How to Develop Your Art Business

As many creative people experience layoffs and furloughs, they’re wondering if and how they can monetize their art. Many of them already worked for theaters, theme parks, agencies, publications, or other companies, so they know a bit about business. However, there’s a big difference between providing your art for commercial purposes and forming a business to sell your own art.

That difference lies in your personal branding. Contrary to popular belief, a personal brand isn’t just for life coaches or motivational speakers. It’s for everyone who needs to promote their skills and gain clients/customers. If you’re a creative person who wants to monetize your art, you need a personal brand that drives your business. Here’s how to navigate the development of these two complementary things.

Create a Digital Presence

Believe it or not, it’s not always essential to have a website. Websites are the business cards of the virtual world: They only work if you’re getting people to look at them. That’s marketing 101: Identify whom you’d like to reach, then create a strategy that resonates with them. Without that basic step, you’re shooting in the dark.

The key is to craft a cohesive, compelling digital presence that entices your target audience. What this looks like for you depends on your sales funnel. If you want to monetize your art, you need to find ways to (a) capture an audience, (b) boost their interest in your product, and (c) convince them to make a purchase.

Situations in which you definitely need a website include: when you want to get leads (i.e. prospective customers or clients) through your website. That’s about it. If you can successfully direct traffic from your social media channels to your Etsy shop or Behance portfolio, you likely don’t need a separate website.

By the same token, you shouldn’t develop social media presences that you aren’t going to use. While it may be trendy to have a TikTok channel, for example, you should only start one if it suits your marketing strategy and you can devote time to it.

The main three components of a robust digital presence include:

  • high-value content that entices your target audience
  • a portfolio of your work
  • a way for people to contact you and buy your stuff

It’s that simple. What makes your digital presence unique is the particular combination of channels and content. For example, if you make crocheted gifts, you might have the following:

  • an Etsy shop where you sell your products
  • an Instagram where you highlight new products and share progress pics
  • a Facebook page where you share the latest news and promote certain products
  • a Patreon page where subscribers can get exclusive “behind-the-scenes” content or instructional videos

This is a great digital structure because it includes multiple ways to connect with your customers and earn income. Notice that in this hypothetical marketing strategy, each channel features different types of content. The key is to have a consistent brand experience across each platform. This brings us to…

Develop Your Personal Brand

A brand is a business’s personality. It includes the obvious brand elements, such as the logo and tagline, and it permeates the overall tone and style of the brand. Your personal brand should not only be in tune with who you are and the types of products you sell, but it should also resonate with your target audience. What appeals to them?

Think of your brand as a way to start a conversation — because it is. What can people expect from you? What value will you provide to them? How can you express yourself through your brand?

Branding is actually a creative process, but it looks a little different from most others. It’s like creating a piece of art that can be distilled and reshaped into multiple formats. Follow these steps to develop your personal brand and put it into action:

Decide whether to use your name or a business name. Some creative people, such as writers or painters, use their name (or a pen name), while others (especially artisans and designers) choose a separate business name. Check that no one else is using the name, then go ahead and secure the name on all of your desired channels (domain name, Instagram handle, etc).

Create a logo and visual branding elements. If you’re not a graphic designer, it’s well worth the investment to have a professional create these for you. A poorly designed or cheap-looking logo can negatively impact your brand reputation. You’ll also need design assets like fonts, banners, textures, frames, and stock photos that match your brand aesthetic. Use these assets consistently to give your visual branding a clean, professional look.

Write the content for your digital channels. No matter which channel(s) you’re operating, your “copy” (the written content that appears in your bio, product listings, etc) needs to match your brand and resonate with your target audience. Any misstep here can hurt your sales, so make sure that your copy is on-brand and to-the-point. Again, hiring a professional is a wise investment.

Tie it all together. Check for points of alignment along your different channels. Ask friends to review and make sure that anyone looking at your Instagram profile and your Etsy shop, for example, can tell that they are the same business.

Develop Your Pricing Model

Too many creative people underprice their work, whether out of desperation to obtain clients or belief that they aren’t “worth that much.” First of all, you’re likely worth more than you think you are. Remember, clients and customers always want to pay less, so just because they offer you a price doesn’t mean that’s “what you’re worth.”

Your pricing should reflect the time, materials, and value you provide to your clients and customers. There are many ways to price your work, but all methods should aim to help you make a profit. That’s the difference between being a hobbyist and being a professional artist.

Your pricing model depends somewhat on what you offer. For example, anyone providing creative services such as writing or graphic design generally charges either per-product or by-the-hour. Artisans and craftspeople tend to charge per product. Whichever way you choose, establish a base price to ensure that you’re not losing money, then add a “markup” so that you make a profit. Having this cushion will help make your business sustainable: A business that only makes its money back is a nonprofit — and you’re not a charity.

Create Passive Income Streams

While no source of income is truly passive — everything requires some work, at least initially — it’s a great idea to develop ways to make money in addition to selling products and services. Many creative people earn extra income through Patreon, where people can subscribe to you in exchange for exclusive content and perks (which might include physical gifts or art products). Other people have monetized their skills by offering e-courses and other educational content.

No matter your approach, ensure that you maintain a consistent brand identity across these channels. Keep in mind that any passive income stream requires upkeep: You can’t start a Patreon and then ignore it. Ensure that your marketing strategy includes all channels where you’re running your business.

Wrapping Up

Starting an art business is a highly rewarding experience, and it can be lucrative as well. If you start with a strong roadmap and well-defined brand, you’ll set yourself up for success down the line. Remember, building a business takes time. You should never assume that any new enterprise will help you “get rich quick.” Anything that promises to do so is probably selling you something.

Still, even during these troubled times, consistent effort and a well-thought-out strategy pay off. That’s why it’s so important to plan out your business before diving in. If you’ve already started, don’t worry: Take a step back and go through the steps above to refine your brand. Let go of any social media channels you’re not using. Then, start moving forward by heavily promoting your business through your personal network.

As with anything, a combination of persistence and consistency pays off. Remember, your art is worth the effort. Good luck!

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