Some Tips on Marketing Your Art Business
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Some Tips on Marketing Your Art Business

Artists, photographers, designers, or anyone who starts a business to sell their creativity is an artrepreneur. Yet, ask most art artrepreneurs for a 24-month Pro Forma Cash Flow Report, and you will probably receive a blank uncomprehending stare as if you were speaking some ancient dialect of Gibberish. It really isn’t surprising, though. Managing a business involves such different mental tasks than those required for the creative art process so it is no wonder that mundane business tasks are often relegated to the proverbial back burner. Unfortunately, a successful creative art business requires business-related activities, especially marketing activities that are designed to grow the business. It’s not easy for many creative people to find the balance between art and business so here a few tips that may help the budding artrepreneur.

Know Your Target Market

A target market is a select group of people that are the most likely to hire you or buy your work. When marketing to potential customers, the marketing message should connect with the customers in a personal way showing them that your product or service fulfills a need or desire. While you can certainly target everyone and see what sticks, that type of marketing is inherently inefficient. Each target market has different needs and wants. A generic marketing message designed to target everyone makes it harder to connect since it will rarely break through the clutter of all the massive advertising by other companies. There are of course types of goods or services that are universally appealing, like toothpaste. Yet, even the toothpaste manufacturers pick and choose when and where to air commercials or which magazines or websites to include in their advertising campaigns. It is never a “throw enough crap against the wall and see what sticks” type of campaign.

Choosing a viable target market (or multiple target markets) is much more efficient. Every person you are trying to reach has a cost. For example, let’s use a scenario that we can all understand – the Super Bowl. A typical television ad during the Super Bowl ad costs about $5 million for 30 seconds. Assuming all 100+ million viewers are watching your ad (which is probably not the case), then the Super Bowl’s cost per view is around $0.05 per viewer. A bargain (really). YouTube generally charges $0.07-$0.08 per viewer, Facebook video views are $0.09, and locally targeted web ads can range from $0.10-$0.30.

But let’s add in a couple of wrinkles and watch how the cost per view can rise dramatically. According to a survey from the NRF, slightly more than three-quarters (75.8%) of American adults watched the 2015 Super Bowl. Men (83.1%) are more likely to watch than women, although almost 7 in 10 women plan to watch. When sorting by age group, the survey results reveal that youth are more likely to watch as opposed to older viewers, with 83.1% of 18 to 24-year-olds expecting to tune in versus 66.8% of adults aged 65 and older.

So, let’s say that you are trying to market a product traditionally marketed to women, like a facial moisturizer. We know that almost twice as many men will watch as women. So if there are 100 million viewers than about $40 million are women. So if the moisturizer company spends $5 million to reach 40 million women then the cost per viewer is now $0.12. Now let us assume that in general, people are there for the party and that only about half of the people watch any given commercial. Now the cost per viewer is $0.24. And this doesn’t take into account anything about the women. Are older women just as likely to buy the product as younger women? What about caucasian women versus Asian women?

Knowing your target market is practical. Knowing what the targets like or what they do will lead you to them. If you are a fine artist and know that that the wealthy and successful “leaders of industry” are the ones most interested in your work, or are the ones that buy work from your competitors, you should also realize that this target group tends to be older in age. As such, they are latecomers to social media tending to be more active on sites like Facebook rather than sites like Instagram. You may have a lot of followers on Instagram but if they are not the people who will buy your work or help you get new work, then focusing on Instagram isn’t that helpful.

Develop a Simple Business Plan

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A business plan is a roadmap that outlines your business goals and how you are going to achieve those goals. The plan doesn’t have to be long, but it should be thorough. If done right, it will provide an overview of your entire business; how it will work, its potential obstacles as well as best avenues for success. A business plan is helpful whether you are starting a new business or want to better understand your existing one. Many business owners fail to sufficiently analyze their business, which often results in a constant struggle to stay afloat or even failure. Owners of creative businesses are particularly vulnerable because they have not been trained in business but in art. Without training, it can be difficult to even to know the right questions to ask. Unfortunately, there are so many obstacles to success that it pays to take a serious look at your business. You should clearly identify the benefits your business has over others in the market, and develop your core philosophies and business goals. You should define your marketing and sales strategies and project your costs and potential income based on concrete assumptions.

For example, knowing who your competitors are, what are they doing and what has made some successful and others fail. Don’t try to find out what doesn’t work on your own when you can find out merely by looking at other business like your that have failed. Also, find out what the market needs, and don’t rely purely on your personal knowledge. What if you are an anomaly and what you think people need is not very important to most? You might end up building a business on the false premise that your market is significant when, in fact, it’s quite limited. Talk to potential customers to discover what the other services are missing and verify that your business is needed. Find out what can differentiate your company from the competition so that their customers will switch to you. Let’s say you are a wedding photographer and you discover that the main complaint that couples have after their wedding is the length of time it takes to receive photos. In an age where social media and instant gratification is ingrained into society, a quick turnaround with a limited number of pictures that can be used for social media could be an advantage in a geographic area where nobody does that. This can be your competitive advantage – one that makes the business succeed.

The next step is to find a way to make it happen. In your plan, you can calculate the costs for both time and resources required as well as any costs associated with marketing the new service. Add in all the resources that are required to run the business, such as rent, equipment purchases, potential marketing expenses, utilities, insurance, employees, etc. to get a financial picture over the coming years. However, the business rarely goes exactly to plan so the more you know about the business, the easier you can adapt, to capitalize on potential opportunities and easily handle any crisis.

Above all, though, for a business plan to be an effective tool, you must be honest in your analysis. The one mistake many startups make is fudging the numbers to make the business appear viable on paper. This isn’t always driven by an intent to deceive; rather, owners want the business to work so badly, that they subconsciously force the numbers to work in their favor. Sometimes, a would-be business owner simply doesn’t conduct enough research, thereby skewing the numbers. For example, if sales projections are made based on the successful companies without also accounting for the failures, the result will be unrealistic projections, which may prompt you into buying equipment or a studio space that you really cannot afford, for example. In the end, the business may run out of money before the business had a chance to really take off. Also, you may discover that the risk of failure is too high. And that’s ok, too – it’s better to find out before you put your money, time, and effort into the business.

I won’t lie: business plans can be time-consuming and difficult, even for a small art business. However, there are software packages that making writing plans easier, such as Live Plan or Biz Plan Builder. These software packages ask questions that guide you through the analysis so you won’t feel lost or overwhelmed. They will help you create and manage forecasts and budgets, discover whether your business can make money, and how much money you’ll need to get started. If you have team members, you can work collaboratively and then share your progress with advisors or investors. Plus, the software provides reports and documents in a beautiful visual format that are easy to read and understand. More importantly, creating a plan lets people know that you are serious about your business, which will make it more likely that people will want to be involved or invest.

Engage Your Market

Once you know your market and have determined your business is viable, you should engage your target market. Today, it’s all about networking. You are as much a part of your business as the product or service you are selling. Your excitement and enthusiasm will be infectious. You can make your business seem amazing in ways that other people cannot. Whether you are a fine artist, a wedding photographer or starting your own advertising agency, you are your best asset for selling your product or service.

Of course, not everyone is great at networking. I know some amazing artists that create a tornado every time they leave the house and would be better off staying home, but for the majority of people, building an audience does require a personal touch. That doesn’t mean that social media isn’t critical to a marketing plan, but you will likely find that your most engaged social media followers will be the people that you meet.

If you are selling your creative works, not all of your fans will be buyers, some may be just admirers. If you are selling your creativity, somebody may not like your style but likes you personally, and they may know other people who do like your work. And those people, in turn, may be important in the art community or have valuable connections that may be able to help you down the road. You never know who might appreciate your work and anyone of them might be the person who can help you catapult your business or your career. Try to find these people. They will be the ambassadors that promote you and your business, they will be the ones who push your business on social media, and the ones who convince their friends to buy your product. These are the people who will lead you to your buyers and future buyers. They are worth more than all your paid advertising. And since you have written your business plan, you have a good idea of the people you need to meet.

Start a Blog

Finally, if you want to constantly engage your audience, you might consider starting a blog. Most people use search engines to find the things they want or answer important questions. The goal for any business is to show up on the first page of Google because 80% of people searching never make it to the second page. And since there are only 10 results on the first page, you need to show up in the top 10 if results for a particular search out of hundreds of thousands of sites that have content on that topic. It may sound daunting at first, but it really isn’t, though it does take some time and effort. So while you are using social media to gain followers, you should also want to show up in a prominent position within search results for terms that describe your business. This is best achieved through high-quality consistent content that Google or other search engines can evaluate and determine as something that your target audience would like to read.

So while you are using social media to gain followers as a means of promoting your business, you should also want your website to show up in a prominent position within a search, too. When a search engine’s robot indexes a site, it reads and analyzes the content, sending pertinent data such as keyword and metadata to a central database. When a search request is received, the search engine uses a proprietary algorithm to choose the appropriate sites with pertinent information on the search topic. Google, which maintains about 83% of overall search engine traffic, pays particular attention to the quality of the writing, the depth of the topic, overall site traffic, other sites linking to the site, the breadth of new content, and the site’s speed, to name just a few. High-quality consistent content that Google or other search engines can evaluate as something that your target audience would like to read, is crucial.

As well, a website should be search engine optimized (SEO) to take the most advantage of the search engine’s results criteria. While SEO has many criteria (more than can be discussed here), the basic tenet is that search engines look for content that provides information that best responds to the user’s search request. But the robot that reads all the content on the web can’t be everywhere at once, so, it tends to focus on those sites that have content that changes regularly. If a website is static, Google won’t find it as valuable and the robot won’t visit the site very often. How does the robot know that the content is of high-quality? Among other things, it looks for words that it expects to see for an article on a particular topic. It also looks at what sites are linking to a site’s articles. If the BBC News or The New York Times references an article, then Google would know that the quality of that article is high and give it a higher ranking.

Consider writing a blog

So, given the basic criteria noted here, a blog is a good way to convince the Googlebot that your site is valuable. As far as what you should write about, the blog should be related to your business but doesn’t have to be specifically about the products or services. The articles should answer questions that people in your target market may be asking, or about topics of general interest to your target. You can use the Google Adwords Keyword Tool to discover topics of interest to your audience. The best practices for SEO suggest that articles be in the 1,000-word range.

One thing to note: search engines cannot read images or videos. If your business is selling artwork and your site is primarily a portfolio site with little in the way of descriptions, the search engine will have difficulty knowing what your site is about? Even if you have good descriptions of the work, consider what questions will be effectively answered by a search? Perhaps if the artist is well-known, users may search for the artist and then your images may show up high in the search result. But for most static portfolio sites, there isn’t enough information to answer a search query. So consider using detailed description or video transcripts to supplement images. Regardless, it is still better to have to change content, so supplementing the site with a blog should improve your search rankings.

On the downside, blogs can be time-consuming, and it often takes a while for bots to rank a site’s content, so you often won’t see immediate results. You have to build a trusted relationship with the search engine. There are a lot of sites competing for the coveted results spots, so the search engine won’t rank your first article. You’ll need to develop the blog, building readership and followers to show the search engine that your content is important and well received by the public. The most shared blog articles average about 1200 words and there is a strong correlation between user visits, ranking, and the number of articles written per week. In general, you will get 5x as many visitors posting five articles per week than if posting only one. So don’t start writing a blog unless you are prepared to make a commitment.

Finally, a blog has the added benefit of engaging your target market regularly. Remember earlier when we talked about meeting people who might be potential customers? You can post blog articles to social media and send out newsletters to potential customers. The articles and newsletter will keep you in your audience’s mind. When a customer decides he or she needs an item that your business provides, you want to be top of mind. Don’t let that sale go to a competitor who is more engaged with the target audience. You want your art business to be the one that they go to.

About the author

Steve Schlackman

As a photographer and Patent Attorney with a background in marketing, Steve has a unique perspective on art, law and business. He is currently serving as the VP of Product Innovation at Orangenius, where he hopes that his many interactions with the various members of the Orangenius community will provide lots of important material for Artrepreneur. You can find his photogrphy at or through Emmanuel Fremin Gallery in NYC.

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