Have you ever noticed how people talk about selling art online as if it’s easy?
Post it, pin it, tweet it or link it and VOILA! The sales! The acclaim! The thousands of followers!
But it’s quite not that easy, is it?
I am here to tell you that just because selling art online is difficult, does not mean that selling art online is impossible.
The fact is that this is an exciting time to be an artist. But you’ve got to do the work.
Listen, it wasn’t that long ago that a handful of galleries decided an artist’s fate. And just because you had a gallery didn’t mean that the gallery would promote you. It was a relationship always charged with tension because you counted on the fleeting favor of that gallery with your entire career!
But now, armed with the power of the internet and the possibility of selling art online, you’re in control over your career. You have the ability to share your work with a wider world, as wide as you want to make it.
You own the power of your voice
If you want to monetize it, you can. If you want to share it with a different intention, you can do that too.
The first rule of selling art online? You write the rules.
You decide what defines success for you.
- Maybe you have a creative idea that you want to monetize?
- Maybe you’re looking for new avenues to show your art?
- Maybe you want to crowd-fund an idea and need to build your network?
- Or maybe you aim to create something for online consumption that might go viral?
As we look at what’s involved in selling art online I want you to be honest with yourself. Is this something that you really want to commit to?
Because online art marketing is a commitment.
It takes time and resources to set up, and in order to work you’ve got to feed the monster. You’ve got to create a schedule and stick to it.
It’s not a huge amount of work, once you start setting systems into place. But it does take a chunk of time to get it up and going.
I always say that an art career is a marathon, not a sprint and nowhere is that more true than in selling art online.
Just because you post your work doesn’t mean that the buyers will come. They’ve got to be courted, it takes time to build the relationship.
Be patient yet persistent.
If you read this article and decide that it’s really not for you, that you prefer to have a static website that acts as a portfolio and not promote it, that’s okay. There’s no shame there.
But learning how to sell art online is a powerful career-building tool and an incredible way to build an audience.
It also allows you to engage your fans while maintaining your own power and not relying on the favor of galleries.
Many of today’s artists have built online profiles because having an audience, an online following, is a powerful new currency. Social media art stars are now naming their terms. The tables have turned!
It’s a sign of the times.
In the 19th century, art sold through the salons. In the 20th century, it was commercial galleries that drove the market. Now all signs are pointing to the internet because the numbers behind online art sales are exploding. According to the Hiscox Report, this market is projected to be worth $6.3 billion by 2019!
That said, selling art online will never replace the old-fashioned face to face. Why?
Because buying art is an aesthetic and emotional choice and it’s very difficult to make those kinds of connections through a computer screen. Also, most buyers prefer to inspect the work in person before opening their wallets.
But don’t dismiss selling art online simply because it’s a lot of work, most good things are. I promise that once you start building it, it becomes much easier. And very rewarding.
So you’ve got your website. Right? Because that’s kind of important if you want to sell art online.
Some artists only show their work on online art galleries. They don’t have their own website. I think they’re missing a trick.
Having your own website is a sign of professionalism. I know that I would never buy an artist’s work online without checking out their website first. And I’m pretty sure that most other buyers feel the same.
So have your own website, even if you have to share it with your other endeavors. Unless there’s a great divide between what you do in your art life and what you do in your civilian life, try to have just one website.
But what’s your address? If you are using a free site like wix or weebly, and you didn’t pay for the upgrade, your web address is probably something really funky.
It’s well worth the investment to buy a domain name.
If you can buy your own domain name, that’s great. Some names are already taken, others are expensive. If you can’t afford your name at .com, for example, cristacloutier.com, then consider buying the lower priced .me address. Cristacloutier.me. Or even add the word art or artist to your name or use the name of your studio. Just as long as your domain name is memorable, easy to spell, and simple to find.
Be patient yet persistent.
A lot of artists sell art online using portfolio sites such as Saatchi Online. I don’t see a problem with that.
However, even if you aren’t interested in selling art online, I still believe that you need your own website. It shows that you’re invested in this business. It makes you easier to find.
And anyway, why would you want to send clients to a space where all the competition lives?
So show your work on other sites, by all means, but don’t stop there.
When building your website, remember that it doesn’t have to be a “Museum to You.” You don’t have to show everything you’ve ever done since you first picked up a crayon.
Like I said before, think of your website as your portfolio. Your personal gallery. It’s your space, be creative.
But do be sure to have an About Page.
Your About page will be the 2nd most visited page on your site after your Homepage. It will house your bio and maybe even your artist statement, though a lot of artists use their statement on their homepage.
Keep the whole website ‘on brand’.
So if your work is whimsical and fun, your website should reflect that. Use your colors, fonts, and navigation tools with intent.
As an artist, you will want your website to have gorgeous images, a lot or little, it’s up to you. But your site should be a visual reflection of your work. Again, if your work is whimsical, you wouldn’t want a site that uses heavy fonts and dark colors.
A lot of artists tell me that they’re afraid to sell art online. They don’t want to post their images for fear that someone will steal them. I have to confess that I initially laughed off this fear. By the time an image gets online it’s already been reduced and condensed so much that it would make horrible reproductions. And why would an artist want to steal someone else’s work?
Well, I was wrong.
One of the Working Artists in my course had a harrowing experience with the theft of her online images.
And recently my own work has been stolen.
It’s really difficult to protect our online imagery. But online theft of images is real. And, it’s a huge hassle when someone does steal your work.
Luckily, these stories are rare. I don’t think that this is reason enough to not have a website or to be frightened away from selling art online.
What you can do is schedule a monthly image search. Consult Google as to how this is done.
Another thing you can do is to digitally watermark your images through a site such as Digimarc.
Now back to your website.
One of the most important tasks of your site is to capture the email addresses of your visitors.
Because selling art online works best through your email list.
Not through an RSS feed, not through Facebook or Instagram, but on the one thing that you have 100% total control over, and that is sending a newsletter directly to your list.
That’s why, in selling art online, building your email list is of paramount importance.
How do you do it?
You ask. You ask your friends, family, and people you meet if you can add them to your mailing list. When someone gives you their business card you ask whether you can add them to your mailing list.
But you never simply add people to your list without their express consent. It’s illegal and unethical.
One of the most popular ways to build your email list is create what industry insiders call an “ethical bribe.” You might know it as a gift. I’m sure you’re familiar with this model.
We’ve all clicked a link to receive a free download of a report or an e-book or something and had to give our email address before we could access it. That’s the ethical bribe. And it works.
So what could you offer?
Well that depends upon your work, your audience, and the direction you want to go.
- It could be a small PDF catalogue of your images.
- It could be an image that can be used as digital wallpaper.
- It could be something that pertains to art history, or art techniques, or your work specifically.
- It doesn’t matter, as long as it somehow makes sense and fits into your greater marketing plan.
So again, if your work is whimsical and light, if you create art that would fit really well in children’s rooms, you wouldn’t create an e-book about Medieval art history.
But you might partner with a writer to write a short children’s story that you could give away. Right?
So what makes sense for your audience? For the people whom you want to visit your site?
Once you set up your website for selling art online, you want to make it sticky. That means that you want people to come back to it again and again.
What are some things that can make a website sticky? A blog is one of the most popular ways. And if you have a blog, this would be what you would send out in your newsletter.
You can post the whole blog within the newsletter, like I do for the Working Artist’s blog, Jump, or you can write a teaser and then link to your site.
Here are some other ideas to get you thinking:
- When I sold art I offered special prices on Mondays, certain works would be discounted on that day so people would show up to the site to see what that was. I’d use social media to send out teasers and riddles to drive their curiosity.
- I know an artist who keeps a live video feed in his studio and you can go to his website to watch him work. His studio is also set up in a shop window so passers by can watch him too
- In fact, there’s a lot you can do with videos, you can create how-to videos, you can create short videos that talk about a work of art that you’ve made.
- If you are an avid Twitter-user, you might have a live Twitter feed on your site.
Use your imagination. You are making the rules, that’s the exciting part. And yes, it’s terrifying too.
Always keep your ideal customer in mind. Who are they? What interests them? What would make them come back to your website?
Now let’s get back to your newsletter. If you blog, this will be how you send it out, through your newsletter.
Again, don’t rely on RSS feeds or social media to get people to read your blog. Send them the actual post or the link via your newsletter.
If you choose not to blog, your newsletter could instead feature news from your studio, upcoming shows, new work created, grants won, anything that would interest your ideal customer.
How often do you send something out?
It doesn’t matter how often as long as you’ve got plenty of good content and keep to your schedule.
Consistency is key when selling art online.
The best way to maintain a schedule is through an editorial calendar. This is how you manage your time when selling art online, you schedule everything.
The aim is to never have to scramble or stress. Try to avoid that at any cost.
So what do you send? Again, this depends on a lot of different variables so I can’t tell you definitively.
Outside of The Working Artist, I do write about other topics, but for my blog I write about being an artist. Because that’s where you and I intersect.
So now I want you to think about where you can intersect with an audience.
One thing to understand about selling art online is that not everyone is going to like your stuff all the time.
When your work is hanging in a gallery, people will generally be very kind when speaking to you about it.
But when the anonymity of the internet is involved, people can be unkind. They can post unthoughtful comments, or send emails that read less than supportive.
Get over it.
Deal with criticism as directly as you can and keep moving. Don’t hold grudges or weigh yourself down by someone else’s response to your work. Take what part of the criticism you can use and keep going.
People will opt-out of your mailing list. All the time. Even people you care about. Possibly even me. It doesn’t mean anything.
More than likely, it means they’re overwhelmed and cleaning up their inbox and putting up a wall for a little while. We each go through that and it’s something that should be supported. Not taken personally.
You’ll know that they opted-out because you will be using a platform such as Mailchimp to manage your list and send your newsletters.
You’ll use a platform such as Mailchimp because you don’t want to be sending group emails through your private email or you might be tagged as a spammer. You’ll also do it because it looks more professional.
And you’ll do it because you’ll be able to track how many new subscribes you’ve had, how many unsubscribes, how many people clicked the links and you’ll know what your open rate is. And these are all things that an online marketer does.
You can’t improve what you don’t measure.
Now you are going to be disappointed in your open rate, that means how many people actually open your email. You’re going to be disappointed by a lot of statistics in online marketing. But you cannot take this stuff personally. And you’ve got to understand that this is why we focus on building our mailing list.
3% to 6% is considered an average open rate for most newsletters. So if you’re getting a 20% open rate, don’t you waste one minute cursing the 80% who didn’t open it, bless the 20% that did. And cater to them. Find more like that.
Most people include social media buttons on their website and that’s fine, though I struggled over whether or not to add them to mine. I don’t like having any links on my site that takes viewers away from my site, so that’s something to think about.
And though I do use Facebook quite heavily, I don’t recommend that you rely solely on Facebook for selling art online.
Here’s the deal. Facebook has changed their rules, again. If you are using your personal page to do business and show your work, they may well close you down.
But if you get a business page, very few people will see your posts unless you pay to boost them.
This is the sad truth and that’s why I say that the best way to sell art online involves focusing on your mailing list, building it up via social media and art events, and then sharing your work through a newsletter.
Social media has its place, and it’s an important place, but it’s probably not sales.
Social media is for engagement, building your brand, and for audience building. It’s how you drive people to your website to sign up for your mailing list. And then your newsletters are how you’ll build that relationship, nurture it, and make your art sales.
So now you’ve got your website and you’ve got the domain name. You’ve designed your site. You’ve written the perfect About Me page. You’ve created a mailing list. You’ve created an ethical bribe to tempt people to sign up for your list. You’ve got a plan for making your page sticky. You’ve scheduled your newsletter and created an editorial calendar around content.
Now I want you to consider a tool such as Google Analytics or Statcounter to track how many people come to your page.
Google Analytics is well beyond the scope of this article but remember, you can’t improve what you don’t measure. So at the very least, measure how many people are visiting your website.
The last step to take before implementing your plan for online art sales is to make sure that all links and contact forms work. Test them across all devices. Try every link on a PC, on a Mac, on an ipad and a phone. Try the links in different browsers.
I know this is a pain in the butt and not much fun – but better that you don’t have fun than have a potential client unable to get your link to work.
Testing is a professional step for artists who want to sell online.
You can supplement your online art marketing campaign by showing your work at online galleries such as Saatchi or Fine Art America or one of the other gazillion online art sales sites that have popped up over the past few years.
You can also supplement it by creating a social media strategy, and through using other sites such as Amazon, eBay, or Etsy.
But remember, as online galleries come and go, as social media continues to change the rules, and as other sites are outside of your control, your true power will come through growing and managing your own mailing list.
This is the true secret behind selling art online.
Now go forth and post!
FYI: If you’re looking for more information about how to sell art online, my friends at Jotform wrote this helpful article. It’s well worth a read.
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