By Billy Liggett
Just about all of the young entrepreneurs who took part in the Sanford Area Growth Alliance-Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce Children’s Business Fair on Oct. 22 found willing buyers — whether they were selling homemade dog biscuits, handmade doll accessories or made-from-scratch treats.
One of the more popular booths belonged to 10-year-old Liam Kelly, who treated the event like an art exhibit. The business-savvy young man was commissioning custom pieces left and right and selling some of his previous work to customers with discerning tastes.
Kelly, a homeschooled fourth-grader whose personality is as bright as his paintings, is CEO and owner of Art by Liam — his booth a step up from the door-to-door business plan he’s been executing since he was a “kid.”
The son of Jessica and Zeke Kelly of Sanford, Liam says it was his father — who is a member of the Chamber of Commerce and its Small Business Advocacy Committee — who told him about the children’s fair. He used the opportunity to not only sell his work, but sharpen his sales skills while talking to dozens and dozens of parents and kids his age about his work.
“My parents gave me the idea about doing custom work,” he says. “They told me if I really wanted to make a business, I could have a huge profit from that. So now, most of the work I do is whatever people request. I also have an inventory of things I’ve done — a lot of frogs and snakes, mostly. A lot of really weird things, too.”
His mother Jessica says Liam was 2 when she and his father noticed that the “lines and squiggles” their son was drawing had evolved into clear letters and numbers, long before he could read and count.
“The pictures he was coming up with were so creative, even at that age,” she says. “They weren’t perfect by any means, but when he’d draw, he’d tell us stories about his work, and we were impressed. We saw that he had an artist’s mind.”
Liam says the first drawing he can remember was a spider he gave his aunt when he was 5. She thought it was a cat.
“I said, ‘No, that’s a spider,’” he recalls. “I wasn’t very good.”
As the talent grew, so did Liam’s confidence. He began going door to door in his neighborhood, asking people if they wanted to buy his work. Eventually, people began giving him requests. His first “custom” work was a mallard he made for his friend, Jack.
The door-to-door business plan soon became lucrative. Carrying with him sketches, paintings and comics and greeting cards he’d created, Liam says he sold 18 to 20 custom works last year alone, making about $200. This year, he’s closer to 30 to 35 sold.
HIs mother credits not only his talent, but his personality.
“I don’t go with him when he goes out, because he doesn’t need us,” she says. “He brings his bag, his portfolio and he hits every house in the neighborhood. He speaks so well, and people want to listen. He pulls out his art, and I think the adults he talks to genuinely appreciate what he’s doing [they’re not just buying because he’s a kid]. If they say, ‘I don’t care for frogs,’ he’ll say, ‘Great, I can make you a puppy.’”
The money he brings in is part of his education at home. His father uses the experience to teach him about finances and good business practices.
Right now, Liam’s been into drawing superheroes and villains from Batman. He’s also into The Simpsons. As for his business, the next step, rather than a website, might be his own YouTube channel where he can show off his skills and his fondness for stop-motion animation.
As for what’s next for Art by Liam? It’s hard to say. You gotta remember … he’s only 10.
“I haven’t thought about it yet,” he says. “This is really something I enjoy. If I can make some fun things, then it’s all worth it. But right now I think it’s a hobby. But we’ll see where it takes me.”