In December of 2015 I decided I wanted to do a yearlong project where I would create and sell a piece of art every day of 2016.
When I started the process of researching how to turn this #AbstractAffirmationsDaily art project into prints, I was incredibly surprised to find that there is a staggering lack of information out there on how artists have been able to turn their creations into tangible, sellable items.
Trade secrets, perhaps? I don’t know.
What I do know is that many of you out there are creative people with an interest in making money doing what you love. (And I’m of the opinion that the world is a better place when more people are able to make money doing what they love.)
That’s why I want to offer this ongoing blog series, #SellYourArt. (Simple and to the point, yes?)
Throughout this series, my hope is to pull back the curtain a bit using my own experiences and report back on what I’m learning as I work toward selling prints of my artwork in the Made Vibrant Art Shop. Maybe it’ll help some of you take the plunge and start selling your art too!
Here are a few articles you can expect in the #SellYourArt series:
+ How to choose which platform to use to sell your art
+ How to estimate your business costs to see if your project is financially viable
+ How to choosing a printing method for your art prints
+ How to launch your shop using pre-orders
Let me just reiterate: I’m learning all of this for the very first time! I’m sure there are some of you out there that have experience selling your art online, and I hope we can start a helpful dialogue in the comments so that more makers out there will feel confident in getting their art out into the world and making it a financially sustainable part of their lives.
Now, on to the info!
Last week I shared with you the launch of the Abstract Affirmations blog feed to house each daily art piece and post.
The purpose of that was both personal — I wanted a place to see the entire collection together — and strategic — it’s important to build visibility and buzz for your work if you want to create enough demand to make money from a shop.
In this post though, I want to share with you the first few steps I took in the journey to launching the Art Shop, beginning with figuring out what platform to use to host my shop and handle the printing/order fulfillment of my art prints.
Determine how you want to sell, print & ship your art prints.
Based on my limited consumer knowledge, I saw my options for selling my art falling into three slightly different buckets:
- Use a third-party creative marketplace to handle printing & fulfillment shipping. (Included in this bucket are sites like Society6, RedBubble, Zazzle and FineArtAmerica. With these sites you simply upload your artwork and the service prints it on a number of different product options.)
- Use a third-party “store” to sell but handle printing & fulfillment/shipping myself. (Includes sites like Etsy and StoreEnvy.)
- Handle everything through my site and do the printing & fulfillment/shipping myself.
As I considered each option, I saw definite benefits and drawbacks to each, which I’ll list out for you here:
Third-party marketplace (ex. Society6, RedBubble, FineArtAmerica, Zazzle, Printful.)
- Low time investment. This option requires the least amount of time/effort investment by far. All I would have to do is upload my artwork, set my price, and the rest of the process is done for me.
- Low financial investment. It is also the lowest risk option since the printing is done on-demand and there’s essentially no initial investment (in packaging or printing.)
- Visibility of an untapped audience. Also, by selling through a marketplace, you get the benefit of additional visibility and discover-ability on that marketplace (yep, made that word up.) Most of these sites make it easy to “discover new artists.”
- No quality assurance/personal touch. Because you remove yourself from the process, using one of these services mean you don’t see or touch the merchandise before it gets shipped. This means you can’t assure there aren’t printing defects or flaws, plus you don’t have the ability to inject your own branding or packaging.
- Restricted margins. The way that you’re able to make money with these sites is usually that they provide you with a base price for whatever product you want to sell and then you get to set the retail price at whatever you want above that. The third-party keeps the base price amount and you only get to take home your “margin” or whatever you charge on top of the base price. If you want to keep your prices reasonable, this means you might only be making $10-$15 per piece you sell. And because you don’t control how the products are manufactured, there’s no way for you to improve those margins by lowering your costs.
Third-party store. (ex. Etsy, StoreEnvy)
- Artist/handmade search engine. That’s pretty much what Etsy is. It’s arguably the most well-known place to shop individual makers, and they have a lot of power in the visibility that can bring. I’ve heard a lot of success stories of artists doing well on Etsy, especially when they can get things off the ground with an existing audience. Basically I see it as a great way to find new customers.
- Pulls focus away from your site. If you’re listing your products on Etsy, your customers are having to go to a whole different sandbox to buy. The brand experience from browsing to checkout is essentially controlled by Etsy. And if you’re a business that relies on other sources of revenue (like myself), you’re essentially sending people AWAY from you, not pulling them toward you.
Do the whole kit and kaboodle yourself!
- Maximum control. The truth is, I’ve worked really hard to build the Made Vibrant community brick by brick and I want to make sure that I’m able to create the best buying experience possible for customers. I want to see each print as it gets packed and to know that the quality is up to my standards. I want to send a happy note along with every package and to feel connected to the process. I also want to be able to control my costs and have total say in what my margins are so that I can make sure this endeavor is contributing as efficiently as possible to the financial success of my business.
- Largest time, effort and financial investment. This option is by far the most complicated, and I know that. Getting the printing done is a beast all its own, but so is managing orders, handling shipments, and posting products to my website. There are a lot of moving parts, and as of now it’s just myself and my assistant, Laura, taking it on ourselves. The downside of taking on everything yourself is that you risk having it overwhelm your time and other projects you might want to tackle.
So, what were the defining factors that led me to Option 3?
Well, as I do with all business decisions, I had to take a step back and ask myself: What do I VALUE most?
When it came down to it, I value having maximum control over the buying and shipping experience. I want the entire process to feel like Made Vibrant through and through, from the buying experience to getting your package in the mail. And I’m willing to take on the risks associated with that because I also highly value learning. I know that things are almost guaranteed not to go according to plan but I look forward to facing those challenges and adaption (and sharing every bit of it with you guys!)
I also feel comfortable enough with the audience I’ve built up on my own through this email list and on Instagram that the allure of using a third-party site wasn’t enough to persuade me to take the experience off my website and onto another. If I was an artist just starting out with no audience, I think I’d probably choose Option 1 or Option 2.
Anyway, I hope that helps some of you with the same big looming question I had in the beginning: Which platform do I use?
Of course, this was just one decision in a whole string of decisions I had to make when it comes to selling my art, but I look forward to sharing that with you guys in the coming weeks!
Next up I’ll be sharing with you how I estimated my costs and revenue before embarking on this endeavor so I could make sure selling my art was a sound investment of my time and money.
Side note: thanks to Self-Made Society email subscriber and artist Kristin Cronic for replying back to one of my emails with the RedBubble/FineArtAmerica options which made me realize I should go over these platforms more in-depth!