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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
I have that for you inside of a new program for this fall. It’s called GROW YOUR LIST and it starts September 28.
Imagine the difference it would make to focus on growing and nurturing your list for 3 months.
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.
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.
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.
Starting September 28, our focus through the end of the year will be Grow Your List.
This is the first of the new seasonal programs at Art Biz Success, which will stress implementation over information. You need more than a book, video, or PDF download during the implementation phase. You need to be around others who are either doing the same thing or who have done the same thing in the past.
We’re going to give you the structure, online home base, on-demand learning modules if you need them, and live events where you connect with our other artists and receive training from me.
And we meet you wherever you are in your art business and regardless of the media you work in.
The information is valuable, but, as I said, the biggest value is in giving this your attention and doing it alongside other artists around the world who are working toward the same goal.
——> I hope you’ll join me for Grow Your List <——
This post was originally published on March 3, 2016 and has been updated with a podcast and the original comments intact.