As artists, we are often kept from truly experiencing our full potential at creating a stable, lucrative and thriving business because we listen to an internal or external voice about the “right” way to be creative.
We see other artists with seemingly unbounded passion and we think, we should feel that way. Or, we hear speeches from people who have made it and they tell us it “just happened” for them.
If you are stuck in a place where your work and skills are up to par, but you aren’t making the sales you want, you could have some beliefs about how marketing and a creative career mix.
It is more often that we give up on our creative dreams not because others are expecting things from us, but because we expect them from ourselves and our careers. Our internal dialog creates rules for ourselves about how we create, make, and how we relate to money and sales.
Do you relate to any of the following beliefs about marketing that hold artists back from realizing their full career success?
You believe your work should speak for itself
As an artist, your work is, without a doubt, the most important aspect of your career. However, there are many talented and skilled artists out there who fail to advance as far as those maybe less talented because they think that their art should do all the work for them.
If you think that your work is enough on its own and you don’t need marketing, that is holding you back from your full potential.
It is not enough to be great, or even the best, at what you create. You need to be able to stand by your work and sell it with your words. If even the mention of a sales pitch makes your skin crawl, think of it as defending your work, more like a dissertation about why your work matters and why everyone should care and pay attention to it.
There are artists that will continue to say that your work is all you need to have a successful career. This is perpetuated by stories of artists in the right place at the right time or those who struck the jackpot early on, or prodigies that were “discovered".
However, this is only the case for a tiny fraction of a tiny group of artists that find success this way. The rest approach it like any other entrepreneur—because that is what you are as an independent artist.
If you ask an entrepreneur about how they found success in their business, they will have clear steps to how they built, maintain and plan to grow their career.
Without a doubt, marketing is always part of that plan.
Of course, your skill and talent will allow your career to keep going and find more opportunities, but you will first need visibility. No one is breaking into your studio to discover your artwork. It is up to you to get it out there in the world and to keep building your reputation, skill set, and vision, all hand-in-hand with working on your visibility.
You believe marketing doesn’t work
So, you took out a Facebook ad and it didn’t return any results. Or, you made a killer video about your artwork and process and it didn’t go viral. Don’t throw in the towel and think that just because you made one effort, on one platform, that your marketing isn’t going to work.
Marketing is less of an overnight sensation and more of a continual growth over time. You see what isn’t working and take note of what is and do more of that. You do small experiments and tweak what has been successful to drive your career and sales in the direction that you want to go.
We’ll be honest: we rarely hear of an artist that loves marketing. Many artists think that if they embrace marketing that they are also some type of slimy salesman. But, the great part about being an independent artist is that you get to decide what type of marketing tactics to embrace—and there are many roads to go down.
You can choose which avenues feel right for you and take the time to figure out the right formula that grows your business.
You think marketing means sacrificing your creative integrity
Being successful and using marketing does not automatically mean that you are selling out. It means that you are ensuring that you can keep making work for a lifetime.
Marketing is simply one more tool in your toolbelt to grow your career. You could be perpetuating the myth of the starving artist simply because you think marketing your work means jeopardizing your creative integrity.
There is a fine line to walk on this one. You still want to feel joy and inspiration from your work and not just think of it as another job. But, you do need to let people know about your work so you continue to get opportunities.
If you love connecting on social media through your art, it could mean that you should up your social media game. Again, it doesn’t have to be all sales all the time. In fact, it shouldn’t be. The great thing about marketing through social media is that content marketing fits seamlessly into these platforms. As an artist, you have an endless amount of interesting and visual content to market your work. You can document your process, share a blog post or youtube video on your work, or do a flash sale for your fans. If it just feels like you are sharing your studio life with your followers, it will feel less salesy.
That said, don’t be afraid to be direct some of the time—think 15-20% of your total posts. People like clear instructions. If you have a new piece for sale or prints suddenly available, let people know! Share your excitement and people will see your genuine enthusiasm for your work and can’t help but share in it as well.
You believe your gallery/online store/etc is fully responsible for your sales.
You snapped some great photos of your work and posted a handful to your online store or sent them directly to your gallery. You close your computer, congratulate yourself on a job well done, grab a glass of wine and wait. Nothing.
That’s because you believe that simply having your work on the web or hanging in a gallery will get you massive sales.
However, there is a lot of competition and a lot of noise out there. If you want to see active sales, you need to take an active role in your sales.
Don’t be afraid to share your online portfolio on your other social accounts. Post it in Facebook groups if they permit promotional posts. Write a blog post linked to your portfolio and take out an ad on Facebook to promote that post. Target your audiences and get your work in front of people that are interested in your specific aesthetic. Follow up with your past clients by sending direct emails. Build your email list and share your updated portfolio with them.
People love sharing information that is valuable, enlightening or entertaining. Ask yourself what your content brings. Why would someone share your work, blog post or social post?
Does it help someone define who they are, does it promote connectivity and a way for others to connect, or does it inform or reflect their values? All of these are reasons people share content with other people online. It is also a great way to provide relevant information about your artwork and get it shared online.
You haven’t embraced sharing social proof about your work.
You know who is even better about talking about your work than you are? Other people.
If you feel uneasy about talking yourself up, embrace social proof in your marketing.
The great part about visual creative content is that people love photographing their art in their homes and as part of their own lifestyle. If you sell paintings, ceramics, sculpture, photography or anything physical, it could be fair for you to ask your collectors if they can share a photo of your work in their environment. It’s a great way to show potential customers how your work looks in a home. It’s also a great way to show that other people are satisfied and happy with your work. It makes it less of a risk for new buyers to make the jump to a purchase knowing that there are lots of other happy customers out there.
There are a few ways you can do this. If you are active on Instagram, use your stories section to share photos that others have shared with you. Give them a shoutout and thank them for sharing. You can also make a dedicated testimonials page or “what others are saying” page on your website or in your newsletter! There are many ways to incorporate social proof and let others do the talking about you!