The photos above are Instagram posts of mine. 1. Example of the "husband as laborer" category, 2. Example of the "where you work" category, 3. Example of the "inspiration" category, 4. Example of the "process and challenges" categories.
On occasion, I share photos of me with my husband. He is a big part of my life (obviously) and also a huge mental, logistical and labor help in my business. Normally when I share photos of him, it’s either a big deal (like our fifth anniversary) or it’s him working his butt off to help me set up my tent at a festival, or because it’s something timely and I want to be part of a larger conversation on social (#optoutside over Thanksgiving weekend). Anyway, it is never, “Look how cute my husband is sitting on the couch. #weekendvibes.”
And then there’s politics/social movements…This is a tricky one. Traditionally, politics, religion and money aren’t good table manners. But, with social media, everyone’s opinion is a lot more “out there” and “important” than it used to be AND there is a lot going on in our country right now that many people feel compelled to take a stand on. Being a solopreneur is quite different than being a corporation. As a sole proprietor or single-member LLC, you don’t have shareholders or a board to answer to. If you say something offensive or that people disagree with, that is your own issue to work through. I choose to almost never post politically-charged things and when I do, it’s because I'm really fired up and very certain in my stance.
Two summers ago, after a spate of police killings, when all media outlets were awash with conversations about race relations, I posted a quote image with this, from John Steinbeck: “Try to understand men. If you understand each other, you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love.” Not very incendiary (I don’t think). And, if for some reason this were to upset someone who saw it on my Instagram, fine. I would probably rather not have one of my paintings hanging in their home.
That is a good rule of thumb for me: Do I feel strongly enough about this subject that if someone un-follows me and doesn’t buy from me because of this post, it will be worth it?
4. Treat it like a business
If you want to make money selling art and especially if you want it to be your full-time job, you need to treat it like a business. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that means you don’t get to spend all of your time painting. You need to keep records of your inventory and sales, you need to spend time marketing (building and updating a website, running social media, writing and sending out press releases), researching festivals and galleries to show at, tracking expenses and paying taxes, writing proposals for projects and drafting contracts, photographing inspiration material, checking in on clients, learning how to use a new credit card processing device, packing up paintings to ship – the list is literally endless. Do you want this? If not, that’s fine, that just means you have a hobby.
If you are, in fact, running a business, you are probably not spending more than 50% of your time on the actual art. When I was doing more freelance work, I heard a general guideline: It takes 25% of your time to get the work (marketing, networking, writing proposals), 25% of the time to maintain/grow your skillset (I thought that was kind of high) and then with the remaining 50%, you actually do the work.
I don’t do a stellar job tracking my hours, but I would say a great week is when I spend close to 75% of my time painting.
Right now I am in production mode and not really looking to drum up additional work. I am trying to roughly follow this schedule:
- 7:30-9 am: Do all my computer work – email, bookkeeping, picking photo options for commissions, writing this blog post, etc.
- 9-11 am: Work out, shower, get ready for the day, maybe unload the dishwasher.
- 11-5 pm: Paint
When you are treating your art endeavor like a business, that means you are in sales. Your whole objective is to sell [paintings]. Because if you are not selling them, you are not making money and for most people, that means you’ll have to go back to doing something else.
So, given that we’ve agreed we’re all in sales, we need to get good at closing sales and nurturing relationships. I’m not trying to turn you into a used car salesman. I want you to be great at helping people. Help them see how your art will bring them joy/peace/inspiration/whatever role you art serves, help them figure out which size works over their fireplace, help them by reminding them with a nice follow-up email that they saw you at a festival and really liked your work but were in the process of repainting their living room, help them by offering to bring both pieces over so they can decide which one is best in the space, help them by offering layaway.
I am not aggressive about trying to make sales, I just try to make it as easy as possible for people to say “yes” to me. Maria Brophy is very aggressive (but still in a helpful way) about making sales. I highly recommend reading her book, Art, Money, Success.
5. Deliver top-notch customer service
Delivering good customer service is part of treating your art like a business, but it’s so important that I wanted to separate it. I am splitting this section into three categories: communication, appreciation and helpfulness.
Frequent and clear communication is always important, but especially with high-dollar purchases and custom projects. I (try to) respond to all emails, calls and texts quickly and always am the one to initiate communication (to arrange shipping or delivery) after someone buys a painting through my website.
When I am working on a commission, I update the buyer frequently and offer to share progress updates. I am clear with them about what I am doing and set realistic expectations about timelines.
After selling a big painting, I often email to ask if the collector has hung the painting and if they are happy with it.
Even though I have now sold a lot of paintings, I am still thrilled with every sale and feel so honored that someone wants to hang my work in their home and pay me to pursue my dream. I try to convey this to them genuinely.
I include a thank you (on branded note cards, of course) with every painting sale and send holiday cards to my customers. I frequently deliver paintings to customers and when I do, it’s always without charge and at their convenience. For my top collectors, I sometimes offer a discount or even gift them paintings. I sell them frames at cost and don’t charge for my framing labor. I send calendars or note cards as gifts. I offer collectors first dibs on new series of paintings. I try to accommodate quick turn requests on commissions.
There is some overlap here with the things I mentioned when talking about closing a sale. Whether buying their first piece of real art ever, or adding the fiftieth painting to their collection, buying a painting can be a big decision. People are often buying them for personal reasons or to give as a special gift or to hang in a particular place (or all of the above). They want to feel confident in their purchase.
I try to be patient as we talk through what they want – remember, collectors often aren’t artists and they don’t have the same vocabulary that you do. They may struggle to articulate what they want. They may change their mind. Of course, it is important to set boundaries so you don’t get abused and not compensated for endless revision requests, but try to be accommodating. You want them to love the painting. Help them pick the right size for the space, help them evaluate color and composition options, be familiar with your inventory so you can recommend a painting they might like.
Alright, guys, that’s the end of this series for now. Thank you for reading!