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Marketing Your Artwork on the World Wide Web
© Juried OnLine Arts Festival

In the 25+ years that we have been involved in the arts, we have consistently been told by our fellow artists & craftspeople that they find selling their work more difficult than the process of creating it. It is not that the work was in any way UNsellable -- most of it was very beautiful -- it's just that most artists are right brain people, and business is mostly a left brain activity.

Nevertheless, the fact remains, to be successful over the long term as an independent studio, an artist must either:

  • Develop fundamental business skills; or
  • Hire a business manager; or
  • Marry someone with a good paying job; or
  • Inherit a trust fund.

This paper is for everyone in the first category...

We Are Now in the "New Economy"

Those of us who earn our stripes weekend after weekend at craft shows have come to intimately know the "Old Economy." Craft festivals, it can be argued, are one of the very oldest forms of commerce, dating back to the marketplaces and bazaars of antiquity. Today's Ren Faires and outdoor art festivals in general are a testament to the enduring relevance of the "open market", and to the face-to-face interchange between merchant and customer.

But with the advent of the Internet, and more specifically the graphics rich World Wide Web, we have entered what has been labeled the "New Economy," and with it, an entirely new set of rules. It's not that the old rules are null and void -- they're not -- but now we have new parameters to take into account. If you intend to use the web to bring in an income, then you are going to be dealing with these principles, so the better you understand "e-commerce," the better you will do on the Information Superhighway. Like the German autobahn, not paying attention or travelling in the wrong lane or at the wrong speed will quickly get you pushed to the side.

11 Rules of the Road

When speaking with exhibitors at shows about the WWW, too often the conversation will end up with the other person saying something like this:  they "have a website but they're not making any sales off of it." So we wonder, why is that?

The old excuse that people aren't buying from the Internet just doesn't hold water anymore, as documented sales on the web have risen from a total of about $400 million back in 1997 to many multiple BILLIONS today, and is expected to continue to rise exponentially. So let's get started with...

Rule Numero Uno:

Integrate your URL into absolutely EVERY aspect of your business.

Make sure your website address is on all your stationary, brochures, catalogs, and advertisements. Get a sign to stick on the side of your van. Put it on your tee-shirts. Everywhere.

>> There is still no rest for the weary...

Unfortunately, way too many people actually believe the hype that all a person has to do is get something up on the web and lots of people are going to find them, to visit and spend money. If only it was that easy. You have to work as hard getting people into your website as you would getting them into a storefront if you had a gallery in a small town. With that in mind, we offer...

Rule Number 2:

A website is an ongoing process, NOT a one time project.

This means you need to schedule regular visits to your own website to change images, vary the layout, freshen it up. If nothing changes, your regular customers WILL TIRE looking at it. Give them a reason to come back.

>> A website is a website is a website?  NOT!

Without a doubt, one of the primary reasons that people are not making sales on the WWW has to do with the architecture of their website.  To not grasp that is like saying that booth design or gallery layout really doesn't matter. All successful festival exhibitors know that booth design and artwork presentation is half the battle. Thus, you must understand...

Rule Number 3:

All websites are NOT created equal!

At this point, website design has become a well developed art form, and is actually taught as a major course of studies in many universities. There are numerous software programs to help you do it yourself, and countless web design firms for hire. The important point is this: while there are as many ways to create a website as there are people doing it, there are also as many ways to do it wrong as there are to do it right. If you are going to do it yourself, seriously study the books and tutorials available to guide you through the process. And if you need to hire someone, then it is better to do that and have the site done correctly than it is to save a few bucks and end up with something that looks very unprofessional.

>> First impressions are everything...

If you are going to do business on the web, it is worth doing it right. It is no longer a question of just looking a little ruffled at the local guild show -- we are talking global here. Always remember this:  Your website is the window through which the world will view you and your work.  Therefore, pay extra special attention to...

Rule Number 4

The more professional you look on your website, the more professional your visitors will assume you to be.

And the inverse is equally true:

The LESS professional you look, then the LESS professional your customers will assume you to be.

>> Who are you, anyway?

When you are selling at shows, or at your shop, or if your work is represented at a gallery, your customers will in each case deal with a human being. We all know that selling is like a dance, and very often the kind of "vibes" your customer gets from you will do as much for the sale as their appreciation of your work. On the web, your potential customers will be looking at a backlit flat screen. In most cases, they will never actually meet you in their lifetime. So the "vibes" you set up must be done using just layout, graphics, and text. That is easier said than done, which brings us to...

Rule Number 5:

Integrate your personality into your site.  Be credible and trustworthy.

Don't make the mistake of just putting up a typical "brochureware" site, where all you have is PICTURE/PRICE; PICTURE/PRICE; PICTURE/PRICE; ad nauseam. You must convince this "cybercustomer" that they should trust you, that you actually made this work you have claimed to make, that you are a real person with real interests and are thoroughly dependable in every way. Offer unconditional guarantees that you will stand behind your work, and will make an exchange or refund without question.

>> Have fun...

The Internet has taken its place in the lives of the public as rapidly as any technology in world history. The WWW phenomenon is a kind of hybrid between television, print, telephones, the Sears catalog, and a really smart friend who knows everything about everything. As such, people come to the web for a variety of reasons, including access to: information, communications, commerce, and entertainment. Thus we arrive at...

Rule Number 6

Make your website an enjoyable experience for your visitors.

Teach them something they may not have known prior to their arrival. Make them smile. Impress them with your skills, and they will more than likely want to return. Just like at shows, people are not just buying your work, they are buying into your persona. They want to tell their friends about the "great artwork they bought from this really talented artist at http://www......"

>> Size isn't all that matters...

All professional art show exhibitors learn that it is not solely the size of the crowd that will translate into decent sales, it's the quality of the crowd that will matter the most. While it is generally true that the greatest likelihood of sales will occur at shows where the artwork itself is the "reason for being", some exhibitors also find niche markets in venues such as music festivals, hot-air balloon festivals, cat shows, flower shows, and other highly targetted crowds. Bring that lesson to the web, as we unveil...

Rule Number 7

Target your niche market, and deliver what they demand.

This doesn't mean satisfying the lowest common denominator. Rather, if you know your customer base reasonably well, you can usually identify what it is about your work that is appealing to them. For example, if you work in clay and consistently find your garden sculpture does well in shows held in suburban locations, then target that part of your website to garden clubs, floral enthusiasts, etc. If you also make drinking goblets, bring that part of the site to the notice of wine tasting clubs, wineries, gourmet food customers, etc.

Web surfers tend to go to sites, or the parts of sites, that interest them, and they often ignore the rest. Therefore, once they get in the section of your website that grabs their attention, provide content specific opportunities to purchase. Make it EASY to come to a decision to buy your work.

>> Talk to me...

The people who use the WWW also tend to communicate via the WWW, which means email and, increasingly, electronic commerce. You must therefore make it simple for your visitors to contact you -- don't bury this information at the bottom of some page on level three of a 22 page site. If you are not currently set up with an online shopping cart application, begin looking into getting one very soon -- an e-commerce enabled shopping cart is absolutely essential to online success. And when you receive email, remember...

Rule Number 8

Respond promptly, respectfully, and in an informative manner to all inquiries.

If there is one thing web surfers hate, it is taking the time to type out an email, then not getting a timely response. Or getting a half-hearted response a month later. You can pretty much bet the booth that this will almost certainly lead to the loss of a potential customer. Continuing with our show parallel, it would be like setting up your display, then going out to visit with your friends during the duration of the festival. That kind of negligence doesn't tend to make for a big weekend.

>> You still gotta' look good...

It has been said about the WWW from the very beginning that "Content is King." As artists and craftspeople, creating content is what we do, and chances are, we have boxes full of slides to prove it. Since a web site for an artist is by definition going to have pictures of the work, in some cases a lot of pictures, it is essential that each page take into account the crucially important...

Rule Number 9

All graphics should be sharp, colorful, and load reasonably quickly.

We were neighbors once at a show with a very talented guy who put up a website a couple years ago. One morning he told me that he couldn't understand why the site wasn't doing anything for him. When we got home we checked it out, and had the answer almost immediately: His site's "Gallery" section had 60 very large pictures ON ONE PAGE!! We timed the page as it loaded, and gave up after 6 minutes.

There have been numerous studies that prove that the average person will wait LESS THAN A MINUTE to see some content. After one minute, with every passing second you lose more viewers. So why wasn't this fellow selling? Chances are only one in a hundred people even stayed around long enough to see the work.

>> "Seek and ye shall find"... 10,000 returns!

If you want to see how difficult it is for someone who does not know you to find your site on the WWW, do this:  go to any major search engine and type in your medium [for example, "watercolor painting"]. The number of returns is simply overwhelming. If you want to get into the Top 20, then you simply must take the time to apply...

Rule Number 10

Learn everything you can about search engines.

When your site was originally uploaded to the WWW, either you or your website designer should have made certain that your URL comes to the attention of the major search engines, so your pages can be properly indexed into their databases. While there are dozens of search engines, only the top 3 or 4 actually matter, as they alone account for over 95% of all the search queries that users enter on a daily basis. The best tutorial site that we have found is [Search Engine Watch] -- study it for all it is worth.

>> Set pointers on the highway...

People are going to find your site because of search engines; because they got your address from an external "real world" source (such as a business card or advertisement); or because they saw a link at another site that led them to you. So, here's our final suggestion...

Rule Number 11

Get as many links leading to your site as possible.

While search engines may eventually index you if your site is properly designed, to get extra links leading to your home page, YOU must work at it. There are some places that will include your link for free -- check with your local Chamber of Commerce or State Arts Agency, for example. Other sites will have a minimal charge. The important thing is to get as many paths to your " online door" as you can possibly arrange.

>> And here's an extra thought for good measure...

Set reasonable expectations.

Success is a relative term. The beauty of the WWW is that you can start with a well designed small site, then expand and adjust it as the need arises. Eventually, as you target your niche audiences and fulfill their requests, you will build a following and can do well. It may not happen quickly, but if you devote a portion of every week to doing what is necessary to market your work to the ever growing online community, then the "New Economy" will dovetail seamlessly into the "Old Economy" side of your business. When that happens, your studio and your work will be that much better for it.

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