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An interview with Jessica Burko

By Cindy A Stephens

Did you think that if you hung out your online shingle (i.e., built your website) buyers would find it and you’d be successful selling your art online?  Artist and arts marketing consultant Jessica Burko told me that the biggest mistake artists make about selling online is thinking “if you build it they will come.”

The truth is that selling art online through a personal website isn’t right for every artist.  It involves confidence, marketing skill, and perseverance.  And, even if you have all the “right stuff” to be successful selling online the time you devote to creating your artist presence is time you might prefer to spend creating new art.

See my related blog is selling your art online right for you?

If you’ve decided that selling art through your website is right for you then you’ll want a few pointers to jump-start your activities.  After all, retailers like Amazon.com have made an art (pun intended!) of selling online.  The best approach is to think like a buyer and his/her shopping experience.

Below are five tips that Jessica shared with me to help artists be successful selling online:

  1. Mirror common online shopping practices
  2. Let buyers know they can purchase through your site
  3. Have great photographs of your art
  4. Tell your personal story
  5. Figure out how to pack and ship your art before you make that first sale

Tip #1: Mirror common online shopping practices

“People that are regular internet users are also ecommerce consumers,” says Jessica,   “They are very accustomed to shopping online on clean, user friendly, beautiful websites with very easy to use payment systems.”  Artist websites should be similar.  For instance, she says there should be a smooth transition to whatever ecommerce tool or portal the artist has chosen to accept payments.  Visitors expect it.

While it is important your website is well designed you don’t need to do something out of the box.  According to Jessica, “Do what is expected by internet shoppers for the ecommerce portion of your site.”  For example, she advocates that shopping carts should look like the familiar shopping carts you see on other sites.

If you re-invent something entirely unfamiliar you risk confusing your buyer.

Tip #2: Let buyers know they can purchase through your site

I asked Jessica to tell me the one thing that artists can do to make it easier for buyers to purchase art through their websites.  Her answer may surprise you (it surprised me): “What makes it easier for buyers to purchase art, is to tell them they can!”

“When someone goes to a show or your studio they might not immediately realize that they can buy the work online,” Jessica says.  She adds that “You have to tell them that they can buy the work online and have marketing to point them towards an online shop with easy to use shopping cart features.”  Having an online shop can lead to post-event sales.  “It is a great tool for after an event,” she adds.

As a professional marketer I can tell you that any traditional wall between online shopping and offline shopping (those activities that do not take place on a website) has been torn down.  Consider a TV commercial or program you saw recently that provided a hashtag or website address to visit.

Increasingly buyers move back-and-forth between offline and online experiences and our role as small business owners (i.e., artists) is to recognize that and make the most of it.

Tip #3: Have great photographs of your art

It’s easy for photographers who use digital capture to incorporate great images of their work on their sites.  It is more difficult for painters, sculptures and other artists to have great photographs of their art.  They may need to learn the best lighting to feature their art and how to take a high quality photo of it.

According to Jessica artists need to “Learn how to photograph their work in a good way, and have multiple views of the work.”  This applies to photographers too.  She says photographers may want to have one image that shows only the work, and another that shows what it looks like framed and hanging on a wall.  “Showing your art in a different environment helps potential buyers imagine it in their homes.”

Tip #4: Tell your personal story

Last year around this time I interviewed Aline Smithson about describing yourself and your work.  It is my most popular blog post.  Jessica echoed Aline’s sentiment about the importance of telling your story.  She says that “Your inspiration, what your process is, can be a make or break moment between buying or not.”

If you are interested in learning more about how to tell your personal story I recently recorded a 30-minute webinar on writing an effective artist statement that you might find useful.  I give tips for using written descriptions of work as one element of an artistic brand; the do’s and don’ts of writing artist statements; and the difference between an artist statement and a bio.

List to a 2-minute podcast preview of my 30-minute webinar:  writing an effective artist statement [webinar preview]

Tip #5: Figure out how to pack and ship your art

The fifth tip that Jessica provided about selling your art online may also surprise you: “Before you sell online figure out how you will pack and ship it.”  She said consider offering only matted work and not framed work or smaller prints versus larger ones.

In addition, she says it is extremely important to have accurate shipping costs (don’t forget to  list shipping cost accurately in the shipping portion of your check-out process) and to work out kinks related to packing and shipping in advance.  I agree. I sell through my personal website as well as an online gallery.  Figuring out the sizes of the prints I wanted to make available online and what it would cost me to ship them took time but was very important.

As artists we often spend the most time learning our craft either from a creative or technical standpoint, or both.  The business aspects of how to make a living at our craft are often an after-thought, and one reason why selling art online isn’t right for everyone.  If you have decided to do it, take the time to learn from others.  It can save you a lot of time – time you can devote to making art.

You might also be interested in: is selling your art online right for you?

 

Trademarks or registered trademarks mentioned in this post are the property of their respective owners.

Jessica Burko has been an exhibiting artist since 1985 and has displayed work in solo and group shows throughout the United States. She holds a BFA in Fine Art Photography from Rhode Island School of Design, and an MFA in Imaging Arts and Science from Rochester Institute of Technology.  To learn more about Jessica Burko and the Arts Marketing services she offers please visit: http://jessicaburko.com/about/

Cindy A Stephens is a marketing professional and fine art photographer.  She has more than 20 years of hands-on experience as a marketer and image maker during the digital technology revolution, and now teaches creative professionals how to create artistic presence in a changing art world.  Her series on Boston Photography Focus, Marketing Conversations for Photographers, presents constructive concepts and tips on how to improve success and visibility as a photographer working in the world of art, commerce, or both.  Regular guest contributions for Mosaic offer suggestions on building influence using mobile photography.

 

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