When should I put money into my online art business?

By Jessica Craddock

Jun 25
should i spend money on my art business
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should i spend money on my art business

This morning has been a rough one.

One kid throwing up... one kid won't take his nap... I haven't taken a shower yet.... But whatevs. That wasn't going to stop me from talking to you today. I just had to do it a little differently.

Instead of receiving your usual written weekly tip, I recorded it — with a 7-month-old cooing in the background & kicking the computer — and a sick girl crawling on top of me. Gotta do what I gotta do!

In this video, you'll learn:
  • If you should be spending money on your business
  • Which of four categories of people you fall in and the advice I have for you
  • Five questions to ask yourself when you are deciding whether something is worth spending your money on

Click the above to get to watching!

Marketing started out as a job for me. A job in a creative field, but it was a job nonetheless. It was hard and stressful and used up all my energy.

After I quit my job and started marketing for my own business... it was still an energy suck.

It was something I knew was necessary to sell online, so I took a deep dive into studying marketing. I read, took courses, and tried out everything I learned. The more I tried, the more I realized what I was missing.

Here are the two big lessons I learned that made me love marketing:
  • 1
    Automation is a great tool, but not when you sacrifice talking to people, making friends, and building relationships (even if you're a big introvert like me!)
  • 2
    Marketing is an art project. You decide what you want to create, research and brainstorm creative solutions to get there and know what comes out the other end will look different than your original vision because you'll follow creative ideas that pop up along the way. 
Marketing should be fueling your energy, not draining it!

In that spirit, I decided I wanted to try something different with this weekly tip series. I'm taking your questions to help me write this week's tips!

This week I took questions on whether you should be spending money on your art website.

Thanks to everyone who contributed their questions! Here goes...

I am sending people to my website and think it should be more presentable. Right now it's a mess. Perhaps a better website would lead to more sales? Should I spend that non-existent money now?

A website alone is not going to lead to sales. It's part of a whole strategy, so don't invest money thinking it will solve all your problems.

However, you should always be sending people to your website, period... even if it's a mess. 

When they get there, you should be collecting their email addresses. 

This is how you form your customer base. They've given you permission to contact them about selling your work.

If your website truly stresses you out and you aren't ready to improve on it for whatever reason (money/time), ditch the web page and create a landing page instead. 

A landing page should have your elevator speech, a few examples of your work, a place to sign up for your email list, and any social proof you have (things like "I've been featured in this place", "I'm in the permanent collection of so and so", or "I'm regularly seen at this location".)

Should I make a website even though I don't have enough inventory? It crowds out time to just make art. My last for-money piece was a commission, and so is my next one.

I would take time to think about your business model. Do you want to be a commission artist? If so, you should build your website around your commissions. What type of commission do you do? What sizes do you offer? How much are they? What kind of questions do people have around those commissions? Add some testimonials at some pictures of past work. 

If you don't want to be a commission artist and you want to sell originals, then you should put originals on your website. If you don't want to sell your originals, you should put prints on your website, and so on.

Even if you only have one example of your work photographed, you should still have a website. In this instance. I would probably refer back to the landing page advice in the last question.

You don't have to have tons of work on a website. Too much work can even be overwhelming and create too many choices... so sometimes less is actually better. 

What are the biggest pros of having a website as an artist? Most artists I know make sales through their galleries, their social media or word of mouth, then have a website as a portfolio. I've had a website before, but it never felt worth the time and effort.

There are many ways you can make money as an artist. I teach the long game. I want you to build a business that is sustainable and grows with time, one that you own and that no one can take away from you.

Like I said earlier, having just a website will not get you anywhere. The website is part of a bigger plan. It takes more traffic than most people realize to start forming a sustainable business. 

For example, statistics of an average website show between 1-3% of people that visit will sign up for your email list. This, of course, can be increased with testing sign up forms and learning to talk about your art.

After that, the average is that between 1-3% of your email list will purchase from you. Again, this can be increased with improving your emails.

If random sales are your goal, you just want to make a little extra cash, then you may just want to sell through social media. When the winds of social media change though, and they always do, that platform you worked so hard to build it will go with it.

Sales through galleries often take as high as 50% of your commission. Unless they're exclusively featuring you all year long and doing a good job marketing your work, you're going to have a hard time creating a sustainable business this way. 

Referrals are another good way to make sales. BUT think about all the referrals you're losing by not being able to contact them. If you can get a referral to join your email list, then remind them you exist once a week/once a month/quarterly, you'll have a much higher chance of actually selling to them. 

This is my first year in business where I may actually make a profit. I have no idea how much is a good amount to spend on someone designing my website. I see packages that range in the thousands.

First of all, a pretty website is always better than an ugly website... but it is not the most important thing. Or even the second most important thing.

If you want to invest in a web designer, I strongly urge you to find one who understands marketing just as much (or more than) design. They should help you create a website that puts function first -- encouraging email subscriptions first and sales second (you don't want to lose them forever if they don't buy on their first visit!).

If they're really good, they will also help you talk about and feature your art in a way that has personality and resonates with your visitors.

If you can find this magical unicorn, their packages could be anywhere from $10-20k.

Before you think about spending this kind of money, I personally recommend that you be in business at least another year or two and learn some of these things yourself. Use some smaller investments to guide you. That way you'll already have an idea what you want and can use their expertise to its full extent.

In the meantime, find a designer who will create a basic branding package for you for $500-1000 and use this to make your site prettier on your own. This should include things like heading and body fonts, colors, a few variations of a mark to use as a logo and a template for images to use at the top of each page.

You may even find when you eventually have the ability to invest big on a website you'll already be happy with what you've got.

I have a website, a blog, and an Etsy account, but my shop's not open. I also have an Instagram for my art business, which I post on occasionally, with only a handful of followers. I have hardly used any of these elements and I want to reverse that to have an active business. What should I spend money on?

This is a great question. First, read this article about the basics of marketing online to see where you should put your focus. As you'll see, you'll need a way to get traffic, a website that functions as your hub, and an email list.

This is the most effective long term strategy to build your art business as you're not counting on other platforms to stay popular. Being able to own a list of people who love you and your art is invaluable.

If this is your strategy, I'd sign up for a free trial of the Artist's Marketing Basics Bundle. The free trial will get you started with a simple way to start learning who to talk to, how to price your art, how to build trust with people who don't know you and how to talk about what you do.

If you decide to sign up for the paid program, it will continue you down the path of setting up an easy, simple website you can sell through that will be complemented by your new, fully-functional email list.

If that's not your jam, I would recommend starting with picking the main way you want to get traffic to your site and take a course on that. Traffic to your site makes everything go round. If no one is seeing it, you won't be getting anywhere. It's a great first step that'll make an impact!

Lately, when I walk outside to water my garden, I’m getting walloped by mosquitos. These little flying torture devices make my skin crawl. I had an inner debate yesterday as I watered my rhubarb whether I’d rather get rid of them or the six-foot bull snake I see slithering through the yard occasionally. 

I decided I’d rather have the massive snake. 

So I’ve been trying to switch things up. I wore head to toe clothing covering every inch of my body. They bit me through the clothing. I tried being very still till they landed on me so I could murder as many as possible, but ended up itchy anyway. Now I’m trying setting mosquito bit traps all over the place. Is it working? I’m not sure yet, but I cautiously say… maybe?!

When things aren’t working for you, change them. You’re the master of your life.

Do you need to change your email marketing provider? You know... the one that helps you send out newsletters and sales emails. How do you know when it's worth switching it up and paying for a mail service if you are using a free one right now?

You might want to upgrade your email marketing provider if...

  • You have ideas you want to implement that aren't possible. For example, maybe you want to entice people to sign up for your email list with a download on one page and a discount code on another - and have them sent automatically with a welcome email. If you don’t have that capability with your mail service now, you might want to consider upgrading. 
  • You sell several distinct things. Once you’ve got the basics of email marketing down (you are sending out regular newsletters and a few sales emails) you might be ready to split your list into groups. Let’s say one group is interested in custom work, and another group loves your lower-priced prints. When sending out sales emails, you'd be able to send more specific emails to one group at a time, making sure you don’t spam anyone with emails they aren't interested in. Or, you may want to set up a series of automatic sales emails when readers click a particular link in your newsletter. These features can be extra handy when you’ve grown your list a bit.
  • You don’t like your email provider now. If you aren’t a fan of your provider now, switch! There are lots of options and many of them will make the switch for you. Just make sure you enjoy using the email service you have, or you won’t use it. Even if you have to start paying, it’ll be worth the investment if you use it more. Remember, email marketing has a 4400% average return on investment

Before you upgrade your email provider, I suggest...

  • Regularly send out newsletters for several months to make sure you’re committed to the process before you spend any money.​​​​
  • Have at least 100 email subscribers you have gotten from your website. If you haven’t reached this point yet, you need to be spending your energy on getting traffic and figuring out what wording to use to get your Ideal Art Buyer to sign up for your email list before you make things more complicated.

Stay with who you have now if...

  • You’re terrible with technology. Keep things super simple. Don’t over complicate. If you do, you’ll just get frustrated when things aren’t working the way you want, and you’re more likely to give up on the whole thing.

If you are interested in switching email providers, check these out:

  • I often recommend Mailchimp because you don't have to pay until you reach 2000 subscribers. They don't give you all the features, obvs, but you can use their basic services.
  • I use Convertkit and love it. Their customer service is top-notch and their visual automations make things easy. Their plans start at $29/month. Click here to watch a demo.

If you decide to use Convertkit and sign up using link above, they'll pay me a small commission. If you'd rather Convertkit be able to keep their entire monthly fee, you can watch the demo video using this link. Either way, you pay the same amount.

Since I had my second child, Teddy seven months ago, I’ve been pretty tired. Not in the usual “I’m an exhausted mom” kind of way, but I’m the “my body isn’t processing things right” kind of way. 

I knew I had low iron during the pregnancy, so I returned to taking iron pills, and that helped, but has been declining in effectiveness. 

I added vitamin C and had a burst of energy for a week or two, but it’s slowing down again. Yesterday I struggled to make veggie tostadas. What up with that?! Guess it’s time to go visit my doc and the pink poodle that follows her around the office. 

Oh well. So much for self-diagnosis. 

I'm not telling you this for pity. My point is that everyone’s got a story like this. It’s their health, or someone else’s needs, or immovable time constraints like a full-time job that are keeping them from doing all the things they want to do. 

But the thing is... there will always be something. It’s best to make your peace with that now so you can get past that mental block and find alternate ways to get things done. 

I prefer to use apps/programs/subscriptions that give me time back and help me make smarter decisions.

Here’s a few of my current business favorites:

Timely helps me see what I’m working on so I can be sure I am spending enough time on the crucial things and not letting the tiny details take over.

Tailwind* brings in 50% of my website visitors every day almost on autopilot - once I set it up and with a little routine maintenance.

Canva makes me spend less time fretting over design and helps me pump out graphics I need with super speed. I still use the Adobe Suite for some things, but Canva covers my everyday projects.

Asana is my favorite to-do list keeper. 

Loom helps me create short videos to send to clients and people with questions, so I don’t spend all day agonizing over saying things just right in text form.

YNAB is the best budgeting software on the planet… and I’m pretty sure I’ve tried them all.

MindMeister helps me break down my brainstorms into a visual mind map. They just make more sense when I can see them this way.

Google Sheets lets me keep synced spreadsheets across my devices. 

Evernote stores all the digital articles, worksheets, pdfs, receipts, and notes I want to save.

Thrive themes and plugins for WordPress* make my website super functional, let me test what opt-ins are working, keep track of testimonials and a dozen other things.

Typeform lets me organize surveys quickly and beautifully.

Grammarly checks my spelling and punctuation. I don’t always see those tiny mistakes!

Acuity Scheduling* lets my people book time with me quickly and easily, as well as send out reminder emails and reschedule appointments without the back and forth.

When should I invest money into these programs?

If growing your art business is a top three priority in your life - and you don’t have enough time in the day - apps are by far the cheapest way to organize your life and take some of that “busy work” time back. Many of these can even be used for free.

Decide what your most significant obstacle is right now and find one that can help you close the gap between where you are and where you need to be. Only purchase one (or maybe two) at a time. Let it fully integrate into your life and work style. They will still take time to learn, set up, and get used to. When they are second nature and start giving you your time back, you can add more if you need them.

*if you purchase any of the software with an asterisk using the link provided, I will earn a small percentage of your purchase. I would recommend these regardless of any compensation.

There is a trail near me that is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

At the bottom of the mountainside, there are towering evergreens and a rushing riverbed along a string of shady camp sights. As you climb higher, the scenery changes to aspens, streaming waterfalls, and large boulders. If you keep on, the sky opens up to reveal fields of meadows with the most beautiful wildflower display I’ve ever seen in the summer. It’s a full day’s trip, but it's enjoyable from the first moment to the last. 

There's a time and place for taking long, meandering paths. They can help you appreciate what is important in life if you are open to the experience. You will learn about yourself on the way and stop to notice details you hadn’t before.

On the other hand, sometimes you can get lost on the way. That doesn’t take away from the learning and savoring and growth that you’ve found so far, but if you can’t make your way back to where these are still a part of your journey, it’s time to ask for help.

It’s the same in your art business. Some of the journey needs to be taken alone to find out more about your art and yourself. At some point, you might reach a point where you aren’t growing anymore. You’re stagnant and frustrated and not sure what to do next.

At this point, it’s time to look for help.

I recommend hiring a coach to help you sell your art online if you meet all three of these requirements:

You're doing all the things, but you’re still stuck. You definitely need help with marketing…creating strategies that make your efforts more focused so you can save time for what really matters. You have a website and write blogs/send newsletters/are active on social, but things aren’t working. You need help getting your work seen and learning every basic strategy to make regular sales.

You’ve been trying things yourself for at least a year. You feel like you are moving slow on your marketing. You lose focus and get easily distracted. Or, you are working your behind off and not getting any results.

You know what you need help with. You can pinpoint what you need to move forward. You’ve found someone you trust and are confident in your decision that the coach you want to hire has expertise with your exact problem. They can give you specific strategies and encouragement to move past your block.

I recommend working with me if you check the boxes above and...

You can’t seem to wrap your head around who would want to buy your art. You want to get “ seen”. You need help figuring out who your ideal client is, where to find them, and how to get in front of them. You’re specifically working on finding your niche audience at the moment. You’re looking to improve your exposure to new clients and to increase sales.

You don’t know what to say about your art on social media. You want to communicate better with your audience and build trust. You need help finding more potential leads. You are looking for a way to find your ideal customers and need help in what to "talk" to them about. You can only talk about the process so much…and feel like you've run out of things to say.

You want to learn how to be personal on the internet. You want to captivate your audience as well as bring people in to your bubble. You want to build confidence to sell your work. You've read so many articles about trying to get your customers to relate to you and feel like they know what you're about. You want to know how to express yourself without feeling like they're not going to care. You just want to know how to be yourself and who you're talking to.

homework for an artist's online art business

If this sounds like you, book a quick (free!) chat with me to see if we’re a good fit. If not, I’ll send you on your way with a better direction for you and a handful of advice about what to do next.

I look forward to getting to know you!

Do the work & create your luck,

About the Author

I’m a mentor for intuitive visual artists to sell more work, more consistently, at higher prices — with better work/life balance. Founder @ The Artist Market Co.