Are you waiting for opportunities to come to you?
Are you waiting to be asked to participate?
Are you hoping someone will see your art, buy it, or give you a show?
Are you hoping people will sign up for that workshop you worked so hard developing?
If any of these are true, you might have a bad case of the WAITS or the HOPES.
You’ve become complacent with your marketing. You’re happy to go through the motions around a routine you’ve created, and then wait passively for positive results.
There was a point when I was complacent about my marketing. I would write my blog posts every week and send teasers to my email list and post to Facebook and Twitter. (Yes, the fact that I was tweeting at the time dates my complacency.)
I was relying too much on the content I created for my existing email list without reaching out to new potential audiences. I’d post and then sit back and wait for something to happen.
As an aside … Sometimes I revisit topics like this because I need to hear them myself. Like your art practice, a successful business is also a practice—the result of dedicated time, experimentation, and consistency. We need to hear things repeatedly. We need to be reminded of possibilities.
My approach to creating content and sharing it worked really well for a long time—until my coach at the time challenged me to begin reaching out to new audiences.
This led to thinking more holistically about what a list is.
In my program Grow Your List, I define your list as much more than a database full of people who have opted into your emails.
Your list includes those people (that’s your email list) but it also includes friends, family, and those you encounter in everyday life: the parents you’ve befriended at your kids’ school, the coworkers at your day job, or the fellow parishioners at your church.
And, you must count social media connections among your list members.
At the same time, you cannot be beholden to the algorithms or whims of tech giants. For better results, you must take a more active role in your marketing. You must nestle in to the driver’s seat of your destiny.
The best way to do this is to be more human with your marketing. Communicate directly to individuals rather than relying on broadcasting to a larger audience, which you only hope will open your email or stumble upon your post.
More personal marketing not only yields better results, it actually makes it more fun. Yes, I just said marketing could be more fun, and it’s because you’re making personal connections rather than relying on algorithms.
If personal marketing appeals to you, I hope you’ll take a look at my learning program, Grow Your List.
It’s available on demand and includes 4 months of support from our community and the artist mentors on my team.
In this episode of The Art Biz, I give you a few scenarios with ideas for more active marketing through personal touches.
As I walk you through them, I’ll mention programs I have available to help you implement these ideas. But those are only asides.
Pay attention to the ideas in each situation and you’ll get a lot from this episode. (Or keep reading if you prefer.)
Ensuring You’re Not Wasting Time on Social Media
Passive social media marketing looks a little like the error I shared above. You send list emails, write posts, and share photos and videos. You like posts from people you follow. You accept friendships on Facebook and follow people back on Instagram.
This is all good. You need to do these things. But even if you are consistent with posting and liking and following, it’s still pretty lazy and kinda boring after a while.
To activate your social media, don’t wait to come across people and posts.
Seek out the people and businesses you really want to connect with. Take a few minutes right now to brainstorm a profile of someone you’d like to connect with on social media.
Friend them or follow them. Like their pages and posts, but also write thoughtful comments in response to their posts rather than simply liking them. This develops name recognition.
Take it one step further and promote their posts that have merit to your followers—perhaps on your personal Facebook profile or in Instagram stories. This is also a good use of Twitter if you’re still on that platform.
I can’t leave a discussion of activating social media without encouraging you to create a reliable editorial calendar for engaging content. It doesn’t have to be rigid or detailed. A simple framework provides direction and keeps you on topic.
Improving Exhibition and Sales Venues
Showing and selling your art passively means waiting for the knock on the door or the email in your inbox rather than going after what you want.
Here’s how you can activate your search for venues.
If you don’t already have a list or spreadsheet of potential venues, it’s time to make one. Not in your head, but on a piece of paper or your computer.
You want to create a document that you can track and refine over time.
You need to dig in and do the research to find the best venues for your art and goals. Make that spreadsheet and then track the actions you take toward seeing your art in those venues.
In my program Create Opportunities, I provide lessons that help you analyze and prioritize potential venues, attract galleries (and know that they’re right for you in the first place), and consider alternative venues. I even teach you how to write an exhibition proposal.
Benefitting from Exhibitions
Have you ever had a show and wondered why nobody came? Or why nothing sold?
The passive approach to exhibitions is to install your art and rely on the venue to attract an audience.
One step above that would be to send a postcard or an email blast to your whole list, make an event on Facebook, and post a photo to Instagram. Then sit back and hope people show up, buy, and tell others.
This is pretty much the norm. What more is there, you wonder? Wonder no more!
There are plenty of ways to reap the benefits from exhibitions by taking a more active approach.
Train the venue staff about your art, even (and perhaps especially) when it’s the wait staff at a restaurant. Share stories and selling points that they can share with visitors. Visit weekly to check in.
You want the staff to help you sell, so maybe give them a percentage of sales if they aren’t already earning it. Or reward them with a gift of art.
You might also host a VIP preview party and invite your top fans and collectors. People love special treatment and to think of themselves as VIPs. You always want to give white-glove service to those who have most strongly supported you.
While an exhibition is on view, schedule special private events for specific groups of people who need to see your art. Consider niche markets, community organizations, and business leaders.
Even planning and scheduling VIP events is rather hands off. You put it on a calendar or post and hope people come.
To be more proactive and for best results, communicate on a personal level throughout the planning and execution. Write notes by hand on the postcards you send. Send personal emails and direct messages to the people you most want to attend your private showing. Pick up the phone and, gasp!, dial your VIPs.
Boosting Gallery Relations
One reason artists seek gallery representation is because they don’t want to do the sales legwork themselves. But you have to sell yourself to the gallery in the first place. And you must continue nurturing that relationship. You’re relying on them to help you sell.
The passive approach to gallery relations is to deliver the art to the gallery, attend the opening, and cross your fingers.
As you can imagine, the world’s top gallerists would never stand for such a thing. They have profound relationships with their artists.
[ Listen to Qualities Galleries are Looking for in Their Artists with gallerist Jeremy Tessmer ]
By now you know there is a better way for you as well, even if you have to be the one to initiate it. As I said, you need your gallery’s fiercest support to move your art.
Activate the relationship with your gallery with any of these tips.
Call the gallery every 3 or 4 months, especially if you haven’t been in touch. Ask how you can help them sell more of your work. Notice that you aren’t complaining they’re not selling more work or accusing them of slacking off. You’re asking how you can be helpful. What can I do to help you sell more of my art so that we both benefit? Big difference.
This next suggestion for better gallery relations is more of a requirement. You must show up for the gallery’s other artists when they’re having shows or doing artist talks. Gallerists want to see that you’re supportive and engaged with the artists in their stable.
Now, can we talk about food? Not the infamous cheese and crackers of gallery openings. Let’s talk cookies.
Elizabeth St. Hilaire shared her secret for good gallery relations in this guest post: baking cookies and sending them in the mail to her gallerists. If you’re not a baker, find a resource like Dancing Deer Baking Company, which I’ve used plenty in the past.
This is a better strategy if you know food allergies. As someone who is Celiac and necessarily gluten free, I always feel bad when someone gifts me baked goods that I can’t eat. I don’t mind sharing the goodies with others, but I still feel bad.
While we’re on the topic of food, a gallerist in Santa Fe told me they love it when people bring them food because it’s difficult to leave the space during open hours. I never thought of that! Gallerists are kind of stuck there all day. Drop off food for your gallerist or one you are befriending. (I don’t recommend this as a first move, but one when you already have some kind of friendship in place.)
Filling Your Classes and Workshops
If your classes and workshops aren’t filling up, you might be waiting and hoping too much.
Maybe you put it in a newsletter and on social media a couple of times. Or you rely on the venue that hired you to attract students.
You must activate your teaching opportunities with the personal touch.
If you have been hired by another venue to teach, offer to write a guest blog post or newsletter article to help promote the event. Or suggest they organize a 30-minute Zoom session with you for their members.
After being hired by many venues to teach workshops, I know that I can promote my programs better than anyone—even the person with the built-in audience who is paying me. I’ve discovered that workshop organizers are grateful to have the marketing help.
Whenever you can, and you probably know what I’m going to say now, send a personal note (email, direct message, text, or real mail) to the people you most want to attend your class or workshop. Address each person by their first name and share something personal if you have a history with that person.
There’s no hard sell here. You only want people to sign up if it’s right for them. You just want them to know why you think the content might be a good fit.
We Need Both Passive and Active Marketing
We need both passive and active marketing, but our businesses suffer when we rely on passive alone. Broadcasting that newsletter or sending the social post is pretty impersonal. You’re sending to many people at once. For better results, think 1-on-1.
Yes, active marketing requires more work, as its description intimates, but I promise you’ll get better results and enjoy it more.
And because this blog and podcast are also forms of passive marketing, I invite you to email your questions and concerns anytime. You can also direct message me on Instagram where I’m @alysonstanfield. I’ll probably ask you to email me as well, but I’m happy to start there.
Learning Opportunities Mentioned
Throughout this episode, I have mentioned numerous programs that can help you with your marketing, but I only want you to enroll in them if you can do the work and implement the lessons. Here are the links.
Artists Who Have Activated Their Marketing
Originally published in 2014. Updated and republished October 17, 2018, and now, updated again with the addition of a podcast episode. Original comments remain intact.