Start Thinking Like an Entrepreneur

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Jessie Hemmons, otherwise known as ishknits, has been a “lifelong admirer of street art,” and is now one of Philadelphia’s most recognized street artists. Jessie’s crochet work has covered the city from her short-lived Rizzo bikini to her Payphones Philadelphia series. Jessie’s yardbombing challenges traditional notions of femininity and craft art, while providing a larger commentary about the creative-self. In this piece, Jessie provides a comprehensive guide to making money off of your work.

-Amanda V. Wagner, co-founder

I love talking to artists about making money. I enjoy sharing my experiences and trying to give advice whenever I can. In reality, it’s extremely difficult to pop up on the art scene and start making money. The first and most critical step for artists to understand is that they are the sole proprietors of their own business. Therefore, it’s important to start thinking like an entrepreneur. In terms of ways to make money, I could go on for days, but here are just a few pieces of advice:

Do some market research.

Take some time to learn about your medium, process, and/or style. How have artists been successful in the past? What pieces seem to be the most successful? What elements of the work/pieces seem to elicit the most positive feedback? How can you incorporate these elements into your own work while maintaining the singularity of the work? On what platform are similar artists most successfully selling their work? How do successful artists market themselves? How are they involved with their audience? What are people really willing to pay for similar work.

Make sellable work.

This doesn’t mean you need to create pieces that people traditionally buy, like landscapes or quilts. It means that you have to incorporate elements that people enjoy (as discovered from your research) when creating a piece that fits into your conceptual framework. This could also mean making work you are willing to place at a more sellable price. If people aren’t buying your giant sculptures, you don’t have to lower the price—don’t ever lessen your value. Just make smaller sculptures, or simpler sculptures that are conceptually comparable.

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Angela McQuillan, Ruby Excrescences, 60”x72”
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Angela McQuillan, Specimen series #1, 36 petri dishes 10cm diameter, Commissioned

Engage your audience.

Integrate the consumer into your marketing strategy. Try having a contest, or a giveaway. Give the audience something to do, like a scavenger hunt (finding information online or out in the real world). Give them a reason to talk about you—to share your posts. Collaborate. Let people donate a small piece and incorporate it into your next project. Obviously, make public art or interactive projects. Donate a portion of your proceeds to a good cause. People like to feel involved, and they love supporting (and talking about) people or projects they feel good about. Give them a reason.

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Network online.

Learning how to utilize social media effectively is absolutely essential. First, get an Instagram account. This is the most widely used visual platform, and the easiest in terms of marketing for artists. Next, determine which hashtags are most commonly or successfully associated with your medium. People browse their favorite hashtags, and use hashtags when looking for something specific. Really famous artists don’t use hashtags because they don’t need to, so checking them out may not be helpful.

Finding substantial hashtags may take some serious work. They need to be more specific than “#art” and “#studio,” but they can’t be so specific that there’s only 4 posts associated with them. A quick trick to make these broad tags a bit more specific is to include your location (or the nearest metropolitan location). Turn them into “#phillyart” or “#phillyartstudio.” Instagram now shows you how many posts are associated with a hashtag, and this has been a huge help when trying to invent my hashtag game.

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Learning to network online also provides a good opportunity to find a niche for your work. “#Yarnbombing” is a niche hashtag, and yields good results. Photographers seem to be the #igers of everywhere. Finding a specific sector where you belong may just help you find a professional support group for life. Artists and supporters are dedicated to their niches. Find out where you belong.

After all of that, start commenting on other people’s photos. Back in the day, people used to view the Instagram accounts of those who liked their photos. But these days it usually requires a comment to draw someone to your profile. Even a simple emoji can do the trick. So get out there and start commenting. Give to receive.

Assess your business plan.

After you’ve been trying to sell work for a while, stop and take a look at how things are going. What pieces have people responded positively to? Are there any similarities or patterns among your successful (or sold) pieces? What work has been less successful? Use the stats that are available to you from your selling platforms or website. Have your efforts on social media yielded any results? What posts do people respond to most, i.e. get the most likes/comments (personal, art, works in progress, social)? What other social media platforms would be helpful for promoting your work? How connected are you with your local art community? It’s important to periodically assess your marketing strategies to see what steps you can take to make yourself more successful.

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