For most artists, making art comes easier than selling it. It’s the old left brain versus right brain thing at work. If the truth be told, most people are not fond of trying to sell things. It falls right behind public speaking in popularity in the “Things I don’t want to do” category.
The reality is you can’t get away from selling things if you have a business. You must sell your products or services—it’s the only way to earn money.
A successful business requires paying customers. Someone has to sell those customers. In a dream world for artists, you’d have a passive marketing system. One that found and contacted prospective buyers who would fall in love with and buy your work on the spot.
But, we’re not dreaming here. Consumers have choices—too many choices in most cases. That gives them the power. There are few things so unique where you can’t find a suitable replacement. As a result, every business is in there pitching to cut through the noise.
Don’t you know that Coca-Cola, Apple, and Nike would just love to cut out their marketing costs and have people buy on the strength of their brands—their profits would skyrocket. That’s not the case. They know in short order their competitors would be smacking down their lunch and their dinner, too.
Giant brands have the budget to be in many places at once. As an artist and small business owner, you have to use discretion on how you allocate your marketing dollars and how you spend your time drumming up new business. It is essential to your success to get this right.
Besides making art that resonates and fans the interest and desire of potential buyers, your other job is to use your marketing skills, so those potential customers get repeat exposure to your artwork and your marketing messages.
Some lucky artists have someone who does their marketing for them. However, the vast majority have to fend for themselves. If that’s you, don’t feel alone, you have lots of company. It’s a struggle for any small business to learn how to market their products or services in a way to make a profit.
The key to your success is to stand out from your competition. Be unique, not just with your art, but with your marketing.
You probably don’t have the budget to outspend your competition as a way to get new and retain existing buyers. That’s a dumb strategy anyway. Because overspending on marketing will crush your profits and kill your business. What you need to do is get smart about getting the most from what you’ve got.
What you are competing for is space on the wall or floor of a room or office along with the interest and desire to do something fun, beautiful, touching and unique with the space.
I believe art buyers are either going to grab something because it’s conveniently displayed to them when they have an art need to fill, or they are going to make a thoughtful search for just the right item.
You can make spontaneous sales at shows. Otherwise, you need a buyer/prospect relationship to sell your art. Even at shows, unless you are in the right booth at the right show at the right time, you are probably losing that sale to a bigger competitor with a large display and multiple reasons to entice a buyer to come to their retail location.
If consumers are looking for fine art, they aren’t looking in Target or Pier One. They might be looking at Z Gallerie or Crate & Barrel unless they want originals. If they want originals, you’re competing with galleries. To fight for original sales bought direct from you, you need to build a following of prospects who are interested in your work and you.
Building relations with potential buyers and collectors is your path to success.
So I think the way to take heart and make selling art awesome is to sell your art to your friends. I can hear the laughter now. And, the “I’ve already tried that” and, “My friends don’t buy art” and a bunch more remarks expressing incredulity and nonsense at such a simpleton suggestion.
Sometimes, the simplest solution is the best solution.
I will come back to something I’ve posted too many times to count. People buy from people they KNOW, LIKE and TRUST. When you have those things going for you, your sales come much easier.
If someone already knows you, you’re over that hurdle. If they both know and like you, you’re getting darn close. Trust comes from the gut and from observing actions. You display integrity and back it with your actions, you get trust.
My way of thinking is this, to sell more art, make more friends. Stop trying to push your art on cold traffic that doesn’t know anything about you. Art, for the most part, when it’s not a convenience sale, is a personal purchase.
People buy it because it moves them in some way. There is an intangible factor to the art. You don’t need a Harvard Business School study to know people are much more inclined to buy art when they know the artist, or at the least, know something about the artist.
Can you make sales by marketing to cold traffic? Sure, it happens every day. Sometimes an artist gets lucky with a look that gets trendy, and everybody it seems wants to own his or her art. Did you see the movie, Big Eyes? It’s a bio about the artist, Margaret Keane. At one time, her art was all the rage, and it sold like hotcakes.
You just can’t manufacture that kind of interest and success. Keane’s backstory is filled with sadness and craziness around it anyway. Proving success at that level is not always what is seems like on the outside. I believe most artists are far better served to build up a loyal following of “friends” who buy their art. It’s a more stable, sane way to run an art business.
When I use the term “friend” I’m referring to creating personal relationships with potential buyers. I know this is THE best way for artists to secure their future. This was not always the case, and for sure wasn’t when I got in the art business in 1988. Back then, you needed a gallery, art dealers, or art publishers to build a business.
Sure, there were some mavericks. They were pioneers of sorts who did things their way and won. They were self-representing before self-representing was cool. It was just that the expensive, steep uphill climb to success doing it that way back in the day was too hard for most artists.
Consumer buying habits have changed. They are open to buying direct from artists. Many, in fact, prefer this arrangement, which is why the gallery business has been in decline over the past decade. Plus, the communication tools artists have now are affordable, easy-to-use and efficient.
You can use a combination of old-school advertising, press releases and publicity mixed with email marketing, online galleries, social media and more to create a marketing machine that you can manage. One that allows you to build up a strong following of direct buying collectors and genuinely interested prospective buyers.
Moreover, you have a significant advantage over any of the other arts because you need relatively few buyers to make your career an astonishing success. Where musicians, authors, filmmakers, and playwrights needs thousand, or hundreds of thousands or millions to achieve success, you can get there with a few hundred actual repeat buying collectors.
Even though you need just a fraction of what the other artist need to make a thriving business from their creativity, you have access to the same tools as they do. Your advantage is your costs to acquire all the customers you need is tiny by comparison.
My advice is to start making friends. Be selective. Look for those folks who are interested either in you or the kind of art you make. I recommend you do this both online and offline. Learn how to define who your best prospects are and then seek them out wherever they congregate.
Become part of their tribe. Add to the dialog, become known to the community, and let your art sell itself as you subtly introduce it to your best prospects.