6 Ways to Sabotage Your Art Business

By Carolyn Edlund

Do any of these business killers seem familiar? Many artists experience frustration from lack of sales without realizing they have sabotaged themselves.


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1. Remain in the dark

It makes sense that anyone in business should keep up with their industry, right? But many artists don’t have a true understanding and are unaware of the many ways they can market and sell their work.

The good news is that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to sell your art. There are plenty of really useful resources out there, from blogs about art marketing, to books and magazines, online courses, workshops and more that will teach you best practices. In fact, there is so much information that it’s hard to miss. Start educating yourself by reading regularly about the business of art, and consider how you can put that information into action and start moving forward.

2. Fail to plan

Do you have specific and measurable plans for your business? Anyone who is vague about what they want to accomplish can’t make a game plan to reach their goals. Create a written business plan. Write down the vision that you have for your business and the way you want to live. Set goals so that you can identify steps to reach them, and make note of your progress. The old maxim “Failing to plan is planning to fail” is very true.

3. Isolate yourself

Artists who work alone and don’t have a network of support are more likely to feel frustrated and unsure of whether they are taking the right steps in their business. A community is essential to getting feedback, finding more resources and sharing opportunities. Whether your outreach is joining a guild, attending an artist salon, or becoming active on social media, it will help keep those feelings of isolation at bay, and help you grow as an entrepreneur.

4. Take on too much

Perhaps you’d like to sell your photography, but you also want to start wholesaling pottery and by the way, you plan to write a book, too. Pursuing three different directions at once is a form of self-sabotage, and yet it’s very common.

Everything extra that you add to your plate slows down your progress. Choose your direction, and commit to it.  Indecision (which causes inaction) is a huge business killer that leaves artists wondering why they aren’t more successful in sales.

5. Take it personally

Presenting your art for sale is a public step. Many artists have very deep feelings about what they create, and tend to take comments, or lack of sales, very personally. Your work isn’t for everybody. Focus on your targeted market and find ways to reach them.

Selling your work to customers is actually more about them, not you. If someone says no, or gives you negative feedback, make note of anything there that is valuable to you, and then move on. Taking criticism or rejection personally can paralyze you and your business efforts.

6. Don’t follow up

In business, it’s all about the follow up. When you hear of an opportunity and don’t pursue it, you lose out. When you made one attempt to reach a prospect and never contact them again, you lose out. When you half-heartedly begin an email newsletter or blog or social media campaign and then fizzle, you lose out.

Business is built on a sustained effort of persistent, consistent contact and follow up to gain traction and market share.

How many more can you add to this list? Have you overcome self-sabotage to grow your art business successfully?


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  1. This is really good advice, Carolyn. As an art purchaser, I can vouch for the fact that an artist’s follow up with customers can be extremely important. Granted, this may not always be possible, but a short note/email from the artist after a sale can go a long way. When I purchased a painting years ago, the artist made a point of getting my contact info and followed up with a personal thank you note and a little history of how/when the work was created, which I really appreciated. As a result, I still follow this artist and continue to add his work to my collection.

    • Thanks Ann – great feedback! ♥ Artists, take note – buyers are looking for that connection from you and want to hear more. So make the effort, and reap the results!

  2. Excellent list and so SO true, Carolyn! As someone who mentors artists, I have seen each of these issues surface and stunt forward momentum.

    There is one more I would add: Being overly creative in looking for nontraditional ways to do the basics in business. For example, not having a business card that fits in a business card holder or hand-printing them or only putting a name and phone number and a little sketch with no other information.

    But the biggest mistake I see on an everyday basis: having below retail prices on websites and expecting to be able to sell wholesale to stores. And this is silent killer. You approach a buyer who then googles and then rejects your line. And more often then not, the artisan never has any clue why that store won’t buy their line.

    So I would add: Pricing on-line below full retail value. And to be clear what “full” means: to be safely non-competing the mark-up should be 2.5 plus shipping. Anything below that might be undercutting the better galleries and … gee don’t we all want to be in the “better” galleries?

    THANKS for this great post!

  3. This is so so true! I can say number 5 is what made me get out of selling my art. I took everything too personally. I still do. So for now I’d rather concentrate on other projects that i haven’t attached so much of my ego into. This article’s a keeper. Brilliant advise for any artist who is venturing out into the business side!

  4. how about websites not updated and blogs started but then abandoned!

  5. Great advice. Unfortunately I fall into a number of these catagories and I´ve only just started to realise the mistakes I´ve been making, some of which you have confirmed!! I have recently updated my website and realised yesterday that my website does not set out a clear purpose,

    • Mark, I think you have done well to identify the problem with your website. This is incredibly common. Setting out the results you want, and developing systems to reach them is really important for any business. Good luck with yours!

  6. I have contacted two reps with recommendations from friends and haven’t received responses from either one it gets very frustrating and I an unsure how to follow up.. James

    • James, one contact is rarely enough. Emails, phone calls, direct mail, connecting through social media – all can be useful. Without stalking these people, try to get in touch again. And understand that you need to reach out to quite a few prospects to close a deal. Sales reps consider 10-20% results to be successful.

      And, perhaps these reps are not a match for your work, in which case you should look elsewhere. Either way, be aware that reps are overrun by requests from artists. I get emails all the time asking me to be a rep and it’s not even something that I do!

      If you don’t make a connection that will help you sell your work, consider taking the bull by the horns. See this article http://www.artsyshark.com/2013/07/16/artist-agent/

  7. This was just what I needed to read today! I have printed it out and filed where I will see it regularly. Thank you!

  8. Insightful article! A bit painful also. I can see myself in a few of the situations. Thank you for making the track I need to get back onto so clear. Janice

  9. Thanks you, Carolyn, for this great article! I´ve been designing and selling my art dolls for three years now and every now and then I still make the mistake nr 4 – take on too much. Which really slows me down… but on the other hand, it is sometimes good to try out something new.

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