by Carolyn Edlund
Want to grow a solid creative business? Build your list.
Gallery owners and managers who represent artists reach out frequently to their hard-won list of collectors and others interested in viewing and buying artwork. They invite them to gallery openings and events, introduce them to new art in the gallery, or close a sale.
Promoters of fairs, festivals and trade shows use their lists of exhibitors and buyers to put together the best possible events they can. Built over years of marketing, cultivating, and communicating, their lists are some of the most valuable business assets they have.
Publications and blogs depend on all-important lists of subscribers to read and share their valuable information. They contact existing and potential advertisers who are on other lists, to drive income that sustains their businesses.
As an individual artist, you also need solid lists that you grow over time, for the purpose of marketing and making sales and repeat sales. These lists contain names and information about people who have purchased your work, and others who have expressed interest. You may have a list of galleries that are suitable for your work. You may have lists of press contacts, potential wholesale buyers, licensees, or others that pertain to your particular situation. Each one can be incredibly useful to your small business.
Are you building lists for your own art business? As you network within your peer group, art community, or your marketplace, make note of those people who respond to you. The purpose of marketing is to capture interest that may lead to a sale. All the hard work you do developing your website, using social media, making appearances, attending exhibitions, fairs and festivals, open studios, etc. gives you the opportunity to gather and compile lists of people who have that interest in you and in your artwork.
Then, you will need to stay in touch with them.
List building and communicating with people on those lists are activities crucial to networking and building relationships that strengthen your business. But many times, artists don’t create lists or have a strategy to use them. They may be confused, or a bit uncomfortable, feeling that they don’t want to bother people. If that describes you, I strongly suggest that you revisit the idea of marketing to a list of friendly people who want to hear from you. Plan the activities you will use to connect, and act consistently. It takes time to see the results.
The simple truth is that in this noisy, cluttered world you have to initiate contact over and over again to be noticed and remembered. Your audience is not very likely to see your work once and make a purchase, unless you are incredibly lucky to reach them when they are ready to buy. More likely, you have to become known to your audience, and place your name and your brand and your work in front of them often enough that they remember you, and come to you to make a purchase when the time is right.
Gathering names for your list may be as simple as placing a subscriber box on your website or blog, putting out a guest book at a show or event, or exchanging business cards with those you meet in person. Cultivate subscribers on your social media pages and get permission to reach out to them.
Then, send emails on a monthly basis with new work in progress, events and announcements that engage your readers. Mail invitations for your next studio sale to a list of local people who’ve expressed interest. Send marketing packets to prospective buyers and invite them to your next trade show.
Email and list expert Lori Feldman (also known as the Database Diva) is adamant about the importance of building lists for your business. “A mailing list is the top business asset artists have – it’s not your inventory of unsold works,” she says. “I tell my clients 100 names of buyers is a great start. But you should aim for 1,500 names minimum of *everyone*: family, friends, friends of friends, your kids’ teachers, visitors to your booth if you do shows, art critics, event promoters, gallery owners, literally everyone you ever have a conversation with about what you do. You just never know who knows who. Keeping your own list is time consuming, yes, but it’s a direct line to buyers and influencers of buyers of your work.”
Contacting your list in a consistent and professional manner over the course of time, is what will drive eventual sales for your small creative business. It’s not easy, fast or glamorous; it’s a lot of hard work and often frustrating. Sales professionals and entrepreneurs of all types know that this has always been the way to grow a business.
Some of the methods have changed as technology makes the world smaller and more accessible, which is good news. But the old-fashioned truth is that growing trust, connections and business relationships will do more to help you succeed than anything else. And building a solid list is a good way to start.