Success By the Numbers

By Carolyn Edlund

How to increase the odds of selling your artwork.


Image Courtesy Charles Ott


If you consider yourself a right-brain creative, you may never have heard of Sandler Training. It’s a well-known company teaching salespeople how to sell more successfully. Why should you care about this? Because artists, like other small business people, must market and sell their work to make a living. One basic principle of the Sandler system: You don’t have to like prospecting; you just have to do it.

This means that you must search out opportunities to make sales, and make contact. As much as this might make you cringe, it’s better to find out how to do it well, and get over your initial fears.

A perfect example of an artist who understands prospecting is Charles Ott, who recently talked about his efforts to find licensing deals with manufacturers. Charles said:

“I sent out over a hundred inquiries last Friday to companies looking to license art for their products. Received an email today from the president of a national company who is interested in four of my digital illustrations for their product design company.

You have to be persistent, and I believe it’s power in numbers. The more you make an effort to make it happen/get your work out there to whomever, something good is bound to happen. I have another list of potential manufacturers I found tonight thru the International Housewares Association, and I found a ton of great links to manufacturers and distributors and art publishing companies on”

There is power in numbers – in fact it’s a numbers game:

  • You need 10-12 contacts with someone before they really remember your company name
  • It normally takes 5-7 attempts to get through to someone
  • Most purchases are made after five contacts – and most business people give up after making only 1 or 2
  • Direct mail  response rate is usually in the 2–3% range

You might have a mental picture of cold calling and getting the bum’s rush out the door from an angry prospect – but that’s hardly true. As an artist or craftsperson, you will have a carefully selected targeted prospect list. They may be galleries, retailer buyers, interior designers, architects, collectors, or perhaps manufacturers like the ones Charles is targeting.

First you must do the hard work of locating the right prospects for what you want to sell.

Luckily, it’s easy to check out websites with lots of information about people who may be interested in your work. Use directories, or even check out artists with other lines that are compatible with yours and looking at the retailer listings on their sites, then go to the retailer’s website. Are you a match? Get the contact information for the decision maker and put this on your prospect list. If they accept submissions from artists, follow directions exactly.

More hard work is required in constructing your message.

Why should they buy from you? What does your work offer that is different? What are the benefits to them? Customize your message to the needs of each prospect, in a way that shows you understand what their business is about. Your message should be direct, concise and short. You are trying to get them interested, not close the deal.

Then, you must take massive action.

Send out your emails and letters, or make phone calls to your prospect list. Don’t quit. Keep going. If you don’t reach them, try again. Once you make the initial contact, stay in touch. Follow up is the most important part of the process.

Most of your prospects will give you a “no” or won’t respond. This doesn’t reflect on you or your work. It means that they are not interested for any number of reasons at the time you are contacting them. Keep them on your list for regular follow up contact anyway. They may be a future customer.

If you are serious enough about your business to pursue appropriate prospects on a regular basis, you will get positive responses eventually, and some traction. Prospecting is like panning for gold. Most of what you get doesn’t work out, but you will find some nuggets you can turn into money-making opportunities.

You make a sale, and then – more sales. Your perseverance will lead to carving out a business that begins to thrive.  You can also turn your existing customer list into a referral base for selling even more of your work. Once you get those referrals, you have more prospects to work on – and they are “warm leads,” which are even easier to sell. Professional salespeople get giddy over referral leads, because they increase the odds of making a sale to 50-75%.

Many artists have gotten names of referrals, or have a list of interested prospects from places such as trade shows (think of how valuable these are, considering the time and effort involved in prospecting the hard way.) It’s amazing the number of people who have this type of prospect in hand and never follow up. Resolve not to be one of those people! Don’t throw opportunities away.

An extra benefit of going through the prospecting experience is that you begin to overcome your fear of doing it. You come to understand that this is business – not personal rejection. If you get a “No,” then move on to the next one. As you gain interest from prospects, and sales, you will become much more confident. That confidence and experience and success breeds more success. It’s all in the numbers.


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  1. Thank you Carolyn for featuring my illustration work and my self-motivational marketing initiative and tactics with your artists and blog readers. You always have very helpful information and links, along with many of the accomplished professionals in the art community who are featured in your blogroll on the left-hand side of your blog.

  2. Great, thought provoking information……thank you.


  3. Brilliant piece! Too many “artists” treat their career like a hobby or think that somehow creating the work is enough. When people ask me what business I’m in, my answer is MARKETING! The paintings I create just happen to be my product.

    • Marti, I have gotten some raised eyebrows espousing a “sales mentality” but I challenge anyone to make a living if they don’t sell. Understanding the marketing and sales process is essential if you are in business.

  4. This is incredible advice, thank You.

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