by Patrice Lewis

Courtesy of The Crafts Report
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In the pride of accomplishment that comes with mastering a medium, many artists and crafters forget that one of the most important components of success is being able to convince others to buy their work. While reducing one's art to dollars and cents may seem crude, vulgar, and a violation of the purity of the art form, nonetheless, being able to sell your work marks the difference between an amateur and a pro.

But how to sell? How do you get the word out that you have a product for sale? The usual routes (craft shows, eBay, Etsy, a website, a blog, Facebook) are excellent ideas and should be used to the fullest extent possible. But is there anything new in the marketing arena for crafters?

I spoke with a number of successful artists and crafters to get their suggestions on successful marketing for artists and crafters.

The Importance of Name Recognition
Internationally recognized artist and designer Pablo Solomon (www.pablosolomon.com) noted the two biggest mistakes artists and crafters make are not to approach their career as a business, and to fail to understand that arts/crafts success is based on one thing and one thing only--name recognition.

"I am now the most well-known 'Pablo' in art since Picasso," noted Solomon. "This did not happen overnight. It was the result of tenacious and relentless efforts, especially over the last 10 years, to build name recognition."

Solomon and his work have been featured in dozens of books, magazines, and newspapers, as well as on TV, radio, and film. He is now in the enviable position of having galleries approach him since he brings hundreds of thousands of dollars in free publicity to the galleries that show his work.

Solomon has built this name recognition by using every possible contact. His wife Beverly (www.beverlysolomon.com), a former model and sales executive for several major fashion, design, and makeup companies, brings a wide field of networking potential. Working as a team, Pablo's art and Beverly's advertising savvy have resulted in a formidable and impressive stamp within the art world.

"I am now the most well-known 'Pablo' in art since Picasso. This did not happen overnight. It was the result of tenacious and relentless efforts, especially over the last 10 years, to build name recognition."

- Pablo Solomon

"My name recognition has moved my prices from chump change to a range in which I can make a good living," noted Solomon. "By supplying writers, editors, and publishers with good information, interesting stories and great photographs, we have been seen in print by more than 100 million people, and on the Internet by tens of millions more. We also have built name recognition by working with charities and even working with law enforcement to solve art theft cases."

Solomon acknowledges that all the name recognition in the world will not do an artist or crafter any good if their product isn't high quality. But there are hundreds of thousands of excellent artists and crafters who misuse their money, trying to gain recognition. "If you spend money on promotions or advertising, make certain that you spend it wisely ... Research what publications will give you the best chances of reaching your target audience. It is not your job to promote galleries; it is their job to promote you. The reason you are paying them a commission is to promote and sell your work. Do not be conned into paying for shows, wall space, advertising, etc., and still pay a high commission."

The Power of the Niche Market
Never underestimate the buying power of keeping one's craft in line with one's personal convictions. Niche marketing toward people with a passion can be highly effective. Hawaiian jewelry artist Mckenna Hallett learned this when she started her business in 1992, making wearable eco-art out of repurposed objects.

"I make wearable art from found objects," said Hallett. "I use no fossil fuels, and my tools are hand- or foot-powered. I am known as the queen of repurposing, and it is an easy selling point. To date, I have sold over 40,000 pieces of my jewelry. People buy because of my point-of-sale packaging, as well as the fun and informative 'story card' inside each package. Gift giving is surprisingly common."

Hallett successfully tapped into the strong green market of those who prefer recycled or repurposed items. She also learned early on to focus on wholesale markets. "But my marketing has some specific nuances," she noted. "For one thing, I test-market every single design very thoroughly. I personally sell direct to guests at a local upscale hotel venue on Maui. If an item sells with a full 2.25 markup, then I let it into various local shops on consignment on each of my islands. Only when I have seen a strong response and multiple sales in those shops, does the item make the wholesale line. My background as a sales director and store buyer in my previous life informs my desire to discriminate and properly test every design. I understand the value of retail showcases."

"I have a quote by Arthur Sheldon over my studio bench: 'He profits most who serves best.'"

- Mckenna Hallett
But even within the wholesale side of things, Hallett does not put all her eggs in one basket. "In the early days of my business, I landed an account with Neiman Marcus. They wanted to expand, but I could not keep up with even one location. I learned a valuable lesson: Don't put all those time-consuming products into one buyer. I realized I needed to remove my line and concentrate on having several accounts in several regions to be safe financially."

Hallett also endeavors to keep her business in line with her ethics. "To this day, I say 'no' to inquiries much more than 'yes,' so that I can be sure that my limited production always finds a good home within a like-minded shop and community," she said. "I want every piece purchased to have the potential to be an ambassador of my message: STOPrecycling (www.stoprecycling.com). That message is what I am truly hoping to market above and beyond my jewelry. I have a quote by Arthur Sheldon over my studio bench: 'He profits most who serves best.' This is especially true when serving our planet's needs."

Customer Involvement
People like to feel important, and involving customer feedback in a business model is one of the finest ways to market one's products.

Fiber artist Tara Swiger (www.taraswiger.com) regularly requests her customers' involvement in her business. "I'll ask my followers on Twitter to help me name a yarn I've spun," she said. "I then thank the person who named it (and that Tweet often leads to a direct sale). I also hold a yearly event where I ask for name suggestions for yarns I'll spin, and anyone who suggests a name that I use gets 50-percent off his or her next purchase. I then release these yarns, one a day for almost a month, and they sell out as soon as I send the e-mails."

Swiger has turned her internet following into the feel of a big happy family through her personal contact, customer involvement, and above all her folksy style, which is obvious even through her online presence. "I do a lot of direct sales via e-mail," she noted. "I grew tired of the Etsy model of sales: Make the product, take the picture, wait for it to sell, and when it does, pack it all up and ship it. So I moved to sales when I wanted them. Once a month, I send my 'Yarn Love Note' e-mail messages with one yarn that's available. Anyone can order it that week, and at the end of the week, I make up the yarns and ship them. It provides my customers with an exclusive yarn and a way to connect directly with the artist (me). It allows me to schedule in my making and shipping times."

Fiber artist Tara Swiger regularly requests her customers' involvement in her business. "I'll ask my followers on Twitter to help me name a yarn I've spun, " she said.


Generosity Pays

"Every waking moment is a marketing opportunity."

- Samantha Camp
It may appear counterintuitive to give away your product in order to sell it. But for Samantha Camp of Pip and Lola's Everything Homemade (www.pipandlola.etsy.com), she's learned that being generous yields big results.

"We do everything we can to market our business as cheaply and efficiently as possible," noted Camp. "We give countless free soap samples out to passersby in our shopping center, and we pass out samples to organizations needing 'swag' for events. We donate free soaps to raffle baskets for nonprofits. We buy advertising in local community theatre programs. We have 'fundraiser' soaps that we make for local nonprofits, and allow them to sell them in our store and on their sites."

This blitz of generosity marks Pip and Lola as charitable, community-minded, and caring. Customers love doing business with businesses they can trust, and there is no finer way to establish a big-hearted reputation than to be ... well, bighearted.

But Camp doesn't neglect the importance of the Internet in marketing as well. "We have a blog (www.pipandlolas.com), and we have an 'Item of the Day' that we focus on from our shop. We use social media (specifically Facebook and Twitter) for product updates, sales, and photos, photos, and more photos. We place Craigslist ads. We pay for Facebook ads. We have Constant Contact for our e-mail database. We attend Farmers' Markets and talk up our shop to people who stop by our booth (and give them a soap sample). We write press releases. We create YouTube videos showcasing our handmade items and post those throughout social media. Every waking moment is a marketing opportunity."

Dos and Don'ts of Social Media
Paper crafter, show organizer, and author Grace Dobush (www.graciesparkles.etsy.com) relies heavily on social media to promote her projects. "It's important for anyone trying to make a living from a crafts business to have really solid Web and social media presences," she noted. "I see a lot of crafters struggling with social media--often it's just a last-minute 'Now available in the shop!' post that doesn't turn into any clicks. That's why it's so important for crafters to think about the bigger picture of what story they want to tell. When you share things that are interesting, people are much more likely to pay attention."

To assist those who are novices at social networking, Dobush offers the following lists of dos and don’ts for social media:
  • Do separate business from personal. Set up a Facebook page for your business--you manage it through your personal Facebook account, but it serves as a public face for your business. People can like your page to see your news without you having to add them as your friends. If you also use Twitter, set up a separate Twitter account for your business if your Tweets currently tend to be more personal.

  • Do put links to your social media accounts everywhere. Make sure they're in your e-mail signature, your personal social profiles, on your website, and in your Etsy shop.

  • Do share plenty of pictures. People love to see pretty photos of new pieces and works in progress--I like to take pictures with the free app, Instagram, and then share them on Twitter and Facebook.

"... It's so important for crafters to think about the bigger picture of what story they want to tell. When you share things that are interesting, people are much more likely to pay attention."

- Grace Dobush
  • Do use third-party apps to streamline your social work. Apps such as Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, and Buffer let you schedule posts in advance and manage multiple social media accounts at once. Any social media pro will tell you they're real timesavers.

  • Don't create more social media accounts than you can handle. If you have a handle on Facebook but don't have the time to add Twitter and Instagram, don't worry about it. One well-maintained social media account is much better than four neglected accounts. And if your audience is much more active on Twitter than any other network, go where they are!

  • Don't use social media just for self-promotion. Communicating with your fans should be a dialogue, not a monologue. You should be checking in on your accounts every day to answer your customers' questions quickly and reply to comments. You're a human being, not a "spammy" marketing robot!

  • Don't go crazy with giveaways. Some social media "experts" will recommend doing contests or giveaways to drum up followers, but it's easy to go broke that way, and people who only respond to contests aren't necessarily the followers you want. Sharing stories and being interesting are the best ways to create an audience that will stick with you.

  • Don't get left behind. The social media landscape is constantly changing, so stay up-to-date with trends by following blogs such as TechCrunch (www.techcrunch.com/social) or Mashable (www.mashable.com/social-media).
Consider the Nike Slogan
In my opinion, one of the most brilliant slogans ever invented was Nike's "Just Do It." That's because far more people like to talk than do.

Marketing takes action. It takes critical analysis and intelligent decisions. Advice from established and successful artists and crafters is all fine and good, but won't benefit anyone unless that advice is taken and acted upon.

For anyone trying to market their work in this tough economy, the best thing you can do is read everything you can on marketing, take the advice that applies to your particular craft, and sink yourself into the fascinating and rewarding world of selling your products and yourself.

Remember, just do it!


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