I’ve been doing business online for over 10 years in all sorts of niches, and the most success I’ve had with anything (by far) is selling my artwork online. More specifically, my digital artwork. However, whether you’re a digital or traditional artist, it’s relatively easy to make consistent sales once you build an audience. And if you’re serious about learning how to sell art online and make money, building an audience of super fans needs to start today.
Here are the exact steps (in the exact order) I took to successfully build an audience and make money by selling my artwork online:
- I started a blog
- I created an Instagram account
- I posted to both relentlessly
- I engaged and interacted with my ideal clients
- I created an online marketplace to sell my work
- I built an email list of my super fans
- I engaged and interacted with the members of my email list
- I repeated steps 3, 4, and 7 over and over
As you can see, it’s not that complicated. It is time-consuming however, and it requires a ridiculous amount of patience. You’re likely going to have feeling of quitting (like, all the time) as it’s highly probable that you won’t make any money in the first 12 months. But for those who are dedicated enough to stick with it, I can almost certainly guarantee success.
Still feeling motivated to learn how to sell art online and make money? Good! Let’s take a closer look at all the steps I oulitned above:
How to sell art online and make money: a step by step guide
I just want to reiterate that all of the steps listed above were the exact steps I took to become successful selling my own artwork on the Internet. However, I didn’t have anyone to teach me any of this, so I had to figure it out the hard way. You get to learn from my mistakes!
Step 1: create a blog
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t have any desire to sell my artwork when I created my blog. I was simply looking for a way to create a portfolio of my work, as well as to create a personal diary of my artistic endeavors.
I opted for a self-hosted WordPress blog instead of a free WordPress account from WordPress.com (mostly because I’m a tech nerd). Ultimately, the self hosted solution was the right thing to do since it gave me much more freedom over a very restrictive free account. Here’s why:
- I had unlimited disk space for images and video (something you don’t get in a free account)
- I had full access to all the best WordPress plug-ins – which you’ll need if you want to add any real functionality to your site (like social media integration and premium (awesome-looking) themes.
If you’re curious, setting up a self-hosted WordPress solution is incredibly easy. Here’s how to do it:
- Register a domain name (for example: www.yourname.com). I personally use register.com for all of my domain name registrations, but godaddy.com and namecheap.com are also good.
- Sign up with HostGator or Bluehost for a shared hosting package. A “shared” package is good enough when you’re just starting out, but you’ll eventually have to switch to a better plan as your traffic grows. Don’t worry about that for now…
- Once you have a hosting account, install WordPress. Most web hosts can do this for you (or at least give you the option to install it yourself with a single button click) – but you can also do it manually by downloading the latest version of WordPress here, and then uploading those files to your hosting account via FTP. Don’t worry – it s not complicated! This is a really good guide to take you through it step by step.
- Go back to wherever you registered your domain name and change the DNS servers to point to your hosting account. Here’s a guide for that.
Once your blog is up and running, the real fun begins! The best strategy I found was to post at least once a week. I would focus primarily on posting details about my latest work – which usually included several pictures and at least 500 words to explain it.
Keep in mind that you will likely be feeling like you’re talking to yourself in the first 6 months to a year. You’re not likely to get very much traffic, and it’ll be extremely rare for a stranger to leave a comment on any of your posts. Don’t worry. It takes time to get noticed, and it’s completely normal. As a matter of fact, when it comes to learning how to sell art online and make money, this is one of the hardest lessons you’re going to have to learn. It’s a total grind in the beginning.
Step 2: create an Instagram account
Your next step in this journey will be to create an Instagram account for your artwork. Well, you can actually use whatever social media platform you choose. I just happen to prefer Instagram, but if Twitter, Pinterest, or Facebook is your thing, by all means – go for it.
However, it’s important to mention that you should stick with ONE social media account only. Spreading yourself too thin by trying to build up multiple social media accounts at once will only slow your growth (and burn you out).
The goal for your social media account is the following:
- Posting high quality images of your latest work
- Interact and engage with other artists in your niche
- Interact and engage with your ideal customers
Posting to social media is not a passive endeavor. To get the most out of it, you’ll need to be active and participate in conversations. It’s one of the best ways possible to build an audience of super fans!
Step 3: rinse and repeat
Most everybody who wants to learn how to sell art online and make money from it won’t have the patience to work hard on a blog and a social media account when it takes a long time to grow. I know, because I felt that way too. I think it was by week number 8 of my first blogging and social media adventure that I first felt like giving up. “Nobody cares about me or my art” I thought. I really felt dejected and unmotivated to continue.
However, quitting so early in the game will be detrimental to your success. This is because you are going to need content (and lots of it) on your blog and social media account to appear “established” to first time visitors. Stick with it, because it will get better over time – I guarantee it!
Step 4: start spending more time engaging with your ideal clients
No, this does NOT mean being pushy and sales-y with them. Your goal with this step is to start hanging out where they hang out and make yourself known. Not necessarily as an artist at first, but as a friend who shares common interests. Once you establish yourself as part of that community, you can reveal more about yourself and the work you do. This is a very important step in learning how to sell art online!
A perfect example of this is how I did it:
I draw cars. I’ve been doing it since I was a kid, and I’ve had a lifelong passion for the automobile.
Therefore, it was extremely easy for me to participate on all sorts of car forums. I wasn’t there to promote my artwork, but the promotion started happening naturally when I posted a picture I drew of a popular forum member’s car. Suddenly, I was known as fhe “guy who draws people’s cars”, and I had loads of people asking me to draw theirs as well. And yes, they were offering to pay!
THIS was the best ever lesson I learned about the power of hanging out (and becoming friends with) potential customers.
Step 5: create an online store to sell your art
Ok, well – it took 5 steps, but we’re finally at the point of actually selling art online (and making money). Woo hoo! As you can probably tell by now, there is a lot of work involved to get to this point. And yeah, you could just start with this step and bypass everything else. However, it’s pointless because without an audience of people who are a fan of you (and your work), you won’t have much success with it. Remember – people only buy from other people who they know, like, and trust!
There are two ways that I recommend to easily create an online store to sell your work:
The difference between the two is this:
- With Etsy, you sell your artwork on an existing (well known and trusted) website. The catch is that have to pay them a small percentage of every sale.
- With Shopify, you get your OWN website and you didn’t have to pay a commission to anyone. You get 100% of the profit because it’s YOUR store.
I’ve already written an entire article on how I make $1000/mo selling digital art on my Shopify store, so I recommend reading that if it sounds interesting.
Finally, the reason why this is step 5 in the entire “how to sell art online and make money” process is because it depends so heavily on the growth of the blog and social media accounts you set up earlier. Now that those two things are established and running smoothly (and you’ve posted lots of great content), you need to start promoting this new store in every post.
Step 6: build an email list
Once your blog starts getting small trickles of traffic, sign up for ConvertKit and start collecting email addresses via a form at the bottom of every post. In a nutshell, you give something away for free to entice people to sign up for your email list, and then you develop a personal relationship with the people on this list via future mailings.
These are the people who are the most interested in you and your work, and are most likely the ones who are going to be future buyers!
The freebie can be something as simple as a list of all your favorite “must have” artists supplies which helps you to create the amazing work you do. Yes – aspiring artists (and people who are generally interested in your work) would love to have something like this.
Anyway, giving away a freebie in exchange for an email address is extremely easy to do with ConvertKit. Here’s an awesome tutorial explaining how it’s done:
Step 7: engage your list!
Now that you’ve got a list of people who are interested in you and your art, you need to continue giving them value so they remain subscribers (and develop into “super fans”). The decision of what kind of content you send is entirely up to you, but it’s very important to understand who these people are and why they signed up for your list.
If your freebie was a list of your favorite art supplies, chances are that most of your subscribers are artists and would enjoy learning more tips and tricks from you. However, there is a major problem with this kind of list. If you’re trying to figure out how to sell art online and make money, building a list of fellow artists isn’t exactly a great way to do it. These people are far less likely to buy your work!
Therefore, enticing people to sign up with a discount code for 40% off (or whatever) on any item in your online store would work better to build a list of potential buyers. As a matter of fact, this is exactly what I’m doing – and it’s working incredibly well.
By the way, Shopify makes it extremely easy to create discount codes. You can even create one-time-use codes which will allow one discount per person – which is perfect for a “X% off your first purchase” type of promotion. That’s what I do.
Finally, email lists are good for promoting your lastest work as well. It’s extremely important not to “over sell” your list, but it’s perfectly acceptable to selfishly promote something every now and then (because these people have the highest potential of purchasing your artwork). Remember: your list consists of real people, so don’t forget that real people don’t like getting spammed!
Step 8: rinse and repeat (again)
By the time you reach this step, you’ll have a really good sense of what works (and doesn’t work) for you in regards to selling art online. You may find that the blog doesn’t work, but email does. Or maybe the blog works, but social media doesn’t. Every business is different, and what works for one isn’t a guarantee that it’ll work for another.
The entire point of this step is to go heavy on the things that are working for you, and lighten up (and possibly even eliminate) the things that aren’t.
The technical aspects of making money with your artwork (no matter what type of artwork it may be) isn’t all that difficult. However, it’s important to know that it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. As a matter of fact, you’re likely not going to see much profit at all for at least the first year (unless you’re extremely talented or ridiculously lucky).
The only people who find success with this are those who are willing to roll up their sleeves and stick with it when things get tough! I know this because it took me many years of failures before I ever saw any success.
Where would I be now if I quit just 1 year into it? Most likely working a job I hate again, that’s for dang sure.