Making Myths and Luxuries: Branding Lessons for Artists

You can sign up for our Business of art newsletter to get great content in the comfort of your own inbox.

 

In the corporate world, we talk about “brand” to discuss a company’s identity. Much like human identities, there are many brand possibilities for companies. Brands can be fun and playful, irreverent, serious, etc.

While the word brand might be too stiff or formal for an artist’s business, artists still have an identity. And developing your identity is key to being successful. For artist entrepreneurs, it can be fun and valuable to explore what identity they want their business to have. Artist branding doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

 

What Is a Brand?

We often think of a brand as a logo, but it’s a lot more than a stylish symbol. A common phrase in corporate marketing is, “A brand is what your customers say it is.” In other words, a brand is the emotional connection between the company, its products, and the customer. A brand is complex; it is the essence of a company and the relationship of that essence to its audience. 

When customers buy something from a brand they like, they’re not just buying a product or a service. They’re buying meaning, something that goes beyond function and reflects on how the customer views themselves. 

 

Something similar can be said for art. 

 

Certainly, most people don’t buy art for its functional value the way they buy, say, a pair of shoes or a car. They buy art for how it makes them feel. A big part of that is the storytelling that happens around the art, what I like to call the Myth.

 

Myth Making for Artists

What makes one artist more well-known than another? Is it that their work is better than others? 

Sometimes a revered artists work IS better, but likely what makes an artist more well known than another is differentiation! More often than not, it’s the myths created around the artist and their artwork that heighten the audience’s value of the creative output. In branding, we call this “myth” a brand story.

 

What is a myth, exactly? 

 

It’s more than a story. Myths often have some common characteristics, including:

  • A story with a nearly unbelievable—but still possible—arc. 
  • An origin, a transformation, and an expansive possibility

Myths are created to teach us, to inspire us, and to help us understand our own experiences in the world. The ability to craft and articulate a myth can be very valuable to an artist seeking to sustain themselves through the sale of their artwork.

 

For artists, this usually translates to:

  • An origin story somewhere between truth and fiction, but that showcases the artist’s humanity. It is where you are from in all aspects. Your hometown, your family, your friends and colleagues, and all the unique things and experiences that make you, YOU.
  • A transition where they experience concepts and learn skills to turn ideas into things. It is how you emerged as an artist. Your early experiences. The teacher that recognizes your talent. The training that refined you. The critique that made you. The transition is the awareness of you as a creative force.  A vision of things yet to exist. The artist has dreams of concepts, ideas and inventions that will enrich them as a creator.

 

So how does myth making translate to selling art? To understand this, it’s important to understand what type of business you want to be and to develop a myth that embraces the type. 

 

Three Types of Businesses

There are essentially three types of business: Commodity, Premium, and Luxury. Let’s take a quick look at what each of these are. 

 

Commodity Business 

Commodities are interchangeable goods or services. Their price is controlled by the customer, who can buy any number of products or services that are nearly the same  from a selection of vendors. For example, it doesn’t matter whether they buy the store brand of sugar or a name brand. The product is essentially the same and the creator has no control over the price.

 

Fine art is rarely sold as a commodity, though there are certainly websites where artists can sell various quality prints of their work as a commodity. This might be most akin to an unlimited print run.

 

Premium Business

A premium business sells differentiated products or services based on quality of material, skill, or customer support. The prices are often tied to what the market will bear, but is also greatly influenced by the quantity and expansiveness of offerings that supply has created in the marketplace. The creator has some control over the price, although the peers that they are competing with will influence price as well.

 

For an artist business, a premium business model can make a lot of sense. The artist often selects ideal materials for their creations and their skill is often high caliber. Together, the quality of materials and expertise of craftsmanship to make a work of art can command premium pricing, although your price may be influenced by your fellow premium peers.

 

Luxury Business

Luxury businesses are distinguished from the other types based on often irrational, subjective reasons. Products and services in this category are driven by scarcity, usually manufactured, and priced much higher than the value of the materials or skill needed to create them. In some ways, luxury products transcend reality by enabling the customer to be, think, say or do something beyond themselves. 

 

Think of almost any high-end luxury clothing brand where it’s all about the designer’s name and the brand rather than the material of the product or the skill of the person actually making the goods (either by hand or using machines). 

 

Art easily lends itself to this category, and much of society also sees art as a luxury. Not only is art a perspective, expression or manifestation of an idea that reflects the buyer, but its supply is greatly limited, it is usually unique, and only the artist has the skill and experience to create it. As a luxury brand, the artist and their business team can have significant control of the price.

 

Where Does Your Artist Business Fit In?

So what do these three types of businesses have to do with making myths? Oftentimes, the myth defines the business type. In other words, your art might be totally differentiated from every single piece of art out there. But it is your myth—your story, your skill, your experiences, etc.—that defines whether your art is a commodity, a premium product, or a luxury experience. How accessible your myth is to your audience also plays an important role. If no one knows the myth–or understands it–it kind of doesn’t exist!

 

Keep in mind that you may work through all three of these types of businesses over your art career. You might start at the commodity level, maybe churning out similar, less differentiated work at first. Then, as both your artistic vision and business skills mature, you might morph into a premium business, making fewer pieces (i.e. reducing supply) and growing the perceived value of your work. Finally, you might further refine your model to develop luxury pieces and services, such as painting commissioned murals in a customer’s home or designing Diadora’s next show line.

 

Ultimately, the direction you choose to take your business is yours. But if you need guidance in refining your vision and understanding how to build a business that supports your art, I’m here to help. Contact me to discuss how to build your income as an artist in a way that aligns with your artistic vision.

 

Accounting Tools for Artists

You can sign up for our Business of art newsletter to get great content in the comfort of your own inbox.

 

Let’s face it: Doing accounting for your business probably isn’t at the top of the list of things you enjoy doing. After all, you probably became an artist to express yourself, and spreadsheets and tracking income and expenses is probably not your preferred medium. Yet, as someone who wants to earn a living doing what you love most, you need to do at least a little bit of accounting.  

“Why?” you may ask yourself. 

For one, it is important to know your financial health. Just as taking care of your physical health allows you to create more art, a healthy perspective on your money will serve both your business and your creativity. Of course, you want to make sure you report the right amount of income and pay your taxes correctly in order to avoid major penalties and life-wrecking finances later down the road. And you might be surprised by how exciting it can be when you can see how your business is doing financially—especially when you’re profitable. Good accounting will also improve your pricing! Ultimately good accounting can give you more time in the studio and less time worrying.

Luckily, technology is here to help! There are a number of great financial tools for artists out there to help with accounting. Here are three that I like to use and that I’ve seen work well for some of my clients. 

Before we get to the financial tools for artists, it is important to note that the best tools for your business are the ones you will use. A powerful and great looking app may not be as helpful as a paper and pen sometimes. Choose the tool you want to learn and are willing to embrace!

Spreadsheets

I know, you’re probably thinking there’s nothing less interesting than a spreadsheet. I feel your pain. But hear me out:  The spreadsheet is a powerful tool that, when set up correctly, can make accounting a breeze while also giving you all the information you need to properly run your business. 

The best thing about spreadsheets:  You can set spreadsheets up anyway you like. They’re incredibly flexible to serve multiple purposes, and they are low cost or even free!

The worst thing about spreadsheets:  You have to have a basic understanding of how they work and how to manipulate them to get the most use out of them. They are also pretty boring to look at.

The good news is that there are plenty of templates out there that might be perfect for you, so you don’t have to start from scratch. There are also plenty of resources on how to utilize spreadsheets and even set them up for financial purposes. Finally, there are a number of free platforms out there that offer spreadsheets, such as Google Sheets or Apache Open Office. So, it’s often just a matter of finding the platform you prefer and choosing an appropriate template. 

Spreadsheets are a great financial tool for artists that are just getting started in business. The price is right, they are pretty easy to learn how to use and understand, and there are many individuals who utilize spreadsheets and can possibly help.

 

Quickbooks

Sometimes, it’s good to just pick a well known entity. And in the world of accounting tools, that winner is Quickbooks.

Quickbooks is the industry go-to for accounting software for small business owners. Unlike spreadsheets, you  have to pay for Quickbooks, but they offer a few different packages to fit different budgets. The cool thing about Quickbooks is its many functions.  You can track income and expenses, use it to send invoices to customers, send reminder invoices to customers, manage and pay bills, track inventory, and prepare for your taxes.Quickbooks offers a lot of automation and can connect to your bank account too. Quickbooks might be worth the investment as it will save you a ton of time and headaches.  It also generates reports that can help you make better business decisions that give you more resources (money) and enables more time to create.

Quickbooks is a great  financial tool for artists who have figured out their business to some degree. They likely have gone through a tax season or two and know what their sources of revenue are and what expenses to track. There are excellent resources and lots of professionals to help set it up as well as possibly do the financial work. It is a great financial tool for an artist who wants to automate some of their finance work and is interested in how finances can influence operational decisions.

The challenging thing about Quickbooks is that it requires at least a basic understanding of accounting terminology and principles. It also requires a bit of time and effort to set it up properly. You can certainly do this yourself, but there are plenty of accountants out there who are more than happy to help you with this.

HoneyBook

Want something that’s easy to learn, easy to use, and kinda pretty? If so, you might want to consider HoneyBook.

HoneyBook calls itself a platform to get everything done that you need to. In addition to accounting features, it can help you manage projects, clients, proposals, and more. It helps you manage essential documents (contracts, invoices, etc.), and  allows you to streamline client communications into a single platform. You can  manage bookings (such as if you’re scheduling photoshoots) and payments. Honeybook can be a great place to manage your customer contacts, particularly for relationships points like quotes/estimates, invoices, and tax reporting.  For the full price ($390/year at the time of this writing) you get all the platform’s features, but they do have more affordable plans if you don’t want to make that level of financial commitment. 

Honeybook is a great financial tool for artists who want to integrate their finances, customer information, and production calendar, while creating a high-touch experience for customers. It doesn’t quite have the support system of spreadsheets and Quickbooks, but there are resources and individuals who can help get things set up properly.

 

Want to learn more about financial tools for artists? You’ve come to the right place. Check out my upcoming Finance Friday coworking session where we’ll discuss all things financial for your artist business. Or if you have a burning question now, don’t hesitate to contact me

 

If you just want good business tidbits in your inbox once or maybe twice a month, sign up for our business of art newsletter.

 

Pricing Artwork doesn’t have to be magic: How do I Price My Artwork?

You can sign up for our Business of art newsletter to get great content in the comfort of your own inbox.

 

“How much should I sell my art for?” 

Too often, I find that artists asking that question don’t have a good sense of what their work is worth and are vastly undervaluing their art. 

Case in point: I have a client who was recently offered a commission for $2,000. It sounded great on the surface, but when we dug into the details, we realized the project would run six weeks and prevent the client from doing any other work. Projecting out based on that one project, this artist would make less than $18,000/year. Basically minimum wage. 

Your work is worth more than that, isn’t it? I certainly hope you believe it is. 

So how should you price your art? 

 

Subjective vs. Objective Pricing

Artists frequently price their work subjectively, meaning they give it a price based on what they think its value is. But price and value are two different things. 

Value is what an artwork is worth to somebody. It’s subjective because many factors go into the value of an artwork, such as the owner’s sentiment towards it, rarity, age, etc. When we say something has a “market value,” that’s basically what a piece could get in a market. But that doesn’t always mean it’s what someone is willing to pay. 

Price, on the other hand, is objective. Or at least it’s based on some objective measures. Price is a function of supply and demand (I know…economics terms always make me groan, too). As an artist, you control the supply of your artwork and you can influence the demand (see blog post: art marketing plan). 

 

How to Price Your Art

Luckily, there’s a relatively simple way to price your art (the objective part), though it does require a little bit of math.

(Good accounting can help you with this part)

First, you need to consider what the cost of your supplies are. That includes all the items you need to make your art (tools, materials, etc.) but it also includes things like your rent for your studio, electricity and heating costs, etc. Basically, anything that you need to create your work should be included. This is where tracking your finances comes in handy. 

Secondly, you need to figure out your hourly rate. Even though we don’t like to think of ourselves as hourly workers, this is an essential step to coming up with a fair market price for your work. To calculate this, consider what you would like to make annually before taxes. For the sake of simplicity, let’s just say $52,000/year. 

To calculate your hourly rate, you need to divide the annual salary by the number of hours you work each week. First, divide your annual salary by 52 (there are 52 weeks in the year), and then divide that number by the number of hours you work. For argument’s sake, let’s say 40, since that’s the standard for full-time work. Here’s what that looks like:

$52,000/52 weeks = $1,000 per week

$1000 per week/40 hours = $25/hour

That’s your hourly rate. Now, consider how long it takes you to complete a single piece of art. Let’s say something took you five hours to finish. 

5 x $25/hour = $125

But that doesn’t account for things like supplies. Let’s say it costs you $50 in supplies to make a particular piece. Thus, your total cost would be $175 (your labor and supplies). It’s important to note that this should be considered the base price. Don’t forget you have to add in other factors like a portion of your studio rent, insurance, marketing costs and other overhead items. The price needs to be closer to $300 (labor + supplies + overhead)

Ultimately, how you price your work should be a combination of objective (the real costs like labor, supplies and overhead)  and subjective (the desirability, rarity and non-measurable things) approaches. It should meet your bare minimum of what you need to make to sustain yourself as an artist, of course, AND you can also take into consideration how others feel about your art.  The good news is, that could be a whole lot more than you think!

If pricing still feels a bit overwhelming, don’t worry. It takes time to figure out your numbers. It can also be helpful to have someone to talk to about it. Feel free to reach out for a chat if you want more space to think out loud with someone. 

If you just want good business tidbits in your inbox for now, sign up for our business of art newsletter.

How to Build a Marketing Plan for Your Art Business (Part 1/x)

 

This post is Part 1 of a multi-part series about marketing. Subscribe to our Business of Art newsletter to receive notification when additional posts are published. 

One of the most common questions I hear is “How can I sell my art?” And while that’s an important question that every artist needs to find a way to answer, I find the more appropriate place to start is, “How should I market my art?” 

“Marketing” is a nebulous topic that frequently isn’t taught in school. And while some may be naturally gifted at drawing attention to their work on social media channels, those activities don’t always equate to actually marketing their work. In fact, being good at social media is just one aspect of marketing and sometimes may not even lead to sales.

In order to successfully sell your art, you need to approach marketing strategically. 

What does that mean?  Marketing requires critical thinking about who your audience is, the best ways to reach them, and all the steps they will go through to become customers. Good marketing is a series of activities that are part of the pathway to transaction.

Let’s take a closer look at the framework that  supports an effective marketing plan. In future posts, we will look at actionable steps to implement a marketing plan. 

 

A MARKETING PLAN FRAMEWORK:

GOALS

Audience

Message

Channel

Market conditions

Strategy

Tactics

Measurement 

 

Before we get into “how to build a marketing plan,” it’s important to understand the parts that make up a marketing strategy. While there are many different approaches to building a marketing strategy, here are the critical pieces that I’ve found are invaluable for artists to include. 

Goals: What are you trying to accomplish? 

Yes, you want to sell more art. And that’s a fine goal to have. But it’s not enough for a marketing strategy. Goals should be both specific about what you want and measurable

To define goals, think both about the steps needed to achieve those sales (drive more traffic to your website, have X number of gallery showings, etc.).

As you see above, there is a link that flows from your goals all the way to your action and outcome (more sales). 

 

Audience:  Who is your artwork for? 

Often when I ask an artist this question, many  will gleefully respond, “Everybody!”

Yes, artwork can be enjoyed by all people, but not everyone will value it. Nor do you want everyone to value it, as that likely means it is too average and does not transcend as great art. 

Furthermore, it is impossible to market to everyone. There is no message that will speak to every person the globe over, and there is no place–physical or digital–that could put your work in front of the entire world population. Your audience is a group of people who recognize the value of your work. 

More particularly your customers are those who value it AND are willing to pay for it. Keep in mind that some audiences may not be direct buyers, but rather people who can help you get in front of buyers, such as galleries. 

When defining your audiences, include things like age, gender, geographical location (if applicable), other artists they like, and other activities they enjoy. Income level is also good to include when building audience profiles, particularly if you have a desired price point for your work in mind.  With clarity on who your audience is, the rest of marketing becomes easier.

Messaging:  What do you want to say and how do  you want to say it to your audience? There are key things your audience wants to know about your artwork. There is context you can you provide to your audience that invites their engagement with your work. What details about materials, process and your philosophies add value to the experience of your work? Messaging is where you can, and frankly where you will need to differentiate yourself from other artists. 

Channels:  Where do your audiences hang out, both literally and figuratively? 

Hint: Social media is not the right answer. That is akin to saying my audience hangs out in the ocean, and if I start swimming I will probably find them. 

Channels need to be tangible places to connect with your audience. What social media platforms do they prefer? What hashtags do they follow?  Do they visit any particular art venues on a regular basis? What publications do they read? Where am I likely to personally, in physical or digital form, encounter my audience?

Market Conditions: What are people who are purchasing artistic experiences looking for? 

This can include information about what type(s) of art your ideal customers like, but it should also include general market conditions that may affect your ability to sell art. For example, when there is an economic downtown, art purchases tend to drop. You don’t have to be an economist, but a general awareness of market conditions will help you to properly communicate with your audience. 

Strategies: How will you reach your audience?

Marketing strategies define your approaches to growing your audience and increasing your sales. This includes things like developing a stronger online presence, building relationships with more galleries, participating in online art forums, developing an email list, creating stronger visual assets to communicate your values (brand) etc. Strategies, although large in scope, should be very specific and should directly support your goals. 

Tactics: What work do you need to do today to move towards your goal?

Often confused with Strategies, tactics are the specific steps you need to take to put your strategies into place. That might be “Create a daily Instagram post” or “Send a monthly newsletter.” 

Measurement: How do you know if you are getting closer to your goals? 

Good goals are measurable, but you also need to know what to measure. For example, if I’m driving from Baltimore to San Francisco, I know the route is going to be about 3,000 miles. Throughout my journey, I can easily glance at a number of mile markers, but that will only tell me how far I’ve gone on a specific highway. 

A better method would be to note down my odometer’s starting point and estimate the number it will be when I arrive in San Francisco. That way I know how far I’ve traveled at any time and can estimate how much further I have to go.

Measuring your marketing is similar. You need to know what you want to measure and how you will measure it. For example, if one of your goals is to grow online sales by X percent, you will need a way to track all your online sales, AND to measure its growth over time. Good analysis doesn’t cause paralysis, good analysis enables good growth.

This is the framework for any good marketing plan. Check out future posts for an overview of how to put these together to form a single, cohesive plan that gets results! 

 

Sign up for our newsletter here for additional business insights, invitations to free workshops, and as a step towards more time in your studio.