The simple steps to selling your art online

I love processes.

I’m a total geek about them.

When it comes to knowing how to sell art online here is a simple, five step process to constantly refer to.

  1. Get traffic to your art website
  2. Grow your art newsletter
  3. Establish familiarity
  4. Invite your audience to collect your art
  5. Automate everything

1. Get traffic to your art website

This is actually a pretty complicated question, so I want to dig deep into it because it’s an essential ingredient to sell art online.

A lot of people will tell you:

  • “You need to do SEO.”
  • “You need to do advertising.”
  • “You need to get on social media.”

It’s important to remember there are different stages in your art business.

In each one of those stages, you can focus on different strategies and tactics. But you don’t need to overcomplicate things in the beginning.

At different stages, you can try different things, moving from beginner to more advanced later on. But you can’t do it all upfront.

For example, “pay per click,” (PPC) refers to paid advertising.

You’ve probably seen these types of ads on Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. PPC is great for more advanced businesses because when you get it working, it’s very scalable and provides a predictable ROI if you have a well-performing sales funnel.

For every dollar you put in, you might make two dollars, three dollars or even four dollars. It can be a really powerful tool to help your art business grow.

But the downside is that you need to know your numbers. You need to know what your LTV, or lifetime value, is for every art collector. You need to know your conversion numbers.

To really do PPC right, it also takes a lot of analytics. Most people hire other people to handle this for them.

That’s why I recommend you DON’T start with PPC ads. You should really wait to do this because there are better ways you can get free traffic in the early stages of growth.

Here’s another advanced online business topic: SEO or “Search engine optimization.”

SEO is when you type something into Google, results come up, you click, and you’re like, “Yes! This is exactly what I wanted.”

That’s an example of good SEO in action. This tool can be incredibly powerful for your online business.

Anytime that you generate leads or get traffic to your art website from SEO, you’re getting really high-quality people coming to your site with what’s called “search intent.” All that means is that the person was searching for what you have to offer.

The problem with SEO for artists is that it takes a lot of work and time to start seeing results. It’s also not directly in your control where you rank.

Google might change their policies or how they rank certain key terms. It also takes time for your site and posts to rank really well.

The best recommendation I have for you on SEO is to write authentically about you and your work on your art website. Writing blog posts about your creative process is a big part of selling art online. You may as well optimize each of your blog posts to target specific keywords. Then overtime, your blog posts will slowly generate traffic to your art website.

SEO is an easy win, but is slow. Which is why I don’t suggest relying on it in the early stages of your art business.

The BEST way to get traffic to your art website is by getting featured, getting interviewed, and creating guest posts.

Getting in front of the already established audiences of others is the most effective way you can start getting traffic to your art site.

Getting featured in front of the right audience tomorrow could mean hundreds or thousands of new people on your email list this week.

It doesn’t cost you money like PPC. It doesn’t require you to know your sales funnel conversion numbers as paid advertising does.

It’s actually really straightforward.

Getting in front of the already established audience of others just involves you reaching out to niche websites that have more traffic than you do and saying:

  • “Hey, I have something that I think your readers would find interesting.”
  • “Can I do a guest post for you?”
  • “Would you like to set-up a quick interview?” or “I see you feature _____, will you feature my work?”

To this day, I still get traffic from small features and quick write-ups I had on sites from over 5 years ago.

So how does it work?

First of all, you don’t need to go directly to top-notch niche websites in the beginning. That’s really important to understand. Don’t go find the biggest website related to the work you make on the planet and pitch them. It doesn’t make any sense, and you don’t have the credibility just yet.

Instead, you start off small, finding people who are one level above you, and you say, “Hey, I noticed that you have an audience that’s interested in this topic. I think that your readers will probably find my work interesting.”

Then based on the type of content they publish (interviews, guest posts, features, etc…) Ask to be a part of it.

Most niche website owners would love to feature you and your work. You’re making their job of creating content for their audiences easier by offering up you and your work.

As you get good at this, you’ll be able to leverage this domino effect of reaching out to larger and larger audiences.

For example, you could say, “Hi Niche Website #2, Nice to meet you. I did an interview with Niche Website #1. Their audience loved it! Do you think we could do an interview too?”

Then, you could do this again and again, and again.

You’ll keep moving up the chain, and, soon enough, you’ll be on massive sites. Resulting in the traffic you need to significantly grow your email list.

2. Grow your art newsletter

we’re going to talk about getting visitors to your website to actually sign-up for your art newsletter.

Which involves using what’s called – a lead magnet

Your lead magnet is a compelling reason for website visitors to signup for your mailing list.

This compelling reason is called your lead magnet.

A lead magnet is something you offer for free to compel the visitors to your art website to sign up for your email art newsletter.

Understand that asking and getting a stranger’s email address is a transaction.

You have to offer something of interest in return for their email address. Preferably something related to you and your art.

If what you offer is something people want and it seems to be worth going through the hassle (typing the email address, worrying about spam, etc…), you’ll gain a new email address to your art newsletter.

The speed of growing your art newsletter subscribers depends on your lead magnet.

Yes, the look, location on your site, and usability of the email optin form all matter – but the actual lead magnet itself is what ultimately get’s people to sign-up for your art newsletter.

The higher perceived value of this, the more email subscribers you’ll get.

Why should you create a lead magnet?

Even if someone comes to your website for the first time and LOVES your work. The chances of them ever coming back on their own is SLIM.

This has nothing to do with you or your art. It’s just how people behave online.

People have to be reminded and stay in the loop about you and your art. The most effective way for staying on the radar of your interested fans is with your email art newsletter.

Even if someone follows you on social media, the chances of them seeing your new content and updates is low. On social media you can expect 3-5% of your followers to see your new content.

On your email art newsletter, you can expect 40–60%+ of your subscribers to see your new content.

It takes time to build trust, instill confidence, and build a relationship with your fans before they decide to buy. Engaging with your mailing list establishes a relationship. A relationship based on consistent content surrounding you and your art.

This is the long game of sharing your ongoing creative story.

Having an attractive lead magnet will dramatically accelerate your email list building.

I’m offering a simple two minute video of me drawing a raven. That’s it. As soon as someone signs up, they’re taken to a simple thank you page on my website with the video.

If you’re just starting out, your could also create a 12-21 page downloadable PDF art book of your art.

This doesn’t have to be anything epic. Just a written intro, bio, and single image on each page will work. You can easily create this for free using Google Docs.

Downloadable PDFs are great lead magnets because they’re as tangible as you can get in the digital world. They’re a digital “thing” or “item”.

Other ideas could include a PDF of any of the following:

  • Who and what inspires you.
  • 3 of your most interesting blog posts (with images)
  • An illustrated story or comic (if this aligns to your work)

Creating a compelling lead magnet will be worth your initial investment of time in the long run if it means growing an audience of fans.

Remember, you’re putting in the hard work of getting traffic to your art website by doing the following three things:

  1. Getting featured on a relevant blog, website, or online publication.
  2. Getting interviewed
  3. Guest posting

So you want to make sure your lead magnet is interesting, compelling, and most importantly – related to your art.

You don’t want your lead magnet to be attractive to everyone, just your ideal collectors.

Sure, you could give away free iPads all you want, but how many of the people interested in those would be interested in actually buying your art later? Lead quality is very important and you only want to focus on your target audience.

Making a lead magnet that’s ultra-specific and aligned with what you’re ultimately selling (your art) is the best way to grow a highly engaged audience for your art business

Action item

  • Get creative and spend the day creating a lead magnet as an incentive for your website visitors to join your email list.
  • Send me a link to your lead magnet when you’re done.

3. Establish familiarity

The key ingredient for selling your art online is your ability to establish familiarity with your audience.

Familiarity is created by sharing your ongoing journey as an artist.

Sharing things like your sketchbook pages, the progress of what you’re working on, and other aspects about you and your work.

When you’ve established familiarity, the easier it’ll be to sell art online. It’s as simple as inviting your email list to collect your work in a chill and confident way.

Why should you have to worry about things you’re not in control of like galleries, social media algorithms, and trying to get famous when you can make art sales again and again with a small email list of fans.

Even if someone comes to your website and loves your work, the chances of them ever coming back to visit your site is SLIM.

This has nothing to do with you or your work, it’s just how people behave online. They have to be reminded of you so they’ll come back to your site and take action. The best way to do this is by focusing on making a compelling and easy for your website visitors to signup for your art newsletter.

After you share your creative behind-the-scenes and process with them for a while, then invite them to collect your work in a natural way. You’ll be able to sell art online.

So take your time to nurture the people who come in, show an interest, and most importantly join your email art newsletter.

People who sign up for your email list are massively more engaged than your social media followers.

Which is why it’s crucial you grow an audience on a platform you own – an email list.

On social media you can expect your followers to see 3-5% of your new content. With email, you can expect 40-60% of your audience to see your new content. There’s no algorithm to think about.

Personally I use ConvertKit to power the way I send emails to my art newsletter subscribers.

Once a week, I share my creative process with my email list. Simple things like sketchbook pages and random thoughts about my process.

A few times a year I invite my email list to collect my art. From selling limited edition prints, original art, or private commissions.

4. Invite your audience to collect your art

After you have been sharing your creative process for a while on your art newsletter, you’re ready to invite your audience to collect your art in a limited window of time.

This is also referred to as launching your art.

This can be anything from original art, limited edition prints, or limited slots for custom art commissions.

Today, we’re going to talk about the third, and probably the more overlooked part of selling art online:

  • Thing #3: Launching (a natural, storytelling way to generate art sales)

Launching is a natural, storytelling way to sell your art online

It doesn’t matter whether you make portraits, abstracts, comics, photographs, nudes, wildlife, landscape, or any other obscure kind of art – launching works.

Launching works because you’re finally able to attract the right audience, build a relationship with them, and make art sales in a chill, confident way.

When you eventually do your first art launch, you aren’t a stranger to your email list subscribers. You’re a familiar artist to them. They’ve been getting your weekly emails where you’ve been sharing what you’ve been working on.

Even artists with THOUSANDS of fans can’t sell their art without the right launch plan

Don’t fall into the trap of “announcing” your art. Which is what most artists do.

I learned about announcing the hard way…

A while back, when my email list was around 1,500+ subscribers I thought it would be easy to sell a handful of art prints I had collecting dust in my studio.

So one night before I went to bed, I sent out a quick email to my list announcing they were for sale. I went to bed expecting to wake up to a bunch of orders the next morning.

The results? I didn’t sell a single print.

Why? Because I sprang the print on my audience before I built up interest. I just announced it.

  • I didn’t get anyone excited, tell the backstory about the print, or create a fun sense of urgency to buy it.
  • I didn’t have a CONVERSATION with my email list about the print before I made it available for purchase.
  • I just announced it. Which wasn’t a great experience for my audience.

This same mistake is made all the time by artists who are puzzled why their THOUSANDS of fans don’t drive meaningful sales.

Taking your time to share your creative process and behind-the-scenes is ESSENTIAL to making art sales.

When you take the time to share what you’re working on at least once a week, your audience will never feel like they’re being “sold” to or spammed. They’re simply following along on your creative journey through thoughtful emails you send.

Ever notice how Hollywood sends out sneak peek trailers every month up to a year before a movie is released? Then the closer it is to launch weekend you start to hear more and more about the movie with actor interviews and behind-the-scenes?

They’ve turned the release of their movie into strategically planned launch.

Selling your art is no different.

What’s better about launching your art is that it’s way less complicated than a movie launch.

The simple act of sharing your creative process and behind-the-scenes with your email list once a week, you’re already building up to a launch.

Launching can seem complicated:

  • What do you write in these emails?
  • How do you time the sending of your emails?
  • How do you ask your audience to collect your work without sounding salesy?

This is where having a launching plan helps…

To make art sales you have to have a launch plan

A launch plan is a way to use strategically timed and written email to build-up to the moment you invite your email list to collect your work.

A launch plan helps you know:

  • how many emails to send
  • when to send them
  • what to write
  • how to ask for the sale without sounding salesy

There are three reasons launches create more sales than simply leaving your art products sit in your online store.

Perhaps the strongest reason people buy anything online is the sense of something going away. When there is a limited amount of time to collect something, it’ll prevent people from putting things off. “I’ll just get it later, my credit card is upstairs…”.

Scarcity is a natural part of selling art online. When there is a limited amount of something to collect, it’ll help generate more sales. Selling limited edition prints, scarcity is limited by how many prints their are.

Artist James Jean combines urgency and scarcity into his print launches by only opening a 24-hour window to collect a print. ONLY printing however many prints were purchased during this 24-hour window.

Perhaps the most powerful psychological reason people buy from artists online is the sense of reciprocity.

It’s like those moments someone randomly gives you an unexpected gift. The immediate sense of wanting to give back is reciprocity. Reciprocity is a natural side effect of consistently sharing your creative behind-the-scenes of what you’re working on every week.

It’s this combination of urgency, scarcity, and reciprocity that art launches encapsulate to generate sales.

From art launches you can do in the beginning if you have ZERO people on your email list. Simultaneously growing your email list WHILE making art sales. To automating the entire art launch process so you can make art sales while you’re out enjoying life or working on your art.

5. Automate everything

Automation is probably one of the most overlooked benefits of being able to sell art online. While nothing is ever completely automated, you can automate key parts of selling art online as you’ll always be making new work and sharing new content about your creative process.

Most of this automation resides in automating email sequences which establish familiarity.

Final thoughts on how to sell art online

The time you dedicate to sell art online shouldn’t feel like a strain on your energy and time.

All efforts to sell art online should be enjoyable for you – while also creating the most authentic experience for your audience when you invite them to collect your art.