The word “artist” conjures a certain romantic picture in many people’s minds. An artist is creative, expressive, and perhaps a little bit eccentric😊. Artists are often seen as free spirits who don’t follow the rules and march to the beat of their own drum. Many artists were drawn to art by the desire to create and the creative freedom an independent artist enjoys.
The moment you decide that, in addition to creating, you would also like to sell your art, you also become a small business owner. Being a businessperson might seem antithetical to an artist’s creative spirit, but if sustained sales are a priority, you must also become a successful businessperson.
As a gallery owner, I, too, am a small business owner, and in today’s post, I wanted to share some tips that have helped build our business and may be helpful to you. My wife, Carrie, and I opened Xanadu Gallery in 2001, and in the ensuing years, we’ve made many sacrifices and put a lot of work into building the business. Much of what we learned came through trial and error, some through painful experiences. While I could probably fill volumes with all the details involved in running the gallery, I want to share five of the most important strategies that have helped us build our business.
- Define your business goals and objectives.
- Develop a marketing strategy and implement it consistently.
- Create a strong online presence.
- Build a great team of employees.
- Focus on customer service.
Define your business goals and objectives
Understanding what you want to achieve with your business is crucial. When we first set out, we had a vague hope that we could sell a bunch of art to well-healed collectors and generate a good living for our family. While at the core, that idea still undergirds our efforts, our objectives have come into sharper focus over the years. We’ve found that our collectors love unique and unusual art, and we’ve discovered that we thoroughly enjoy the process of seeking new art and introducing it to our collectors. We love working with established artists and, especially, with artists early in their careers, generating sales so they can focus on their art.
The better you understand your goals, the better you will be able to work with purpose. Are you looking to make a full-time income from your art? Do you want to supplement your income from another job? Do you want to build a retirement fund? Do you want to create art for the sheer joy of creating, with no thought of selling it?
These aims are all valid, and each artist will answer uniquely. Your answer will determine how much time you will spend working on your business and how much time you’ll have to create. Your goals will have a big impact on the decisions you make about your business, so it’s important to spend some time thinking about what you want to achieve.
Develop a marketing strategy and implement it consistently
Creating great art is only half the battle – you also need to get it in front of potential customers. Marketing is a big topic, and there are many ways to market your art. The most important thing is to develop a strategy that makes sense for your business and implement it consistently.
Some common marketing strategies for artists include exhibiting at art fairs and festivals, participating in group shows, and seeking ongoing representation in established galleries. Other strategies include creating and maintaining a strong online presence, sending out press releases, and doing direct mail campaigns.
The key is to find the marketing mix that works best for you and stick with it. You won’t see results overnight, but if you’re consistent, you will eventually start to see a difference in your sales. Marketing is a long-term game. It took us years to find effective marketing tactics that helped us build a steady sales volume. To this day, we’re constantly working on new strategies to help generate more sales for our artists.
Create a strong online presence
In today’s world, having a strong online presence is more important than ever. Whether you’re selling directly to customers through your own website or an online marketplace, potential customers will be looking for you online.
Make sure your website is up-to-date, easy to navigate, and provides all the information potential customers need to know about you and your art. If you’re not selling directly through your website, make sure your listings on other sites are well-written and include high-quality photos.
In addition to having a great website, it’s also important to be active on social media. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram provide great opportunities to connect with potential customers and build your brand. Post interesting content, interact with other users, and be sure to include links back to your website. The goal is to get potential customers interested in your art and then drive them back to your website, where they can learn more about you and your work.
When we opened our gallery in 2001, we were among the first galleries to offer our entire inventory online, updated in real-time as new work arrived in the gallery and as work sold. Our web presence has only grown over the years. Our website plays a big part in driving sales directly and helping patrons keep up with new art.
Build a great support team
Our gallery staff is, without question, one of our most important business assets. We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have amazing people on our team, and our business couldn’t exist without them.
As an artist, you won’t likely be hiring dozens of employees, but as your business grows, you will benefit from developing your own team. This team might include a spouse or partner who serves as a business or marketing manager, an assistant who helps with the day-to-day tasks that can pile up as you promote and sell your art or a studio assistant who helps you with production. You can also think of those working in your galleries as team members.
Building a great team is essential to any business, and we’ve worked hard on it over the years. We’ve been very intentional about hiring people who fit our company culture and are passionate about art. We’ve also been very clear about what we expect from our employees and what they can expect from us. This clarity of purpose has helped us attract and retain great employees, and we’re better for it.
Focus on customer service
Customer service is essential in any business, especially in the art world. Your customers are the lifeblood of your business, and without them, you won’t survive.
Make sure you’re providing the best possible customer service at every opportunity. This means being responsive to customer inquiries, handling sales transactions efficiently, packaging and shipping art carefully, and following up after a sale to ensure your customers are happy.
It’s also important to remember that customer service doesn’t stop after the sale. Keep in mind that your customers are also your biggest advocates and ambassadors. If they’re happy with their purchase, they’ll be more likely to tell their friends and family about you and your art.
We’ve found that providing great customer service is the best way to build long-term relationships with our collectors. We want our collectors to feel like they’re part of our family and work hard to ensure they’re happy with their purchases. We’re always available to answer questions, advise, or chat about art. Our collectors know they can count on us, and that relationship of trust is essential to our business.
Running an art business is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. But it can also be incredibly rewarding.
If you’re an artist who is serious about making a living from your art, I hope these tips will be helpful as you work to build your business. Remember, the most important thing is to define your goals, develop a marketing strategy, and implement it consistently. You’ll be well on your way to a successful art career if you do these things. I’ll have more on each in upcoming posts.
What has your business experience taught you?
Do these tips resonate? What advice would you offer other artists looking to build a successful art business? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Great tips to run a successful gallery. Thsnk you for sharing Jason. I might add that in addition to the 5 tips, it would be helpful if the gallery owner/manager have a passion and appretiation for the arts to successfully sell them.
While I have a good website with regular traffic, there isn’t much conversion. I need to work on my marketing strategy. At the moment, I don’t really have one and just do whatever comes to mind and take whatever opportunities arise as they come. And I need to work on getting a better goal visualized. ‘Selling my art’ is pretty nebulous, but that’s where I am with a business goal, lol. Thanks for the reminder to get organized with a plan.
Exactly Madison – raw traffic is helpful, but not the end-all with a website. The more you can reach qualified potential buyers the better, and even better if a good percentage of visitors to your site come from your mailing list. More to come on this.
Looking forward to hearing about how to make good use of mailing lists. I have one, a good social media presence, too. But I’m always self conscious about showing up too often in mailboxes and feeds. One of my plans was to get more organized with posts and newsletters so that it promotes sometimes but just offers interesting things about what I do more often. Currently I do a monthly newsletter, but post at least a few times weekly on social.
The ONLY addition I would make to this excellent article is the concept that everyone is a customer, worthy of care and consideration. You didn’t mention this, but I’ve seen it as part of your approach. Of course, sometimes you need to move someone on, but again, with your immense tact, it gets done gently.
Love this Gwen – exactly right!
Jason: your advice is always so thoughtful. I have been following your blog for years and have implemented much of your advice. But it is difficult for the individual artist. Sales are sometimes very far apart. Thankfully my income is not reliant on them . However one of my goals is to have my work more widely seen and appreciated. Sales are one indicator of appreciation, and I am continuing to pursue marketing strategies. Websites and social media can take a good deal of time, so I try to be creative, and adventurous with them when I can. That way I enjoy the process more. Since I enjoy the writing process and telling stories about where and how the ideas for my work originate, I am looking forward to starting a blog in the near future. For me the most important source of energy is continually remembering how lucky I am to be doing work I love. Thank you again for all your dedication to artists at large.