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How to Use Personal Branding: It’s One of Your Most Valuable Assets


Use branding to promote your art and your business.

As a solo entrepreneur, you, your art and your business are inseparable factors. Art patrons gallerists, jurists, and any who promote and help artists view your brand through a similar lens.

Buying decisions about your art take in every aspect of who you are, what you stand for, and how you perceive yourself. Your personal branding is how to influence reactions in your favor.

When collectors think about buying your art, they want to know who you are and what your art is about from your perspective. They want facts and insights about the art and artist. They take clues about you from all you do. They use these factors to help shape their perceptions, opinions, and to make buying decisions.

Personal branding is about perception.

Unless you are an unknown production artist, the perceptions others hold profoundly affect the value and sales of your art. Those perceptions will linger long beyond your living years.

You can choose to ignore personal branding with the noble, yet silly idea the value of your art should stand on its merit. However, unless your last name is Van Gogh, it will be a costly choice — don’t forget he died broke.

Personal branding is a catchall phrase that lumps together different factors that affect your career. Prestige, perception, and professionalism are part of personal branding. It is essential to take as much care of your personal branding as you do in creating your art.

Don’t make this too complicated.

Start with the basics. Remember, it’s about you, your art and your business. Together they form perceptions in the minds of those you want to influence, favorably.

To have a successful and fruitful career, you need growing awareness for you and your work. Today, that means owning a place on the Internet where you control what happens. Art buyers, galleries and other sources who will own or distribute your work nearly always start by looking for you or researching about you on the Internet. It’s natural. They want an easy way to get more information about you.

BrandingThree essential parts of your digital brand.

Often, reputation and perception precede you. Nearly always, these factors are persuasive in the decision to buy your art.

Because of the ubiquity of the Internet, personal branding and digital branding are almost synonymous.

These three items are necessary for you to take control of your digital brand:

  1. Domain name
  2. Email address
  3. Website

There is much more to personal branding. Even digital branding as social media is a factor. Sticking to the basics, you begin with these items because they are an integral part of anything you can do to boost your brand and market your work.

The importance of a proper domain name.

A domain name is a human-readable version of your Internet Protocol (IP) address, which is the unique numerical value of your domain.

If you do not own a domain name, you need to find a suitable one and purchase it immediately, if not sooner. You can usually find them on sale at domain registrars, such as GoDaddy.com  where I recently found .com domains offered for $.99. Namecheap.com is an alternative.

You are the brand.

As the artist, you are the brand. People do not buy art from a business name; they buy it from the artist. With that in mind, your domain should include your name. Try for a .com extension above all others. It is the most common and preferred.

Because of the popularity and volume of .com domains, it’s possible you can’t buy your first and last name as a .com domain. This reality is particularly the case for those who have common names. Not to worry, start adding appropriate words. Try JohnSmithArtist.com, JohnSmithFineArt.com, JohnSmithFineArtist.com and so forth. Domain names are not case-sensitive, but you can type them in upper and lowercase letters to make them more easily readable.

Changing my blog domain to ArtMarketingNews.com was a big deal for me!

I switched my nearly 10-year-old domain name on my blog. It had approximately 500 posts on it at the time. It was one of the smartest and best decisions I’ve made about my business and my branding.

Get an email address based on your domain name.

I continue to be amazed at how many artists and other small businesses fail to obtain an email address using their domain name. It is hard to say if it is out of not wanting to be inconvenienced, laziness or ignorance that they cling to their Gmail, AOL, Comcast, Verizon, Yahoo or some other free email address.

If you want others to take you seriously, you must show it to them.

If you desire to be taken as seriously as possible and viewed upon as a professional, you need an email address that uses your domain name. My email address is [email protected] I also use [email protected] That way, if you know my name, you know my email address. Besides the professionalism, I’ve made it easy to recognize and remember my email address. I manage both through one email client to make it easy to handle multiple email accounts.

A free email address lends itself to a poor reputation as an amateur. It can be a determining factor in more than buying decisions. If all else is equal in a juried show, your professional email address may tip the scales in your favor. A gallery owner, interior designer, or boutique operator may more favorably judge you by your email address.

You never know what makes the difference in close cases. Why leave something affordable and straightforward such as having an email address using your domain to chance? Wouldn’t it kill you to know that was the determining factor on why you were turned down for a show?

 You must have a dedicated website.

If you don’t have a website that resolves to your domain name, you are doing the equivalent of renting while those you compete with own their property. There is no reason or excuse you can make to be using a website with an URL such as barneydavey.wordpress.com or barneydavey.blogspot.com, which is what you get when a provider gives you a free website or blog.

There are many problems with such addresses. In both examples above, my name is a subdomain of the primary domain. I neither own nor control the wordpress.com or blogspot.com domain names. That means should I want or need to move my website or blog. I don’t get to take my address with me because I don’t own it. In that case, I can’t even do a domain forwarding. It’s just all bad news.

You can get free websites from some companies, but they often have limitations on what you can do with their sites. In almost all cases, you own the contents but can’t take the design with you should you decide to move to a different provider. Moreover, most free sites use your website to promote and link back to the supplier’s domain. This situation is another, as with a free Yahoo or Gmail email account, that smacks you with the amateur label.

There is a lot more to personal branding.

This post scratches the surface of the importance of personal branding and its components. There are MBA level courses on branding. But, you don’t have to study that hard or go to that extent to make branding a valuable part of your art business.

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    1. I love, love, love this blog. After being laid off 2 years ago and now a stay at home dad I have been slowly working on creating a small business to sell my photography. With my income cut in half I try to take small steps without jeopardizing my income. So small SMART ideas are always a help. Even if it takes me twice as long. There were a lot of great SMART ideas that are possible. I will save this blog as reference and do some homework myself. Thank you for writing this and did I mention that I loved this blog?

  1. I’m confused. One minute you say not to use wordpress.com or BlogSpot.com and the next you say to use one of them for a self-hosted site. Why? If I buy a domain name, get a website built through i.e. Weebly.com, use a separate email thing through Zoho.com, why do I need wordpress?

    1. Dear Dawn, I am sorry if I confused you. WordPress offers a free blog through WordPress.com, as does Blogspot.com. The free versions allow you to setup on a subdomain as I indicated. For example barneydavey.wordpress.com, or barneydavey.blogspot.com. They will let you do something called domain mapping that will mask the underlying subdomain links, but there are costs associated and limitations to what you can do with the designs. WordPress.org is the free software that can be used on a self-hosted site where you buy hosting and install the software. Most large hosts have an easy, free installer program that will set you up with a basic WordPress site. It takes some tech skills to go from the basic site to one that looks and functions like you would want.

      If you have your hosting with Weebly.com, for instance, and your email through Zoho.com, you are right, under those conditions, you would not need WordPress for anything.

  2. Hi Barney, been following you and Jason Horejs for a couple weeks now on Google Hangouts and I thank you for the excellent marketing info. Question: I have a website, Traditionstudio.com, which I’ve had for 6 years now, designed by my brother, a professional web designer. At that time, he urged me to use this domain name, because no one would be able to remember/ spell my last name. Taking your advice, I just recently purchased my name as a domain name. I am using EZWeb123 to build my own site with its own integrated blog, so I have a little more control over content and branding. Should I continue to keep my old site, Tradition Studio up? It’s at the top of the list for Google searches on my name.

    1. It is a good idea to keep your existing website as long as your new site is not an exact duplicate from a content perspective. Google will penalize sites that run duplicate content. Once your new site is live, I recommend doing a 301 redirect from old to new. Get your brother to help you go beyond a domain forwarding to add the proper scripting in your .htaccess file for redirection. All the best!

  3. Barney,

    If I were new to the web site world I would agree with most of what you have written, it makes logical sense to market as much as possible with internet goals in mind. The truth is in the pudding, it will not work as described.

    I began building web sites and following all the, then current, advise on how to get known and listed on Google, MSN, Yahoo!, Alta Vista, Ask.com, and hundreds of others. This I began in 1996, and finally closed the web site business in 2011. All six of my active web sites were listed on page 1, or 2 of Google Search. All of the web sites were hosted by EarthLink with their own unique domain name and domain e-nail address.

    All of the former web sites have faded into the internet abyss, never to be heard from again.

    For those very few successful web site driven businesses there must be something else missing, a $Billion Marketing budget.

    For myself, a fine art photographer, I have tried several web site providers who can also handle the digital sale, printing, and shipping of my photographic images. Today I have two left, Fine Art America, and a second I am considering leaving. FFA is the only one to provide a sale, and it is reasonable to think more sales may be in the future, but I am not holding my breath. It is a handy place, on the internet, to store pictures for other to view.

    For the photographs, I send out personal E-Mail messages, short, with three sample images, to collectors, Interior Designers, and Museums with the web site URL. Each sample image is hyperlinked to the image on the web site for impulse purchases, and each web site page contains tabs to other catalogs for my images.

    Incidentally, all the web sites were optimized for various sized monitors, Web TV, Smart Phones, and Tablets.

    The bottom line. I wish for you all the success you can handle. I thought you should know how it really is outside the confines of the internet.

    Regards,

    Michael Gordon

    1. Michael, thank you for your thoughtful comments. They seem to indicate you were attempting to build a business through selling your work online. That is not what personal branding, which is the topic of this post, is about. Personal branding and digital branding mean taking control of your online reputation. Either you do, or someone does it for you. You need to have a presence online, but you need to know why you are doing it. What this post is about is managing your reputation by having a consistent message and appearance online, which is different than marketing online as a primary way to build an art career.

      For visual artists, I don’t advocate trying to be successful by selling online. I believe artists can make sales online, and some, very few, manage to make their online sales support them. For most artists, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a waste of time. While you don’t want to ignore the basics like proper titles, headings, and descriptions, spending lots of time and money to get strangers to your site is ill advised because it doesn’t work, as your experience shows.

      I advocate building relationships with collectors. You only need a few hundred collectors to build a solid foundation, so mass marketing to strangers is, as you have found, ineffective and expensive. There are better ways to locate those potential collectors than trying to compete with a large Internet, or traditional for that matter, advertising budget. That’s the basis of both my Guerrilla Marketing for Artists: How 100 Collectors Can Bulletproof Your Career book and my 8-Steps to Art Marketing Mastery online workshop. The focus in both cases is on building a collector base and using all the tools available to support that activity. With that perspective, the Internet and social media are merely tools to support your marketing, rather than being the centerpiece of your marketing. Using online tools to do customer hunting to identify specific potential collectors and to stay in touch with your growing tribe of established buyers is the way to go.

      All the best!

  4. Thank you for the article! It made me rethink the url for my website. I changed it to my name.

    Moonfruit.com platform is excellent for building a website for artists. It’s quite easy to use and gives an opportunity to put galleries, shopping cart, etc.

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