You’re an artist — a writer, musician, illustrator, or dancer. Maybe you’re into doll sculpting, keepsake jewelry making, fashion photography, plein air painting, or composing ambient electronica.
You’re pretty brave when it comes to creating, but the mere thought of marketing your work might make you break into a cold sweat.
Would you rather be shot out of a cannon than toot your own horn? Is balancing on a tightrope more attractive to you than asking people to shell out money for your masterpieces?
If so, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Keep reading, because I’ve got enough reassuring marketing ideas for you in this article to keep you occupied for the next several months …
The mission is unnerving, but the stakes are high
Many people — faced with the choice of either promoting their latest writing project or entering the ring with a whip and an elephant — would choose to face the moody and unpredictable pachyderm.
You’re good at your craft. You want to spend your time making more stuff, not annoying people by schlepping your wares. Besides, that’s not your strength, right?
The problem is, learning to be a good marketer really is a matter of life or death to an artist. You simply can’t make money unless people are buying your products, coming to your shows and exhibits, or reading your work.
But — there is good news. You don’t have to spend the rest of your life hiding, boring but safe, behind protective glass.
With the proper training, preparation, and official pro safety gear, you can learn not only to be a master marketer but also to actually relish the thrills of your commercial daring and death-defying, cash flow-generating feats.
Throw your hat into the ring
Officially and publicly announce to the world your intention to be a competitor.
Stand up as an artist who rebels against the common assumption that you’ll always be broke, forced to live in your car, and starve to death if you have the audacity to try to make good money from your passion.
Reframe the ruthless tiger into a cuddly pussycat. The words marketingand sales can put more fear into people’s hearts than saber-toothed tigers. If this describes you, I have just one piece of advice: talk to people. Just talk. Convey information, have conversations, educate. Whether you’re online, at lunch, or on stage … it’s all just conversations and relationships. Once you realize you are simply making your work available to people who are already interested in it, all the pressure is off.
Resolve to use your superpowers for good. Here’s the deal. Someone out there desperately needs what you do. People are starving for connection, inspiration, fun, beauty, laughter, depth, momentary distractions, and the warm fuzzy feelings and memories that art brings them. If you found a cure for cancer, keeping it to yourself would be wrong, wouldn’t it? You have a moral obligation to get your work out to the people who need it. Art might not be a matter of life or death, but it sure makes the difference between a beautiful journey on the planet and a bland existence.
Imagine yourself accepting your Lifetime Achievement Award. What will it be for? What will you have accomplished? Think in terms of the impact your work will have on people. You need a vision for your art business and entrepreneurial career that will carry you through the tough times. You’ll need to know who you’ll be, what you can do for your audience, and where you’re headed so you’re not distracted from your main goals.
Commit to the long haul. Be patient and kind to yourself. Your road won’t always be easy, and yes, there is a lot to learn. But it’s not complicated; you can absolutely do this. Build your fortress one block and one wall at a time.
Identify your most thrilling feats
If you’re not sure what you do that’s worthy of prime-time TV with big ticket sponsors, try some of the following tactics:
Realize you’re already brave. Ask friends, fans, and customers what things you have the nerve to do that they admire. You probably tend to take your piano compositions or playwriting for granted, yet how many people have told you they could never do what you do? You can talk to them in person or send them an email with a few simple questions. You might get some surprising answers.
Revisit/relive your standing ovations. Think back — when have you done something that absolutely delighted your fans, customers, or clients? What have you done to make people throw money and praise at you? Write these things down and purposely do more of them.
Stand proud in the spotlight. You’re unique. Play that up. List some key ways you are different from your competition and communicate them. Your goal should be for people to say, “I know them; they do this!”
Become a mind reader. Get into your customers’ heads and read their thoughts. Not literally, of course. But ask yourself what they like, what they don’t like, how they spend their time, where they hang out, how they are feeling, and what keeps them up at night. Interview current fans and customers to find out why they buy from you. Ask a handful of people if they would mind answering a few short questions in exchange for a small gift. Then ask these same questions to a larger group via SurveyMonkey or similar online tool. Listen when they respond.
Find your adoring, adventure-hungry fans
It’s all about the tension, excitement, and the energy of the crowd, right?
Craft captivating stories. Tell how you got to this place. Daredevils don’t start out jumping canyons. They start on three-foot-high ramps. Stories are powerful ways to build connection and they’re universal. How did you get where you are? What were your turning points? What struggles did you overcome? What have you learned? Use humor and emotion.
Bare all. Figuratively, of course. What’s your mission? Why do you do what you do? How do you want to help people? Talk about those things that drive you to thrill-seeking artistic entrepreneurship.
Flip on the camera when people are raving about you.Gather testimonials— these could be formal or informal or (even better) a combination of both. It could be as simple as asking for a quick video the next time someone compliments your work. What others say about you is more powerful than what you say about yourself. So take the pressure off yourself. It’s not bragging. Testimonials allow you to connect with more ideal fans.
Share center stage. Round up videos and pictures of happy customers’ experiences. Have them submit photos of themselves using, displaying, or listening to your work. New fans will relate and imagine themselves there too.
Collect your press clippings. Grab and share clips from Twitter, Facebook, and fan mail on your websites. All those nice things that people say to you online and offline (with their permission) are fair game and easy to gather.
Getting in front of people isn’t enough. Your next assignment must knock their socks off. You can do it. Start with the following ideas:
Give your people what they want. Knowing what your fans want is your job, not theirs. And you know, or you will now, if you didn’t before — that they are not really buying the object. They don’t care much about the physical book itself, or the CD or coffee table sculpture. They’re buying a feeling, an experience, a lifelong memory, an emotional connection.
Needle fans with their biggest fears. They won’t really be in danger of course, but they don’t know that. Imagine their worries and frustrations. How does your work help your fans ease their minds? You can help them prevent boredom, take time to smell the roses, laugh at ridiculousness, or dance while the dancing’s good.
Tantalize fans with their biggest thrills. Identify your clients’ driving needs, problems, or desires. A trigger exists that makes people actually take the time to read what you wrote, check out your work, come to a show, and finally pull out their wallets and buy from you. You have to know what that is. Is it the excitement your work generates? The desire to capture and relive a great memory over and over? The feeling of being on the ground floor of a movement?
Titillate them with their deepest desires. Once you discover what you reallysell, dangle it in front of people’s faces. Tempt them with the outcome they’re seeking. Make it irresistible.
Master mind control. Plumb the depths of their psyches and speak to one person in your marketing. You do this by creating an ideal customer profile and imagining yourself talking to that person. If you’ve done one in the past, it never hurts to revisit it. If you’ve never done one, a ton of information is out there. It’s incredibly worthwhile.
Be astounding and unpredictable.Push the limits. Do things differently. Keep people on their toes by constantly surprising them. Don’t feel you have to do things a certain way just because everyone else is doing it.
Rally your supporters
No one accomplishes amazing feats on their own. Usually a whole team is working behind the scenes to make sure everything goes off without a hitch.
No matter how small your scale right now, you can and should have a super-supportive club.
Round up your superfans. Gather those people who will follow you to the ends of the earth. Show them your gratitude by offering them something special — a limited edition piece, or an online or in-person fan appreciation party. Then keep getting your work out to more people to grow this bunch.
Find backers. Find out who the influencers are in your niche and build genuine relationships with them. Start now, because this will take time. Don’t ask for anything yet; just be cool and giving. If your work is a good fit for their audiences, your backers will not only have great stuff to share with their followers, but they’ll also give your fan base a boost.
Recruit volunteers. Let people help you. It can be as simple as asking — most of the time, we just don’t think to do this. Maybe someone’s good at making posters, organizing events, walking around neighborhoods or visiting local businesses distributing fliers or business cards. Ask!
Build a street team. Let your most loyal and vocal fans be part of the team. They can help share the announcements that excite them and the works that move them. They can hang posters, spread the word about special offers, and bring new people to events.
Embrace your friends and family. They are your #1 support network. They might not always understand. They might be overprotective sometimes. But they are there through the triumphs and the failures, cheering you on. And they will tell everyone they know how proud they are of you.
Assemble special teams. Line up reserves that are always on call for those times when you need extra help. Know which friends have the skills and desire to help you with specific projects. Find a Virtual Assistant before you need one. Post a project on E-lance.
Cheer, chant, and do the wave. Have a rallying cry that unites everyone on your team, a common enemy you face, a dream or goal you all share. Make it succinct and memorable. Hugh MacLeod has, “Office Art That Actually Matters.” You could use something like, “We’re not here for a long time; we’re here for a good time,” “Photos that make you smile,” or, “Short stories that will kick your butt into action.”
Fan the flames of excitement
When you tap into that sweet spot of giving people what they want, they will come back for more. They’ll breathlessly anticipate your next move. They’ll tell all their friends and drag them along to meet you.
So throw a little fuel on those flames.
Give fans previews of coming attractions. Include upcoming releases, shows, and new places you’ll be showcasing your work. Turn it into a must-see event, with real, not false urgency. People can see through false deadlines like snake oil — use urgency wisely.
Award backstage passes. Open your studio, either physically or virtually or both. Explain your setup, your equipment, favorite themes or materials. You could go into your work process, things that inspire you, or how you capture your ideas. All this is fascinating to people.
Hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony; christen the new wheels. Have an actual grand opening with hand-signed, snail-mailed invitations. Offer tours. Make it into a virtual event by doing a short video showing your studio and equipment. Do a press release and run it in the local papers.
Roll back the curtain. Do a short video or blog post highlighting your actual creative process. Make a whole series of journal posts for a large project like a book or CD. Follow a project from start to finish and document it with photos, video, or a journal. Share this on your blog, or on YouTube.
Offer new fans a test drive; let them take their own lap around the course.Come up with something exclusive, irresistible and valuable (that you could charge at least $20 for) that your fans will just have to have ó a print, short e-book, or a sample CD or DVD. Give this away in exchange for an email address, which you can then use to further build your relationship with them.
Arrange frequent meet-and-greets. Engage face-to-face with your fans before and after shows and events. Hold online meet-and-greets like Twitter chats, Google hangouts, etc. Really engage online. Don’t just add people to increase your friend count; build relationships as much as you can. Have conversations and really get to know people.
Schedule regular public appearances. Post interviews or create an FAQ page. If you don’t have anyone from the press asking you for interviews, pick a well-spoken friend you are comfortable talking to and film a chat to feature on your site. Ease in to this if you’re camera shy. Post the transcription on your site.
Get on Letterman (or the next best thing). Create a YouTube channel. Do you think YouTube is just a big time suck? It is that, but it’s also one of the world’s largest search engines. That means your audience is there, looking for people who do what you do. Do a YouTube introduction and a mini-instructional. Upload videos of your open house and other events. It’s all valuable content that you can use to engage people and drive them to your main site.
Formalize your fan club. Get a real mailing list and create cool incentives for people to sign up. Keep adding to the exclusive content to keep people engaged. Constantly be on the lookout for quick content bits and share them regularly, in between the big announcements. Let your personality fly.
Become your fans’ first choice. When the time comes and your audience is ready for some excitement, fun, or distraction, make sure you are the first person that springs to mind. Do this by simply staying in touch through your list and through social media.
Even better, become their only viable option. A marketing strategy advises entrepreneurs to give fans tons of value so that they feel subtly obligated to buy from you when the time comes. This tactic works, and it works well. But to make the effect even stronger, prove that you care about your fans, more than anyone else. Build that relationship. Become their friend or mentor.
Fill your schedule.Prioritize sharing updates with your adoring fans by making appointments on your calendar and posting updates on those days.
Monitor the conditions, and scan the environment
Sunny or cloudy, high winds, rain — these situations all affect your approach on the big day. Know what’s going on around you and have your strategy in place for each contingency.
Acknowledge your competition, but don’t be intimidated. Understand that competition is a good thing; it means there is a need and a market. People are paying for what you offer. When audiences already appreciate the value of your work, you don’t have to work very hard to sell it. All you have to do is get in front of them with a great product.
Deal with and then ignore your competition. This is about you, your performance, and your fans. Don’t get too hung up on the competition and what or how they are doing. Address how you are better, and how you care more. Focus on your uniqueness and passion. Don’t fall into a comparison trap, because every time you do, you’ll end up feeling crummy and inadequate.
Graciously accept and respond to the applause. Constantly check in with your fans and supporters. Acknowledge their praise (humbly) and thank them. When you get a good reaction, review, or email, give them more of the same.
Strive for night after night of standing ovations. Constantly reinvent yourself and perfect your craft. Make people crazy for more.
Prepare your safety gear: helmet, goggles, and parachute (or full body armor)
You don’t want to crash and burn, right? So put as many safety precautions in place as you can.
Hand-pick your pit crew. Just as a racing team’s crew keeps the car all in one piece and running smoothly, your team will do the same for you. Find experienced people you can call on as soon as you need them — don’t lose time spinning your wheels. Put together a formal or informal advisory board of people who have strengths, knowledge and connections you don’t.
Choose top-notch crew chiefs. You want no doubt in your mind that your mentors and advisors can get you exactly where you need to go. Don’t have a mentor? Choose someone you admire and whose outlook and values are similar to yours. They’ll share their hard-earned wisdom and help keep you from making expensive and time-consuming mistakes. As you grow, your circle of trusted advisors will grow too.
Turn spy. Keep on top of the latest marketing trends. Study. Read industry blogs, journals, books, etc. Lurk on — and engage with — competitors and related artists. (Caution: do your best reconnaissance to make sure they are truly doing well and not just putting up a good front.) All these places are great sources of fresh ideas. Study how to write effective ads.
Steal. Don’t plagiarize or end up in real trouble of course. But look to other industries for different perspectives, inspiration, and opportunities for collaboration. Figure out how you can tweak another’s approach so that it will work well for you. Example: a photographer might team up with a musician to pair art shows with concerts and leverage both audiences.
Become a master of persuasion. Learn how to write great and irresistible copy for your web sites and all your marketing materials. If writing is absolutely not your strong point, hire someone to spruce up your webpage and other online and offline marketing materials.
Form an exclusive insider club. Test reactions to your new offerings with small focus groups. Do private shows by invite only for people on your list. You could make these online or offline events.
Build high-tech prototypes. Test new materials and artistic direction with as little initial monetary outlay as possible. For example, make an acoustic demo of new songs, make a website preview of a photo book before printing, and write several blog posts or articles before an e-book. Find out what resonates best with people before investing a lot of money in producing a product.
Use a tether so you don’t plunge to your death. Determine how much money you can reasonably afford to spend on marketing. This is one time when you can assume the worst — that you’ll get no response. Can you stand to throw away that money? Then stick to your budget. You can easily lose money on paid advertising. I lost a lot in my early years. Be cautious, small scale, and flexible.
Train with safety as a top priority.Test your ads (paid or not), and change the wording and calls to action frequently until you find a formula that works for you. You can announce shows and events in free publications like Craigslist, on Facebook or Twitter, and in local event calendars. Resist salespeople who try to persuade you to spend large sums at once to reach general, non-targeted audiences.
Join Cirque De Soleil. Collaborate with other artists on events as much as possible to leverage all your fan bases and put on an unforgettable spectacle.
Drive a million laps. Commit to mastering marketing by spending some time on marketing activities every day no matter how busy you are. Make communication and relationship building part of who you are. Being consistent about your marketing efforts is your best business insurance against slow times.
Create lots of work. Hone your craft and build your catalog. I once heard that the best marketing for a first music CD is your second CD, and this makes perfect sense. Your true fans will want to support you by buying everything they can from you.
Become a master of illusion. Learn how to write engaging stories and solid press releases and use them as often as possible, both on your own websites and marketing materials, and in local publications.
Weave a strong safety net. Don’t get stuck in one strategy, especially if you are not getting results. Try several things and measure their effectiveness. The easiest way to do this is to ask people how they found you. If you are getting good results, congratulations! Stick with what works. I have three to four of my best strategies for local marketing and I do them all the time. Then I experiment with new outlets.
Weigh in and get regular checkups. Know where you are. Be brutally honest with yourself. If your work isn’t generating at least some excitement, consider going back to the drawing board to work more on your craft. If you want to get to the next level, take your work to the next level. Find people to help you with this. And learn to deal with unfair criticism.
Make the leap across the canyon
It’s the big day! You’re ready to start reaping the benefits of all the great work you’ve put out into the world. Make sure your relationship building continues throughout the entire process and into the future. You want these fans for a long time, right?
Keep delighting them …
Lead the throngs.Tell your fans clearly what steps they have to take next. Do you want them to take your free gift? Buy your book, print, or DVD? Tell their friends?
Head off disasters and execute contingency plans. Know your potential buyers’ likely objections and have your responses already prepared verbally and in an FAQ page.
Give them front row seats. Create a low-cost or pay-what-you-like offering so that everyone who wants to support you can afford something that you do. Adjust these options and make several of them. For example, people who already have my latest CD often want an earlier one. People who have all my music want to buy harmonica necklaces and t-shirts.
Sell luxury suites. Laugh in the face of fear. Raise your prices and create a premium offering for people who want to work closely with you. Let them pay to commission a personalized work, host an event in their home, or be a part of your creative process.
Promote and thank your sponsors. These can be commercial or charitable. If you think you’re too small for sponsors, think again. Someone wants to reach your audience. I know of a local coffee shop that was happy to sponsor an outdoor concert series for $60 per month during summers, which covered the outdoor gazebo rental. Charities like Holt International sponsor performers who do at least 25 shows per year.
Create strategic partnerships. Display your art in a local bistro or community center. Work with local businesses to create art and craft shows, music series, film festivals and more. Don’t be afraid to combine any or all of the above.
Train apprentices. Contribute to the growth of your field by training the next generation. Your students will be a natural addition to your own fan base. Again, never think that you are too small or don’t know enough to start teaching. You know more than you think you do, and all you really have to know is one more thing than a beginner. Teaching is the best way to learn.
Host clinics. Help other daring people get to their own next level of development through special-topic clinics. These are a great way to attract longer-term students and clients. Recruit partners to help if you are new to teaching.
Rock your merch table. Sell related merchandise. Let’s say you’re a photographer with a series of studies of coffee cups or wine glasses or spring flowers. You could sell the mugs or wine glasses or flowers as well as your prints. A band who had a huge percussion number in their show sold drum sticks and they flew off the merch table.
Ride the momentum. Right after fans buy and are happy, ask for shares and referrals. Don’t be afraid to do this more than once. Offer incentives and tokens of appreciation. Related to #17 above, have fans submit pics or videos of themselves enjoying or displaying your stuff to post on your website, and share on social media and in blog posts. It’s a great way to build engagement.
Throw a huge after-party. Create super-cool bonuses or gifts to show your fans you appreciate their support. Throw an actual party for local fans.
Return the applause. Thank fans again throughout the year. Ask them for their birthdays (could be just month and year) for the purpose of sending them a gift. Then create customized happy birthday message for fans — a song, photo, cartoon, poem, or short story.
Shatter all the current records
Go down in history as a game-changer.
Push the limits. Do one critical thing better than your competition. Find something that’s needed in the market but often lacking and figure out how you can provide that. It could simply be a more personalized approach or taking your service one step further.
Break new ground. Try something that’s never been done before. A new method, using unusual media or a novel delivery method.
Be a fierce competitor. Even if you are a solo act, or if you consider yourself more cooperative than competitive, always be improving on your former self.
Raise the bar for the future; set a new standard for others to follow.Jumping three cars isn’t very exciting when jumping twenty is commonplace. List all the ways people tell you that your work makes their lives just a little bit better. Consistently do more of these things, so that they become expected in the marketplace.
Do the impossible. It’s like shattering a world record for the longest time trapped under water. List all the ways you can care more. Passion, dedication, and a real desire to give your fans what they want create crazy loyalty.
Wear your emblem on your chest. Like Superman, create your character, persona, and your brand. Proudly display them everywhere.
Be a valiant warrior. What will you courageously fight for? What causes and principles do you stand for and believe in? Don’t be afraid to talk about them. While it’s true you could turn some people off, you will also be attracting many more who agree with you.
Be hungry. Don’t be content to rest on former accomplishments or awards. Celebrate, yes ó then set your sights higher and prepare for your next challenge.
Be a champion. What things about life and art do you value? What will you go to any lengths to defend? Friendship? Stress the relationships you build with people, and treat all your fans as friends. Charity work? Spread the word. Supporting indie music? Mutual interests create a bond. Don’t be afraid to stand for something.
Be exclusive. You don’t have to let everyone into your club. In the words of Derek Sivers, “Proudly exclude.” You might only want real hardcore metal fans, not sissy wannabes. You might appeal to young parents wanting to capture sweet baby memories. Maybe no one can possibly understand your work except granola-munching hippies.
Be discriminating. Once you decide who your ideal fans are, go where they hang out. Don’t waste time and energy in dive bars looking for people with sophisticated neo-jazz-fusion musical tastes. Hang your art in a winery or upscale bistro, not in a take-out pizza joint (unless your pop-art style really fits there). Be everywhere, yes ó but be everywhere that you fit.
Be controversial. If you try to appeal to everyone, you will appeal to no one. But, if you turn off some people, you will win the loyalty of others. As popular blogger Jon Morrow says, “Whatever you gotta do in your own head to be ok with people not liking you ó Do It.”
Watch your popularity skyrocket
It’s not all about fame and fortune. The more people you reach, the more you can improve their lives. This is how your work starts to change the world, with your corner of it.
The more impact you have, the more your work starts to grow up and take care of you in your old age.
Become a PR machine. Produce and share lots of entertaining, educational, and informational content online. Keep your fans updated regularly through email, your blog, and social media. Deepen the experience and don’t let them forget about you.
Get on the bill for larger and larger shows. Learn how to guest post — writing for other people’s blogs as a way to grow your own fan base. Yes, artists can leverage these opportunities to their great benefit, and many do. Cartoonist and author Hugh MacLeod, writers Johnny B. Truant and Jeff Goins, and actor Josh Pais are great examples to emulate.
Read all your fan mail. What do people like about you? What are you doing that they respond well to? How are you inspiring them? Respond as much as you can and build those relationships.
Sign autographs. How do your fans get to meet you? How do they develop a personal connection with you? People relate to real people much more than brands or companies. Hold an annual fan appreciation barbeque, bowling night, or rafting trip. Host chats and webinars, and respond to your blog comments.
Make fans a part of the family. Inclusion, being a part of something great, is priceless and exciting. Tell your biggest fans about your movement, and how you are changing the world. Let them know how they can join and make it easy for them to do so.
Find out what’s working. Get in the habit of asking customers how they heard about you. Track this information. If you use registration forms or email signups for events, shows, or workshops, you have a perfect opportunity to gather this data. You can also ask as part of wrapping up a sale, or when you get phone or email inquiries.
Be seen everywhere. Learn about tools for sharing content between social media platforms. Start using them. Claim your free listings on Google Places, Bing, Yahoo and the like.
Become a household word. Craft your pitch so that it’s clear what you do and for whom. Use a form similar to these examples: “I create [this] for [these people],” “I think it’s wrong that [situation exists], so I’m on a mission to [thing you’re changing].”
Hire or become your own publicist. Get a strong bio. This is not a recitation of your resume. It’s about your compelling story, what drives you, and most importantly how this helps you relate to your fans and make their lives better.
Hire or become your own spin doctor. Take a close look at your About page. Make sure it’s not really all about you, but instead what your work does for people, what experiences they will have, and what they can expect from you.
Stake your claim on the mountaintop
You’ve worked hard to get where you are. Own it!
Do photo ops in your tights and cape. Get a well-designed, attractive logo or photo that clearly communicates what you do. It doesn’t have to be expensive or custom-made, just the picture that says a thousand words.
Wear your glam costume everywhere. Update all your social media profiles and delete any that you habitually neglect. Give yourself permission to really connect and engage in a few manageable sites that you enjoy. Remove unused profiles or snaz them up, and update the links and content occasionally to drive people to sites where you do interact.
Polish your image till it shines. Occasionally check all your pages and links, and make sure they all work. Ask for help with this if you need to. Send new people to your highest converting page.
Share the spoils. Celebrate with and thank the people who got you where you are. Generously share the lessons you’ve learned.
Be truly humble. Be open about your past and current challenges. People don’t really connect with super-humans. They want to see real people who have tackled and won over the same obstacles they are facing now.
The art of marketing
Marketing is an art in itself.
Believe it or not, you already have a big part of the skillset. The rest can be learned through hard work and dedication.
You’ve learned to study, to practice, to be persistent, to grow a thick skin, to listen to your audiences and grow with them. Start thinking of marketing as an extensionof your art instead of something opposed to it.
You can create in a vacuum and maybe become appreciated posthumously.
But I want better for you — if, of course, you also want more for yourself and your art, and you don’t want to look back on your life and wonder, “What if?”
So get out there, conquer your fears and misgivings, look that tiger in the eye, and claim what’s rightfully yours!