This is a long article. If you want to read a summary of what is covered in it, you can jump to and read the conclusion.
One of the most commonly asked questions artists ask is “How can I market and sell my art online?” While it can be very beneficial to sell your art online, it is also a lot of work. There is no magic bullet for selling your work online.
Everyone wants a shortcut. We see other people doing the things we want to do and assume they got there overnight. We want success, but are we willing to put in the work?
You are different. You are here because you want to learn exactly what it takes to build an audience. You are willing to put in the work. You want to build a business around your art.In order to sell your art online, you must first build an audience. Click To Tweet
In order to sell your art online, you must first build an audience. You might think this is common sense, but many artists overlook this basic fact. If you want to sell your art online and build a lasting business from it, there are some very important things you must do.
This guide is intended to teach you some of these essential elements. It will help you turn your art from a hobby into a business. It will cover everything from finding your audience to building a passionate group of fans. So, let’s get started.
Discover What Makes You Unique or Stand Out
The very first thing you must do in order to sell your art online is to find what makes you unique. There are millions of other artists in the world. As of 2014 there were 1.35 million sellers on Etsy, and that’s just one platform!
How do you get your work seen when there are so many other sellers? What are you doing to make your art stand out?
Discover & Develop Your Brand
If you are having trouble finding what makes you unique, turn to the people who know you best. In my interview with Dorie Clark, she recommends reaching out to half a dozen people and asking them what three words best describe you. This will help you discover your brand.
Often times, we can’t discover what makes us unique because we are too close to the source. We know ourselves way too well, so we don’t know what others see in us.
When you get the responses back, you may be surprised by the answers. If the words they used to describe you don’t align with the way you view yourself, figure out what you can do to fix it. Make sure you are always presenting yourself in the way you want to be seen.
Once you are aligned with the brand you want to present to people, use that in everything you do.
You have a combination of characteristics that make you unique. Use them to your advantage so you can stand out!
In that same interview, I talked to Dorie about her book Stand Out.
When you stand out, people take notice. Instead of hustling to tell everyone about yourself, people will seek you out and spread the word for you!
That doesn’t mean it will be easy. Building a following takes time and deliberate effort, but it can be done.
Here are the three steps you need to take to stand out:
Build a Network
No one starts off with a large audience. Even the most famous and well known artists had to start somewhere. You build your network by connecting one on one with people you trust. This allows you to get honest feedback about your work.
Build an Audience
You can only build your network so much before it becomes too large. That is when you must bring your art to a larger audience. This is where you share your work with people who haven’t heard of you before.
Build a Community
This is the last and most difficult part of standing out. Building a community not only requires your audience to connect around you and your art. They also need to become ambassadors for your art.There is nothing more powerful than an active and engaged audience. Click To Tweet
There is nothing more powerful than an active and engaged audience. You must first find your 1000 True Fans, then you must get them to advocate for you.
A good example of an artist who has built a community is Austin Kleon. He has written multiple best-selling books and has been able to create a passionate community around his art. This is especially true with his Newspaper Blackout poems and his new Steal Like an Artist Journal.
Find Your AudienceWithout an audience, your art will live in obscurity. Click To Tweet
One of the most critical aspects of building an art business that people overlook is finding your audience. Without an audience, your art will live in obscurity. The most important thing to remember is, it is not the audience’s job to find you, it’s your job to find them.
1,000 True Fans
Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 True Fans is one of the greatest pieces ever written about succeeding as a creator. It should be mandatory reading for any artist who seeks to make a living from her art.
It ignores those who say you need to build a massive following. It ignores the fact that your art must be “popular” to succeed. It is the way many full time artists have found success.
“A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.
A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce…”
– Kevin Kelly
These fans will do anything to acquire your work. They will drive hundreds of miles to see you perform. They will scour the internet looking for your rare prints. They will buy everything you create.
Instead of chasing the elusive viral hit or waiting to be discovered, you should seek those who truly love your work. These aren’t people who will occasionally check in on what you’re doing. They haven’t bought just one piece of your work. These fans obsess over everything you create.
Dr.Mani is the perfect example of someone who embodies the spirit of 1,000 True Fans. He is a heart surgeon who writes books and manages websites. He also uses the funds he raises from his books and website to sponsor life-saving surgery for children who are from under-privileged families.
“You might expect that my fundraising efforts rely upon the support and contribution of hundreds of thousands of sponsors. Actually, we’ve only ever had a couple of thousand donors for our Heart Foundation.
Most of these donors have given over and over again, invited friends to contribute too, help spread word in media and channels I don’t have access to, blog about the needs of our heart kids…”
Here’s my favorite part of the article, “True Fans, raving and excited fans, can power ANY enterprise to heights and accomplishment far beyond the capacity and capability of the folks who initiate it.”It doesn't take an army to make a living off of your work. Click To Tweet
It doesn’t take an army to make a living off of your work. It only takes a small, very dedicated, group who falls in love with your art.
Building your following up to 1,000 True Fans is no easy task. It takes time and commitment to build a normal following, nevertheless a passionate following.
In order to gain true fans, you need two key ingredients. You need to be highly relevant and you must bring people together.
RelevanceJust being relevant is not enough, it is the price of entry. Click To Tweet
Just being relevant is not enough, it is the price of entry. Being highly relevant means your audience absorbs everything you create. They go out of their way to buy your latest print. They read every article you post. They open every newsletter you create.
If you aren’t creating things that are highly relevant to your audience, you aren’t gaining any True Fans. When you create your art, you shouldn’t just think of yourself, you should also think of your fans. That doesn’t mean you need to create just for them. It just means you need to keep them in mind when determining what you want to create.
How often have you seen fans rally around a single cause? Whether its a sports team or a favorite show, they will not shut up about it. These people are True Fans.
Good examples of this are Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. Most shows have fans that might occasionally talk about it, but fans of these shows RAVE about them. When they get into work on Monday morning, they HAVE to talk about it. These are the types of fans you want to build around your art.
If you are looking for some ideas on how to build a raving audience, I recommend these questions from Paid to Exist:
- What is the cause your true fan feels strongly pulled to?
- What is the common enemy your tribe is railing against?
- What makes them feel different?
- What makes them feel united?
- What about their story, history or experiences makes them strongly identified with your cause?
The last step towards building raving fans is giving your interactions a personal touch. Imagine if your favorite musician or actor gave you a personal phone call. What if they sent you a gift in the mail along with a personalized video? You would be freaking out.
These are the types of interactions you want to give to your True Fans. If you are looking for some ideas on what you can do to give your interactions a personal touch, check out this wonderful list of personal interactions musician Praverb wrote for Music Industry How To.
Every business is built on the foundation of a relationship: between the business and the customer. Apple is the wealthiest company in the world, and they did it by creating strong relationships with their customers.
Just ask anyone who owns an an iPhone. They have a strong attachment to their devices. Why is that? Because of the relationship they have with the company and the way it makes them feel.
You could just as easily own an Android phone. They work just as well, they are more customizable, and are usually more powerful. So why do people stick with their iPhones?
Owning an Apple device makes a statement about who we are and our place in the world. It signifies to people that I care about form, functionality, and aesthetics.
Apple has built relationships with its customers that other companies can’t replicate. The same principle holds true for artists.
Crista Cloutier of The Working Artist on Relationships
In my podcast episode with Crista Cloutier, she talked about how her relationships allowed her to be a successful director at an art gallery, how that led to owning her own art gallery, and how she built the Working Artist workshops around relationships with artists.
After graduating from art school, Crista got a part time job at Segura Studio. Even though she was only working there part time, she had a knack for selling art. Within a year of joining the studio she became a director there.
What she learned was that relationships were the secret to selling art. She started out by cold calling and forming relationships with artists. She was so successful at this that she was able to open her own art gallery while working there. When she started at Segura, there was a box of 50 clients. By the time she left, there was a massive filing system of clients.
One thing she advocates for artists is to build relationships with both their customers and art galleries. Many artists want art galleries to do all the work for them. They want the gallery to build relationships with their customers, but that does not make a good relationship. Artists must build relationships with customers themselves.
Crista also advocates creating a mutually beneficial relationship with any art gallery you want to work with. Your relationship with your gallery should be like a marriage, where your art is the child. You shouldn’t work with a gallery you don’t feel comfortable with, just like you shouldn’t trust your child with someone you aren’t comfortable with.
Create a Website as a Hub forYour Art
In this digital age, your website might be the most important tool in sharing your art with the world. I see a lot of artists rely on other sites to gain traction in their businesses, but there is a better way to do it.
You Shouldn’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
There is nothing wrong with using these platforms to promote your art, but it would be a mistake to use them as your main platform or only platform for selling your art.
Etsy has a history of shutting down accounts on their platforms with little to no warning. Zazzle has a strict guidelines for the type of work they will accept. A search for “Facebook closed my page” comes up with over 200 million results. A search for “Etsy closed my shop” came up with around 1.6 million results.Don't rely on any single platform to promote your art. Click To Tweet
This may sound unethical, but these sites have the right to do whatever they want with your accounts. As a condition for signing up to use their platform, you leave your fate up to them. Although most people might not encounter this problem, it has happened before and will probably happen again.
You can and should promote your art on other platforms, but don’t rely on them alone. By creating your own website, you are not at the whims of another company. You complete and total control of what you want to sell without worrying about what will happen to your account or listings.
Another drawback of relying on a platform you don’t own is, you have no control over how many people see your content. Social media is notoriously unreliable in these situations.
From October of 2013 to February of 2014, Social@Ogilvy did an analysis of 100+ Facebook Brand Pages around the world with more than 48 million total fans. In October of 2013 the average reach of all pages was 12.05% and the average reach of pages with over 500k Likes was 4.04%. By Febraury 2014 the average reach of all pages was down to 6.15% and the average reach of pages with over 500k Likes was down to 2.11%. Was does that all mean?
It means Facebook has dramatically reduced the percentage of people who will see your Page updates without paying. If you saw a dramatic decrease in the interactions of your Page over time, this was an intentional plan on Facebook’s part.
Twitter may even be worse as far as reach goes. Although people think Twitter shows everyone’s tweets all the time, according to Danny Sullivan of Marketing Land, Twitter feeds are more like live TV. It shows you every tweet when you are watching it, but when you leave the platform, it shuts off the feed.
In August/September of 2009, Sysomos scanned over 1.2 billion tweets. They found that 7 out 10 tweets go without any reaction from the world. Only 6 percent of the interactions got retweeted (92% of retweets came in the first hour). The remaining 23% got replies. 85% got one reply, 10.7% got two replies, and 1.53% got three replies (96.9% of replies came within an hour)
The point is, social media is not a good way to get your content in front of your entire audience. These platforms are out to make money, and to do that, they have made paid ads an enormous part of how they operate.
Why You Need to Create Your Own Website
Creating your own website is a necessity for artists, especially if you are trying to build your presence online. As you have seen, relying entirely on another website, no matter how popular, is not a good idea. You can use these sites to supplement your own site, but they should never replace your site.
If you have already created your own website for your art, you are ahead of those who don’t have one. For one, you own all the content on your website. Your site won’t be shut down without warning. No one can decide how often your posts show up. You are in total control.
Second, people can find you without being distracted by other artists or posts. When you build your business on Facebook, you are competing with thousands of other posts from your friends and other business pages. Our news feeds are filled with an endless stream of content. All of which can distract your fans from seeing your art. When you build your business on Etsy, you are competing with over a million other sellers. Not to mention, they are all artists vying for attention too.
Using Your Website
The problem I see with many artists’ websites is they only use it as a showcase for their work. While it is necessary to show off your work as an artist, that is just the cost of entry.
If you want to build an active and engaged audience, you need to do more than just build a portfolio for your art. There are millions of other artists vying for attention online. If all you do on your site is display your work, you are wasting a valuable opportunity to build a following.
Your site should be a place where you share your ideas. It should be a place where people get to know, like and trust you. You can’t do this if all you have on your website is pictures of your work.
Any artist who is looking to build a presence online needs to use their website as the hub for their art.
What Does it Mean to Use Your Website as a Hub?
As I mentioned earlier, you should not rely on other sites to do all the marketing and outreach for you, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t promote your art on those sites. You should use them to compliment your art.
The most important thing to remember is, when you are promoting your art on other sites, you need to bring them back to your own site.
When you post to Facebook, you need to send the traffic back to your site so they can buy it from you. When you build your audience on Pinterest, your pins should point back to your site too. When you post images on Instagram, make sure your profile link leads back to your website.
Pointing your marketing efforts back to your site lets you turn casual observers into fans. How do you do this? By building your email list.
Create and Build Your Email List
Ask any internet marketer what their biggest regret is, and they will tell you that they should have started their email list earlier. Email is one of the most effective ways to market your art online.
Why is this the case?
First, when someone subscribes to your email newsletter, they are giving you permission to reach out to them directly. People do not sign up for your emails if they are not interested in what you have to say.
People like a Facebook page or follow a Twitter account knowing they won’t see everything you publish. When they sign up for an email list, they know they will receive every email that goes out.
Here are some of the benefits of building an email list:
More People See it Than Your Social Media Posts
The percentage of people who see your posts on social media is almost laughable. In the beginning, social media may have been great for staying connected with your fans.
The more social media platforms grow, the less your content will reach your fans. Emails, on the other hand, have an average open rate of up to 30% of your subscribers.
You Aren’t Competing For Attention
Imagine walking on trade room floor looking for the perfect thing to buy. There are hundreds of booths lined up on the floor, all vying for your attention. People gather around certain booths trying to catch a glimpse of what everyone else is looking at. Other booths will have no traffic at all.
That’s what it’s like to sell your art on another platform. You are constantly vying for the attention of a distracted audience. Unless you are the booth that everyone is visiting, you will have a hard time getting noticed.
Instead of relying on that booth on such a crowded trade floor, you should just open your own store. Sure, the booth might be a good way to gain some new fans, but it shouldn’t be the only way you sell your goods.
When you post your work on other sites like Etsy or Facebook, you are competing with everyone else on those platforms. People are easily distracted, especially when there are so many things to take in.
By having an email list, you avoid many of those distractions. If someone wants to read your email, they will open it. This allows them to go right from your email to your website.
Making it Personal
It is a privilege to be a part of someone’s inbox. Unlike a Facebook like or a Twitter follower, people on your email list have given you direct access to them. It is up to you to stay there.
Your email list should have people who want to receive your updates. You don’t want just anyone to be a part of your list. Sure, you could grow your numbers by constantly giving discounts to subscribers, but that devalues your work.
It is much better to have 1,000 people who love receiving your emails than to have 10,000 people who aren’t interested in your work. You want to have 1,000 true fans on your list, not just 10,000 subscribers.
How do you create a list with 1,000 true fans? By making it personal. Your email list gives you one on one access to your fans. Don’t mess it up by making your emails all about selling your work.Make your emails something that delight your readers Click To Tweet
You have the ability to create a personal relationship with each of your subscribers. Make your emails something that delight your readers. Make it something they look forward to each week. (For a great example of this, subscribe to Austin Kleon’s wonderful weekly email)
The best way to do this is by giving your emails a personal touch. Write them as if they were going to one person. This is something I have struggled with, but I am constantly working on improving. When your reader feels like you are talking directly to her, you will have a much stronger impact.
Learn About Your Audience
One of the greatest advantages of an email list is the ability to get direct feedback from your audience. It is often quite difficult to build a meaningful relationship with your fans through social media.
As I said earlier, popular platforms like Facebook and Twitter are filled with distractions. Although they are great ways to interact with your fans, they are not the most effective way. That way, of course, is through email.If you are not sending emails to your audience, you are missing out on a golden opportunity... Click To Tweet
With emails, you can have one on one personal conversations with your audience. Many people do not use social media, but they do use email. If you are not sending emails to your audience, you are missing out on a golden opportunity to connect with people.
Email list providers let you set up auto-responder emails. These are the emails you can can send out automatically to people when they subscribe to your list. All you have to do is set it up once, and chose when to send it. It’s that simple. (Although, you can also make your auto-responders very complex too)
Through these emails, I’ve received many responses. Each one telling me exactly what artists are having trouble with. I’ve even had the pleasure of speaking to some of my readers through Skype calls.If you are want to build meaningful relationships with your fans, your email list is the perfect way to start Click To Tweet
These conversations would not be possible if I didn’t have an email list. They have taught me valuable things about my audience that I would not have known otherwise. If you are want to build meaningful relationships with your fans, your email list is the perfect way to start.
Use Email as a Testing Ground
An element of email lists that is often overlooked is the ability to use it as a testing ground. Often times, all we want to do is get our emails out to the world. Then we ignore the results.
Mailchimp, the email service I use, allows you to test subject lines, the from name, the content, and the send time of your emails. Testing these different aspects of your email can give you valuable insights into the minds of your audience.
By testing the subject lines, you can tell the type of content your readers are looking for. By testing the from name, you can see whether your site name or your own name is more effective when sending your emails. By testing the content inside your email, you can see what type of content gets the best results. By testing the send time, you can tell what the optimal time is for sending your emails.
That doesn’t mean you should be spending hours pouring over different variations of your email, but it does give you the ability to understand your customers.
Your email list also gives you the perfect place to see what type of content your audience wants. If your readers respond to a certain email you sent, you can send more emails with similar content.
Don’t just use your email as a way to advertise work you have for sale. Use it as a way to build a connection with your readers. Use it as a way to find out exactly what they are looking for.
Putting it Together: Your Website, Blog, and Email List
Now that you have a website and email list, it is time to make them work together. This is one of the most powerful and effective methods for building an audience that wants to buy your art online.
In order to do this, you need to have a blog on your website. This is where you will share your thoughts, feelings, stories, and news on your site. Just having pictures of your work on your site is not enough. Even building a store, while extremely important, is not enough to keep people interested in your art.
You want to build that audience of 1,000 true fans. These people will be your biggest advocates. How do you build this audience? By creating content and sharing it with your email subscribers.
Using Your Email List and Blog to Sell
As we already explored earlier, your email list is the most effective way to market your art online. By sharing content with your email list, you are able to stay in touch with them. This allows you to build a relationship with them so they can get to know, like and trust you.
This combination of factors is the reason many people will buy art from you. People can buy art from the millions of other artists out there, but they’ve chosen to follow you.
Many artists believe creating great art is enough to get people to buy it. The only problem is, every piece of art you create is derivative. You may not be doing it consciously, but you are constantly borrowing from the artists you encounter.Creating great art is just the price of entry Click To Tweet
Therefore, you shouldn’t rely on the greatness of your art alone. Creating great art is just the price of entry. In order to sell more art, you need to build relationships with your audience. The best way to do this is through your email list.The more people get to know you, the more likely they are to buy something from you Click To Tweet
The more people get to know you, the more likely they are to buy something from you. You can’t just treat your audience as customers. You must foster a relationship with them.
That is the reason you are blogging and sending out your posts to your customers. By sharing your thoughts, feelings, ideas, and art with your audience, they are getting to know you better. They are building a stronger connection with you.
If all you do is create art and try to sell it, you are treating your customers as just a statistic instead of as a relationship. Your current customers are your best customers, so you must keep them in the loop. You must earn a place in their hearts and minds, so when they are looking to buy a piece of art for themselves or someone else, they think of you.
Reasons People Not Buy Your Art Right Away
One major mistake you might be making is thinking people who want to buy your art will buy it when they first see it. Unless someone falls in love with your art, they will not buy it the first time they come across it.
They might not have enough money saved up
Not everyone has the disposable income to make a major purchase on art, but they might want to buy it in the future. The only way they will remember you is by getting them onto your email list. Don’t fool yourself into thinking people will remember you without staying in touch with them, they won’t.
They might be waiting for the perfect piece
Often times, people may like your style, but haven’t found the piece that takes their breath away. Once they do find it, they are much more likely to buy it. By keeping in touch with these people, you increase the chances of creating something that truly speaks to them.
They don’t have room for it
One thing you might not have considered is the fact that your potential customer might not have anywhere to put your art. This could be because their walls are all filled or they might be moving and don’t want to transport it around.
There are many more reasons people might not buy your art immediately. Many factors go into buying a piece of art. Just because people don’t buy your art on their first visit to your site doesn’t mean they don’t like it. You need to make it easy for people to come back to your site when they are ready to buy, and the best way to do this is through your emails.
Keeping Your Fans in the Loop
Since many admirers of your art won’t buy the first time they see it, it is vital that you stay in contact with them on a consistent basis. That’s where your blog and email come in to play.
Your blog and email list are not just for show, they serve a vital purpose in your marketing efforts. They are the best way to stay in touch with your fans online.
Here are some of the best ways to stay in touch with your fans without just promoting your art all the time:
Talk about what you do
On my own website and newsletter, I include many different things. I have written about great books that I’ve read, inspirational quotes that I’ve created, podcast episodes I’ve recorded, and marketing advice for artists. Alone these things are fine, but when add them all together, they provide a lot of value for my readers.
Another thing I like to do on my own newsletter is provide a curated list of links I find interesting. I got this idea from Austin Kleon, Todd Henry, and Srinivas Rao. Their links give me a great look into what is inspiring them. I hope to do the same with the links I provide my readers.
Your thoughts and advice
One thing that is often overlooked is giving your readers your opinions on different topics. The way that I do this is by answering questions from LinkedIn groups and Quora, and sharing them with my email subscribers. This gives my readers a look into my thoughts on different topics unrelated to my art and podcast.
Your blog is a great way to start sharing with your audience, but I’ve found that email is a great way to include things that just don’t fit on my site. Readers of your blog may come and go, but readers of your newsletter are often here to stay.
One thing to remember is, you don’t need to feel overwhelmed by all the things you can include on your emails. Start small and build up from there.
What Else Can You Talk About?
The examples above are just the things I like to include in my own emails. There are many many more things you can share with your audience. If you are stuck on what to write, check out my post on 7 topics you can write about to connect with your audience, or check out a short summary of the topics below:
The reason you create
People are fascinated by the lives of artists. What causes us to create art? Often times people write about the details no one cares about. Instead of writing about what school you went to and what styles you studied, talk about WHY you create art.
The way your art affects people
Most artists are short sighted about their art. Every thought about their art revolves around them. What if you flipped the script? Instead of writing about yourself all the time, write about how your art affects others. You can do this through testimonials or you can talk about how your art impacts the emotions of your audience.
How art has changed your life
Art has an enormous affect on who we are as artists. Without art, we wouldn’t be who we are. By sharing the story of how art affected your life, you can build a stronger connection with your audience. What was the catalyst in your art career? How did it shape who you are today?
We often try to present a version of ourselves that doesn’t exist. We try to hide our flaws and mistakes from the world, but that, in itself, is a big mistake. Share your experiments with your audience. Show them you don’t have all the answers. Talk about what you plan to accomplish with your projects and show them that life if just one big experiment.
When we get stuck on a problem, we feel like nothing is going right. We feel like the world is against us. But when you overcome those challenges, you feel a great sense of joy and accomplishment. Share those stories with your audience.
Things you wish you knew earlier
One of the toughest things we can do is sharing our failures with our audience. We don’t like to feel open and vulnerable, especially with those who admire us. But that is exactly what we need to do. When you share your failures, and how you overcame them, people respect you even more. This will help people avoid the same mistakes the you made. It’s not the failure that matters, it’s what you do after you fail that matters.
If those ideas aren’t enough to get the wheels in your head spinning, here are some more:
A story about your business or an interaction you had
Life lessons translated into art
A post talking about a show or exhibition you were featured in
Artists/bloggers/other people who have influenced your work
Tips for hanging your work or decorating a room with your art
Future product ideas
We often make things much harder than they have to be. Remember to keep things simple. If you want to draw people into your art and the work you do, talk about it. Don’t limit yourself to what you think you should talk about. See what other people have done and do some experimenting yourself.
Other Ways to Sell Your Art
Building a website, blog, and email list isn’t the only way to sell art online. If that route doesn’t sound appealing to you, there are other alternatives. Sometimes you want to just want to create art and put it up for sale without all the extra work. Here are some alternatives that you might want to explore or might be using already.
Etsy is the most established handmade market online. The biggest draw about Etsy is it has a user base of millions of users looking for handmade artisanal goods. When people think of handmade products, they think of Etsy. That perception is beginning to change, but it is still a good marketplace to test out whether or not your art will sell. The downside, like I stated before, is that you are competing with an huge marketplace of other sellers. You also don’t own the property you are selling on, you are only renting it.
Amazon just recently jumped into the artisan products game with Amazon Handmade. There are a few benefits to selling on Amazon. For one, they boast an audience around 244 million customers. In comparison, Etsy has an audience of around 54 million customers. They also help you with payment processing, marketing, and fraud protection. You can also send your products to Amazon so they become Prime eligible. There are also big downsides. They charge a flat 12% fee compared to Etsy’s 20 cent listing and 3.5% sales fees. They are also known for driving competitors out of the marketplace.
Print on Demand Services
Print on Demand services can be a great way for artists to make extra income without much of the hassle. All you have to do is send the print file to the POD service and fill out information like the title and description. Some services allow you to set a price, and others will just give you a percentage of the sale. The biggest benefit of these services is you don’t have to worry about shipping or setting up payment processing. The downside is you don’t have any control of how and where they promote your work. Also, most don’t give you access to the customers who purchased your work from their sites. If you want a comparison of the many different POD services, check out The Ultimate Guide to Print on Demand Resources from The Abundant Artist.
Sometimes you have a concept for your art, but don’t have enough money to create it. Instead of trying to fund it yourself, you can turn to crowdfunding platforms to raise money for you.
During the Renaissance, artists were able to create through funding from patrons. This allowed the artist to create without worrying about how they would sustain themselves.
We’ve gone away from this system as the main method for paying artists for some time, but through crowdfunding, we have been making the shift back to patronage. Crowdfunding allows artists to work on their projects without needing to pay for all the costs up front.
Kickstarter and IndieGoGo
The way it works is, you define multiple tiers that people can pay for your work. Each tier has its own reward that you choose.
For example if you want to create a large scale painting, you can set the highest price in your campaign to buy the original painting. Then you can set the next highest price for print re-productions of the painting. You can do this all the way down to the lowest donation price, which you can set as a digital download of your painting. You are also able to limit the number of people who can receive a reward at a tier.
This way, you are not just limited to selling the original painting. You can make money for different variations of the same work, all under the umbrella of one campaign.
The biggest benefits of these crowdfunding platforms are, you can get paid to create the project you want to work on. You also have the added benefit of a promotional tool for your art. While, your campaign is not guaranteed to gain traction, it can be a good way for people who are not familiar with your work to notice it.
The downside of these crowdfunding platforms is, if you don’t reach your campaign goal on Kickstarter, you won’t receive any funds for it. On IndieGoGo, if you don’t hit your goal, you only receive a portion of the funds that you raised.
Another possible downside is, you still have to market your campaigns. You can’t expect a campaign to be funded just because you created it. You need to put in a lot of work if you want your campaign to stand out.
Another alternative crowdfunding service is called Patreon. Unlike Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, Patreon allows your donors to pay per project or per month. Patreon allows you to set donation tiers, and through them, people will receive a different reward every month or for every piece of art that you release.
The upside of Patreon is, you get paid on a consistent basis. The downside is, you have to be consistent or people will stop funding you. It is also much newer than other platforms, and it may be harder to get people to buy in.
You can read a little bit more about these platforms on my post 10 Marketing Ideas Artists Can Steal From Me Right Now.
Seek Out New Audiences for Your Art
As I explained earlier, artists can make a fine living by finding your 1,000 True Fans. But what if you want to move beyond 1,000 fans?
That’s where all those marketing channels come into play. The ones people can’t stop talking about.If you want to grow your audience, you need to continuously market yourself and your work Click To Tweet
If you want to grow your audience, you need to continuously market yourself and your work. If you are like many artists, you will shudder at that fact. Marketing has become a dirty word in the world of art, but it doesn’t have to be.
When you think of marketing, you might imagine a bunch of suits in a board room coming up with ways to sell to people. That idea is old and outdated. We are no longer living in the era of Mad Men.
Marketing, at its core, is getting your product or idea in front of people who want to see it. We tend to make this much more complicated than it needs to be.
The first step you must take towards being a better marketer is letting go of all your negative attitudes and expectations. Embrace it for what it is, a way to get your art in front of people who want to buy it.
The next step is finding the right audience and providing them what they want. You are doing yourself a disservice if you are trying to sell to people who don’t want to buy from you. You are also doing a disservice to yourself if you don’t sell to people who actually want to buy your art.
If you are looking to expand your audience beyond what you have right now, here are some places you can look:
Groups and Forums
Before you get started
When joining or interacting in new communities, it is absolutely essential that you don’t just use them as promotional tools. How then, do you turn this into a way to promote your art? By interacting with and befriending people.
The important thing to remember is, you can’t just post links to your art in these groups. That is the fastest way to lose favor. You don’t want to spam people with your art. Instead, you must become a valuable member of these communities.
Once you have established yourself in these groups, people will become interested in what you do. That is when you can begin to talk about your work. The critical point when becoming a part of any community is to be valuable first.
Everyone knows Facebook is a great place to keep up to date with your friends, family, and favorite companies, but did you know it is also a great place to meet and interact with like-minded people? You can do this through the groups feature.
Facebook groups let you interact with people who have the same interests as you. It can be a great way to talk with your target audience and get to know people who may be interested in your art.
Another overlooked place to find your tribe is on LinkedIn. Although many people view LinkedIn as just a professional network, it also has some wonderful groups.
The best part about these groups is, people on LinkedIn are very action oriented. Unlike other social networks, they are here for a specific reason, to learn, grow, and connect. This makes LinkedIn the perfect place to discuss things you are passionate about with other people.
When most people think of forums, they look back to the younger days of the internet. They are often thought of at as outdated, but they are still a great way to connect with like-minded people.
The thing about forums is, if you belong to a good one, there are a lot of active people in them. These people are also very passionate about the topic of the forum.
This makes them the perfect place to talk about the things you are passionate about. If you create art about nature, join a nature forum. If you create art about animals, join a forum about animals.
Think about the subject of your art, and join forums based on that subject.
Reddit is a tricky place to try and build your audience. Redditors are notoriously against self-promotion. If they feel like you are trying to spam a subreddit (subsection), they will call you out for it.
That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Just make sure your post fits within the context of the subreddit, and if you are posting your own work, make sure that is clear.
One good way to promote your work on Reddit is through Reddit AMAs (Ask Me Anythings). I wrote a fairly detailed post on Reddit AMAs here, but the short and sweet of it is, they are a place where other Reddit users can ask you any question.
AMAs give you the chance to talk about your work and life in a way that you normally wouldn’t. They also give people the ability to get to know you better.
Two important factors to remember are, don’t try to push your own agenda, AMAs are for the audience. Also, if you want to have an AMA, make sure you have something interesting to offer. The headline is extremely important for AMAs. Make sure your story stands out.
DeviantArt / Behance
These sites are perfect for showing off your creative work. Although much of the art on these sites is digital, that doesn’t mean you can’t use these sites to show off your work.
The one caveat I would add is, a huge portion of the audience on these sites are other artists, so they might not fit your target audience. The upside is, they are giant communities with lots of users.
DeviantArt is more open for all types of art. It is a great place to exhibit, promote, and share your art and has a passionate community behind it. It has over 35 million registered users and attracts over 65 million unique visitors per month.
Behance is a great platform for showcasing and discovering creative work. Many artists use it as a digital portfolio for their work. One great perk is many companies use it to discover new talent. This can lead to commission or job opportunities.
I’ll preface this section by saying, while you can grow your audience through social media, that doesn’t mean it will be quick or easy. Social media platforms can be a great way to gain some new fans, but that doesn’t mean you will get these fans without doing the work.
A lot of businesses try to use social media, but they do it the wrong way. They only use it as a way to promote their products or they post the same content on every platform. If there’s anything you should know about social media, it’s to avoid these mistakes.Instead of trying to promote your work all the time, use social media to provide value to your audience Click To Tweet
If you are going to use social media, you should not use it like a billboard. People hate being sold to. It feels cold and impersonal. Instead of trying to promote your work all the time, use social media to provide value to your audience. Find ways to enhance the lives of your followers. It is okay to mix in promotions for you products, but don’t make it the only thing you do.
Another thing to remember is, every social media platform is different. They have different users and different purposes. Don’t post the same text and description on each platform expecting to get good results.
First, figure out what types of users are on the platform you are trying to use, then figure out the type of content that works best on that platform.
The last piece of advice I have before going over different platforms is start with a few platforms first and be willing to experiment on them.
If you try to use too many platforms without mastering them first, you will have a hard time. You will become frustrated and give up on social media all together. Instead, pick one or two platforms you are comfortable with and figure those out first. Then you can move on to more.Using social media can be daunting, but it doesn't have to be Click To Tweet
Using social media can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Social media is just a way of connecting with your audience. Don’t treat your audience like statistics to tout, treat them like people you want to engage with.
Most importantly, be willing to experiment and have fun! If something is successful, continue doing it, if it’s not, don’t do it. People love to see some personality, especially with artists. Don’t be afraid to show it to them.
Here are some short descriptions to different social media platforms you can use to grow your audience:
A lot of artists want to use Facebook as the only way to sell and promote their art. While this can be done, that doesn’t mean it should be done.
Facebook limits the organic reach for two reasons. One, they are trying to make sure your news feeds are filled with less promotions from companies and more posts from your friends and family. The second, and more important reason is, they want you to pay to get in front of your fans.
Facebook is in the game to make money. By amassing such a large user base, they are able to charge Pages money to get in front of more fans. If you don’t want to pay money to get in front of fans, you may want to hold out on using Facebook to grow your audience.
It is still a great way to keep in touch with your fans, but if you aren’t paying, it isn’t as good for gaining new fans. If you are willing to pay to grow your audience on Facebook, check out Amy Porterfield’s 7 Steps to a Profitable Facebook Marketing Plan.
Instagram is a fantastic way for your audience to keep up to date with your art, but it can also be a good way to grow your audience.
Two important aspects of Instagram marketing are providing relevant hashtags and interacting with others. You can’t just post photos of your work and expect people to follow you.
Hashtags allow your pictures to be found by people who don’t know you, but are interested in the same subject matter. Interacting with others is a good way to get on their radar. If they like what you say or want to know more about you, they will click into your profile to see your stream.
The only downside of Instagram is, you can’t post links on your individual photos. That means you must make the best use out of your bio link. If people like the photos you are posting, they will either follow your account or they will click your bio to find out more. That is why it is crucial to make the bio link one that is beneficial to your new Instagram followers.
Pinterest is probably the most under used platform by artists. Many artists jump right in when it comes to Facebook and Instagram, but don’t do the same for Pinterest.
Yes, Pinterest has a lot of recipes and health related pins, but it is also a treasure trove for art and artists. Pinterest is perfectly suited for artists because it is a visual platform. If you aren’t posting your art to Pinterest, you are missing out on a great opportunity to be found by the 100 million users on the platform.
Tumblr is another overlooked platform, that is not quite as popular as the others. That being said, even though it has less users, it also has very passionate users.
Some interesting statistics about Tumblr are, as of April 2013, Tumblr users spent more time per visit than on Facebook. Also, as of November 2014, Tumblr users spend more time per day on its platform than they do on every other platform, other than Facebook.
This just goes to show you the type of fans you can gain on Tumblr. The best way to build your Tumblr following is to engage and interact with the community. This means liking, and reposting other users’ posts. The more you engage with the community, the more people will engage with you. For more great info on how to build your Tumblr following. Read KISSMetrics’ guide to Tumblr.
Twitter is one of the best ways to interact with your fans. It allows you to send messages to people you normally wouldn’t have access to. You can also use it to join or start up conversations.
Even so, building an audience through Twitter can be harder than through other channels. People’s streams are so filled with other tweets that it can become unmanageable. You can, however, make use of Twitter hashtags.
Searching hashtags will help you filter through tweets that are relevant. Doing this will help you find people that might be interested in your topic. If they seem like a good fit, you can follow and interact with them.
One rule of thumb is don’t be obnoxious. Make sure your interactions are respectful and relevant.
Other Social Networks
You can also try using these popular platforms:
If you are interested in learning more about how to stand out on each platform, check out Gary Vaynerchuk’s Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook. I have admittedly not read it, but have listened to a lot of his material, and it is fantastic. It can help you leverage each platform to its full potential.
Build a Community of Passionate Fans
Building a community of passionate fans might seem like an impossible task, but it isn’t. There are many creatives who have built up big followings. Whether intentional or not, they have been able to gain adoring fans for their work. Here are some of my favorite examples:
Austin Kleon is the New York Times best-selling author of Steal Like an Artist, Newspaper Blackout, and Show Your Work! His work has been translated into over twenty languages and has been featured in everything from The Wall Street Journal to NPR’s Morning Edition.
Back in 2005, before Kleon became a best-selling author, he started posting his blackout poems on his blog. They slowly spread across the internet. People told him how un-original his idea was, but that didn’t stop him from creating his blackout poems. He kept posting them and eventually started selling them as prints.
Then an editor at HarperCollins approached him about making a book out of his poems. While the book sold okay, his blog began to explode. Through consistent posting and sharing of his work, he was able to build his following. He now has around 140,000 subscribers to his awesome newsletters.
This all came about because he was willing to put his work out there, blog about it, and encourage other people to do the same.
Lisa Congdon is a fine artist and illustrator best known for her colorful abstract paintings, pattern design, and hand lettering. She has worked for world renown clients including MoMA, Harvard University, Martha Stewart Living, and Simon & Schuster.
Lisa wasn’t always a successful artist. Her first career was in education, where she worked until she was in her 30’s. She didn’t become a full-time artist until she was in her late 30’s.
Like many artists, Lisa’s art started as a hobby. It wasn’t until she started her blog that people started to recognize her work and wanted to buy it.
Lisa has written five books on art including Art, Inc, a book that shows artists how to make a career out of their art. She is widely respected for her work as an artist and creative.
Todd Henry is an author, speaker, and creative consultant. He has written books on how to be brilliant, unleashing your best work, and knowing your why for creating. He also has a wonderful podcast called The Accidental Creative.
Todd’s company originally started as a hobby. He looked online for conversations about leading people through the creative process, but couldn’t find anything, so he launched his own podcast. After the growth of his podcast, he started receiving speaking gigs. This allowed him to make the leap into working on his company full-time.
Through his books, speaking, and podcast, he has built a group of passionate fans. He is also one of the most respected voices on creativity, productivity, leadership and passion.
He was able to build his audience because he was willing to put his thoughts out there. If he never took that initial leap with his podcast, he might not be where he is today.
Elle Luna had an illustrious career in the tech industry. Her resume is one many people would envy. She worked on Mailbox’s iPhone app, she redesigned Uber’s iOS app, and helped shape Medium’s design. Before that, Elle spent five years at IDEO!
While working with all these startups, Elle spent much of her time painting. One consistent theme that has come up throughout Elle’s journey is what she should do versus what she must do.
Elle’s personal journey inspired her to write a manifesto that inspired hundreds of thousands of people. That manifesto turned into Elle’s book The Crossroads of Should and Must.
Now Elle has turned her attention to art full-time, including the wonderful 100 Day Project. For those who think they are stuck on a certain path, even if they have found success there, just remember Elle’s story.
His earliest work was showcasing the sculptures and installations of artist Tom Sachs. But his first big hit was a video about the iPod’s lack of a battery replacement program, which had over a million views in six days.
April Bowles-Olin built her own successful creative business, and through her site Blacksburg Belle, wants to help other creatives too. She helps struggling creatives turn their passions into their careers, and has done it through one-on-one consulting , group coaching, and online courses.
April helps creatives with marketing, copywriting, productivity, and sales. She has been featured in U.S. News and World Report, Etsy, Design*Sponge, and The Unmistakable Creative, and she is also the instructor of multiple classes on Creative Live.
April went from blogging about weddings to helping creatives of all types. Her journey is an inspiration for any creative who wants to build a business out of their creative work.
Jason Zook has a particularly interesting story. A few years ago Zook was known as Jason Sadler, then Jason HeadsetsDotCom, then Jason SurfrApp and finally Jason Zook. Unlike most people who keep the same name throughout their lives, Jason decided he would put his up for sale. And that’s not even the most interesting thing he has done.
In 2008, he found a unique way of getting paid to wear sponsored t-shirts. Each day he wore a shirt from a different company and shared it on different social media platforms.
In 2014, he self-published his book, Creativity for Sale, by crowd-sourcing over $75k worth of sponsors on the bottom of each page of the book.
In 2015, Jason sold his future to his audience. This includes every project he has ever created and every project he will create in the future. In fact, I am one of the people who bought his future.
It just goes to show that creativity pays off. Don’t let your thoughts preconceived notions hold you back.
Paul Jarvis has been a freelance web designer since the 90’s. Although he is not an artist in the traditional sense, he has shown what can be achieved if you want to work for yourself in a creative field.
Paul has created a list of 18,000 email subscribers and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. His path shows you don’t have to follow the traditional formula to gain a passionate following. Stay true to yourself and build the audience you want to be a part of!
Selling your art online seems like a daunting task, but it is not an impossible one. The first thing you need to do is change your mindset. If you don’t believe you can do it, you won’t. There’s no way around that fact.You will only succeed if you set a clear intention and are willing to put in the work Click To Tweet
You will only succeed if you set a clear intention and are willing to put in the work. There are no shortcuts to building a successful business. If there were, everyone would be doing it.
In summary, if you want to market and sell your art online you need to do a few important things:
Discover what makes you unique
You will not make it as an artist if you do not stand out. Stop trying to fit in with all the other artists. Find what makes you unique and own it.
Find your audience
Your audience is the most important part of your art business. Without an audience, you have no customers. Before you can build a business from your art, you must find and attract the audience that wants to buy your art. Don’t settle for just anyone, find your tribe.
Build and maintain relationships
Relationships are the key to any successful business. Your current customers are your best customers because they have shown a willingness to buy from you. Keep in touch with your previous customers and prospective buyers who are interested in your work.
Build a website for your art
Your website is one the most important parts of your presence as an artist. Many artists make the mistake of using other websites as the primary outlet to share their work. Don’t make that same mistake.
Create and grow your email list
One of the most overlooked aspects of building a business online is grow your email list. Do not make that same mistake. It might not sound sexy or glamorous, but it is essential to build your email list!
Using your blog and email list
Once you have a website and email list set up, you must make use of them. Your email list and blog are the best way to keep in touch with your customers. Don’t let them go by the wayside.
Other ways to sell your art
You don’t have to rely on your website alone to sell your art. There are many ways to get your art into the hands of people who want to buy it. But if you are going to use these methods, make sure you have your own presence online that people can come back to.
Growing your audience
Sometimes your current audience is not enough to sustain your business. That’s when you have to move outside of your comfort zone and into areas that allow your audience to grow. Just make sure to get them onto your email list.
Build a passionate fan base
This may be the most difficult task to accomplish, but it will be worth the effort. When you have fans raving about everything you create, they will do the selling for you.
No one ever said selling your art online would be easy, but if you can make a living doing what you love, it will be well worth the effort. Learn, work hard, don’t give up, and most importantly, have fun while you are doing it!
Do you know other artists who want to build a business online? Do me a favor and send this link to them to help spread the word.
If you liked this article, I plan on making an eBook version for you to read anywhere. To get notified when this book is released, sign up for my marketing tips newsletter below.
Future articles will include blogging, creating newsletters, tools for tracking your user interactions, what makes a good post, article headlines, site designs that work, and much more. I also plan to explore social media and SEO for those who are ready. Stay tuned, and don’t forget to leave a comment below, I would love to hear how this information has helped you.