Monday, November 16, 2009

Jump Start Your Art Business - Part I

by Kate Dardine
During a recent marketing consultation, an artist asked me what he could do to revitalize his career. He’s been successfully selling paintings for nearly thirty years, but in the last two or three has seen his sales diminish. Rather than chalk it up to the sluggish economy, I asked him what he had been doing before that worked. He said he’d mostly sold through galleries and occasionally taught workshops. He also sold prints through a local interior design firm, and advertised in a couple of magazines. The gallery sales had sustained him – but after 9-11, he gradually lost six out of the ten galleries he was in. And of the remaining four, two hadn’t sold anything of his in over a year. His print sales had also dwindled. He was unable to afford print advertising. “Is anyone buying art anymore?” he asked.

Since he is a customer of Fine Print Imaging, I was able to take a look at some of his work. It was nice – easy to live with still life and landscapes with a slightly contemporary feel. But most of what we had on file was older work – nothing new within the past two years. So I decided to go to his web site to see what his newer work looked like. I googled his name and…guess what? A few references to his work came up, but no images. No web site. And apparently the galleries still carrying his work either didn’t have web sites or rarely updated them, because nothing came up on the first three pages of my google search.

“If someone is interested in seeing your work,” I asked, “how can they find you?” He realized then that the only way a potential client could find him is if they happened to walk into one of his four galleries – one in Helena, Montana, one in Portland, Oregon, one in Laramie, Wyoming and one in Denver, Colorado. He had totally relied on others to sell his work for him, and hadn’t prepared for the shift in how people find – and sell – art.

I advised him to get a web site. At first he resisted, insisting he didn’t have thousands of dollars to spend on a web site. I told him about Fine Art Studio Online, a web hosting service that is affordable and allows you to upload your own images and text. “I don’t know anything about computers!” he lamented. I asked him if he could email. He said yes. I asked him if he could find a file on his computer and send it as an attachment in an email. He said “sort of.” And I asked him if he could use word processing software, like MS Word, and he said he could. “OK then,” I said. “You have all the skills you need to start!”

One of the common themes I see with artists trying to re-establish once flourishing careers is that they know what worked before, and they know that isn’t working now, but they are afraid to venture out of their comfort zone in order to compete in the new marketplace. Like it or not, if you want to play the game, you need to have some skill sets.

Just like ten years ago when you needed to know what a transparency and a slide was, today you need to know what a JPEG and a TIFF file is. You need to know how to resize and format a file to enter art shows. You need to know how to find a file on your computer and upload it. If you can’t or are unwilling to learn how to do these things, you have to hire someone to do it for you.

Assuming you have basic computer skills, you can manage your own web site using a service like FASO. There are others out there, but to my knowledge none that comes out on top in all categories of: ease of use, quality of design, price, built in amenities ( blog, bulk email and e-commerce), and customer support. Plus FASO sends out wonderful marketing newsletters to their clients, helping them use their web sites to promote their careers.

Although having a web site doesn't guarantee sales, it does allow prospective clients to find you on the internet. According to an informal poll, 70% of shoppers do their preliminary shopping on the internet. And having a web site doesn't guarantee that people will find you - unless you or your web designer know about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), chances are the website you paid big bucks for still won't show up in searches. That is another plus for using a service like FASO - the SEO is done for you, behind the scenes.

Want to do some comparison shopping? Here are a few template style web sites to check out.
Fine Art Studio Online
Beautiful Artist Websites
Pro Artist Websites
Art Studio Online

In my next blog, I’ll address some of the ways you can jump start a flagging - or fledgling - art career using your website as an online catalog.