How to become an Artist Entrepreneur ft. CATHERINE ORER
Updated: Dec 15, 2020
A tiny seed of entrepreneurship exists within every individual but, only a few nourish it with the waters of passion, dedication and consistent efforts that mature it to a flourishing tree.
Every artist has the potential to scale up their passion for art into a well-performing profession and becoming Artist Entrepreneurs aka Artpreneurs. Understandably, a newbie would feel quite overwhelmed when they hear about the lucrative opportunities available in the art and design careers.
Secondly, they’ll also feel dubious about how to make a career in art and questions like "When to start?", "Where to start?", "How to start?", start boggling their mind. And all that they need is proper guidance from someone experienced.
So if you’re an amateur artist and wish to find out how to begin a career in visual art, or how to start your art business, or scale up your existing art business, check out my conversation with Catherine Orer, an award-winning Business and PR Strategist who counsels visual artists on how to build a sustainable enterprise.
She has worked in art galleries, represented artists in art fairs selling their artworks at best deals. Eventually, she started her venture, The Artist Entrepreneur that changed the lives of many artists. Her clients tag her brilliant work as, “bridging the gap between creativity and being business savvy”. Gear up guys to learn the art business tips and the strategies for making a successful career in arts, thereby becoming an artist-entrepreneur.
You can also listen to this conversation on the Podcast Exploring Career Opportunities below.
To begin with, please do share a gist of your life and career.
I am not an artist, but right from the young age, I have always been fascinated by arts and artists in general. I was strongly encouraged to follow the traditional path and take up studies related to business and marketing rather than studying art history. I had been instructed that I would not get any work if I study arts. So, I decided to work in the field of Marketing and Public Relations, but eventually, I realized that this was not my calling.
I decided to study art history and art business leading to work in art galleries. Eventually, artists approached me to help them in branding, understanding the art market and how to sell arts, etc. There on it became my mission to help the artists produce more art and make a living out of it because I strongly believe that artists are such an important part of our society.
How do you exactly help the artists and how did you come up with the idea for your venture The Artist Entrepreneur. What is it all about?
Having worked in art galleries, I already had a network of artists. The counselling of artists started mostly in 2008-2009 when there was an economic downturn, and social media was rising. People were getting interested in Facebook and then Instagram.
Artists also wanted to have an online presence, and as I had been consulting in the arts field, they came to me asking, “Do I need to have a website for my artworks?”, “How should my website look?”, “How can I use Facebook to sell my art?”, etc. There I got an idea that I can start a business to counsel and help the artists. The artists were in turn so excited about it that very soon I had a community of artists enrolled for my program. Now it’s been 6 years of Artist Entrepreneur, and we have clients from over 15 countries.
Please do throw some light on how do the artists upgrade their side hustle to a profession? How to start an art business? What are the initial steps to become an Artist Entrepreneur?
Firstly, I would tell you that you cannot rush out. I have seen artists grow their art gradually from being a side hustle to become a livelihood. I feel that you cannot use some hacks and get rich in this field. You must make a proper art business plan, figure out your genuine audience who are interested in your work and then build a community around. Nothing will happen magically. Either you have to invest in Social Media Marketing strategies, or you have to invest in exhibiting your art at art exhibitions.
One pitfall I find among a few artists is that they try to replicate what the other artists are doing on social media, on Instagram without going deeper and figuring out how the artist is building a community out of social media. This particular habit of amateur artists must be rectified.
The prime focus of the artists, happen to be on creating art and displaying it to the world. So how do they find time and resources to strategize and sell their art?
If an artist is willing to create a living out of the art, then he/she must dedicate half of their time in producing the art and the remaining half in promoting and executing business strategies for it. For instance, if you regularly post on Instagram and it takes half an hour for you to take the pictures, write a good caption and upload them and you don’t find any good results, then you’re probably wasting your time.
Instead, you can use that time to meet your target audience and show them your work. Again it depends on the individual’s strategy, and I cannot generalize things.
You must optimize your tasks because every one of us has only 24 hours a day. What makes a difference is how we optimize our time by being very clear on how we are spending it and making decisions on what task to neglect and what to focus more on.
When promotions are considered, one of the best platforms to market is Instagram. How to start an art business on Instagram? Should the artists go for paid advertising or just try to grow organically.
I like to say that something that doesn’t work organically will not work if you pay for it. If you had asked me the same thing some 5 years ago, I would have said that it is all possibly organically. But now it is necessary to invest either in Instagram ads or invest in the art fairs by being there. With that being said, I would say that if you’re not having any interaction with your existing followers and not fascinating them, then there’s no use of spending on Instagram ads.
You have to initially try to build trust and community with your existing followers, understand what they like and then when you feel that you have reached a certain position organically, that’s a good time to get acquainted with Instagram ads. I recommend using the ads manager rather than boosting your posts because boosting would cost you more and get you fewer results.
Additionally, you have to create an ad strategy. It is not enough if you put $20 here, $30 there. You must understand what are you trying to achieve of those ads, whom are you going to target and most importantly how are you going to evaluate the success of your ads so that you get a good ROI. When you’re doing ads, you’re not spending money but investing it. So if you don’t have a proper strategy, you might feel like you’re simply spending money.
Can you please share a few more strategies that artists can deploy on Instagram to get more leads and conversions?
Firstly you must be very clear in explaining your message, your mission and vision to your audience. Artists tell me, “I have already uploaded on my post whatever I do in the studio, so what else should I do?”. I tell them you have to post it a lot more so that it gets into people’s head.
One thing that artists miss out is having clear CTA’s on their posts. Now there are a bunch of options available on Instagram like you can set up your store on it and that’s a great way to get your work in front of people.
While uploading on Instagram, make sure you upload high-quality images that are properly cropped with efficient lighting and something that attracts visitors and bring value to your work.
Finally, don’t underestimate the power of DMs. Having one-on-one conversations with your potential clients can help you understand what they are looking for, and you can offer them the best works. This can lead to word of mouth marketing of your brand and then expanding your community.
I think Instagram is really about being consistent, testing ideas, and not being afraid of repurposing and reposting your content as it will remind people to take actions.
Can storytelling also be added to the points you mentioned because using storytelling as a mode of marketing yields good results? Hence, can the practice of storytelling help artists too?
Storytelling works great for artists and everyone who try to build their brand and market their brand. While writing captions for your Instagram posts, it’s not enough if you just mention the stationery you’ve used, a set of hashtags and a CTA telling, “DM if you wish to buy”. That’s just not sufficient.
Art is a luxury item, and to sell it you have to create an emotional connection with your followers and visitors. And the best way to establish an emotional connect is via storytelling. You must weave an intriguing story around your art and influence people to buy it.
Is it necessary for artists to have their art website or it’s enough if they list artworks on art galleries and marketplaces?
Artists need to have their website because it firstly builds more credibility for you and helps you with your SEO. For instance, if visitors find your art on Etsy or Saatchi Art and are interested in them, they might search for you on Google to find out more about you and your arts.
Personally speaking when I find the arts of an artist on Etsy, and then don’t find a website of the artist, it gives me a perception that the artist is not serious about his/her art career, and is only pursuing it as a side-hustle or a hobby.
If you wish to become a professional artist, you have to present yourself like one. You must have your artist bio and the pictures of all your artworks on a single platform that is on your website so that people can easily find you.
How does the artist set an ideal price for his/her artwork?
It’s not possible to give an exact number because you have to consider a lot of facts. But I would give you a list of ideas and parameters on how you can set prices for your artworks.
Firstly, find out what are the artists in your geographic area charging for their arts. Even if you wish to charge higher that’s fine but by doing a research you’ll get an idea of how much to charge.
Second try to have different price points so that people get an idea of what distinguishes you and also have an opportunity to buy something in the price range they prefer. By that initially, they may buy a product at an entry-level and then eventually go on buying the art of higher price range. Give your customers the liberty to choose what satisfies them.
You must understand your costs involved in creating a piece of art. If you consider prints, there are some cheaper ones and some higher-end prints, so you must calculate your costs and add a double to triple markup over that. Because if you selling direct, you get 100% but if you sell it via a marketplace or wholesale, you have to pay out a commission of 40% or something. So if you don’t double the numbers, you’ll end up gaining only 10%, and with that, you’ll not be able to afford the production cost, marketing expenses and all other expenses. So only if you charge three times, you’ll get a reasonable profit.
Is there anything specific like which type of art sells the best?
Absolutely no! There’s no such thing like a particular art sells more. I have painters tell me that people are more interested in photography, no one buys paintings. And I have photographers telling me that people are more interested in paintings. I feel that there is a market for all types of arts.
If you only produce products that sell more, you’ll rapidly lose any type of inspiration and motivation to create. It is important to know what’s happening in the art world but, if your work is of great quality, and you market it efficiently leveraging the emotional connection with people, then there is always going to be an audience and market for your work.
Would you recommend any particular book or any other resource to develop entrepreneurship skills in the field of arts?
The books that I recommend my artist clients to read are,
· War of Arts by Steven Pressfield as it has essential tips for both entrepreneurs and artists.
· Essentialism by Greg McKeown is also a good book for entrepreneurship skills.
· The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is something like a course, and you can use it for your art career.
· If you are willing to understand how the high-end art world looks, then I would recommend any of the books by Don Thompson.
By the way, according to me, one of the best resources according would be your Podcast named The Artist Entrepreneur, which is a great source to learn about all the skills that an artist must possess. Other than the podcast, how can the artists reach out to you?
You can visit my website The Artist Entrepreneur where we have a library of free resources to help artists start an art business. You can listen to the Podcast The Artist Entrepreneur where we release a new episode every week. You can also connect on social media platforms on Instagram.
What would be your message for all the emerging artists out there?
Never give up, trust the process as it will take longer and test your patience as well. Some days you’ll be quite discouraged, but the artists who succeed are the ones who always have confidence, are resilient, who meet other artists and entrepreneurs and build a network. In this long run, you must have a strong support system because this is a marathon and not a sprint. So be prepared in all aspects.
That was a short blueprint for all the artists on how to start an art business and scale up their art career to a full-time art profession.