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How to find the ideal buyer for your art : Don’t fish for trout when you want killer whales.

by Helen Aldous

I received a question from a reader the other day and it made me stop and think. She wrote:

I am trying to learn how to sell my art online and not having any success. The advice I read says, “find your target market” and “offer a solution”.

It might as well be Greek because I have no idea what they mean by those phrases.

I don’t have a “target market”. I am willing to sell my art to whomever is willing to buy it. As I’ve only sold a couple of things, I can’t come up with a “type” of person who buys my art. And it would be arrogant of me to decide I only want to sell to a certain kind of person, wouldn’t it?
As for “offer a solution”, my first reaction is “for what?” What is the problem to which I’m supposed to offer a solution? In my mind, I’m the one with the problem.

It’s easy to give out glib advice about working out your “target market”, “solutions” and “niches” but what does this actually mean in the cold hard light of the real world outside the rarefied atmosphere of a marketing agency, especially if you are new to selling your art? How do you find your ideal buyer, especially if you haven’t sold much yet? Well basically, ignore all the “target market”, “niche” buzzwords. A lot of it is down to common sense.

And so, as is my way… a story…

The gnarly fishermans tale…

A gnarly fisherman {with a beard} sets out bright and early for a days catch. He would dearly love to catch a killer whale. {I don’t even know if its possible to catch a killer whale and it’s technically not a fish but just bear with me on this one}. However, instead of heading to the ocean where killer whales abide, he heads for his local trout pond and casts his line, carefully baited with a lovely killer whale treat. He spends 12 hours in the freezing cold waiting to catch a killer whale but is sorely disappointed with only catching one solitary trout {the only strange trout in the pond with a taste for killer whale bait}. He heads home dejected and pretty much empty handed.

The next day he heads out bright and early and decides to head for the ocean instead. He has his tasty killer whale bait and extra strong rod. Within minutes he is hauling killer whale after killer whale into his boat. He’s in the right place with the right bait. Catching them is easy… He heads for home after a few hours happily laden down with 500 tonnes of Orca for his freezer.

Fish in the right place…

So basically, when selling your art, its the same thing. You have to fish in the right place with the right bait to be successful.

So, for example. If you specialise in delicate watercolours of Cornwall there is no point in spending a lot of time promoting them on a site like Deviant Art which specialises in gritty urban contemporary graphic based work.

Much better to seek out more relevant opportunities with an audience that more closely matches your work and concentrate your efforts there. You may find a bricks and mortar gallery that specialises in Cornish watercolours and caters to the tourists who come to Cornwall and want to buy a piece of art to remind them of the journey, or you may find a site online promoting Cornwall which you could advertise your work with. You would be reaching your target market.

Conversely, If your art is portraits of Death Metal stars painted in your own blood you may have a very limited audience in the Cornish Gallery. Sales will be slow.

And bait your hook right…

So what about the “offering a solution” bit? Is it possible for an artist to do this? Well yes. The artist who paints death metal stars in blood is the perfect solution for a death metal fan with a love of art, a bare wall and a desire for something to fill it.

The Cornish artist who paints the sea is a perfect solution for the holidaying couple who want to capture the magical essence of the Cornish coast back in their landlocked inner city flat.

If you place the right art in front of the right people you have the right bait on your hook and you are highly likely to make a sale.

So do I have to change my art to fit?

No. This is the great thing about the internet. Your potential audience is so large that it’s highly likely that whatever you create there is a group of people who will love it. Its just a case of finding the right outlet.

Think like a fish…

So how do you find the right outlet for your work? With a bit of market research that’s how… You need to THINK like your quarry.

So to sell Cornish art put yourself in the shoes of the couple heading there on holiday. If you were heading to Cornwall and liked art what kind of sites would you look at? What galleries would you visit? Where would you stay? What would you do? Where would you search online?

Thinking like this will help you outline a marketing strategy of which galleries to approach, what to include on your website and which marketing methods to employ.

Your online marketing mix may include

  • E-mail newsletters
  • Pages on your site of relevance to your target audience
  • Relevant Blog articles
  • Discussions on forums of relevance to the target audience
  • Posting your work on relevant showcase sites.
  • Interaction through Social Media sites popular with your target audience

You offline marketing mix may include

  • Contact with galleries which deal in the right kind of work
  • Coverage in local media
  • Attendance at art and craft events in the relevant area

Basically, now you have identified your target audience you know where to fish.

If you haven’t sold any of your own work yet, look at what other artists are doing and what sells. Research research research is the key.

Line up all your ducks…

If you get this right, making sales will be much easier. If you get it wrong you will waste a horrible amount of energy on something that is never going to fly so it’s really important to do your homework.

With selling art, online and off, you need to line up all your ducks in a row to make sales easier.

Do you have a question about selling art? Mail me here and it could make it into a post, probably involving an obtuse story about animals.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

CheyAnne November 27, 2010 at 4:33 pm

just Love your writing style. I even read the gnarly fishermans tale to my guy (as he is walking out the door to go catch us some trout) (for reals) anyway…. how true on these points. I sell on etsy but am so ready to go bigger.
peace n abundance,
CheyAnne
http://newmexicomtngirl.com

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Helen Aldous November 29, 2010 at 10:15 am

Thanks CheyAnne
You have some beautiful work on your site. Good luck with stepping up your work onto another level.

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Helen Aldous November 23, 2010 at 10:48 am

Jennie. That’s brilliant. So glad it helped!. Thanks!

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Jennie Rosenbaum November 23, 2010 at 4:17 am

Thankyou. just thankyou :) this is exactly the sort of thing that everyone needs to read and know! I’ve been doing this for a while now, selling well and I still was pretty unsure about things like target markets and filling solutions. the more sales sites I read and the more information I gathered the murkier the waters became. you’ve demystified it and put it into the right genre (art is not shoes!) and made it fun to boot :) thanks so much!

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Helen Aldous November 22, 2010 at 7:15 am

Moira.
It is confusing starting a newsletter but it can be simplified. Have a read of last weeks post which discusses starting an artists mailing list to send out a newsletter
http://www.artonomy.co/2010/11/11/why-is-an-artists-mailing-list-crucial-for-selling-art-lessons-from-%E2%80%9Cthe-apprentice%E2%80%9D/

I really don’t recommend using Outlook or your normal email system as the email you send is likely to get caught as spam or just break, and you don’t know how many people open or read your newsletter. Use http://www.mailchimp.com which is free. They have a large amount of video tutorials on there to get you started if you click the “Support” tab.

Then make sure your newsletter that you send out contains useful information. For example, news about new paintings you are working on or exclusive previews for collectors before your work is shown elsewhere. Good luck with it all.

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Bjarte Edvardsen November 21, 2010 at 6:34 pm

Thank you for this post, good read. To strive to think as the buyer would think is a great advice.

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moira elliott November 19, 2010 at 5:25 pm

That article was very helpful, and I find that the more research I do, the more I find answers to many of my problems – not surprising really! But, I hear frequently about writing various articles on “your newsletter” for clients to read etc. What exactly does this mean? Do I simply title something “Newsletter” next time I send an Email, and copy it to relevant people? Or is there some kind of attachment to my Email that I can click in some way?

While I’m at it, I do have a website: moiraelliott.com with a blog setting. But….how do I direct people to actually look at my blog, or for that matter my website?

Would you please be kind enough to offer some suggestions on these concerns?

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Helen Aldous November 18, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Absolutely Monette. I’m sure you know yourself in your area of work that the very words used can instil in someone a fear and make them turn off to an idea and run screaming in the opposite direction. If you can reframe its SO less intimidating.

{Monette does a great job of demystifying accounts and finance over at http://theartfulbusiness.com/ }

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Monette Satterfield November 18, 2010 at 2:58 pm

I love a good fish story! Seriously, you’re right about the terminology of business sometimes getting in the way of understanding. Good job of explaining and entertaining too :)

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