If you're producing traditional, hand made art (physical works such as a painting) and have always wanted to see your creations in real world galleries, by all means explore that option too. We'll look at this in more detail in a later post.
Note that, although all that follows is about websites, I've referred to them as 'software' because each site is more like an online application for reaching and managing an audience of fans or followers.
Social Sharing Sites
Many artists start out posting their work to Social Sharing sites, not necessarily to sell but just to show people what they've created and get feedback. In doing so, they build up and audience where, invariably someone will ask where they can buy your work or maybe they'll inquire about a commission.
Social Sharing sites are a great way to start and build an audience for your work. It's genuinely fun to share your art and it doesn't feel too much like work.
Most social sites let you post text, images and even video so make use of all three. Post images of your art both finished and as work in progress. Tell people about what they can see in those images (this will also help your posts be found in searches). Post videos of you actually creating the work, or talking about it. The key is to keep your posts focused on your art and anything related to its creation.
Be mindful though, that if you are using a social sharing site to promote your work, anything you post will reflect on you and your art. If you're likely to break out into a rant about politics, religion or some other contentious subject not at all related to your art, then you may want to create a separate account for that or your art posts (and never the two shall meet).
Also be careful not to sound too obvious about selling your work. By all means let people know if an artwork is for sale but don't make every single post a sales pitch. Social sites are about sharing and telling your story as well as sharing and learning about other people's lives too.
On that last point, to really be effective on social media, as much as possible, learn about the people following you, particularly those that comment on your posts. Be sure to visit their social media pages and see what they're up to. Comment on their posts etc. The more people feel like they know you the more they're likely to want to buy your work (and trust that you will deliver the work they buy).
You can try having a social presence on every social site you can find but you'll be stretched too thin. You won't be able to maintain every account on a daily basis (if you're not interacting with your social accounts on a daily basis you're doing it wrong).
It's better to focus on a few of the biggest social networks. I recommend, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linked In.
You can use your personal Facebook account if you wish but a nice feature of personal accounts is that you can set up dedicated pages to things that you like and post as that page. This means you can keep all your personal posts private (such as that steady stream of new baby photos) for your family and friends and post all your art posts, publicly on your dedicated page.
It can be a bit of a juggling act, making sure you always post as your page when interacting with your followers on their pages. Just check before you post that you are still set to posting as your page and not your personal account.
Personally I've found Twitter's 140 character limit, and it's difficult to follow conversations, extremely confusing and disjointed. However, if you focus on just posting your content to begin with, you'll gradually get used to the rest.
Twitter is where hash tags began so be sure to include one or two in your posts for even greater traction. Try to use relevant ones that are already trending.
If you do find Twitter confusing, you can try what I do and link your Facebook page to your Twitter account so that whatever you post to your page also gets the first 140 characters posted to your Twitter feed. Then just login to Twitter every now and then and post something directly to your feed so your Twitter followers know you're present on the network.
Many people earn a full time living promoting products from their Instagram accounts, becoming internet famous in the process.
For artists, Instagram just makes sense. Share beautiful images of your art with people who are specifically interested in seeing beautiful images. Don't forget to include a story about each photo you post. Two to three sentences is fine but some people write entire articles in their photo descriptions.
Hash Tags are also important here. The more the better (I'm told around 13 per post is ideal).
You can post status updates to your feed, include photos and even write entire articles (formatted specifically to look like an article not a status update), follow people and see what they're posting to their feeds.
It may not sound like the most exciting social network initially but, think about it, the corporate world loves art and has money to spend on it. We're not just talking about investment art either, businesses require artistic services all the time. Illustrations for websites, photography for product shots, animation for videos. Arguably you'd be better off focusing on Linked In over Facebook and Twitter because businesses have more reason to need artists and other creative people.
Attention to detail with your Linked In profile and updates could really earn you some credibility among people who you may otherwise not have much contact with (such as top company CEOs).
Starting out with social media is a great way to build an audience for your art but it isn't exactly focused. You're competing with every other interest each of your followers have as they scan their news feeds for items of specific interest to them at any given moment.
Through your own website you can break them away from the noise and start channeling people into your sales funnel. For example say you write a blog about your art's creation and you post a link to your latest blog update on Facebook. Some of your followers will click that link. Now you have them on your website.
On your website you can place a call to action at the end of whatever update your visitors are reading. Something like, "Purchase prints of this and other artworks in my online store" followed by a link to your store (which may be a part of your website). Anyone who clicks on this link is now browsing your store, possibly thinking about buying.
There are many options for getting a website up and running. Most website hosting services have template options that make it as easy as setting up your social media profiles to create a basic, informational style, website.
A popular starting point for artists are blogging sites like Blogger and WordPress. Both are completely free to get started and make it easy to keep an online journal of your art in progress.
A dedicated site (rather than a blogging platform) will make it easier to manage a portfolio of your work or to create an online shop. There are many options for free web hosting, Weebly, Google Sites and Webs are three that I've used in the past.
Free or Paid Web Site?
In the past it was said that free web sites made you look unprofessional. This was largely due to the advertising, placed on your site by the web host, that allowed their service to remain free.
These days people are so used to advertising on websites I doubt they even care. Take a look at any website you frequent and it'll probably be filled with advertising.
I've used free website hosting for most of my own websites over the last twenty years. What people care about is great content. If you provide great content they won't be put off by advertising. That said, the three web site hosts I mentioned above, all include very minimal advertising on your free site - usually they include only a footer on all your pages letting people know that your site is hosted with them.
The real question about free or paid is what kind of site do you want to create? Free sites are great for informational sites and portfolios but if you want more interactive features or want to create an online shop for your work then paid hosting will open up these options for you.
If you're not sure, look at the free web hosting services, see what their paid plans offer that you may want in the future, then start a free site with who looks most promising. When the time is right you can upgrade without having to rebuild from scratch with a new web hosting service.
A domain name is your web site address (or URL) online. For artists it's recommended to use your own name as part of your domain e.g. www.yourname.com as it's the easiest thing for people to remember.
That's not to say you can't use a pseudonym or something else catchy but if you don't have anything else in mind, your name is a solid foundation to start from.
Most web hosts include domain names as part of their paid plans so if this is all new to you start there to find out more information on how to register a domain.
Alternatively you can register domains with domain name registrars, separate from your web hosting service, like GoDaddy (who also have web hosting options), and then point your domain to your web site.
With a registrar it is possible to register multiple domain names and point them all to one web site (or even your most used social media profile) if you wish. Doing this can be a bit technical. You should consult with your domain name registrar for instructions.
Domain name registration is never free. However the cost is usually a minimal annual fee per registration and is, in my opinion, an essential purchase as part of your branding.
Now that we've covered the key areas of setting up your business, from the next post I'll begin to look at creating your art, putting it online and what you can do to maximize your art's earning potential.