This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….” For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.
(Spoiler alert: No. Easy. Answers.)
Since I started my art biz 25 years ago, I’ve explored almost every permutation of selling my artwork that you can imagine:
- Selling from my studio.
- Small shows/fairs, indoor and outdoor.
- Big BIG national wholesale and retail shows.
- A shop. (I do get some walk-in business now.)
- A blog with a link to my shop and website
- A website with a link to my shop.
- A website with a shop. (This one is still in beta mode for me.)
- Mail-order catalog companies.
- Sales reps.
They all drive me crazy. One big show was okay for wholesale, but I ended up hating making the same things over and over and over and… One big retail show was by biggest income boost. But it was a huge amount of work, it’s now on the other side of the country, and major shows can easily cost a couple thousand dollars in fees (not including travel, hotels, meals, advertising, shipping inventory, etc.) I hate outdoor shows, because…well, just because. I never do well at small shows. I’ve never sold a work at an exhibition. (Most artists don’t.)
So that leaves walk-ins, new consignment galleries, and online sales.
My Etsy shop was closed for several months last year. First there were wildfires. Then I had surgery. Then we traveled back east for the holidays. And worst of all, my online inventory was woefully out of date. But the even bigger worst problem was, not knowing where all my work was, if it wasn’t in the studio.
My work is now carried by six galleries, five local galleries (all in different towns with different audiences) and one back in New Hampshire. I’ve had more, in the past, but when I got to the point of wholesaling directly to stores, galleries, and mail-order catalogs, I restricted myself to a handful of consignment galleries within the League of NH Craftsmen.
Sales from galleries have always been iffy for me. One gallery went from being my all-time best with sales, to the worst, within a month. (A gallery manager who LOVED my work left, replaced by one who didn’t dislike my work. And yes, that can make a huge difference!)
My gallery sales here in California have limped along, except for one that’s done very well (for me!) this year. And then December sales skyrocketed across the board. I had my biggest single gallery sale ever from one gallery that hadn’t sold anything up to that point. My January consignment checks have been extremely helpful for my bottom line!
But it was time to do over my Etsy shop, available 24/7 and to anyone all over the world. So I spent over 45 hours photographing work, editing images, uploading them, writing descriptions, tagging, and publishing a whopping 35 items.
Then I spent several hours updating my email newsletter list, creating that same newsletter, uploading more images, proofing, test-mailing and finally mailing an announcement that my Etsy shop was up and running again.
Four things happened:
- I realized I had a dead link and a spelling error in my carefully-edited and checked newsletter. Somewhere along the line, I confused a draft with my finished copy, or probably forgot to SAVE a draft. Embarrassing. Oh well.
- Almost half my list opened my email.
- Pretty good percentage, actually. One person immediately made a purchase. (Yay!)
- And one person wrote to ask why I wasn’t posting prices/selling on my website?
At first I was a little irked. All that work, and a complaint about where my “shop” is?? (Lizard brain in overdrive mode.)
My better-self brain kicked in. I immediately realized this was a perfectly reasonable question. Why wasn’t I using the sales potential on my FASO site? So I wrote back with this: “That’s an excellent question, and I’ll be thinking about the possibilities. I put prices up on some items because I want to give people an idea of what to expect. But the actual shopping experience is so much easier on Etsy!
Wow–This IS a good topic for a column!” (Ta dah!)
The person said they were wondering because most of their artist friends don’t post their prices on their websites, but blogs they’ve read on FASO tells us that we should- so they were confused as to which is the best way to go!
My first reaction is feeling overwhelmed. Selling is a hassle for me. Here’s a starter list:
- I have multiple “lines” to sell: Jewelry, framed work, sculptures, ranging in price from $45 to $5,000. I don’t have a few dozen, or even a hundred items to track. I have several hundred items, at least. It’s hard to track inventory as it moves from studio to gallery, back home to studio, and out to another gallery, on to an exhibition, and back again. Plus I freshen stock at galleries, refurbish and/or redesign older pieces, etc. I used to be excellent at keeping records when I was wholesaling. But consignment is much more fluid than outright sales.
- I started out with an Etsy shop. Then took up Amazon’s initial handmade marketplace, Thousand Markets, which was then sold to Bonanza, where I died a slow death, and finally moved everything back to Etsy. Each venue had a different process, different organization, and different modes. Even Etsy has updated since I reopened my shop. Part of my workload last week was updating older items I’d already listed. The thought of mastering yet another venue was uninspiring, to say the least.
- FASO is one of the best web-hosting sites I’ve ever used, and the FASO team works constantly to provide quality services to their artists. Yet there is still a learning curve for on how to do things (hence my newsletter fiasco). So I hesitate to commit my entire inventory on my website per se.
- In addition to my website, I have a blog I’ve maintained for 17 years; I now write a weekly column for FAV; I have a presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. My business profile on Facebook is woefully neglected, and I’m still trying to figure out how to sell on Instagram. Oh, and that email newsletter that I know is so vital to staying in touch with my art audience, and which I mangled so gently. None of them get 100%, because, well, I’d rather MAKE stuff than spend time trying to sell it.
So where did I end up with all this? Here are the important conclusions I’ve arrived at.
- I realize I can’t do it all. But I can get better by working on everything a little bit at a time. (Except my column. That HAS to be in by Monday, or else.) This month, new work and Etsy get my best effort.
- One important note: I don’t pretend to market to every Etsy buyer. I use Etsy as the easiest place for MY CUSTOMERS to shop. It’s survived longer than any of the other online venues I’ve used. Almost everyone already knows about it. Working out packaging, shipping costs, and creating shipping labels is a breeze. And its payment process is safe and secure.
- I realize one reason I need to have prices on my website is, people need to have some idea of what they can expect to pay. And, in fact, half the items I have there ARE priced. But some are not, and I could do better. My resolution is to add 1-3 items a month, with prices, but put the bulk of my efforts into keeping my Etsy site fresh and up-to-date.
- My website is a great way to showcase all the elements of my online presence. There you can find “about me”, my blog, samples of my work, and my shop. It’s a way for people to get an idea who I am and what I do.
- And my website is also a way to prepare people for my prices
So I don’t have “the best way” to suggest to you about selling. Clint Watson and Lori Woodward are more “science-based” with those topics, and I’ve taken to heart Clint’s advice on really utilizing our email newsletters.
But in the end, it’s what works best for YOU. It’s what you have time for, and what you are willing to make time for. It’s what platforms have proved successful for YOU. It’s what works for you, and what’s not working for you.
So a big “thank you” to the person who inquired about my prices. You were the little kick in the pants I needed today.
I have a little more clarity today on how to move forward this week.
And I hope I’ve given you a little peace of mind about your own sales efforts. Yes, some ways are better than others, but some work better for some people, and some don’t. And nothing works in a vacuum—e.g., without an online presence, without creating some sort of connection to your audience, etc.
Please, feel free to share your own insights and experiences, especially what’s worked for you, and if you have insights on how we all could do better. Inquiring minds want to know!
P.S. I provided the “spoiler alert” because one reader felt deceived that I’d promised them the perfect way to sell, and then I didn’t. Which brings yet another idea for an article, but that’s the way my mind works!