This month, I'm working on a number of different projects. Editing and launching a new art business course. Talking with art organizations about potential workshops. Implementing a new email campaign series for the nonprofit I run. Reaching out personally to a hundred prospective customers.
Most of my efforts will fail, but this is part of the reality of business. Marketing and sales is a numbers game, and any good salesperson can tell you that if you close 10 - 20% of your prospects, you have done well.
The vast majority of attempts you make to market and sell will result in rejection, and as an artist, that might be hard to face. But as you gain experience, you will toughen up, be able to hear "No" without flinching, and move on to the next opportunity. To be successful, you must be willing to keep going despite difficult days, slow months and long droughts. It happens. Amazing opportunities also happen, and sales you didn't predict. Those sales might seem like gifts, but you actually earned them. You earned them through persistence and professionalism and simply not giving up.
I recently spoke to a gallery owner who had been notified by her biggest corporate customer that they no longer needed her services. She was shocked. "I'm losing one third of my business. What will I do?" she asked. But the truth is that she's an entrepreneur who built that business in the first place. In the back of her mind, she already knew what she would do - get back to work and fill the gap left by that client. She would plan and prospect and find new customers for her gallery. She had done it before, and it could be done again. Setbacks are part of the flow of business. But you already know that, because you've experienced them.
Another entrepreneur I know is an artist who realized there was an unfilled need for public art in his area, and took the initiative to speak to business leaders and make some big projects happen. He ended up creating a profitable business in a market that did not yet exist, by perceiving of opportunities and taking advantage of them. It was a lot of hard work and paid off. Then, he called me up and sold me on the idea of speaking at a workshop about how other artists can do the same thing - even though it was something I didn't even know I needed.
All it takes sometimes is the willingness to reach out and take the chance that this time, your marketing will not fail. Start growing a network of contacts and prospective customers and speak with them. Do it often.
I am pitched every single day by people who want to sell me things, and I'm sure you are too. Most of them you just ignore. Others are interesting, but it's not the right time or may not fit your budget. Once in a while something comes along that really fills a need you have or gets you excited, and that's when you make a purchase.
Your customers are the same way. The vast majority of people in the world don't ever buy art or handmade items. They might pick up something at Target to hang on the wall, and that's fine; they aren't your customers anyway. The people who do care about original art are fewer. And the ones who care about your art are fewer still. So when you find those prospective customers, don't let them get away. Speak with them, listen to them, gather their contact information, and stay in touch.
That list of prospects is essential to growing your business. Even though they might be raving fans and love what you do, most of them aren't going to make a purchase, at least the first time you come in contact. Over time as you follow up and reach out and present your newest work, some will say yes and buy from you. Then, they become part of another list, and this is your collector list. These are people you will always want to stay in touch with, because repeat sales are easier to make than first time sales, and the word "collector" pretty much means you need more than one, doesn't it?
Making art can be exciting, fulfilling and just plain fun. Marketing and selling it may not fill you with the same emotions. But if you want to earn your living as an artist, you are also a salesperson. One who knows that a 10-20% close rate is successful. So get out there even though you know that almost every attempt will fail. Don't give up. Keep on going.