Artist Annie West will always be the first to attest that her business was built on the internet, and crucially on Twitter. But it also comes down to discipline.

Thanks to Twitter I always knew who Annie West (@anniewestdotcom) was, but the first time I met her in person was two years ago at Twitter’s European headquarters in Dublin when co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey (@Jack) was in town.

As I waited with other journalists to pepper the enigmatic Dorsey with questions, Annie West was amongst a number of other high profile ‘Twitterati’ including Sinead Burke, Harry McCann and Bressie enthusiastically telling the founder how the social network had impacted their lives. For West, it changed her business.

“Sometimes it is evident who is working and who is not working when they are on Twitter. I like to tweet while I’m waiting for the ink to dry”

On a whistle-stop visit to Sligo recently I caught up with West at her beautiful home that observes a stunning vista of mountains that sweep slowly and carefully down to the Atlantic Ocean. Her studio is a hive of activity that blends busy with extremely organised; every manner of pen, pencil and paint brush stand to attention in neat, orderly ranks, the room a kind of cacophony of memory, emotion and observation.

West intones: “And I have broadband, what more do I want?”

Annie West is an artist known for her mischievous and humorous style, specialising in highly detailed pen and ink drawings.

Happily ensconced on her hillside haven, West explains how she makes the most of distance from the world while at the same time she enjoys the fruits of being connected.

I remind her of that time when she met Jack Dorsey and how Twitter allowed her to flourish as a remote worker. “I couldn’t possibly function without it. The year that I came here in the early 1990s was the year that the internet arrived in Ireland. I feel it was made for me.”

Before Twitter, she tried all of the social platforms including Facebook while Mike Scott from The Waterboys introduced her to MySpace.

Initially sceptical of social media, West found her home on Twitter, viewing it both as a communications tool but also an important marketing engine.

Rules for tweet success

“Early on, I set myself rules because I saw the mistakes that a lot of other people were making on Twitter.”

Her first rule: “Don’t swear.”

West learned to use it as a means to sell her art and prints. “Twitter has many detractors, but I’m using it and I’m making money. And if it wasn’t for Twitter I wouldn’t be in business.”

West bought what was originally her father’s home after leaving behind a career in Dublin where she worked as an animator for TV and the movie industry, including stints at RTÉ and Tyne Tees Television and various independent TV productions for Channel Four.

She rejects the suggestion that the internet is in any way killing the High Street or local business, and if anything the rise of remote working could be a boon for local economies.

“I’m working here in Sligo because the internet is here. And I’m buying my art materials and sending goods through the post office and I’m buying my groceries in the local supermarket and more. And if you multiply people like me by hundreds if not thousands, then that is a lot of business going on.”

The potential of remote working, West believes, needs to be tempered by realism and crucially discipline. She has a point because you can have all kinds of people who are remote workers. Some of them work remotely for employers, but many are sole traders. And many have to be their own boss and task-driver.

Digital work ethic

“I have an important set of rules for remote working,” West points out.

“Number one, you show up for work on time every day. I start at nine o’clock on the dot.

“Number two, you wear your uniform to work,” she said pointing out her black woollen jumper. “You never wear your pyjamas into the office because once you do that it is a slippery slope. Your mindset has to be ‘you are at work now’. I start at nine in the morning and finish at six o’clock in the evening. I don’t answer the phone after six and I keep strict business hours.

“Number three: you keep a business head. Because if you don’t, you are finished. And if you don’t have an actual business head because you are a creative person, get someone to do your business for you. I have an outer ring of people who sort things out for me like legal, accounting and IT.”

Casting her hand around her busy studio West said: “The operation here is very streamlined now. Almost the entire operation from the ordering of the print from my website to the printing and postage of prints, it all happens within 10 miles.

“I think the main rules for successful remote working centre around acting like a business person. Don’t neglect your emails. Talk to people and don’t be rude to people on platforms like Twitter. Do your own social media, don’t leave it to an intern, and crucially, you work hard. Sometimes it is evident who is working and who is not working when they are on Twitter.

“I like to tweet while I’m waiting for the ink to dry.”

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 20 December, 2019

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