The Art Business - Starting Out - Pointers, Hints & Tips
Article written: November 2018
Updated: November 2020
I have been approached numerous times by other artists starting out in the commission market who have asked for help and advice in this field and in particular, pricing. The truth is there is no perfect answer to this, every one has different circumstances and should do as much research as possible before taking the plunge, pricing in particular is an individual choice, there are no set rules. I can offer a few pointers that may help you kick start your own art business purely based on my own experiences over the years but this information is only offered as a guide.
Every business is as unique as the artist however, but I hope there are some good pointers found below that help you on your way.
My first piece of advice to you is every artist has the potential to run a successful business, as long as they have the drive. It takes time, patience and dedication. If you have the patience and a passion for what you do, you're half way there! You may have begun your journey creating work for friends and family for free or for 'pocket money'. Although this is a lovely gesture, it is not sustainable if you want to turn your art into a business. You have to go out and find those who like what you do and are happy to pay for that service. You are putting the time and effort in to your work as well as using products that you have purchased, to create them. There will always be people out there that love what you do and are willing to pay your prices. Do not sell yourself short.
USP - your unique selling point
Before you even begin to sell your 'product', sit down and write down what you think your unique selling point is. This awareness may help you sell yourself easier. Ensure you keep adding to this list whenever someone mentions something you may not have been aware of. Your USP could be that your work is unique because you use a technique you have created or maybe you are using an old technique that few artists now use. If you have been creating art for many years, this in itself is a great USP. It shows that you are passionate about what you do and have years of knowledge in your particular field. Don't forget to add any experience gained, training or awards. Be careful how you word these USP's though as 'over promotion' could put some people off.
Overheads - An example of how you can price your art
We are lucky that our art speaks for itself, but charging enough will ensure your business is successful in the long run. Ensure you have an idea of how long it takes you to create a picture, how much the products you used to create it cost and don't forget any postage and packaging charges if it is being posted. There are other costs you should take into account too such as the cost of utilities used like electricity and water. If you rent business premises, this should also be taken into account. All these pointers will help you to create a bespoke pricing structure for your art which you should update as you progress. An example of costing your art is to work out how many hours it took you to create, decide how much you would be happy to charge per hour, adding in overheads, then times this by the amount of hours it took you to create. If framing is included, remember to incorporate these charges also. As the years go by, you should continue to update your prices, so that they reflect your time, products used and experience as well as inflation.
Pricing - 'low prices will encourage more sales'
When we first begin our art business, charging very high prices for your work may see your business struggle. Although it is possible to succeed this way dependent on where you live, how you market yourself and even who you know, most do not charge enough and there is a misconception that charging low prices encourages more sales - this could actually cost you time and money. Cheap pricing could deter people from commissioning work from you as they may think low prices mean low quality. They may believe the art products you use are 'cheap' too and that the portrait or product is likely to fade or break over a shorter time-span, so try to be realistic. It can take time before you start to see a profit but if you are serious about your business, know your worth and if someone is not willing to pay your prices, there will be others that are. Remember that constantly raising or lowering your prices to encourage more sales during difficult times can impact negatively on you and your business. Dropping your prices can alienate past customers, but why not run special offers from time to time to avoid this.
Research other artists
It is a great eye opener when researching other artists, both locally and on-line. Do not worry how many there are out there, the most important person here is you. It is important to find out about local artists, what they do, how they do it and what they charge and there are many artists on-line that have some wonderful websites which provide lots of help and advice. The only thing you need to remember is this is your business - do not think that copying another artist by charging the same price as someone who has the same artistic style as your own will achieve your success, as they may have been in business for a number of years and have their own clientele and collectors, so use their prices as a guide only.
Circumstances - full time or part time business?
If you live alone, with bills to pay and no partner to support you, it is going to be extremely difficult and stressful to go full time into a new venture. Speaking from experience, I would recommend you put some time aside on a regular basis whilst in receipt of a guaranteed source of income so you can concentrate on building up your new business. There are so many avenues you can take in art but when you work for yourself, you have to put in the time and effort. Be aware that it could take years before you can run a full time art business and be able to pay the bills comfortably, offering a little left over for all those 'luxuries' you want too.
The importance of a good website
I cannot stress how important it is to have a good website that works for you and your business. Having researched many websites over the years, I have seen some with incomplete pages, spelling errors, bad fonts or the overuse of colourful fonts and gaudy backgrounds resulting in the loss of the most important part of the page - the message! I have also seen many websites without a personal photo of the artist themselves. Although this isn't a necessity, providing a photo allows the viewer to connect with the artist and their art. As someone could be spending a large amount of money with you, trust is of the utmost importance. As you are the face of the business, it's important to personalise your online 'art studio' wherever possible, unless you plan on being the next 'Banksy'! Being a commission artist is providing a personal service, and ideally, you should aim to offer a website that works well for you, but, is accessible to your customers too. My advice would be to get in touch with a local web design company and get your first website created professionally (or ask them to update an existing one) to ensure you have everything on there you need and can be found by the very people who are looking for your service. Do not be fooled by those offering you the 'No.1' spot on a search engine - no one can guarantee this and reputable companies should never attempt to sell you their services using this sales pitch, if they do, simply say "Thanks, but no thanks!". Finally, ensure you have a blog within your website and post regularly. A web designer will offer you a lot of advice like this to ensure your website will work well for you or, if you have the knowledge, build it yourself.
Promoting your work should be as important as your product. Regularly using social media is recommended and it is important to try a few to see which site works best for you. Avoid total reliance on one platform though, as algorithms and rules will change, so what may have worked well in the past, may not work in the future. Do your research, see when the best times to post are. Pick up hints and tips from other users. Videos seem to attract more viewers than photos alone, so mix your posts to keep the interest. Social media should never replace the need for a personal website as you are not in full control of it. Rules change and you could find views/likes disappear almost overnight, worse still the company could fold and you are left with no presence at all. Newsletters are another great way to build an audience for your product. Providing interesting and useful content will encourage more followers/subscribers so any new products, offers or ideas are seen by those who love what you do. Better still, encourage people to share with friends and family. Advertising in newspapers, magazines or online websites can be expensive and often provide you with little to no return. If you wish to advertise with a company, do your own research first and get in contact with them rather than allowing yourself to be 'harassed' on the phone by someone selling purely based on commission.
Lastly, a business is a creation that is made by you just like a piece of your art - don't rush it, embrace the challenge and good luck!!