Selling original art is challenging. The best way to market it is to create a collection of buyers and sell your fine art to them directly.
— Barney Davey
Selling expensive, unique fine artworks is a niche business. Often, the marketing of original art is in a niche within a niche. The subject matter, medium, and prices are merely starting points for defining places and narrowing audiences who are your best prospects when selling original art.
What Is a POP?
POP is an acronym for Pocket of People. I learned the concept from the late Peter Spaepen, who was a genius marketer and talented teacher. He brilliantly taught his now-closed Tiny Is Mighty course with Andre Chaperon, using his considerable intellect and unparalleled insights from Seth Godin.
Seth tells us to find a minimum lovable product and build our business on it by developing our smallest viable audience of people who are most likely to love the ways we delight, change, and serve them. Andre advises:
- Figure what will resonate with your POP (easier said than done).
- Ship the work.
How to Start Small Until You Are Ready to Scale
Artists can interpret this advice to build their first sales by marketing print-on-demand framed art and other merchandise. That is a concept I believe will work for many artists. It’s not the only way to launch and get sales, but it’s a good one that perfectly aligns using a minimum lovable product to sell to a small viable audience.
My philosophy is to make it easy for artists to get their businesses afloat while keeping expenses and marketing to a minimum. I think of it as a springboard to more significant sales of your original artwork. There is symmetry as the minimum viable and minimum lovable concepts make it easy for artists to create and manage a POP. POPs tended with care will fuel sales because the size makes it simple to adjust to evolving situations.
Original Art Is for a Select Few
That is to say; original art is a one-of-a-kind luxury item that is the antithesis of a mass-market product. So it’s evident that mass marketing techniques are ineffective in selling fine art.
The niche of money is essential. Buyers must have the discretionary funds to purchase original art. Drilling deeper, you find the purchaser of original art priced in the low thousands may lack the funds to bid on million-dollar artworks sold by auction houses. Income and net worth stratifications create niches within the niches of the affluent market.
Firstly, buyers must have an affinity for your subject matter and medium besides money. People won’t buy art they don’t like. Secondly, buyers nearly always must love the work enough to pay for it and put it on display in a prominent space.
Desire and money to buy are the distinctions your buyers share. Many other traits and preferences define POP characteristics. Adopting the POP marketing philosophy is a start. The rest is how far you want to take it. Most of us know how far instinctively.
Your self-actualization is usually pretty good. Honesty with yourself makes using marketing to get what you want easier. Filling a need is the only reason to use marketing ever. Saying what you want will help you describe your POP. It works together.
Original Art Buyer’s Motivation
There is more to a POP than finding people with money who show an interest in your work, although those are desirable qualities. Specifically, as you identify and connect with potential additions to your POP, remember that your members must have a taste for buying original art, whether developed or not. Often the best prospects have an interest in the arts and are inclined to support them. Or they are passionate about your subject matter and backstory.
The Freedom of the Niche
As business people, artists, and humans, the more we tune out noise and distractions, the more productive we become. With our anxiety scaled back, we have less to worry about and find more time and energy to devote to what truly matters.
Changes can be almost bewildering at first to find oneself in a quiet place where the right things get attention and are accomplished on time and with ease.
The reason is some of us, whether we admit it or not, are chaos junkies. We subconsciously crave the crazy. Hunter Thompson called it the Jackrabbit Syndrome. We seek the rush of adrenaline and cortisol to jolt us alive.
Fortunately, if that’s you, there are options to mend your loony art marketing methods. Understanding the value of and working to create a POP for your art is a start.
There Is Nothing Easy About Selling Original Art
First, let’s acknowledge that selling fine art is rarely easy. There are too many reasons that make selling original art routinely and reliably a high level of difficulty.
- Most buyers only acquire original art a few times in a lifetime.
- Prospects have money and love your work but have little interest in acquiring it now.
- Original art carries a price tag that requires spousal/partner approval.
- Partners and spouses often have opinions about where and if art is shown.
- The price typically is high enough to deter spontaneous sales.
Selling original art is a long-term proposition that requires connecting to your POP and keeping prospective buyers engaged until they are open and ready to buy your art.
Those and other reasons make selling original art a continuing relationship proposition. Ask any gallerist. They will tell you it is impossible to earn a living on sales from first impressions. Although sales sometimes happen that way, most buyers require time to reflect as you engage in selling original art to them.
The Era of the Independent Artist Is Upon Us
Long-time readers and followers know I am a champion of indie artists. I believe visual artists should market their work to sell it to buyers directly. Truthfully, there aren’t any other options that protect the artist or give them better chances for lasting success.
For simplicity and greater profit, it is advisable to cut out or reduce the number of third-party distributors whenever possible. Unfortunately, there are too few galleries now to support all artists, and there were never enough back in the day.
The internet and technology give us a global village to market our work. Consumers are advantageously changing their buying habits to prefer ordering directly from the source. Fittingly, artists can use low-cost tools to build a POP through social media and similar means and communicate with collectors and would-be buyers through email.
Why a POP Makes Selling Original Art Easier
Marketing to a POP reduces the number of ways sales can run off the rails. The more straightforward transactions become the fewer touchpoints, people, and businesses involved. For example, a gallery owner can apply pressure and offer the proper assurances to persuade a reluctant buyer with in-person presentations. However, there is no guarantee that among the many artists they represent, you can expect them to give your art a fair share of attention.
Selling fine art through galleries is not a panacea. You must market to find and gain acceptance. Therefore, you split half the revenue, less your shipping costs. Success requires monitoring each gallery for sales, returns, and discounts and ensuring you are in its marketing plans.
Putting the same effort into building your POP and nurturing it is more rewarding in multiple ways. Most importantly, you own the relationship with your patrons and prospects. Galleries rarely share contact information with artists. However, when things go south as they are inclined to do at times, the artist is back to square one, starting over.
How Do You Build a POP?
If you move to a new location where you don’t know a soul, how would you begin to get known in your community and find friends and acquaintances? Likewise, you go through the same motions when building a POP, perhaps with more intensity and focus.
To begin, adding one person to the POP at a time is how it goes. It takes dedication and patience to create a business model based on marketing to a POP. And it’s essential to know: that the payoff is that each addition to your POP represents greater financial freedom and success in selling original art more than any comparable method.
You know enough from what you’ve read here to use your common sense and grit to build your POP. All you need to do is decide and commit to keeping it going.