off the top of my head, but something like, “Engaging with insights,” “Connecting with the right people,” “Developing your brand,” something like that, and “Communication,” so it has four different separate areas and each one is worth 25 points. You have a score out of 25 for each of those and it also tells you what percentage you are in your industry. I’m always 1% in terms of Artists and Writers, but I fell down to 5% of my total network. If you don’t have a really powerful network, you’re going to score higher obviously. If you have a lot of high-powered people in your network it’s going to be harder to be in that 1%. I just managed to get back up into that 1%, but if I have a network of 30,000 people that’s still the top 3,000, so think about it…if in my own network I’m among the top 3,000 but there may be 3,000 people ahead of me in terms of who’s going to see my content in the feed if they have an identical network to mine. That’s probably one of the reasons that you don’t see my work as often.
LinkedIn has grown, I think, and the engagement on LinkedIn has grown incredibly over the last two years. There are just more people on there, there is more content and, of course, LinkedIn itself, they’re encouraging people to become more active on the platform and so the competition, if you want to look at it that way. It’s a lot tougher than it was.
So click on that link, and then you see the two percentage points and then you’ll see what your score is in each of those four areas. I was told initially that, “Oh, it’s a vanity metric it doesn’t really matter,” and so I didn’t keep track of it. I occasionally went on and did a little snapshot, but now I track it every single day on my Airtable. I tracked the four compartments, as well, to see what I’m doing well. I’ve become kind of maniacal about it. I had to take a break last week because I was spending way too much time on LinkedIn just trying to get that score back up. So that’s a little bit about the social selling index on LinkedIn.
Ken Kanara: Excellent, and if anything you’re making me and probably our listeners feel a little bit more sane. When I invited you on the show, I was like, “Wow, this is going to be a very different guest. She’s goes from consulting to artist, and here you are, tracking metrics on a daily basis. In a way I feel relieved, Joya. That’s really interesting in terms of how you develop your clients and everything like that. Tell us a little bit about the type of work that you get, it’s primarily portraits, from what I’ve seen, but tell me if I’m mistaken.
Joya Cousin: I only paint portraits. I am literally not interested in painting anything else but portraits. I’m working on this portrait right now and it’s a dad hiking in the woods with his little son on his back and there are lots of trees and stuff. There’s literally a forest, okay, I have to paint a forest, but it’s all for the benefit of the portrait itself. I only offer portraits to my clients. A lot of them are memorial portraits, which I enjoy doing. I work from old photographs to bring a lost mother or father or grandfather back to life. Sometimes I do group portraits with families, which would involve putting a bunch of photographs together for three or five or six people. I do children, I do cats, dogs, birds and couples. I’ve done a few wedding portraits which are really cool because they’re so romantic. I think every bone in my body is a romantic one. I only do portraits of every kind…even corporate portraits. I’ve done a few public portraits, as well, for organizations. I’ve done one for the Caribbean Central Bank. Any portrait you can think of. I am not the classically trained portraitist, so I enjoy the very classical look, but growing up, Van Gogh was my favorite artist, so I love color and I love movement and my style varies according to what the client wants and according to what they want to get out of the portrait…where they want to put it, what it means to them… I don’t necessarily have just one look or go with the very old-fashioned state of, “You need to be in a certain three-quarter position for a portrait to be great.” I’m very open about that in my approach.
Ken Kanara: Excellent, and could you tell us about your process, because I’m sure it’s not just, “Send me a photo,” right? When you work with someone, what’s it like?
Joya Cousin: I try to have a conversation with them. They must have some photos obviously to work with…
Ken Kanara: You’re also not psychic?
Joya Cousin: I’m not psychic. I mean, I have had a few of requests like that. I’ve had a few requests for very esoteric portraits or even religious texts. That’s not really my strength, I know a few other artists who concentrate on religious themes, so I would direct them their way. We have a conversation, that’s the first thing. I want to find out what they’re looking for and what they see in me, what they’re attracted to because it’s amazing the range of, “Oh, I really liked this painting,” and “This is what I’m looking for,” and somebody is at the other end of the spectrum completely. That’s really interesting. Some people want to go monochrome. The next thing I’m going to be working on is a black and white portrait, which isn’t typical for a portraitist, but I really enjoy working with no color as well because there’s just so much going on there. The first thing is that conversation and who the portion is going to be of, what that person meant to them, their personality, if the portrait is meant for specific space, obviously the size has a huge impact on what we’re going to be doing. Sometimes the client literally has no idea what they want to present. I have one client who sent me an entire Google album. It must have had thousands of pictures in there of his wife.
Ken Kanara: You decide, right?
Joya Cousin: It’s kind of like that, but first you need to talk to them because what I might like is not necessarily what they would like. I’ll ask what you attracted to and what fascinates you about your wife? What are the features…is it her eyes, her hair, the way she dresses? What is her presence like? I need to know that so I can bring those things out in the portrait. I think that’s what my clients appreciate most about my work, the fact that they can look at this painting and almost feel the presence of that person and their personality literally almost coming through the canvas. That’s what I try to go for. Likeness is really important to me, not necessarily just photographic likeness, but a sense of who that person is.
Ken Kanara: Excellent. How long does it typically take for you to do a portrait? I’m sure that it varies significantly by size and composition and all that stuff, but talk to us a little bit about that.
Joya Cousin: I would say on average, six weeks. Obviously, some projects take a lot longer and some are shorter. I’ve never had the joy of working on a portrait for over a year, although there are many portrait artists that I follow and admire who do take over a year to finish. I can’t imagine what that must be like. Six weeks in general, but of course, the actual delivery time is different because it depends on how much I have on my timetable, booked at the moment. The actual portrait takes that long but it may take four or five months from signing the contract to actually completing the portrait based on my workload.
Ken Kanara: That’s incredible. Stepping back a little bit to the business side of things, a lot of our listeners are interested in something like the “side hustle” or something like that right, where it’s like they’re still in consulting or they’re in a job after consulting and they’re going to, on the side, pursue a business like yours. It seems to me that you really need to, from your perspective, focus to succeed. Tell me if I’m picking that up incorrectly.
Joya Cousin: I think you do need to focus to succeed, but I think that to be successful in any business you have to wear different hats. I don’t know if you’ve ever read that book, The E-Myth Revisited…
Ken Kanara: I have not, your dropping all sorts of good books. I’m really excited to read this.
Joya Cousin: I can’t remember the name of the author, (Michael E. Gerber), but the principle behind it, but the theory is that you should almost always build a business as if you were going to make it into a franchise. You should build your business as if you’re building a franchise, which means that you need to have that marketing, that accounting, and obviously, you can’t just pick one, initially. If you’re doing it yourself, you have to wear all those hats. It doesn’t mean you’re going to be any less focused at the core of your business, but if you don’t do marketing as a business person you’re never going to grow. It’s just absolutely essential. If you don’t keep track of your numbers and the administrative side of things, you’re never going to grow and you have to do sales as well.
While I’m focusing on my painting, I’ve always been focused on the other thing as well, which I really don’t enjoy. Last week was not cool. I was dying. This weekend, it was just like, wake up early, go into the studio…
Ken Kanara: You can actually do the work that you want to do!
Joya Cousin: I can actually do the work that I want to do, and I love it, but this is not play, this is work. There are going to be some things that you don’t necessarily like. When people ask me about painting or whatever, you start small. Devote one day. Devote a Saturday morning to it or devote 30 minutes to it each evening, but be committed and be consistent. It’s not necessarily about putting out huge amounts of effort, especially if it’s starting out as a side hustle, start out small, but be committed. That is absolutely what will get you there. Little by little those hours are going add up. Yes, a side hustle is definitely doable, but the commitment is necessary and the consistency is absolutely necessary and that’s the hard part sometimes. It’s just hard to be motivated, as you said with the meditation example you gave earlier, just to do it when you don’t want to. Tie it to reward, whatever, but just get it done. Put it on a list and just tick your box every day. Whatever you committed to, you ten breaths or your 30 minutes of whatever, and get it done.
Ken Kanara: Excellent. That’s great advice. The other piece of advice I’m curious about is, say someone has gone and moved to France and quit their job and married the man or woman of their dreams and they wanted to do something new. What’s the one thing that you would tell them, especially for our audience that’s coming out of a very professionalized, consulting environment.
Joya Cousin: I would say follow your bliss and if you don’t know what your bliss is, explore until you find it–but actively explore. I’m from the Caribbean and I watch a lot of people come to the Caribbean and literally just fall apart. They become alcoholics or involved in drugs and it’s because they’re not active in anything. They’re forgetting what’s making their life tick. They become disconnected from their careers or whatever and it just always falls apart. This is my recommendation for people who are going into retirement, as well. Find something new that you love and then you can put your energy and passion into that you can also grow in. I think that’s absolutely important–the ability to grow and feel that level of challenge, even if it’s not necessarily something that you held in high esteem before. If you love it, if there’s a genuine interest in it, get involved and start and be consistent. It could be, I don’t know, maybe you wanted to open a…, maybe you want to take care of little kids, maybe you’ve loved animals and you want to open a grooming service, I don’t know, it could be anything, but you have to fall into what you love. There are so many ways to explore that, whether it’s Instagram, Pinterest or just the Internet and take note of what you’re liking. Take note of what your heart is following and then see how that can develop. That’s what happened for me, very organically, but I listened to that. I wasn’t afraid to just start and start very, very small, without any art materials. It was just literally whatever colored pencil I found in the pencil stack somewhere. I had no art materials. It was just a random piece of stationary. I didn’t go out and buy art materials and then start, I started and then I gradually added the art materials. Start before you’re ready and follow your bliss. See where your heart is leading and calling you.
Ken Kanara: I love that advice, especially around two things. One is make it active. You’re intentional about it. Second is it has to be something you can grow in. If it’s collecting pebbles, there’s probably not a lot of room to grow there, but if it’s painting beautiful portraits, the growth potential is infinite, as you’ve demonstrated. Joya, thank you so much for joining us this morning. I guess it’s evening where you.
I want to wrap up with your details so that if someone were interested in getting a portrait with you, how would they do that? Tell us all about how we find you.
Joya Cousin: LinkedIn is my social media home. I have a presence pretty much everywhere. I’m on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter…
Ken Kanara: Alright, let’s go through them, LinkedIn…
Joya Cousin: It’s like on twitter.com/joyacousin
Ken Kanara: Alright, that’s J-O-Y-A-C-O-U-S-I-N, right?
Joya Cousin: That’s right, thank you.
Ken Kanara: On LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram…basically all the different feeds.
Joya Cousin: yes, LinkedIn is my home. Most of my clients just message me on LinkedIn and we go from there. We set up a zoom meeting and have that first conversation. We talk about what they’re looking for and go from there. It’s a really simple process and of course it’s very personal. I literally feel like I’m falling in love with the person I’m painting every time. I want to hear about them and I want to hear about what the painting is going to mean to my client. It’s an intimate thing, that artist relationship with the client, I think. At least for me it is.
Ken Kanara: That’s really beautiful. Joya, you’ve done an amazing thing, which is you’ve married up professionalism with creativity and beauty. It’s really an admirable thing. Listeners, definitely check out Joya’s LinkedIn page, as well. If you’re thinking about getting that portrait, definitely do it. For those of you listening for the first time, please make sure to subscribe on Spotify, Apple or Amazon so that you can be notified of future podcasts. If you’re interested in looking for past episodes, they’re going to be found at beyondconsulting.info. If you want to get in touch with me or anybody else at ECA, it’s eca-partners.com. Each week, I get to interview folks, like Joya, that have gone from consulting to much more interesting things in life. Until next week, we will talk to you then.