SELLING YOUR WORK: What’s the Best Way to Sell?

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.)
  • Galleries.
  • 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.)

booth photo

Such a simple streamlined booth! Three days to set up. OY!

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 And worst of all, my online inventory was woefully out of date.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:

  1. 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.
  2. Almost half my list opened my email.
  3. Pretty good percentage, actually. One person immediately made a purchase. (Yay!)
  4. 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.
20180119_130253

Wait! Where is this?? In Healdsburg? Fulton Crossing?? At my shop? At that exhibition???

So where did I end up with all this? Here are the important conclusions I’ve arrived at.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

 

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15 thoughts on “SELLING YOUR WORK: What’s the Best Way to Sell?

    • I will think about that, Susan, I always appreciate your suggestions!
      Initially, the thought of re-entering all those photos & info is daunting. Plus, I don’t think FASO allows multiple images, etc.
      Right now, I have maybe two dozen items on my website, with prices, and a tab for my shop. But what you’ve said is worth a try.
      So maybe I’ll do the experiment this week, and see what happens if I do what you say….
      Keep your fingers crossed!

      Like

  1. Hi, Luann! I had a question for you re Etsy. I used to have an Etsy shop, back when it was much more a ‘community’ than it is now… in those days, there were seminars, webinars, that sellers could click into and join where we could get live feedback on our shops, our item presentations, and so on. Then they did a huge server change and upgrade and all those things went away. That was almost the last straw for me, but not quite. What really burned my biscuits was when the Etsy PTB decided to allow sellers to market items made by someone other than the seller herself/himself. They _presented_ it as a way to help high-volume sellers, but in fact it opened up Etsy to resellers who list mass-produced rubbish and call it ‘handmade’, which just lets down the authentic artists that they originally supported. At that point, it became clear (to me, at least) that they were more interested in *their* profits than the artists’ profits. I stopped selling on Etsy because first, I wasn’t making enough sales to justify the time I spent on there, and second, I didn’t want to support that decision (to allow resellers) with my seller fees, since I felt they aren’t supporting us, the artisans.

    However, you have been with Etsy all this time. How do you feel about the CEOs letting sellers list things they didn’t actually make? Or have they changed that policy since then?

    Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Welp…..as I said, it doesn’t really affect me, so….I don’t care!
      I’m not being flippant (well, I am, but I seriously.) :^)
      First let me say, I agree with you on everything that’s wrong with Etsy. It started out as handmade, spread to vintage, then to supplies, and now it’s all over the place. In fact, I buy a lot of my supplies there.
      There is still a community, but I’m finding MOST social media sites that used to offer a great community/forums/discussions, etc., back-in-the-day, are no longer viable. I think people are creating their own communities on Facebook, Pinterest, and now Instagram. It’s not as focused, it’s not as useful, but…that’s what it looks like from where I’m standing.
      Now, about Etsy itself…I can’t stress this enough, this is a major point I make that gets skipped over again and again:
      I am not marketing my work to Etsy shoppers.
      I’m providing a good, reliable, easily accessed SHOP hosted by Etsy, with service available 24/7.
      I’m not trying to grow a new audience there. I’m trying to make it as easy as possible for MY audience to BUY there.
      I’m not trying to stand out from a crowd of a jillion sellers. I’m trying to be highly visible and accessible for MY AUDIENCE.
      My sales are slowly growing there (3 this week!! YIPPEE!!), and I find that almost every single sale is to someone who ALREADY KNOWS ME, or ALREADY KNOWS MY WORK, or they’re shopping for someone WHO ALREADY etc.
      So that may not answer your question, exactly. There’s growing an audience by meeting people in person, at shows, at exhibits, at open studios. And then there’s the trickier task of turning 500 “likes” and “hearts” into actual sales.
      But if you HAVE an audience, reach out to them, and make it easy for them to buy from you.
      I hope this helps!!

      Like

      • Oho! That makes sense… that you’re not marketing to Etsy’s clients or demographic; you’re just using the site to serve the audience you already have.

        Not sure how to get more sales for those of us without the existing fans, collectors, etc. Gotta work on that. But thanks for clearing that up. Wishing you all the best!

        Like

      • OH PRAISE THE LORD YOU GOT IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :^D
        Yes, creating that audience IS harder. More choices today, and no guaranteed success for any of them.
        But you start where you are, and keep trying.
        More on this soon, I’m working on a series of articles for Fine Art Views on the business side of art, and I’ll be reposting them here after they appear in FAV. Stay posted!

        Like

  2. Hey Luann!

    Thanks so much for this discussion, for sharing your sales experiences. It’s reassuring to hear that others have had similar reactions to the huge variety of sales opportunities that are available – if you have some talent, are hard working and at times just plain lucky. I’ve done everything from the sidewalks of San Francisco and local farmers’ market to top West Coast shows and one of the two top juried fine craft shows on the East Coast. For the last twenty years I’ve had a studio in a large art center in the middle of Marin County – yes I’m a neighbor! Been following you since long before you came to our coast.

    I always figured that when I could no longer cart my work to shows, that the public would find me at our art center which is filled with studios and available to the public five days a week. Guess again, very little traffic. After a disastrous – just past – holiday season in my art center studio, I started to consider activating my Etsy shop again. But all the hours of preparation it would entail (you detailed it well here) and the very low priced competition, has me really hesitating on Etsy.

    So I’ve added back my previously successful jewelry medium and am putting my recent art to wear somewhat on hold – costly in inventory and very time consuming to make. And hoping that with the reintroduction of the jewelry, my current, publicly available studio will continue to serve me better without further changes.

    And yes, I do have a (minimal) monthly e-newsletter with a decent following.

    Hope our paths cross one of these days. ~ Ann

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Ann, nice to meet you, and thank you for commenting here!
      I have a million questions to ask you, about what’s worked and what you think would work best for you and your following.
      Then I thought….Why don’t you ask them?
      Send an informal newsletter sharing that you’re putting together your “next act”. Ask them where they would expect to buy your textile work. (Put a pin here, because I do have another question/thought.)
      And if they’re local, why not invite them to your studio? Not the holiday event at the center, but a more personal, intimate event. I find group holiday events can be iffy, as most people seem to be looking for small(ish) gifts. But my big sales come from people who have been looking for awhile, who finally say to their partner, “THIS IS WHAT I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS!!!” 🙂
      Another thought: I checked out your WP blog/website, which doesn’t look like you’ve posted there forever. Where can people see your newer work? Your textile work? (See? I was going to suggest something back there, but then I realized I have no idea what your textile work IS, or what you jewelry now looks like!)
      Asking people to sign up for a newsletter, without them knowing what your work looks like….Well, I already like you, and I’m already interested in hearing more. But it felt like going out on a limb to sign up for something I may or may not like.
      Okay, I just realized I’ve giving advice that may not be appropriate for you, and you didn’t even ask for it! :^D
      But my last thought is, if you have a substantial audience, sell to THEM.
      And if you want to GROW your audience, how are you doing that online?
      Lemme know, I’d love to help you get to your next step.
      And if I’VE overstepped, just let me know that, too. :^)

      Like

  3. As you so often do, Luann, you take large numbers of what are random frazzled thoughts in my mind and think them as if through a sifter and a funnel and condense them into clarity. I will always be amazed at your ability to do so, and thank you for the conclusions you come to. The struggles of this topic are a constant, it seems. Keep on. ❤️

    Like

  4. I understand completely and thank you for putting in words, exactly how I feel… Redoing web site, going on Etsy, and overwhelmed with all the Social Media. In a gallery in Oakhurst Cal. but none of the other artists seem to understand or want to work with the net. And that is where I see everything arts going, to a larger audience, instead of waiting for them to walk in the door!.. Even in a “tourist” areas.. Cars and buses are always in a hurry. and I have decided to put prices on my web site also. and yes, keeping track of inventory is another fun aspect..
    Thank you,,good timing!

    Like

    • Vivian, I’ve written a lot of getting art out into the world, here on my blog. I know I have a lot of categories (I confused tags and categories when I first set up this blog!), but scroll down through them. Some are obvious: Art marketing, business, collectors, consignment, donating to charity fundraisers, exhibition proposals, gallery representation, lessons from the open studio, press releases, selling to stores, etc. Some others are a series I did on “half-wholesaling”–finding stores to buy outright, without having to necessarily make your entire biz wholesale. I realize I should write some new articles sharing what I’ve learned so far from being on Pinterest and Instagram, though it isn’t much! :^D Seriously, you may have to think outside the box if you haven’t found a local audience yet, but they’re there!

      Like

  5. Just wanted to say thanks for writing this and always being so upfront. I read it when it came out and saved it to re-read again 🙂 I appreciate all the time and energy you put into your posts.

    I’m in the same boat – jewelry and sculpture and at this point almost everything is one of a kind. I have trouble even figuring out a consistent pricing structure when people look at a 3″ miniature that took me 3 months off and on to sculpt and expect it to be cheaper than a larger, less time consuming piece. I’m thinking of designing collections on the jewelry side – depends if I can make my ADD creativity find it interesting enough 🙂

    And I take SO long to do one Etsy listing that sometimes it doesn’t seem worth it. Last year I put in extra time in the art/craft show end of things and while I didn’t lose money, it wasn’t worth the time I put in. I made more teaching classes.

    So long story short, I don’t think any one person has the answer, but all the conversation helps me think and get it all straight in my head 🙂

    For example, no matter what I do, I need to update my website this year and decide how I want to sell online. Other than the blog, it doesn’t have any work from the past several/many years and that’s just embarrassing (especially since I’m a software developer in my day job).

    Time to make a plan for 2018 or at least the next few months anyway 🙂

    Like

    • Christy, thank you for responding, and I’m delighted you found some clarity. That was my intention–not to get people’s hope up for “the only and only perfect solution”, but to think about where they want to put their time and energy, how to move forward, and how to move forward by simply figuring out their “next step”.
      Sounds like you have all the information you need to move forward, you’ve already figured out your next steps, and you already know what works for you–U R doing it right!
      Websites, online presence, and email newsletters are the bottom line. Everything else is up for grabs. And if teaching is more rewarding, then go for it! There are no end of folks who hope they someday get to where YOU are TODAY. You can help them get there, and earn some $$ along the way.

      Like

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