The Art Biz ep. 102: Who Are The People On Your List and What Are They Doing There?

Long long ago in a land far away, during a time in between undergrad and grad school for my art history degrees, I was an administrative assistant to a US Senator. I wouldn’t know until much later how priceless that experience was.

For starters, it taught me the importance of a mailing list. (It also got me in a photo on the cover of the New York Times. But I digress.)

Why Your List Is Mission Critical

I quickly recognized that my boss’s donor list and the Rolodex on top of my desk (yes, it was that long ago) were the most cherished assets in our office. They were the source of campaign donations, community support, and wise counsel.

Later, as a museum curator and educator, I saw how much we relied on our members and donors for financial support. It was critical to keep them in the fold of the museum’s activities.

I want to make sure you understand just how important a mailing list is.

oil painting artist woman swimmingJessica Cook | on Art Biz Success
©Jessica Cook, Down and Around. Oil on cradled panel, 11 x 14 inches.

As I said, lists were indispensable to the Senator and to the three museums where I worked, which is probably why creating a database of names was the first thing I did when I started my business.

I focused on expanding my list by sending a newsletter with useful content every week beginning March 30, 2002.

That was a long time ago. In 2002 artists were hungry for knowledge about building their businesses. And I was fresh out of my work at the art museum, which was a job that required me to produce a great deal of content. That made the transition to writing content for artists easy, and it was relatively easy to attract people to my list because the market and virtual space weren’t saturated at that time.

Those were the good old days.

When You Neglect Your List

Some of the first questions I ask of a new client are about their list.

How many people are on your email list? What are you doing to build your list?
What do you send to your list? How can you make it more useful for them?
How frequently do you use your list? Are you consistent and reliable?
How do you keep your list? How do ensure its security?
How do you cultivate your list so that people feel like individuals and not just one of hundreds?

When clients aren’t getting good results, I can often trace it back to the fact that they’re neglecting their lists.

Your mailing list is the #1 marketing asset in your art business, but only if you continue to develop it and keep it warm. 

It contains the names of people who have asked to hear from you. Who have trusted you with their email address.

Acrylic painting of couple of porch swing artist Nancy Hoehn | on Art Biz Success
©Nancy Hoehn, Sitting in a Lovely Spot. Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 30 x 2 inches.

What is a List?

I should back up and tell you how I define “a list.” It kind of sounds like I’m talking about a single list of people, when you actually have multiple lists.

The default these days is to think of a list as an email list, which is made up of people who have opted in to receive your bulk emails. This is stored and automated in an email marketing platform like MailChimp, Constant Contact, or ConvertKit.

Your second list is a contact list where you store your network of buyers, collectors, VIPs, and leads. These people haven’t necessarily opted in to receiving regular emails from you, though there might be crossover with the names on your email list. The people on your contact list usually require a more personal touch, and there is much potential in your contact list.

There are other people in your life that must also be considered part of your list (in the broadest sense of the word). Think of all the people you know from other areas of your life. Maybe your kids’ school, church, or community organizations.

Then there are the people who follow you on social media. They may not be on your list now, but they’re vital. And they are good prospects for someday signing up for your list.

Who is on Your List?

We have to broaden our definition of what a list is. It isn’t simply a bunch of email addresses. It’s everyone you know. Think of these people in your life. I’ve identified 5 sweeping groups of people and the roles they might play in your art business.

See if these sound familiar.

Acrylic painting of boy in beany hat artist Claudia Dose | on Art Biz Success
©Claudia Dose, Beany. Acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16 x 0.75 inches.


The lurkers have been in your orbit f.o.r.e.v.e.r. They don’t comment, buy your art, or enroll in classes, but, apparently, they receive value from what you do because they stay on your list.

Don’t judge the lurkers! They are hunkered down now, but you never know when they’ll be ready for what you have to offer.

Some people might be on the periphery for years before they become collectors, students, clients, or raving fans. I’ve heard such stories repeatedly from artists, so don’t give up on the lurkers.


This is an interesting phenomenon: People who come and go in cycles.

They’ll pop up in numerous places for a while, and then Poof! They disappear—only to reappear later.

This might be more of a development in my business than in an artist’s business. I don’t know what causes them to disappear from my orbit for long stretches of time, or what compels them to reenter. But I’m here for them when they return.


I suspect you have a lot of drop-ins.

Someone told them about your work. They stumbled upon your tent at an art festival. Or they found you on the Instagram featured page. Maybe you talked with them or responded to their comments.

They didn’t sign up for your list or buy anything from you immediately so it’s easy to forget about them.

But what if you reengage them? What might be possible if you treated them like they had loads of potential?

Black and white drawing of two people with skyline artist Claire Stringer | on Art Biz Success
©Claire K. Stringer, It Became Clear. Ink wash on paper, 26 x 36 inches.


Your supporters are likely well connected. They show up at openings and events and reply to your emails.

You can probably count on certain supporters to refill the cheese tray or help you install the art.

Supporters might make small or single purchases, but they aren’t necessarily your best prospects. They mostly exist to lend a hand when you need it, cheer you on when you need it, and praise your art publicly to help you attract even more supporters.

Supporters love you and want to be a part of your world.


Fanatics can’t get enough of you.

They brag about your art to whomever will listen (and don’t judge when you use the proper whomever). They, as well as the supporters, think it’s really cool to know you. They might even ask for a stack of your cards that they can pass out.

Fanatics are likely to buy multiple originals from you and host an unveiling party at their home or office.

They urge their connections to attend your openings, and they share your posts and invitations.

Fanatics are your VIPs and you have to treat them well.

But the truth is, you have to treat all of these people well. You have to have a reliable system that attracts new people and nurtures them. You have to show that you care.

Does your digital presence do justice to the quality of your art?

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Erica Norelius, Dreaming of Sargent. Oil, 20 x 24 inches. Used with permission.
©Erica Norelius, Dreaming of Sargent. Oil, 20 x 24 inches. Used with permission.

Why It's Hard to Grow Your List

In no realistic world these days is growing an email list an easy task. The odds are stacked against you. Nobody wants more email!

The online space is too noisy. You are competing against not just other artists, but with all of the other messages in someone’s inbox.

It’s also, as you know, been difficult to grow lists because we’re not interacting in real life as we once did.

No, it isn’t easy to get people on your email list right now, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. It’s only going to get more difficult with passing time.

You have to try to find the right people. The small, narrowly-defined right people who love your art.

Why Language Matters

Watch the language you use and the energy around growing your list. In particular, I caution you against using the word “get,” as in How do I get more followers?

“Get” could mean anything. It could mean that you buy a list or sleazily grab email addresses from people who never requested to be on your list.

To my ears, getting sounds greedy and aggressive. The emphasis seems to be on quantity rather than quality. Like you’re only interested in the marketing numbers when you should be far more interested in connecting with people who, in turn, want to connect with your art.

You don’t just want numbers. You want the right individuals to add up to those numbers.

Stop looking for shortcuts. Start doing the hard (and much more interesting) work of caring about people and connecting with them authentically.

See people as more than numbers. See them for the individuals they are. They’re living, breathing human beings with big hearts and souls.

Instead of getting, I encourage you to think about attracting.

©Susan Fox, The Pink Scarf. Oil, 20 x 30 inches. Used with permission.
©Susan Fox, The Pink Scarf. Oil, 20 x 30 inches.

How to Attract More People to Your List

You can’t force anyone to be on your list. And you don’t want to beg because that looks needy and unprofessional.

Focus on attracting. On putting yourself out there so that you’re easier to find and follow. Here are some ways to do that.

Create content. As I said, this is how Art Biz Success took off and grew. This could be content for your site, which would mean that you have more text with your images or that you blog regularly. Simultaneously, you can think about optimizing your text for search engines so that you’re easier to find.

But it might be content for another site. If you’re interested in search engine optimization, you should consider content for Pinterest and YouTube, both powerful search engines.

And then there is content for social media posts. Images, text, videos, stories, reels. But you have to be active on these platforms in order to be effective. Not just posting, but commenting, responding, and interacting.

Don’t post social media updates because you have to. Do it because you want to deepen your relationship with your followers.

Care about the people who respond to your art and to your content. Recognize them, engage them, and remember them. Love them. Honor them.

They are part of your list, in the new way we’re now broadly defining the word “list.”

When you care about people and believe you have something of interest to share, it’s much easier to ask them if they’d like to be on your mailing list.

Speak. If you enjoy speaking about your art, do more of it. Put yourself on stage—even a space confined by the tiles of a gallery floor— and share your art with more people who are potential supporters and fanatics.

This is, in a sense, a form of networking—another worthwhile exercise for growing your list. I like to refer to it as being seen. Showing up for exhibitions, openings and artist talks in your area, which makes you a treasured member of your art community. In turn, you will meet buyers and collectors, and hear of opportunities that you would have missed if you had stayed home.

You could try print or digital advertising, but you can waste a lot of money if you don’t know what you’re doing.

You could give away a freebie, also known as a lead magnet, in exchange for someone’s email address. It’s easy for artists who teach and want to attract students to come up with something appealing to give away. It’s more difficult if you don’t teach, but I do have some ideas for freebies for non-teaching artists.

That brings me to the fuel that will power the growth of your list.

©Edrian Thomidis, Get More Bees With Honey. Ceramics, 14 x 12.5 x 11 inches. Used with permission.

©Edrian Thomidis, Get More Bees With Honey. Ceramics, 14 x 12.5 x 11 inches. Used with permission.

What Makes a Difference

You likely already know that you need to do these things to grow your list. You might even know exactly how to do them. But you haven’t dedicated the time for them. It keeps getting thrown to the back burner of your very full life.

What would it feel like to grow your list size by just 10% in 3 months? What would it take to do that?

You have to set the intention and give it your attention.

That’s what the new seasonal programs at Art Biz Success are all about. FOCUS. Really homing in on a critical aspect of your business.

This post was originally published on March 3, 2016 and has been updated with a podcast and the original comments intact.

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Your mailing list is your #1 marketing asset.

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44 thoughts on “The Art Biz ep. 102: Who Are The People On Your List and What Are They Doing There?”

  1. Thrilled to be one of your “Fanatics”. Just yesterday on a call with Alyson’s inner circle I learned of a glorious mistake I made… one of many as I travel this path. Having this safety net and deep well of wisdom, resources and support makes me be bolder both in my business and my art.

    1. Karen: I can’t really keep track of the lurkers. I can only nurture them by giving them free content (which I have done every week for 14 years – often even more frequently than that). The drop-ins – I have their names at least. I’m primarily interested in those who leave comments on the blog. I try my best to respond to all comments, which is one step. Not sure about the rest.

      We have to be sane about the process and give most of our attention to those who we can serve at a higher level.

  2. Great article 🙂 Not only do I have the groups mentioned, I feel like I could sometimes be in each one of these groups!! For example, I gather the information and percolate on it, sometimes for a lONG time (Lurker). I go in spurts with interacting socially online, FB, Instagram, LinkedIn, leaving comments– then try to stay offline for days when I have a deadline looming (Serial Peeps). I could go on and give an example for each, but I think you get the idea. Which makes me wonder about myself….

  3. For years, I hovered over the announcements-only Yahoo group (remember those?) I used to manage my subscribers, fussing over every person who unsubscribed. What am I doing wrong? Why are they leaving me?

    Then, I switched to a real paid email subscription service, that shows me who is opening emails, and who is clicking links. And that sort of changed my thinking about people who were leaving. If you’re not opening emails, maybe you’re too busy to hear from me. That’s OK—you can check in on FB, or Instagram when you have time. If you’re opening emails, but not clicking links, maybe I’m not talking about stuff in which you’re interested. If you unsubscribe, I’m sorry to see you go, but I understand that where I’m headed right now is not where you want to go. That’s OK, too.

    Also: I purge my list regularly, of people who haven’t opened an email in six months, so, about a dozen messages. They’re either way too busy to hear me, aren’t interested, or dead.

  4. I am totally a “Lurking Fan”! Can we make that a thing? I have received a lot from all that you have shared and I have a goal of joining one of your business coaching sessions, but since I started following you I have only just begun to get back in the studio. So for me the weekly emails have been my little encouragement to keep going for my dreams. And so far it has worked! I work in my studio “playing” and creating regularly, I just opened my Etsy page and I was featured on a local tv channel for my heartbeat paintings. So what you offer is a blessing, especially to this lurking fan! Thank you!

  5. I have lurkers and fanatics. I myself am a bit of a lurker but I save articles and go over them or print them out. I like to think about things and plan. I don’t comment much but I love your information you provide!!

  6. Hi,
    Drop-ins work for me.
    Living in Alaska with very few roads, the internet is for many a view and exchange medium into the world.
    Marketing drives me crazy but submitted eight drawings to be judged for a local Alaska resident only art grant.

  7. Thanks for posting my painting! I’ll be including the link in my next newsletter. :0)

    I’d consider most of my subscribers to be “supporters”. Some of them also follow me on Facebook. Many have been subscribers for years and years. Some are buyers and collectors. Some enjoy experiencing my adventures in Mongolia vicariously since they’ll never go there. I appreciate the loyalty of all of them and their support whether or not they are buyers. Since much of what I do has a conservation connection, it’s very valuable to me to have people follow me who are open to being educated about those issues, particularly endangered species.

  8. I am in agreement with Rebecca Dierickx because I’m in one of those categories at any point in time. My Art career has been going in cycles of ups and downs with having two little boys within the last three years, and still working a full-time job. I definitely love the raving fans but will take any of the other categories of fans as well. You never know when the next spark of interest will bring a sale or referral. Keep making Art everyone!

  9. Yep, I fall into all those categories on most emails I subscribe to. Life and art are busy, so depending on where I am, I am more engaged or not. Right now I am trying to propel my art career in a new locale, so I am more engaged here and in Alyson’s Inner Circle. And it is working.

    As far as my list goes, I relish every subscriber. I hope I bring them a little something with every post or email they see, even if they don’t actively engage. Sometimes, years later I get a note about my art and how it brightens their day. Or someone who wants something custom for their wife. And I am always honored. And those who unsubscribe, I completely understand…because I do that too!

  10. I probably fit into a couple of your categories! I have been a lurker for years, first started following your blog and newsletter at the very beginning! I’m also a serial peep because I come and go a LOT. Mainly because my life is so crazy, ie kids, business, school, etc!
    I have had people from all the above categories in my 20+ years as an artist. The fanatics are my favorites because I know where they stand. Lurkers surprise me from time to time. I’ve had many drop ins throughout the years.
    One of these days I will do something more than lurk on you, I have always wanted to attend one of your workshops. Money always seems to be an issue for me. That will change soon! 🙂

    1. Paula: You are more than a lurker. You hosted a book party for me in Albuquerque and help get I’d Rather Be in the Studio off the ground. Eight years ago! I’m still grateful.

  11. I guess I am a little bit of a lurker, serial peep and drop-in and slowly making my way up to the others… I usually read information to help me sort things out or validate what I am already doing. I’ll take any fan in any category above as they all help in one way or another. my focus is to get my work out there for as many people to see, which in turn helps with sales.

    Thank you for including my ceramic work on your post! I’ve already shared your post on social media and will be adding a blurb on my blog with a link as well.

  12. Luise Christensen-Howell

    Always enjoy reading your posts. As much for the generous information you give so freely as well as for the comments from other Artists. And I pass along links to your facebook page and blog to everyone that I think could benefit. I am “a fan” even though I do not interact very much. Over the last three years my Art Business has evolved in a different direction, more focused, more full time. By following you and links on your site I have been exposed to other, like minded Artists that have been working their craft for many years like me and still benefit from good, sensible advice. When I started in 1984 I had no idea this was a rest of my life passion. I wished I would have had access to your advice then. Thanks for all you share.

  13. Haha. I love this post. 🙂 I bought your Creative Content Camp program last year and it has helped tremendously. The process of building a brand has been a tedious, since I wear all hats (i.e. graphic designer, web developer, lifetime-learner-of-rapidly-changing-technology, social media marketer, writer, and finally, artist).

    Since then, I have spent months working on rebranding and implementing all the lessons and content that you’ve given. Still, there’s more work yet to be done. 🙂 But I know that it will pay off.

    Sometimes we suffer from information overload, so it’s hard to comment or respond to all the content is posted online. But I’d like to say thank you for the value that you’ve put out there. 🙂 -Jeanna

  14. Cary,Carolyn Davies

    Really l love your article this is very interesting,l really would love to do your sessions on line but l haven’t been able to understand the computer ,l have a iPad ,l feel l get very inspired by what you have to say thank you so much.Cheers Cary:)

  15. Thank you thank you thank you for all your generous advice and articles. I don’t always act on them, but I read them all faithfully and share links to your blog. Studio practice has always been easy for me to do and when I have free time, that’s where I head. It’s a lot harder to fit in the business of art but slowly, slowly, I am doing more of that. Much of that is due to your encouragement.

  16. I could fit into several of the categories, but especially the lurker & supporter! I’ve been to at least one of your events. I love reading your weekly e-mails and sharing them with artist friends that may not be familiar with you/your business. The information you have given has been invaluable and affirmative & encouraging! Thank you for all you do for the ARTISTS and the Art world!!

  17. Hello Alyson –

    I do not know if you will get this because I may not be able to answer the question that is asked in order for this post to go through –

    Which is rounder: square, triangle, rectangle, circle, hexagon or pentagon?

    I have just found your site because it was recommended to me from someone at the FASO team –

    but I would like to say that for a long time now and still I have not created any type of list because ——— I decided to focus on creating art – and now that I have over 500.000 images and the kind people of Imagekind (where I spent 10 years uploading 351,295 images over 10 years ) have decided to remove my collection from their site I have only a few thousand posts to Pinterest :

    to share with you besides the few images that I have placed on the FASO site linked to here –

    what I am puzzled about is that of course it seems to make sense that an artist is responsible for marketing – but little else is known about the subject from my world – but I am certainly not interested in attempting to find out or figure out what the people who have received my cards from my “Doubling Project”:

    over the years are doing (they number in the over 5 million range) – for I am sure with absolute certainty that if and when they are interested in find out what I am doing or if I am still alive and kicking and able to provide them with something that they need that they will – as always get in touch with me when they are good and ready – just as someone who wanted something today picked up the phone and called and is on his way here – today – Sunday for something that he wants –

  18. Hi Alyson! I’m confessing to being one of your “lurkers”! I took a workshop from you years ago and still keep up and love to read your e-mails! My career took a sharp downturn due to a bad (years long) bout with rheumatoid arthritis but I’m feeling better and planning to get back at it full time! Thank you for all you do!!!

  19. I’m generally a lurker on your list, I read parts n pieces and watch a video here and there, and am hoping to come to a coaching seminar soon. I’ve had a faux painting biz for 16 years, got back into canvas painting about 4 years ago, and just opened ARTSPaCE workshop+gallery in my town less than a year ago. I appreciate your experience and guidance, and could certainly use more:)

  20. I could label myself “all of the above”! Still out here, and still making art, though nothing you’d recognize from our sessions way back in 2004. I am dealing with an aging parent and an epileptic rescue dog, which means frequent interruptions and difficulty in focusing sometimes. I count on your newsletter to steer me back on course, whether I respond or not. Thank you so much, Coach!

  21. Pingback: Personalizing Your Marketing to Improve Results - Art Biz Success

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