I recently read a piece of advice from an artist’s manager that said you have to get out and attend events in order to make it as an artist. As I sat alone in my studio wearing sweat pants, no makeup, with a few online orders to package and ship in front of me, I giggled to myself.
No. No, you don’t have to attend events to find success. The internet is your oyster. You can do great things without ever leaving the house.
I don’t like doing in person art events. Don’t get me wrong. I love talking to people about art, and getting to know my customers, but as an introvert my comfort zone is far away from large crowds. I’ve done my fair share of events, and I’ll definitely do more in the future, but they are not my primary focus with my art business.
Rather than spending my time trying to book as many weekend shows, fairs, and events as I can fit into my schedule, I focus my time and energy on online sales. It is much harder to find your audience quickly online, but there are a few key tips I want to pass on to help you develop this income stream.
Beat this into your head: Make it easy for people to give you their money.
I can’t stress this enough. This is the number one thing you need to keep in mind with making an online sale. Don’t make it hard to accept money. If you are posting about available pieces on social media, don’t settle with “DM me to purchase” as your sales pitch. This involves too much work for the customer. I’m not saying it won’t work. I’m just saying you’re going to miss out on the lazy customers who don’t like talking to people (Hi, that’s me!).
Make it easy. Here’s how:
1. Have an online store front and payment processor.
You don’t need anything fancy, but you really should have a page with inventory and buttons to buy now. There’s a rule in the tech world that focuses on the amount of “clicks” needed to accomplish a task. (Three Click Rule) The more clicks it takes for a customer to buy your art, the less likely they are to buy. It’s easy to lose interest if you’re not all that motivated in the first place.
Let’s say you write “DM me to buy” on Instagram, a customer messages you, you tell them the price, then you talk back and forth about shipping details, how you take payments, etc.. Then you send them a Paypal address, Square Up invoice, or Venmo details and wait for them to enter in all their payment info and actually get your money. This whole exchange can take up a good chunk of your time, as well as waste a lot of the customer’s time.
Decrease your “clicks”.
If you have a store with inventory and a credit card processor it looks more like this: You post on Instagram saying “This piece is available now. Follow the link in my bio to shop.”, the customer follows the link, finds the item, adds it to their cart, and then checks out using a credit card or Paypal.
Boom. Art sale. The most satisfying thing for me is waking up to find new orders from my store in my inbox that happened in the night. That wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t have a store front.
“DM to purchase” can and does work, but it’s not the easiest way to get money.
- Free Square Up ecommerce– Great for flat rate shipping, and less than 30 items.
- Paypal Buttons– If you have your own website, you can add product photos and then paste in code for a Paypal checkout button to allow people to securely buy items without technically having a storefront.
- Etsy- This is a good way to get started without investing too much money. You will be charged listing and transaction fees, but you’ll have access to Etsy’s large audience and great ways to organize a lot of inventory.
- Your own website and store front- I currently use Weebly (You can use this link to get a referral discount), but you can use Wix, Shopify, BigCommerce or any similar platform. It’s more of an investment, so I wouldn’t recommend jumping into this right away if you are strapped for cash. I always recommend free and low fee options to start.
2. Make your products look good.
Once you have a store front or other place to list online inventory, you have to make your items look appealing. Since the customer can’t examine the piece in person, do the work for them with photos and details.
- Take good photos from a variety of angles. Allow your customers to imagine they are viewing the work in person. Provide closeups, angles, staged photos in a model home, and even photos of the back of the piece.
- Include all the details you can: Size, medium, varnish, hanging accessories, weight, etc..
- Tell a story about the product: Do you have a source of inspiration? What meaning can you communicate to your customer to pull them in?
How many times have you shopped online and skipped buying products because of bad photos or a lack of details? I know I have done that many times.
3. Develop a following to drive genuine traffic to your store.
Posting items online for sale is not a build-it-and-they-will-come situation. You have to convince people to care about your art. Cultivating a social following is a great way to do this. Whether it’s Instagram, Facebook, Reddit, Pinterest, Tumblr, or any other social site, building a following will help increase the interest in your art. Also, create an email list and encourage people online and in person to sign up for it so they can get updates on your new items for sale.
You can of course use SEO (search engine optimization) to have your store and items pop up in organic searches, or you can pay for ads on Etsy, Google, Instagram, and Facebook. But, given that you may not be an expert on those things yet or have money to burn on ads, start by cultivating your social following. Instagram is a great place to start.
4. Update your inventory often and remind your customers that you exist.
I try to add new items to my shop once a week. This is recommended on platforms like Etsy to increase your odds of showing up in search results. Always keep in mind that people have short attention spans. If you update your inventory and only tell your following once a month, their attention is going to be tuned into the 4,000+ other ads they see each day. You have to stay relevant and consistently put your work out there.
You can do this in subtle ways just by posting engaging content every day on social media. I post 1 to 3 times a day on Instagram and do hard sales pitches a couple of times a week. My cycle is: Create new work–>post process videos–>upload new items in my store–> post hard sales pitch to click on my shopping links–> create new work–> and repeat.
The internet moves quickly, and you’ll get lost in the noise if you don’t establish a schedule and do the work each day.
5. Run sales/promotions.
I’m sure some hoity toity artists and collectors balk at the idea of discounting art, but sales are effective at driving your following to at least look at your products. (That is, if you have already made them want your art.) Here are a few tips:
- When you price your artwork, always have room to come down in price but still make a profit. Don’t discount your art to the point you take a loss.
- Don’t run sales so often that your following becomes desensitized to your art being discounted. I personally don’t run a sale more than once a month.
- Create discounts and sales campaigns that have an expiration date. You want to create a sense of urgency in your customer.
- Try different types of discounts and promos to see what your customers respond to most: Buy one get one, certain percent off all orders, free shipping, percent off orders over a specified amount, etc..
- Hype the sale. Make it sound exciting. Michaels always sucks me in with canvas sales, because I’m afraid of missing out on an awesome deal. Think about how your favorite companies pull you in and mimic what they do.
6. Have a plan for shipping.
Calculating, charging, and arranging items for shipment can be a nuisance, but a little research goes a long way.
When preparing to sell your artwork online, I recommend creating a test package with dimensions and weight for each size of art you plan to sell. This way you can input the specs into your preferred carrier’s (FedEx, UPS, USPS, etc.) online shipping forms to get an idea of what shipping will cost.
It takes a little bit of research to source the appropriately sized boxes and estimate costs, but it will prevent you from being surprised by shipping charges after making a sale. (Here’s how I ship my work.)
Are you ready to sell your art online?
I hope these six tips have given you a little more direction for starting your online art business. It can take time to build your following and continuously get traffic to your online store, but if you’re an introverted artist like me, it’s worth it.
P.S. If you enjoy my blogs and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep doing what I do. Plus, you get extra little perks like phone wallpapers! I have added two new tiers that include discounts to consulting services and one-on-one email support to help you with your art goals.