Back in 1999, together with my now ex husband, we set up a law firm. With great trepidation, we handed in our notices, got the formalities in place and then set back and waited for the phone to ring. And it did ring. It rung and rung and in followed the money. Lots of it!
But as the years rolled on, law wasn't what satisfied my soul. Although I did my absolute best to be good at what I did and to help clients, I gained no personal satisfaction from helping criminals avoid prosecution, conviction and get lighter sentences. So I attempted to break away from the law and follow my heart's desire to be an artist.
Setting up a law firm had been as easy as 1,2,3, so how hard could it be? What could possibly go wrong?
Well the obvious first step at the time were the art galleries. I remember taking my art, by invitation, into an art gallery in Cardiff. I was with my son and we were excited. We'd been invited to come and bring my art into Cardiff's oldest established galleries. The gallery manager watched, stony faced, as my son and I struggled to carry in my pictures up the stairs and painstakingly unwrapped them and laid them out on the gallery floor. She stood there silently until the very last one was unpacked and then abruptly said, "I don't want them," as she turned her back on us and started chatting to another member of staff in her empty shop.
Don't get me wrong, what I painted back then was completely different to what I paint now and I wouldn't sell that kind of stuff myself these days. But then she had known what I was painting prior to our visit, as she'd been sent my website link. But no, it was as if she was enjoying our humiliation. There was no nod of acknowledge or goodbye from her. She just stood with her back to us as we silently packed up my pictures and left.
Thankfully, it doesn't have to be like that anymore. We can now completely bypass the art galleries
and reach out to the public ourselves. Ah, but that's the million dollar question. How do we do that?
We need to wear many hats
Yes, we need to wear many hats and this is alien to many of us as artists. After all, we just want to create. Isn't that why we left our day jobs? We don't want to bog ourselves down with printing, marketing, selling, accounting, website management, social media management, advertising and more. We don't want to be business people. That's not what we set out to do. We are creative people and we want the freedom to be just that. But life isnt' that simple. So what do we need to do?
We need to be know what the public want
Having income from our art is necessary. After all, unless we are lucky enough to be financially independent, we all need to earn a crust. But if we are serious about wanting income from our art, then it's important to know what the public wants. Unless you are lucky enough to have your sales till constantly ringing, it is really hard to gauge this from behind your computer screen.
I would suggest that selling directly to the public at something like a trade show should be the first port of call. I've heard Alan Sugar stressing the importance of getting out there, on the ground, selling directly to the public, getting their views and feedback directly. This resonated with me as I've gained a wealth of experience myself from getting out there and interacting with the public at trade fairs. It gives you invaluable information as to what people are interested in, what they're asking for and how much they'd be prepared to pay.
And that old chestnut, how to price things. If your goods are too expensive, you'll soon be told so. But again, more affluent buyers won't think twice about purchasing items that less affluent buyers recoil from. So use your own judgement here too. And of course, check out your competitors' prices. They'll have learned from experience how to price their products.
Make friends with other sellers. They've been doing this for longer than you have and their advice should be adsorbed like a dry sponge. I remember my very first trade show. I stood there on the first day with lots of interest but no sales. The next morning, a fellow trader asked me how I'd done on my first day. I told her that I'd had no sales. She told me,
"Take off those limited editions and make them "open." Then you can price them cheaper. People don't buy a picture because it's limited. They buy it because they like it.".
I took her advice and on the second day of the show, I had sales. That was invaluable advice and I've never sold a "limited" edition since.
It's great to see enthusiast reactions from people who see your hard work but seeing people face to face will help you distinguish between the people who genuinely love what you're doing and those you may be complimenting because they perhaps feel a little awkward in your presence. You really do need to be face to face with people and it's those who vote with their feet and actually purchase who really do show you that you have something that's saleable. Believe me, you will come home from a trade show with a really good idea of which direction you need to focus your efforts.
One word of advice here: unlike me, don't make your first trade show six weeks long. That's a really long time when you quickly realise that you have things wrong. So make your first trade show relatively brief.
We need a website
If you want to give yourself an online presence where your customers can buy directly from you, you are going to need a website. But maybe you are a technophobe. Fear not, I am too, yet I have built my own websites and online shops, having purchased website packages.
But beware, not all website providers are equal. It was with horror that I read that some website providers are actually one man bands, who do this as a side line, alongside their full time jobs. So you really have to beware of going down that route. For several years, I had a website, provided by MrSite and I had no end of trouble. It was excruciatingly difficult to build my site, to add pictures, links and social media connections to it and I would be constantly contacted by customers, telling me that they were trying to buy, but the checkout wouldn't let them. But it took me several years of muddling through it before I finally decided it was time to give up the ghost and change providers.
This is because whatever website you buy, you'll be putting a lot of hard work and effort into it and you won't want to be changing any time soon. So just be sure to get it right the first time around. I'm with Wix, who I can highly recommend. They have a highly sophisticated website builder that will do 90% of the work for you, guiding you and encouraging you to add SEO, much of which is automatically adding for you.
So what is SEO? It's search engine optimisation. It's how the internet trawls for sites that are relevant to what the searcher wants. Get to know how it works. It will pay off. Your keywords are little magnets that attract the search engines and you'll learn how to tune your website so that you attract the visitors you want. You'll also learn that you should update it and keep it current with things like blogs, just like the one you're reading now. Although Wix will give you a helping hand here, you really should read up on it, even prior to getting a website because that just might influence the name you choose for your website. The reason for that is because the name of your website is the strongest magnet for the search items.
So now you have your website and it's looking beautiful and you're so proud. But let's face it, if it isnt getting visitors, it's like a lovely shop down a street where nobody walks. So how do you get your visitors?
a. Business cards
Remember that trade show we talked about? You'll be surprised how many people who took your card at the show, return to your site and buy, especially in the months prior to Christmas. Gone are the days when our local printers could charge us an arm and a leg for business cards. Vistaprint offer a fabulous service at a very reasonable price. They are my choice, every time.
Linking your shop products to Pinterest is easy with Wix. And if you're an artist, Pinterest is really for you because it's so visual. It's just full of pictures and for an artist, heaven with the gate shut. People can find our images there and click straight through to your website. I love spotting my images at the top of searches and checking to see how many people have "pinned" it. That's a buzz. I do believe that the majority of my website hits come from Pinterest.
Be sure to have a facebook business page, where you can add your website link. Ensure that it's a page which can be "liked" as opposed to a group were people have to be invited. What I like about facebook is that you can promote your art, targeting your chosen audience, whether that's by their location, sex, age, or interests. That can really reap results.
The same applies to Instagram and like Facebook and Pinterest, it's free. Never let free exposure pass you by.
The same applies to Twitter although I rarely tweet so I won't try to advise on this one.
So your sales are slow? Well don't underestimate the power of linking yourself to the big selling sites and one of the biggest is Ebay. I've had a love/hate relationship with Ebay. I loved it in the beginning in late 2015 when my pictures were selling thick and fast. I really thought I'd nailed it. But then Ebay changed the rules, seemingly to favour the bigger sellers, with a whole load of criteria that you have to fulfill in order find favour with Ebay's search engines. One criterion is one day despatch and I don't want to disappoint customers by offering that if it can't always be possible. A disappointed customer equals negative feedback and that's hugely damaging.
Another gripe I have with Ebay is their selling fees. Not only are they expensive, but you pay an extra 4% on top when they pay you through Paypal. So just take care when you sell through Ebay. When you look at your sales figures, just be sure to see what it cost you to achieve that.
Now this is a site that I love. Again, like Ebay, it shows up really well in the search engines.
But I especially love it because its a selling site for people who create. People who make their own stuff, rather than those who buy it in. Creators just like you and me. And that's what makes it stand out from the rest. What's more, there are vintage shops on there too, adding more items of interest again. When you look through other people's Etsy shops, you can't help but be struck by how imaginative and unique so much of the merchandise is.
Etsy started off in America and most of the viewers you'll get on here will be American. I find that half of my buyers are American. But don't be afraid of that. You can list different postage rates for different destinations and price America accordingly. Personally though, I'm wary of making my postage too high on my heavier items as this in itself can be a bar to buyers. My thinking is that I'm making more money on my larger items and so happy to effectively share the postage costs. I know that I have gone to purchase from American sites and then changed my mind at the checkout when I've seen the postage costs. So, if you can be flexible on postage costs, it helps. Right now, with our pound at a low, it's a great time to sell to America. That's one of the few advantageous side effects of Brexit, I suppose.
But Etsy is catching on here in the UK too. It's true that here are still many people who ask, "What's Etsy?" but once you dip into it, the chances are that you'll be back and as such, it's fanbase is growing. It really is a wealth of items that you just won't find in the shops. Despite being on Etsy to sell, I have a number of items in my home that I've purchased on Etsy. I enjoy buying presents for people from there because I know that I'll be giving them things that they just haven't seen before and wouldn't expect.
But what I really love about Etsy......and it's what I really love, is that they seem to appreciate that we are a community of creators who are not wealthy and they do not bill us as if we are. Etsy fees are just 30cents (whatever that is in UK pence) to list an item for four months and if that item sells, Etsy charges you just 4% of that selling fee. Moreover, when they transfer your money to you, its transferred directly, without the Paypal nonsense that deducts another 4% from your profits.
To top it, they also allow you to put a link to your personal website on your Etsy Shop page, unlike Ebay, who will send you a stern warning if they see any attempts at directing customers straight to your shop. I know that many of my website visitors are people who've seen me on Etsy.
All of this creates a feeling of good will.
Really, if you create, you need to be on Etsy. I know of people who sell by Etsy alone and have no website or other internet profile. You do have the option to have a website with Etsy itself. I can't advise on that as I have no knowledge of how good or bad it is, but I do trust Etsy and would probably have taken up that option, had I not been with Wix by the time I joined.
Selling tips on Etsy:
There is a plethora of information offering tips for selling on Etsy and I'm not going to regurgitatethat.So here are a few tips that I've picked up from my own experience:
a. Write your product description carefully. I'm amazed at how many people sell items but give no description. And although you must add keywords at the bottom of your listing, don't forget to also weave keywords into your description. I actually didn't know that until recently and I'll be going back over my own listings to do this. Try to think about the questions somebody might ask and this will eliminate somebody having to contact you unnecessarily or just moving on and buying elsewhere.
b. Another tip is to renew your listings. This is something that I've only learnt recently and am yet to do, but it would appear that if your listing sits there for the duration of the four months without sales, it is going to drop in Etsy's search engines.
c. When you have an Etsy sale, or any other sale for that matter, drop in a business card. You don't want that potential repeat buyer to forget where he bought that painting he loves. I also pop in a thank you card. I appreciate my customers and I'm thankful for the sale, so I tell them so.
d. Good communication is key on Etsy, as on all selling sites. Communication builds up a rapport with your potential customers and often results in unexpected sales.
e. And of course, a good rapport with customers results in great feedback. I do fall over myself to do my best for customers. This comes naturally to me as I really want to give them a great shopping experience. Never get annoyed with a customer. That old adage that the customer is always right" really should be remembered. Just breathe and count to ten.
A word of warning. When you do start getting yourself seen, you'll be contacted by magazines and search engine companies and if, like me, you are daft enough to jump straight in and advertise with them, you'll be contacted by a whole lot more. Don't be flattered! Don't let some sales person on a commission persuade you that the key to your success is down to sending them a cheque.
A path emerges when you walk on it.
I'm still learning and plodding my way through the minefield of ways to sell. I have so much more to learn but if you're just setting out, this blog is worth reading as "in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king." Some of my selling experience has been hard but much of it has been fun and very satisfying too. If you can master the many tools there are out there to get yourself seen and resign yourself to wearing those many hats, you'll find that it has, in fact, never been a better time to be an artist.
Keep the faith. They do say that "a path emerges when you walk on it." So walk that path.