Email is still the best way to grow a loyal customer base. And…it’s free! (Usually….)
Back in the day before social media became a thing, the best way to let my peeps know about an event was….postcards!
It was a lot of work. First, designing (or paying someone to design) a postcard. Then having postcards printed. And then, buying postage stamps, and applying a postage stamp to each and every postcard. Also printing out the mailing labels, and applying them.
My mailing list grew to well over 1,200 people. (Many artists with a huge following have 5-10x that many.) Yes, postage wasn’t as high back then, but it was still quite an investment. (Today it costs 55 cents, so I would be spending $500 just to mail the darn things.)
Email is soooooo much easier, and a heckuva lot cheaper. (I use Fine Art Studios Online (www.FASO.com) for my website, which offers free emails, up to a limit, depending on what level of site you use.)
And we still need mailing lists for our open studio tours here in Sonoma County, so we can ensure our customers get a free catalog mailed to them.
If you’ve been doing shows, open studios, or other art events, then you probably already have a big list of contacts for email and snail mail.
But if you don’t… If this is your first event, show, open studio….
How do you get started??
Here are some suggestions, and feel free to add your own in the comments!
Friends and family Consider the people you already know, and ask them if they’d like to get emails from you. (NEVER sign someone up without their persmission. First, it’s kinda rude, and second, your emails can be reported as spam if they didn’t give you permission.)
For snail mail/catalogs, I don’t sign up many people, especially if they don’t live within driving distance of my studio/event. Yes, getting a catalog with ME in it might be appreciated. But catalogs are expensive to produce, and the cost of mailing tens of thousands can really run up the budget.
So I focus on who’s told me they’d like one, and who’s in our neck of the woods.
Casual acquaintences, social groups, etc. Are there groups of people you are involved with? Clubs, sports, rallies, etc.? Organizations you volunteer for, events you attend regularly? Hey, ask them if they’d be interested in visiting for your open studio event! Keep it light, don’t twist arms, don’t take offense of people who are lukewarm. But it never hurts to ask, either.
Stores & services you use/patronize Are you a loyal patron of a local business? Are you in galleries? Do you buy local for your supplies? Ask them if they’d like to here about your events, and if they’d like to get a catalog.
Use your social media connections Post to your social media sites, letting people know they can go to your website and sign up for emails. And if some of these people are locals, ask if they’d like to get a catalog. (Have them either email you, and/or send you a PM with their address.)
Sign-up sheets in your studio This is hands-down the best way to build your mail lists, both online and snail mail. Why?
Because if they came to your studio, it means they saw your work in that catalog, and they were interested enough to come and check out you and your work! And if they stay, and engage, and chat, BINGO! Pretty sure they’re gonna want to come back.
Most of my open studio events are under an organization that creates a sign-up sheet for us to print out and display in our space. It asks for their name, their address, and their email.
On mine, I let them know they will receive notices of classes (if and when things get back to “normal”, whatever that is anymore), my next event, etc. and if they also provide their snail mail addy, they’ll get a catalog next year!
Some people say, “Oh, I already get them!” But I told them I was new, and had to turn in x number of snail mail addresses. If they sign up, they’ll still only get ONE catalog, but I’ll get credit for having the minimum number of addresses.
The downside here is, it can be really hard to read people’s handwriting. Some people recommend asking them to TELL you their contact info, and YOU write it down. If this is too much/studio is too crowded/etc., then try to see if you can read their info before they leave.
Want to fine-tune this even more? Clint Watson, founder and creator of FASO.com, has written a slew of articles about email newsletters. Here’s his latest, at FineArtViews.com (a free FASO feature) about how to protect your (email) reputation and make sure your emails aren’t going to be tagged as ‘spam’: Hit Inboxes Not Spam Folders With Your Newsletters. (Click this link to sign up for FREE FineArtViews emails.)
Postcards and business cards I still buy postcards, but I don’t mail them anymore. I need them for galleries and exhibitions, so people can follow up with me if they like my work. And I always carry business cards with me, so if I meet someone who expresses an interest in my work, I can give them one to follow up with me.
There are some great, affordable, design-your-own cards nowadays, including GotPrint.com, VistaPrint.com, PSPrint, and OvernightPrint.com if you’re running late. And again, back in the day, I would order enough postcards with one image, to get me through the year of events.
But my go-to favorite now is Moo.com. (Yes. I don’t know why they decided on “Moo”. Maybe I should ask….??) They aren’t the cheapest, though the more you buy, the better the price gets, and they have sales that make a big difference!
The reason is, I can order as many as 100 postcards, business cards, etc….
With 100 different images! (Or 25 images, 4 of each, or whatever….)
They even have a postcard template that allows you to put TWELVE images on one postcard!
And if you are sharing a site or building with other artists, you can easily create a postcard with an image of everyone’s work. (Sites that have multiple artists tend to draw a lot more people, because…artist saturation!)
If designing your own cards is too much, check in with other artists (or the organization managing your event) and ask for recommendations for a graphic designer. This can be very affordable, with wonderful results, too.
Remember, we all started from zero to get to where we are today. If this event is your first open studio, don’t fret too much about how many people even come to your studio, let alone sign up, or even buy anything. Trust me, I know how it feels! My work has always been an outlier, and it took time for people to “get it” (and me!)
Words of wisdom: It’s not who ‘comes by’, it’s who ‘comes back.’ And the more people come back, the more likely they will (eventually) make a purchase.
And even if they don’t, if they love our work, they will still come, and maybe even bring a friend (or three) who will also love our work, and maybe have a bigger budget, too.
Okay, I’m behind on like ten other things that are due tomorrow, so I’ll sign off for now. But I’ll double back as more thoughts and suggestions pop up.
And if you’re a pro at this already, please share your own insights and experience/suggestions/sources. I’d love to hear ’em!