Why go for online selling? What makes the digital environment good, or bad, for creative work? These days, it’s easier than ever for talented artisans and makers to find a customer base and create a loyal following, but it’s important to think about the work you do, and whether or not online selling is effective for you.

  • “Larger-than-life” objects won’t necessarily lend themselves to online selling. Expensive paintings, for instance, often need to be ‘seen to be believed.’ Be wary of chasing after the wrong channels.
  • On the other hand, the ‘artist’ label is much broader these days. Designers, animators, and coders can benefit from a digital-first strategy.
  • People are getting more comfortable with e-commerce. Small art objects and artisan products can do incredibly well, even on larger commercial platforms.
  • Visual artists like photographers can get a lot of online engagement and exposure just through sharing previous work, jumpstarting the whole process.

If you’re ready, follow these steps to stand out from the crowd and sell your unique creations online.

Get good at putting yourself forward.

The thing that people struggle with the most is putting themselves forward. Artists and creatives without a marketing background can be especially fearful of self-promotion. Just learn from others: follow influential artists online to see what’s working for them.

  • Chase after work by posting listings on online noticeboards. They’re free to post, and what have you got to lose? The more you do it, the easier it gets.
  • Vary your offering and tone slightly to see if it increases the number of inquiries: high-end, budget, quirky, corporate, salesy, cutesy etc. Online selling is, yes, an art.
  • Have a creative profile on all the possible portfolio sites to up the chances of people finding you online. [ed. note: shoutout to Kadenze portfolios]
  • Have an online portfolio already? Make it work harder for you by including stronger calls-to-action, and even an email form.

Crowdfund.

Have a bigger project that needs some monetary muscle? Online crowdfunding has changed many artists’ lives and allowed them to pursue bigger and better goals.

  • Kickstarter, a well-known crowdfunding site, is a goldmine of enthusiasm and opportunities. It’s also worth your time to just look at the huge number of projects, both successful and failed. See what worked, and what didn’t. Spend serious time crafting your proposal; it will make all the difference.
  • Patreon is also growing fast, and lets you stabilize your growth a little more. It lets people essentially subscribe to you as an artist, which is an incredible feeling. It’s big with musicians, animators, and webcomic artists—people who aren’t necessarily selling physical stuff. However, it’s open to all.
  • Keep in mind that your project has to be something people are going to care about enough to put real money in. The trick to that is not just showing people you care, but why they should. If you’re not sure they would, remember that someone raised over $50,000 to make potato salad. Not kidding.

Create an online hub.

Online selling puts you in control and there are many ways of doing it—find one that feels right for you.

  • There are loads of third party websites where you can advertise your wares. Amazon is everywhere, and of course Etsy is the site that has launched a thousand artists, but there are more niche sites out there, so don’t stop at those two (maybe look at this list of 17 places to sell art online).
  • Maybe you’re a little more tech-savvy, and you’ve decided to build your own online store. Awesome! But don’t slow things down by becoming a micromanager. You need a store that reflects you and your vision, but perfection doesn’t sell. Don’t get caught in the minute details of web design when clean and fast is almost always enough.
  • Alternatively, use tried-and-true e-commerce platforms that you can then customize with your own individual graphics: Shopify is a favorite.
  • You can offer your designs out to print-on-demand sites if you are a graphic designer. Print on products like mugs, t-shirts, bags etc. You might find that nobody wants a mug with a certain design, but people are falling over each other to get that same one on a trucker cap. Experiment!

Don’t forget to promote on social.

Social media is a fantastic way for artists and creatives to find new clients.

  • Many organizations host daily or weekly hashtags with themes like #buylocal or #localcrafts. Jump on them and up your independent retailer status.
  • Set up a social media management tool like Hootsuite to help you schedule posts and track words that might trigger an action from you.
  • Focus on sharing quality and valuable content rather than just churning out run-of-the-mill posts. Social selling is time-consuming, but worth it. Many artists and creatives rely exclusively on social for their new work and commissions (this awesome London GIF animator does a great job with social promotion).
  • Be channel-specific and learn what works for you. Where will you have the most engagement? What channel best fits your content? Which channel is going to be easiest to manage? Few artists are running the game on multiple networks.

Collaborate to grow.

One of your main assets for finding new work and opportunities will be the tight-knit creative community around you, as well as the global arena of creatives online. Network and talk to people to find out what’s out there, and make people aware of what you yourself can offer.

  • Join artist groups on social media to help you share work, ideas and opportunities.
  • Bring the online selling community offline too: organize coffee mornings and meetups to encourage collaboration.
  • Encourage referrals back to you by being helpful and directing people to appropriate providers. People often put shoutouts for work on Twitter or LinkedIn.
  • Don’t be a person who just uses the community—those who give back are the ones who receive most.

Sell your expertise & educate.

Online education is a great way for artists to make money online, whether or not you operate in the digital space. Sell your expertise, knowledge and skills as an online course package or webinar.

  • Use video conferencing tools (or a video series) to help people make beautiful things at home with direct access to your knowledge.
  • There are loads of tools out there that can help you structure a proper digital course with worksheets and assessments.
  • Always allow people to complain and share feedback. It may be difficult sometimes, but it’s how the best online teachers are made.
  • Some learning centers and universities already run education programs:see if your expertise is needed there.

If you ever get asked to do a talk, workshop or presentation, see whether you can film it and package it up as a downloadable product to sell later. Don’t give away too much for free.


Kayleigh Alexandra on Online Selling

Kayleigh Alexandra – Startup Specialist

Passionate about writing for the startup and entrepreneurial audience, I have recently been part of setting up an exciting project at MicroStartups.org. We donate all our website profits to charities that help people reach their full potential. Find out more on Twitter.