6 avoidable mistakes most artists make

Is this you?

Marketing expert Susan Sommers shares some of the common assumptions and mistakes artists make when marketing themselves.

1. Thinking they must be in a physical gallery.

Being represented by a gallery and having shows is not necessarily the magic bullet. Artists think, great, the gallery has a database and media connections, so the gallery will do great things for me! But between the 50% commission and the gallery’s expectations that the artist will contribute to the marketing effort, artists can be disappointed in the outcome. Just because the gallery seems to have the database and got some media coverage for another artist three months ago doesn’t mean you’re going to sell. You have to understand what a gallery can do for you and be realistic about what you can achieve. You should be looking at other options as well, such as restaurants, corporations, and government buildings as potential venues for shows.

2. Not defining their market clearly enough.

If you think the market for your art is “everyone who lives in a house or a condo and has some money,” you don’t stand a chance.

For example, Susan once asked a jeweller who her market was. “Anyone with money who lives in Forest Hill,” was the jeweller’s response. (We’ll call her Sparkle). Susan responded, “Great! Let’s put a table on a lawn in Forest Hill and wait for people to buy your jewellery.”

It was obvious that Sparkle didn’t know enough about her market and how to find potential buyers. First of all, not all wealthy women were going to buy her jewellery, notwithstanding their ability to afford it. So, how would she find her market?

Susan suggested that Sparkle start connecting with people: join networking groups; connect with a store; give a talk; or donate to a fundraising auction. By getting out there, Sparkle would begin to know personally the women who are actually interested in her jewellery. She would not only begin to identify specific characteristics, but also develop a database of potential customers.

3. Setting unrealistic goals.

I’m going to make a living from my art after a year of trying.
I’m going to sell out my art show.
I’m going to be discovered, and everyone will want me.

Steady on there, Ai Weiwei. Let’s be realistic.

At the risk of repeating ourselves, the first thing to do is define your market. You’re a painter. Where do you start? Start with “people who get people”: such as real estate agents (who will usually buy gifts for their clients upon a successful sale), interior designers, and architects.

Sometimes it’s a matter of going to people who can be your champion. How do you find these people?

  • Talk to people you know.
  • Join business associations.
  • Join community groups.
  • Volunteer for organizations.
  • Go to http://meetup.com

Here’s the key: you don’t always have to find the buyer. Find someone who can get you to the people you want to get to. Think of it as a strategic alliance. They benefit from being the source of a good recommendation, and you benefit from the increased exposure and, hopefully, a sale.

Most artists don’t do this. Most don’t think beyond finding the end buyer, or that “beyond” could be someone other than a gallery.

4. Only measuring success by sales.

To think success is defined only by sales is a real mistake. If, at the end of a year, you have few sales but have developed your network of contacts, increased your credibility, educated the public, connected with freelance writers, and gained media attention and exposure, those things have value. If you only look at sales and discount the other efforts, you risk becoming discouraged and giving up your outreach efforts.

5. Being isolated.

Don’t think that just because you’re an artist doesn’t mean there aren’t places of support. Join associations. Get involved with the community. Get involved on line. And don’t forget to support other artists! Go to their shows. Think collaboration, not competition.

6. Not following through.

Someone is interested in your art. Someone has given you his or her card. Someone has emailed you a question. Someone has bought your work.

Did you file their contact details? Do you respond in a timely, professional manner? Do you keep your customers updated on your career?

Follow up with ripe, delicious, juicy, low-hanging fruit (the easiest people or groups to connect with). Yet it’s remarkable how infrequently people do this.