Finding customers for your fine art business
Fine art for sale
I was waiting in line at one of those big home goods stores recently when I spotted a very large canvas print sticking out of a shopping cart ahead of me. It was probably $99 for a 4-foot square canvas print. How, I asked myself, is an artist to make a living when inexpensive wall art (many, poor quality prints) is readily available?
That moment came on the heels of a completely different experience -- the Vermont Spring Open Studio Weekend. In case you aren't familiar with the open studio weekend it is a wonderful event when Vermont craftspeople open their studios to the public. Many of these studios are in their homes or in close proximity (e.g., a barn). You navigate the main streets and back roads of Vermont going from studio to studio relying on: 1) your map listing individual artists who participate in the event and 2) your GPS (essential gear). You meet directly with the artist in the environment where s/he makes art. It's an intimate event that brings the artist in direct connection with potential buyers.
I criss-crossed the Bennington, Vermont area visting with craftspeople making pottery, jewelry, encaustic paintings and pastels. One said to me "... the weekend isn't about selling it is about speaking with people." Interestingly, his display case was almost empty after the 2-day open studio event.
You probably can't make a great living selling your art unless you have customers willing to pay more than what they would at a home goods store or low-end online marketplace (unless you sell a huge volume of art). And there's the rub -- why would someone pay more for your art than a cheaper imitation?
How to Be Laser Focused on Customers
1) Decide who you want for a customer!
The answer to that question is that not all customers are equal and not all are right for you - the right customer for you will value your work and be willing to pay a fair price! Don't try to sell your art to just anyone - you need to have a focus. The person who buys inexpensive canvas prints at the local home goods store may or may not be the customer you want.
As a marketer for a technology company I can tell you from first-hand experience that one of the most challenging things you'll do is identify the customers you really want. You are looking for the perfect marriage of your interest in them and their interest in you. A few potential customers to consider for your art are:
2) Get to know these fine art buyers
Being laser focused on customers means more than simply identifying them. It means truly understanding their needs. As marketers we often speak of buyer personas. I recommend this Hubspot blog for anyone interested in learning more about personas:
What you want to do is try to really personify your customer. For example if you are primarily interested in selling to interior designers dive a bit deeper. How old is your target interior designer? Where does s/he live? Does s/he have a certain style or aesthetic (e.g., rustic, traditional, modern, shabby chic)? What are her areas of specialty? Does she do urban makeovers? Work in the suburbs? Houzz, an online platform for home remodeling and design, can be a great resource for better understanding the market by reviewing its designer bios and profiles.
Now, you may ask: is all of this really necessary? Yes! How will you know where to find buyers for your art and what price to charge, if you don't really understand them? Case in point: where are you most likely to find them?
3) Come up with a plan for where to reach them
Assuming that you have professional-quality art that is priced right, you'll be rewarded if you spend some time to figure out where to find these ideal customers. (You might also be interested in this blog post: How to price fine art - tips for emerging artists). Let's take the interior designer example we used earlier.
Is your designer likely to be looking for pieces for the latest assignment at traditional high-end galleries? On Etsy? On Houzz? Does your art fit with his/her style? If your art would work best in a chic, contemporary residential setting there isn't much point in reaching out to designers who focus on corporate clients or those who do breezy, seashore makeovers for beachcomber clients.
Depending upon your desired customer here are a few places where you might get started looking for them:
You might also be interested in this earlier blog post: How can you use Twitter to promote your photography business?
Remember: it is about them, not you!
Identifying and finding potential customers is only half of the equation. Selling your art will come after you build relationships with them (either virtually or in person). How to do this is worthy of its own blog post. For more on this you might check out what professional photographer Karin Rosenthal had to say in an earlier blog post: Building relationships with art collectors.
I am a marketer. I am also an artist who deals with these same challenges as my readers, every day. If something has worked well for you I'd love to hear about it. Please leave a comment and share your tips.
Keywords: Cindy Stephens, art business, art marketing, finding customers for fine art business, how to sell fine 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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