Smart Advice for Artists Who Want To Make Money

Photo by Bruce Mars on Unsplash

Summertime marks the peak season for local art fairs and festivals. Here in the Twin Cities we have a dozen or more major art fairs between May and September.

Hundreds of thousands of people will attend these events over the next few months. If you are an artist or creative professional who plans to make at least part of your living by selling your work, there is one thing you absolutely must do if you want to sell more of your work and put more money in your pocket: grow your email list and learn to market yourself.

No one will buy your work if they don’t know who are or where to find you.

Let me tell you a story to show you what I mean.

Adam Turman and Cathy Branch. Adam Turman Garage Sale.

A couple weeks ago my Mom and I made plans to go to the Adam Turman Garage Sale, then on to the Stone Arch Bridge Festival in NE Minneapolis. To learn more about Adam Turman and his work, check out his website or click here.

My Mom’s been buying Adam’s work since the days when the “garage sale” was actually held in his St. Louis Park garage.

His success has grown over the years. Today, he has a huge booth at the MN State Fair, his FaceBook and Instagram accounts boast thousands of followers, and needless to say, he outgrew his garage a long time ago.

This year’s sale was being held at Steel Toe Brewing in St. Louis Park. We knew it would be busy so we left my house at 7:30 on a rainy Saturday morning hoping to beat the rush.

Despite the early hour we found a full parking lot and at least one hundred people rifling through the stacks of prints, posters and merchandise when we arrived. There were even a few people seated at the bar getting an early taste of Steel Toe’s Size 7 IPA.

Somehow word about the sale had gotten out and we were not alone. Despite the weather, competition from other events and even the closing of I-35W, Adam was doing a brisk business. Before we left, I managed to add a couple prints to my personal collection and bought another for a gift. My mom and I even got to meet Adam and chat with him briefly before we dashed back out to the car trying to dodge the rain that had been falling all morning.

Next stop: the Stone Arch Bridge Festival in NE Minneapolis.

Most weekends I am busy with kid activities, family responsibilities or other commitments. But when I can, I love to spend a lazy Saturday morning (or longer) putzing about an art fair discovering new artists, talking to them about their work, and occasionally buying a piece or two for myself.

My mom and I made it to the Stone Arch Bridge later that morning. By then the rain had stopped. The sun was trying to break out and fair goers were filling the streets.

After making a small purchase from one of the art vendors I noticed that I had the option to have my receipt e-mailed to me. So I asked, “If I get an email receipt, would that automatically add me to your email list?”

The artist said, “Oh, no. We would never do that. We don’t collect our customers’ emails.”

“What about FaceBook or Instagram? Could I follow you there?”

I explained that I wouldn’t mind being added to her list and that as a customer and fan of her work, I would love to get updates from time to time. If she didn’t want to manage an email list, maybe she should set up one or two social media accounts where I could keep up on her latest events, her work or any special promotions she might have.

I told her she was leaving money on the table.

She wrinkled her eyebrow and told me that she should give it some thought.

This made me wonder how many artists actually collect emails and actively grow their list to help build their business. How do they use social media? What are they doing to market themselves and stay in touch with their fans?

In my informal, unscientific survey I found that most of the artists I talked to that day don’t have an email list. Many have a website, but most were either not active on social media or they didn’t know how to use it to grow their customer base. In short, they weren’t marketing themselves and getting the word out about their work.

My best financial advice for artists and other creative professionals: build your email list and learn how to market yourself!

Marketing and sales aren’t dirty words. They are not even “necessary evils”. They are essential parts of a thriving business.

As I looked around this artist’s booth, I notice that I was the only one there. There was no line. No one was competing with me to get her best work before it sold out. It was just me and a struggling artist talking about the merits of having an email list and a marketing strategy to help grow her business. She had great art, but it wasn’t going to sell itself.

I wondered how much better this person’s life would be if they could sell more art. How much more could they do with their talent? How much more could they do for their family, their community or others around them?

Then I remembered Adam Turman. I bet he has an email list. And I am pretty sure I am on it.