156 – How To Sell More Art In A Recession

how to sell more art in a recession

Are we in a recession, heading towards one or just dangerously close to one? Regardless of what you choose to call it there is no doubt about it – the economy is taking a bit of a battering right now. Customers are tightening their belts and spending less. So are you wondering how to sell more art in a recession?

First we had a pandemic that shook the art world for the best part of 2 years. Galleries closed either temporarily or permanently. Shows and exhibitions were cancelled. Workshops stopped. People scrambled online. For those who moved quickly enough and planned well enough there were booming sales during a period where so much of the competition was artificially removed. Customers were spending a lot more time online than they usually did.

Then as we move out of that on 24th February 2022 Russia invaded Ukraine and the whole world has turned upside down as a result. Not only are we witnessing the devastating scenes on the ground in Ukraine on a daily basis we are seeing the repercussions around the world. The price of gas and electricity have doubled for many. Petrol and diesel prices feel not far from that. Inflation rates have gone through the roof. All of this has an impact on everything in our daily lives – not just our own fuel and utility bills, but everything else we purchase too which has also been affected by that. We are experiencing inflation rates that many of the younger generation under 30 have never experienced in their lifetime.

Why Does The Financial Climate Affect Artists So Much?

So what has that got to do with art and your art business? Well quite a lot actually. People’s purchasing attitudes are going to change if they haven’t done already. People are going to be tightening their belts if they haven’t done already. When bills go up it is the non-essentials that will be cut. For many – art, craft and photography are seen as a non-essential. It is going to get harder before it gets easier. Do nothing and you are likely to see your income declining this year, perhaps considerably!

selling in a recession

But is it all doom and gloom? Of course not. If you have followed me for a while you will know I am an optimist not a pessimist! Things might be a little tough for a while but when aren’t they? How you adapt to the changes will determine how well (or not) you do this year. There is so much you can do to make it easier to get through this period. Far more than I can cover here. If you want to know how to sell more art in a recession here are just a few things that might help.

Get To Know Your Customers Better

A common mistake in many small businesses, especially in the art industry, is to produce what you want rather than what your customers want and then to market it in a way that makes sense to you rather than your customers. When customers start to pull back it is more essential that you talk to them and get inside their heads. What are they thinking? It is too easy to believe that they simply don’t like your work anymore. That is so often believed but rarely the case. When you find out what it is it is much easier to rectify. You can then produce more work that your customers want to see and market it in a way that resonates with them so that it attracts more of them.

listen to customers more in a recession

Think about whether there is a pricing issue? Could there be a framing issue? Is it the subject matter? Is it the timing? What would they like to see from you? I am constantly amazed at how helpful customers can be if you simply approach them in the right way. Now it is more important than ever to do this if you are going to learn how to sell more art in a recession. Learning what your customers want is an important step in laying the foundations for a successful online art business.

Build A Highly Functional Art Website To Sell More Art

If you saw my recent social post you will have seen a comment where one of my own customers talked about how naive she was originally thinking that ‘you just need a website’. In this age we look for things on Amazon or Ebay for example to find the best price possible. We have a tendency to forget that age old saying ‘you get what you pay for’.

A website isn’t something where you can just go with the best price. Simply having a website will not sell your products. It can be as pretty as you like and maybe even extremely functional but if it does not attract large volumes of customers you are fighting a losing battle. There are so many aspects to a website that will work hard for you. It needs to look good. Your website needs to be functional. It needs great photography and great copy. Your products need to be described accurately because people cannot touch and feel them. They need to exude quality. The website needs to be clean and well structured so it is easy to find everything quickly and much more.

If you don’t already have a website you need to build one. If you have one you need to work out how to make it into a high performing artist website. You need to ensure that your website ticks all of the necessary boxes.

Improve Your SEO To Bring More Art Customers

The art industry is renowned for websites with very poor SEO (search engine optimisation). Whilst it is possible to send people to your website from your mailing list, from social media and in person maybe at shows and galleries this all requires a lot of continuous effort.

SEO to sell more art in a recession

People often find SEO over complex to start with. They discard it because of that. Once you get the hang of it, however, and realise that once it is set up it will send visitors to your website day after day, week after week, month after month – free of charge and without the ongoing effort then it really does make sense.

Don’t make the common mistake of focusing all your time on social media. Split your time equally between your social media, mailing list and SEO and reap the rewards. SEO will show you how to sell more art in a recession by doing some of the hard work for you. It will keep attracting new customers once it is set up. This will free up your time to spend on other marketing efforts to bring in even more customers.

Build A Mailing List To Generate Repeat Art Sales

Its a well known fact that it is 6 times easier to sell to an existing customer than it is to find a new customer. So if that is the case why do so many artist sell their work but not retain the details of and communicate directly again with those customers? It makes sense that if it is going to be harder to find new customers in a recession then it is more important than ever that you retain the details of those people who you have either already sold to or who have already expressed an interest in your work so that you can stay in regular direct contact with them.

Artists often make the mistake of assuming that social media is more important than a mailing list. Social media is not direct contact. It is hosted on a 3rd part platform and filtered by a 3rd party. You have little control to ensure who sees what and when. Your mailing list, however, is yours. You own it, you control it and there is no filter – communication is direct! If you don’t have a list it is more important than ever to start one. If you have one it is more important than ever to nurture that list and grow it.

Remember it is 6 times easier to sell to these people so if it is twice as hard to sell to people during a recession you can easily make up for that by shifting focus to growing a well nurtured mailing list.

Understand Social Media Better To Increase Your Following

Whilst social media works very differently to a mailing list it should still play a very important role in your marketing. It’s filtering might prevent the regular contact you might want with your followers, however, maybe 5% or so of your followers might see each post you make. Make enough posts and you increase the chances of attracting new followers and potential customers that you might not otherwise reach.

use social media more effectively in a recession

Whilst it was easy to increase your following in many platforms such as Facebook and Instagram previously, as these platforms have matured they have now adjusted their algorithms to reduce organic (free) growth to encourage you to pay to promote some of your posts (which is why the platforms were created in the first instance – to make money!).

Stop posting day after day after day and seeing little in return for all that hard effort. Take a step back for a moment and learn a little more about social media. Why does social media exist? How does it work? How and what can you post to make things work harder for you? You might be very surprised at how simple changes in social media can make a big difference as you work out how to sell more art in a recession.

Stay At The Forefront Of Customers’ Minds

How many people are ready to buy your art at any one time? Surprisingly few actually. Maybe 1 in 100 or 2 in 100 on a mailing list that you have been working so hard to build and nurture? Are that many even getting to see your post about new work on social media? The truth is the numbers are very small indeed.

Art is often expensive and not the type of purchase you make every day. People might love your work but several conditions need to converge to make that sale. Your product (and offer) need to resonate with the customer. The customer needs wall space to fill at that point in time. There perhaps needs to be a special occasion. The finance needs to be available. Small items such as merchandise, greeting cards and so on are more impulsive purchases and can sell in great numbers but usually with much lower margins.

If you want to learn how to sell more art in a recession you need to understand that to get the bigger sales it is important to be regularly in customers’ minds so that they think of you first when all the conditions are right.

There are many ways to stay in customers minds such as

Run Art Sales And Promotions To Sell More Art

People love a bargain. Sales and promotions are a great excuse to get your products in front of your customers whilst offering them a bargain. Introduce a pressing time limit on these to avoid that complacency where they put off making the purchase until they really need it then end up forgetting or buying a competitor’s product because they were top of mind at the time they needed to make the purchase. Remember though – running a sale doesn’t mean selling off your work for less than it is worth!

use sales and promotions to sell more art

The real art of running sales and promotions is to artificially inflate your prices so that you can run a sale where you sell your product at a discount where the customer is happy because they ‘perceive’ they are getting a bargain and you are happy because you are getting ‘what you feel your work is worth’. This is a simple marketing technique used by every major company you ever buy anything from. The reason? Because it works!

Many artists believe that increasing the retail price of their work will deter sales. I would challenge anybody of this opinion to try it alongside a well designed sale and promotion strategy. What I think they will find is that increasing the price actually increases the perceived value of their work and the sales and promotions focus customers minds leading to higher overall sales and higher margins not smaller ones.

Get Seen In The Community

The amount of work you sell is linked to the amount of attention you get both online and offline in the community. I have already mentioned getting seen regularly online through your website, mailing list, social media etc. Nothing, however, beats selling face to face. Get yourself seen at every opportunity offline as well as online. Open your studio so people can visit, be seen at community events, get involved in local charity work, exhibit in local venues and so on.

sell more art in the community

This all helps to raise your profile and build trust in you locally so that you are regularly in people’s minds. People love to ‘keep things local‘ in tough times so get known as the local artist that people will want to buy from.

Introduce Free Delivery

If you haven’t already read my blog article about free delivery and put free delivery on your website it is time to. People are especially savvy about free delivery when times are tough and with so many of your competitors offering it already you don’t want to miss out. As you will see in my blog post though, there is a craft to this. It doesn’t mean cutting your margins to offer free delivery. You can have the best of both worlds! Free delivery is a powerful tool if you want to learn how to sell more art in a recession.

Introduce Multiple Income Streams

How do you currently make your income? Do you just sell in galleries or just at shows and exhibitions? Do you sell online? Are you just selling on your website or on other platforms like Etsy, Redbubble, Fine Art America and more? Do you run workshops? Do you do art commissions? Where are the best places to sell art online?

Nobody wants to have all their eggs in one basket at any time. For a business to survive it should not be reliant upon any single platform, customer, show, gallery etc. Spread your risk by selling in different ways each of which will be affected differently by changes in the financial climate as well as changes that might occur independently within that platform / sector etc.

Take time to focus on creating new income streams and diverting efforts from ones that are not performing as well towards ones that are performing better ensuring you don’t become reliant on any one alone.

Hang Out Where Your Customers Hang Out

As customers spend less you need to compensate by reaching more new customers. One way to do that is to hang out online where your customers are hanging out. Talk to them. Do they use Facebook groups? If so find out which ones and hang out there yourself. You cannot blatantly advertise in many Facebook groups but you can be more subtle. Like posts, comment on posts, answer questions. Do this for half an hour every day for a couple of months and see how many people you interact with get curious about you, visit your profile, follow you, join your mailing list and then ultimately purchase from you.

hang out with customers

Research Your Competition

You don’t have to struggle through this alone despite running your small business on your own. The internet these days makes so much transparent. Use this to your advantage. Look at what competitor artists are doing. Join their mailing lists. Checkout their websites. Follow them on social media.

research art competition

You can bet your competitors are struggling with the same issue of how to sell more art in a recession so look at what they are doing. How do they run their sales and promotions? Track their followers and sales over time and you should be able to gauge who is getting it right and who isn’t and emulate some of their successes.

Improve Your Upselling & Cross-selling

You might see transaction values reducing when things are tough. People want to spend with you but instead of going for that big piece they might buy something more conservative. Other people will come to you and buy smaller products but might be missed opportunities because you haven’t shown them something else that they might also like too.

Look at your art website shop. Do the ecommerce facilities allow you to link products together? If they look at a greeting card, for example, will it let you connect the print to that product so you can show them that too and maybe get the bigger sale too, even if its only a small print?

What about if they put a print in their basket? Would they also love to add the pin badge version of that print too or maybe the greeting card and / or Christmas card version of it? Does your shopping cart automatically introduce them to those products based on what is in the cart? How cool would that be? How difficult would it be to increase the value of that if those items were carefully placed at the checkout so they could be easily added?

Improve Your Art Business Tracking

To work out where your business is and how to get it to where you want it to be you need to carefully track your art business metrics. There are many metrics to measure that will help you with this. You need to work out which ones work for you and then track them, monthly at least and pay attention to what they tell you. Your tracking will quickly give you indicators when a recession hits. You will see what starts to slow or even go down and it will direct your attention to what you need to focus on if you want to learn how to sell more art in a recession.

improve art business tracking

Let your tracking show you what is working, what isn’t and where you should be applying your efforts. Let tracking give you the confidence that something new you are trying is actually working or the confidence to try another approach when you can see it isn’t.

Improve Your Art Marketing Skills

You are an artist right? You aren’t a marketing expert. I know you probably don’t have a degree in marketing that will tell you just what you have to do. Look at any business with 5 or more employees, however, and you will see they have experts in different fields – research, production, marketing, sales, administration and so on. All these areas are essential whatever product they are selling. The product will not sell itself no matter how good it is. Yes luck can play a part. You can be in the right place at the right time and receive sudden exposure and a flurry of sales but a good product which aligns with your customers and consistently good marketing are key to long term sustainable success.

But marketing isn’t your bag. I totally get that. You love being in the studio which is where you want to be. In a single person business, however, you need to fill many roles and marketing is a pretty important one especially if you want to learn how to sell more art in a recession. Take that on board. Own it. Don’t just struggle through it though. Find a good online art marketing course that will give you a roadmap of what you need to do. You might not like marketing now. It might just seem like a means to an end but trust me the more you learn about it then the better you will understand it and the more you will come to like it.

Join A Support Group To Help Grow Your Art Business

Even with all the marketing tools and knowledge at your disposal you are still a single person business. That can be hard. It can be so isolating particularly when times are hard. Do you need someone to bounce ideas off? Would you value a second opinion? Do you want somebody to look at things with fresh eyes? That is why it can be so important to join a small support group if you want to learn how to sell more art in a recession.

join an art support group

Think about collaborating with a small group of artists like yourself. Can you meet as an art group in person once a month? Can you meet virtually on Zoom maybe? If you are on Etsy is there a local Etsy group? What about a Facebook group?

Define an agenda for you group. There are plenty of groups to help your technical skill development but focus on marketing and business skills where you might be more lacking. Make it a regular meet and an interesting agenda and see where it takes you.

Can’t find a group that can help you – have a look at my Art Marketing Consultancy service. It might be just the thing you need to bounce your ideas around and get that informed second opinion.

Cover All Budgets To Attract More Art Sales

Many artists start off with a particular medium – maybe large canvas perhaps? They might have a small flurry of high value, high margin sales. For the lucky few that might continue and they can put their prices up and people continue to buy and they create a comfortable living for themselves. For most, however, that is not the case. There are highs and there are lows. They might hit the spot with one piece of work then the next is not as well received and so on. This can be difficult to manage at the best of times but then throw in a climate of financial uncertainty and it gets a whole lot harder.

cover all budgets with your art sales

A good strategy to ensure consistent sales and growth is to cover all budgets with your work. Focus entirely on the high end and you will cut off a huge number of customers from your work. Focus on the low end and you will make life so much more difficult for yourself as you will have to move product in much higher volumes to make a living.

Think about producing small, medium and large fine art prints of all your original work. Think about art greeting cards, postcards, calendars and other merchandise to help publicise your work as well as turn a small profit. All this will attract a much wider group of customers. There will be something for everyone for every occasion in every budget.

When the financial climate tightens customers can still buy from you but maybe more at the lower end of your range. As things improve for individuals there will always be things that attract them at the higher end too. Regardless of the climate some people will continue to buy at all ends of your range.

Stay Positive To Sell More Art

Remember to stay positive if you are going to learn how to sell more art in a recession. This isn’t the first time we have seen anything like this and won’t be the last. Art has always survived anything like this before and will in the future. People will always need art and will always find comfort in it especially when times are hard.

stay positive

The key for you to survive as an art business is to adapt to the changes. Its not enough to just create it. You need to get your work out there and be seen. When times are harder you can compensate by getting it seen by more people in more places and making your work more appealing to more people. It isn’t doom and gloom. It is all very doable once you know how!

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