Building an art business: is selling art online right for you?
An interview with Jessica Burko
Do you create art for your own enjoyment? Or, are you motivated to create art in order to share it with others for their appreciation? Do you expect to make income from your art? Why you create art is often a difficult and personal question to answer.
If you expect to make some, or all, of your income from your art then you’ll need to think like a small business owner. And in this digital world that means you’ll need to figure out if selling art online via your personal website is right for you.
“When artists take the initiative to self-promote and also sell online, those things bring a realization that being an artist isn’t just doing something powerful for oneself, but it is also taking on the role of small business owner,” says artist and arts consultant Jessica Burko. She says they start to realize “I own a business and need to make it viable.”
Photo by Jessica Burko
Selling art online is de rigueur but it isn’t for every artist. When you put together an art marketing plan ask yourself these questions:
1. Do I have the skills needed to sell art online?
2. If I build a website to sell my art will anyone come to it?
3. What turnaround time will I offer for work that is sold?
4. What control do I want to have over shipping and any printing of work?
Do I have the skills needed to sell art online?
“In no other profession would one go to graduate school for their craft and be taught how to create but not how to make a living at it,” says Jessica. “No one turns out doctors without the knowledge of how to have a job as a doctor.”
When Jessica and I spoke she pointed out that artists are turned-out by the thousands often with no skills for working in their profession. “There’s a mystique that artists are supposed to make a living solely by their art,” she says. While this is possible Jessica acknowledges that even established professionals don’t magically sell their work and need to spend time on accounting, their websites, and a long list of other activities.
Read the blog post how to build awareness for your work
If you don’t have the skills you need to run your arts business and make income from your art through your website there are many organizations that will offer assistance. One that I’m familiar with is the Arts & Business Council of Greater Boston. The A&BC offers programs like the Artist’s Professional Toolbox and a webinar library with tips on legal issues, estate planning, marketing, business basics and more. (I recently recorded a webinar for them on how to write an effective artist statement.)
If I build a website to sell my art will anyone come to it / how will I drive traffic to my ecommerce site?
According to Jessica, think of your website as building a retail store where no one needs it. “You are putting your website on an overcrowded internet,” she says. The biggest mistake artists make she says is thinking that you build a website then buyers will just find it. “You can’t just build it and walk away.”
As a digital marketer I can tell you that driving traffic to a website takes skill and perseverance. Having a blog is one way to begin to create artistic presence and drive traffic to an ecommerce site. Online influence expert Stephanie Sammons previously told me that “most people give up before they reach their desired level of success with the volume of people visiting the site, growing their network or connecting with them.”
Read my interview with Stephanie on building your online presence.
If you don’t have the time or interest in driving traffic to your own ecommerce website you might consider making your work available for sale through an online gallery. There are many online art galleries that will promote artists. (See 5 considerations when choosing an online gallery for your work.) “Let them create the platform for you”, Jessica says.
What turnaround time will I offer?
If you are going to sell art through your website you’ll want to mirror common online shopping practices. These include reasonable turnaround times for your work. Jessica advises “If there is a three-day turnaround time state that up front.”
For instance, if you are a fine art photographer who typically uses an outside printer and you don’t have a supply of prints [i.e., inventory] readily available she suggests you could sell only small prints online that you can print at home and ship quickly.
“Maybe you will only sell things in your online shop that you can get rush printed,” says Jessica. “Because people buy online and are used to getting their purchase the next day it is recommended to have some portion of your art available for immediate shipping.”
Look at a few of your favorite retail shopping sites and online art galleries to get ideas about the common shipping times. The Artful Home, where people can buy sculpture, art glass, and fine art prints includes shipping date information with every piece, e.g. “This piece ships on or before: Tue, May 6, 2014.”
What control do I want to have over shipping and/or printing of work?
As I said earlier, selling online isn’t for every artist. If you produce wonderful three-dimensional sculptures, how will you pack and ship your work? Are you prepared to have it crated for delivery? Even photographers with light, two-dimensional work will need to consider what they offer for sale online.
If dealing with shipping first-hand isn’t for you online galleries such as Saatchi Art will make and ship prints for their represented artists. And they provide instructions for their artists to pack unframed or framed paintings and other artwork.
I’ve considered each of these questions as it relates to my art. Each of us has choices when it comes to whether, and how, we make income from our art. For some, the right decision will be to have others handle the work of setting up an ecommerce site and promoting it. For others, having more control over the details is important. Whatever decision is right for you make a conscious decision and then have patience.
You might also be interested in:
SoWa Art Walk on May 4, 2014, 11am-6pm
Check out this blog about it by Jessica: http://www.bostonhandmade.org/2014/04/sowa-art-walk-this-sunday-may-4th-in.html
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There are many art providers but I would suggest you Indianartideas is the right platform for buying and selling art.
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I am a marketing professional and a fine art photographer. With more than 20 years of experience as a marketer and image maker during the digital technology revolution, I now teach creative professionals how to create their artistic presence in the changing art world.
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