Selling your art online with marketing expert Cory Huff
Does the business-side of the art world drive you mad? It can be a vicious circle. You love to make but don’t have the time or inclination to promote what you create. Then, because the money isn’t coming in, you struggle to stay afloat.
Trying to expand your reach and sell more work can be overwhelming. So overwhelming that it forces many artists into a state of complete inaction when it comes to promoting themselves and their work.
But the world of the internet offers untapped opportunities. And in order to empower you to take control, we’ve enlisted the help of Cory Huff of TheAbundantArtist.com, an expert in building an audience and selling art online.
Being ignored by the art world?
Artists tend to be very good at telling other artists about their work. Many of the TextileArtist.org community members have a fantastic network of practitioners working in a similar field to themselves. But they’re not usually the people who are going to buy your work. The joy of what Cory advocates is that it focuses firstly on identifying what makes you unique as an artist and then finding genuinely interested and appropriate markets for the work you create.
In this interview with Cory, he touches on the first steps to finding your uniquity, why, although many artists would dearly love someone else to handle their marketing, they are the ones best placed to talk about and sell their own work, and how you can start to identify who your ideal target buyer actually is (it may not be who you think it is so stay open-minded!).
Introducing Cory Huff and the Abundant Artist
TextileArtist.org: Tell us a bit about you and TheAbundantArtist.com. Why did you start the site and what makes you so passionate about helping artists on their journey?
Cory Huff: My first post-college survival job was working for a small internet marketing agency. I was just out of theatre school and most of my friends were artists and performers like me. Initially I started the site as a way of exploring ideas around how artists make money. I was interviewing successful artists and blogging their interviews.
I also started writing about how artists could take advantage of the internet to sell their work. People responded to that and started asking me to teach classes. That eventually led to a bunch of opportunities to help others sell their work and I turned it into a full time business.
So my curiosity led me to start something, and it organically grew into a business that has allowed me to help other artists, and the best part now is seeing how motivated and excited our students are about what they do. The success stories we have are a huge boost of motivation. Since I come from an artistic background, I strongly identify with helping my fellow creatives.
Facing the fear of promotion
A lot of artists in the TextileArtist.org community seem to have a fear of promoting their work. They see the learning curve as insurmountable. What are the first steps to getting over that fear and moving towards regular sales?
It might seem counter-intuitive, but set small, easily achievable goals.
When people join our mailing list, one of the first things I’ll encourage them to do is to just get one sale of a print or small original work. This can easily be done by uploading a high-resolution image to a print on demand site like FineArtAmerica.com or SaatchiArt.com and then sharing that image with a link to your print on demand page on social media.
Quick sales like this create wins that give you some wind in your sales to keep you slogging through the marketing learning curve.
In the case of textile artists, some works will lend themselves to prints, others won’t. In the case of those whose work can’t effectively be rendered as a print, then the next easiest goal is to start building a list of people interested in your work.
That usually means developing a mailing list and staying in regular contact with all of those people. By regular contact I mean monthly, or else they forget who you are. So an easy goal to set there is to get 50 people on your mailing list. Building a list will help you whether you are selling print, originals, or seeking out licensing deals.
There are others who love to make art but see marketing as a waste of creative time and energy and would dearly love to be able to employ someone to do the sales and promotion side of things for them. Why is it important that the person who creates the work invests in selling it too?
Nobody is going to sell your work for you until they really believe in it. Occasionally you’ll get lucky and find a gallery or artist rep who so strongly believes in your work that they’ll take you on as a special project. Usually artistic careers are made one sale at a time. The artist needs to understand just enough about sales and marketing to get themselves to the point where they can afford to hire someone else to do it.
And of course, after you hire someone, you should understand enough to know whether or not someone is doing a good job for you, and whether opportunities they present to you are a good fit.
In the beginning I always recommend the 50/50 rule: spend 50% of your time marketing your work, 50% making new work, and you’ll be in good shape. As your sales ramp up, which usually take 3 – 5 years, you’ll be able to hire someone so you can focus on making.
Artists are usually the best people to talk about their own work too as they truly understand it, they know the story behind it; they’ve lived and breathed the creative process. This is all great fodder to emotionally connect with potential buyers.
Selling art online in a tactile medium
Some textile artists specifically struggle with online promotion because the medium is so tactile. How would you address that issue?
Give people as much context as you can. Video is extremely powerful. Shoot some process reels, and then turn them into time-lapse videos or close up slow-mo videos. Something visually interesting.
Use the internet to drive people to live events so people can see your work in person. Just because you’re not doing ecommerce doesn’t mean you can’t use social media and email to get people out to your shows.
Also, learn to write descriptively about your art. Use sensory words like rough, smooth, silky, abrasive, etc. Don’t just tell people what the work is with your writing, tell them the story of the work’s origin. Every artist can benefit from learning to tell their own origin story well.
Essential tools and skills
What are the essential tools and skills an artist needs to sell their work online and why do they need them?
At the very least, you need a place to sell the work, and a way to promote the work.
A place to sell the work can be your own website, a print on demand page, or just an eBay storefront. If you’re not doing ecommerce, then a blog will do. A place for people to actually buy the work or see it. It needs to be easy to see what the piece is, and the method of purchase should be crystal clear. The more you make people work online, the less likely they are to make the purchase.
Then you need a distribution channel to get the word out. I already mentioned building a mailing list. You can grow that list through the various social media channels. Pick one. I usually recommend Instagram if you’re new without an advertising budget. Instagram is still a goldmine of people looking for design ideas and art to collect. Its becoming more competitive though, so don’t delay. You’ll also need a smartphone.
If you have money, Facebook can accelerate your sales process quite a bit with ads. We did a campaign a couple of years ago for a Kapa artist in Hawaii where we spent $30 and turned that into over $5,000 in new sales.
The other essential skills are writing well and follow up. If you can write compellingly about your work and your own story, and combine that with good pictures of your work and consistent, effective follow up with interested buyers, you’ll do well.
Who will buy?
Selling art is not necessarily about getting a bigger audience, but more about getting the right audience. How do artists identify who their ideal buyer might be?
In the beginning, you often can’t do better than an educated guess. Certainly for most artists the ideal buyer is probably a high net worth individual or a high earning individual in their 30s – 60s, with a household income of $150,000 or more. But after that, its down to what is unique about you and your work. What are the themes in your work, and who is going to respond well to those themes?
Some are obvious. Art from and about the Oregon coast is going to attract people who like the sea, Oregonians, and similar people. Abstract art is going to be more about the emotion of the piece.
Think outside of the art world though. Other artists aren’t your target market. If your work is inspired by nature, how can you hone in on others who have a similar interest but aren’t necessarily familiar with the type of work you create? Nature magazines and websites could be a great starting point.
Finding your ideal collector
And then, what are the first steps to finding those ideal buyers online?
Show your work to as many people in as many places as possible. Talk to them and ask them about their interests. Where do they spend time? What are their hobbies? Who are their influencers? From there, you’ll start to build an idea of where you can show your work to these ideal buyers.
You can also use some of this information, and smart guess work, to: follow these people in Facebook groups that correspond with their interests; find blogs that are about their interests; build relationships online with influencers.