The First Rule of the Art Business

You must understand and obey the first rule of the art business.

The First Rule of the Art BusinessRule #1 is based on the ironclad premise that on the business side of your career nothing happens until somebody buys your art. You can make the most beautiful, powerful, spellbinding and compelling art possible, but until it passes hands to someone who willingly steps up and pays for it, you are working at a hobby.

Art Business Rule #1:

Make art people want to buy and find efficient, effective ways to sell it to them.

You can spend hours building the Taj Mahal of websites, write blog posts until your fingers bleed, build a huge newsletter mailing lists, grow a massive list of Twitter followers, Facebook friends and fans, and be up to your ears in all kinds of other cool, trendy social media, but without buyers, it is useless.

Does Your Career Need a Tune-up?

Unfocused activity is a career killer, and so is letting perfectionism rule while productivity declines. Not understanding where your traffic is coming from, what motivates customers to buy your art, what kind of art you make sells the best, and which of the various art marketing methods you use produce results that make you money are all reasons why your career might be floundering, or needs a tune-up.

You are an adult. You are a solo entrepreneur. These things mean you need to be self-motivated. If you are not, you need a job so a boss can demand you get your work done. Being an entrepreneur, especially in the early going means giving up stuff you like to do. Watching your favorite television shows has to go. Leisurely shopping in a mall or online is out. Taking long vacations unplugged from the digital world is a no-no. Lollygagging on Facebook looking at silly cat videos needs to stop, no matter how tempting. ANYTHING that wastes your precious time needs to be cut out of your routine until your career is running smoothly and profitably.

Don’t Dismay, It’s Not Forever.

These things are not a life sentence. You can eventually carve out time to do those activities you have temporarily put away for the sake of your career.

The E-Myth RevisitedThere is a reason Michael Gerber’s book, The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It has been a perennial bestseller for years. He tells the unvarnished truth about entrepreneurial failure and offers wise solutions for avoiding the pitfalls that kill so many otherwise promising careers and solo business ventures. Much of it hinges on learning to let go, to trust and how to build a team to help you reach your goals.

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Working at a Real Job Makes Succeeding at Your Art Career More Challenging.

I think you are starting to get the drift here. I am talking about making sacrifices to get the place you want to be with your career.

It’s only worse if you are a breadwinner with a RJ (Real Job.) A full-time job seriously cuts into your productive time. It forces you to be focused, driven and organized to meet your goals.

I Have Been There, Done That and Have the T-shirt (and scars) to Prove It.

If you are working full-time, I can sympathize. Until last month, I had worked at a full-time job since long before 2005 when I wrote my first book and launched my desired career as an aspiring art business information publishing mogul. That second job is time-consuming. It includes writing this blog, writing books, creating webinars, doing art-marketing hangouts with Jason Horejs, coming up with new ideas, and promoting and pushing to make all these things profitable.

I like to make money. I bet you do, too.

In order to make the many hours I spent doing all the above-mentioned activities payoff while continuing my RJ, I had to make sure I kept my blog current and interesting and continue to offer a growing range of products that artists like you would want to buy.

I taught myself how to build a blog and website using WordPress, studied SEO tactics, sharpened my own marketing skills, gained a growing familiarity with social media, and dug into online advertising.  I had to learn how to do the right things with the right media so you could find me online, and I had to package what I offer to encourage you to go from being interested to actually buying things from me. It’s a lot to learn for anyone, and you just can’t do it without putting in the time.

This is my full-time job now and it is as it has been a work in progress. I know I can do a better job providing information for you and a better job of marketing that information to you. I’m working steadily at making that happen. This is exactly the same thing you as an artist need to be doing, which is work smart and hard to make art others want to buy and work equally hard and smart at finding buyers for it.

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You Can’t Do It All—and Do It All Well!

You can’t just do one thing well and succeed. You have to get it all done, and the better you are at each facet of your art business, the more you will thrive. Many artists I know have a spouse, friend, or employee who handles helping do some of the business and marketing aspects for them.

I think this should be the goal of every artist. That is, work as fast and efficiently as possible to get to the point where you can bring on help. If you think only you can do some of these things, you are doomed to a low paying career.

Sure, you may be better at some things, it doesn’t matter what the other things are, well accept maybe making the art, (Damien Hirst and other contemporary artists don’t even do that), but you need to let go of everything you can delegate to someone else. Whether marketing, selling, exhibiting, shipping or customer service, getting help will help you obey the first rule of the art business.

80% of Something Beats 100% of Nothing.

When you attempt to do it all, the tendency is to let things slide. This is bad. It is much better to find someone who can do the same work as you at 80% of your ability. The difference is they will get it done rather than have it languish along with your career. And, if they are any good, in what will seem probably like no time, they’ll likely be as good or better than you if for no other reason than repetition.

What you need to do is start recognizing and obeying the first rule of the art business. I could write a whole book on this subject, and very well may someday, but I’m busy right now promoting my new How to Sell Art to Interior Designers book. In the meantime, here are some suggestions for you:

  • Setup a Google Analytics account and start tracking where your web traffic comes from.
  • Find out what pages are most popular and look for trends.
  • Track which of your art pieces sell most regularly and look for trends.
  • Track your social media activity to see if you are getting new buyers or solid prospects from it.
  • Try setting up unique landing pages for specified campaigns to find out if you are generating buying traffic from your social media, newsletter, email and other targeted marketing efforts.
  • Keep track of your time to know if you spend enough time on marketing, or are spending too much time in the studio.
  • Are you getting business from some physical galleries and little from others? Find out why.
  • Are you getting business from online galleries and not others? You need to determine what is working and why.

There is much more you can do. Don’t wait for a perfect plan. Just get started and figure it out as you go.

Get to the Heart of What Works and Why, Then Lather, Rinse and Repeat.

The essence of what we are talking about here is pinning down the first rule of the art business. The more you know about why you have buyers, where they come from and what they like to buy, the more efficient you can make your marketing. And, armed with that information, the more likely you are to create art that sells easily and fast.

If you are getting a big portion of sales from one distribution channel, and they are not direct sales from networking with collectors, then you have a potential problem. If Facebook is delivering a significant chunk of buyers to you, that is great. But, it’s scary, too. Anytime you are dependent on some other source of revenue, you are at risk. If something happens to that distribution channel, you don’t want to be scrambling to build up another one to replace it.

Keep going full steam on what is working, just start looking equally hard at other opportunities to sell you art. There is always more than one way to sell your art. My book, Guerrilla Marketing for Artists: How 100 Collectors Can Bulletproof Your Career offers the basic premise that direct buying collectors can insulate you against galleries failing, Facebook falling from favor, or other distro channel failures, and put a solid foundation under your career.

You Need Multiple Distro Channels to Ensure Success and Safety.

I don’t believe you should ever have just one distro channel. The more ways you can sell something, the merrier. You just must always know is if your distro channel is producing positive cash flow. If I find Facebook advertising is turning a profit, I am not going to rely solely on it. It is too fickle. I am going to look at postcard marketing, Twitter advertising, Pinterest marketing, and anything else that offers promise.

The way to succeed is don’t put too much on your plate at one time, but keep steadily testing and improving. You have to spend money to make money. Maybe Facebook advertising brings you enough profit to hire a part-time marketing person who can now help you get started using Pinterest, Twitter, postcards or whatever you think is your next best method of selling art.

The smartest, most successful marketers at the entrepreneur and the huge corporate level are the ones who keenly study their business to know what works and why. They keep trying new things, blowing up the stuff that’s not working, and tweaking what is working to make it more efficient, effective and affordable.

When you begin to actually understand and obey the first rule of the art business, you will put yourself on the path to profitability and sustained long-success. Get going and I will see you at the top!


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