If you’ve taken any marketing classes, you’ve probably discussed the Four P’s: Product, Price, Place and Promotion. While most people think of marketing as just the advertising we consumers see, that is actually the last step in the process. There is so much planning that needs to happen before you can start telling the world about your ideas, and this framework applies whether you’re trying to sell a breakfast cereal, photography services or fine art. The goal is to find the products or services you are best suited to offer to people who want or need them where they can find them at a price they will pay. At the most basic level, that’s how you develop a profitable venture from your passions, but let’s dig into each step further as it relates specifically to artists like you.
- What energizes you? Be it drawing, painting, teaching, sculpting, selling – consider what gets you out of the bed in the morning. While you many not be able to focus just on that as an entrepreneur, it's important to start with your passion and develop your ideas from there. This is the foundation for happiness and business success. What is it that you need to feel fulfilled? You'll need to hone in on that to then turn it into a career.
- Who is your target audience? Once you know what you want to offer, think about who is likely to buy that from you. What niche do you fit into? This will impact all other steps in the marketing process. You need to be sure your product is designed with someone in mind.
- Are you solving a problem or a need? If you want people to pay you for something, consider how it fits into their lives. Are you making things easier, more efficient, prettier, etc? It's hard to justify the cost if there isn't a reason to own your work. Explore your audience's needs. Start experimenting with how your passion fills those gaps. Don't limit yourself to traditional options. Creating art for yourself from your inspirations may make you happy, but what do you do if it isn't selling? Don't take that as a judgment of your talent; see it as an opportunity to dig deeper into what you audience wants. Maybe it's commissions of their subject matter. Or maybe it's a different format. Do they prefer functional art? Keep true to yourself, but make sure you're thinking about your customers and their needs.
- Can you offer something different or better? Duplicating what someone else offers just creates clutter in the marketplace. Make sure your work or your services are unique in some way. Perhaps you've figured out a style no one else is offering or maybe you're improving upon an old idea. What makes you stand out? Why should they buy from you specifically? This matters not just in how you advertise yourself, but also in what you actually offer.
- Product or Service? Most people think of art as the physical works you sell, but know that you can still pursue your creative passions offering services. That's what I'm doing. Maybe you prefer teaching or you're looking to be hired for your artistic skills. By changing this mindset, you can more easily see the options for filling a need with your passion.
- Do you want to be full time? When it comes to what you plan to offer your audience, it's important to know how much time you have to give. Do you need to put all of your energy into your art to be happy? If you prefer the side hustle, that's ok. Make sure you know your limits so your art business doesn't become a burden, demanding more than you can give.
- What are your costs? Before setting a pricing strategy, you need to know how much you're paying to produce your goods and services. It's important that you make at least that much back with each sale. Ideally, you will be able to add a margin on top, so make sure your costs are reasonable for your target market while still communicating the value.
- How much will your audience pay? Are you trying to appeal to a high end audience or a more budget buyer? Your customer should be a key component of deciding on pricing (above and beyond your costs). Can they afford you? Are you making the value clear so they have no trouble paying what you ask for? Should you offer a range of items, from lower cost prints to higher priced originals?
- Where are your customers shopping? While I wish the "If you build it, they will come" philosophy worked for everyone, you have to be proactive as a creative entrepreneur. It's your job to go out and find your customers when they are in the mindset to buy. This is part of knowing your target and the need you are addressing. Do they come to art fairs to find you or does your work belong in a gallery? There are so many places for art to appear these days. What fix fits you and your art best?
- Juried Art Festivals
- Pop Up Art Markets
- Cafes or Restaurants
- Local Galleries
- Online Contests
- Public Art Installations
- Are end consumers your only target? Depending on your medium, you may find more opportunities focusing your attention on the segment above your eventual buyers. Who can help you get your art in front of buyers? Maybe you want to try wholesaling to a retail store that will sell for you. Licensing can also be a good option if you want to create the original design and then let someone else worry about production. If you're looking for gallery representation or grants for proposed projects, your audience will be very specific. Make sure you are exploring various outlets to find your fit in the marketplace. Most successful artists are working multiple angles.
- How do you communicate value? While this deserves a much more in depth conversation, at it's core, what matters is that you are showing consumers why they should buy from you. Handmade goods and works of fine art naturally have more value than something mass made, but not all shoppers see this. You have to show them by clearly communicating the difference. You put time, energy, passion into your work in ways that machines can't. Share your process, your materials, your inspiration. Help your buyer feel a connection. Try not to spend your time haggling with someone who will never understand value so you can develop relationships with people who care about handmade.
- What is your Unique Selling Proposition? Part of communicating value is showcasing why your product is different. What need are you solving? How have you created something different or better? This principle should guide all of your messaging so you customers never question why they should buy. You want them to need or want your work, and that all depends on how you show this.
- Where can you reach your customers? Beyond the place you should be selling, think about where conversations are most likely to happen. Is your audience really active on social media? Or are they still reading print outlets like magazines? Are there events that are tailored to your niche? Should you be networking one to one with buyers or focusing on a large group via email? There are countless options for promoting your art. Just make sure your time and money are spent in the right place to reach the right people.
Does that help you think more in depth about how your art skills can be a business? Ask yourself these questions to dig into what makes you unique and what the marketplace is missing out on that you can offer. For me, it was photography and promotional guidance for a niche group of handmade business owners and artists. For you, it may be custom wedding party jewelry or commissioned commemorative paintings. This may evolve over time as you develop your skills and connect more with your audience. I believe you can make a living off your passions as long as you put in the proper planning. If you're still not sure, consider working with a business coach. That outside perspective can help you narrow down the options and get started!