If you’re serious about earning an income with your art, then you have to be serious about marketing yourself. If you’re like me, you hate selling… you don’t like rejection, it makes you nervous and you think you’re no good at it. That’s why we’re artists and not salesmen. Fortunately marketing yourself is kind of an art form. Although I don’t have all the answers, I’d like to share a little of what I’ve learned about the art of marketing ourselves.
Be Seen: First, make it easy for people to find you. Create a deviation with a list of the different kinds of commissions you offer, with a sample and a price for each. Put this deviation near the top of your profile so that everyone knows you’re open for commissions. Here’s mine as an example:
Join commission groups where people looking for commissions can find you. Many commission groups will expect you to have a commission sheet that’s been uploaded as a separate deviation like the one above, so make sure you do that first.
Keep It Simple: Don’t put huge numbers of options on your commission info sheet… I can’t stress this enough. Even when you want to buy something, weeding through a giant list of options isn’t helpful… actually it puts people off.
Imagine for a moment that you go into a grocery store and there’s someone with a table giving out samples of jam. Let’s assume for a moment that you’re a relatively social person and you like jam, so what do you do? If she’s offering 3 flavors of jam, you say hi, try a jam or two and likely buy one… or maybe you just buy one of each (since there are only 3) and take them home to try. What if there are more kinds of jam? What if there are 10 kinds of jam? What if there are 30? Traditional marketing theory says that the more options there are, the more likely a customer will find something they like and buy it, so more options means more sales. It turns out this is wrong. Scientists studying this subject found that more options mean fewer sales. (There are some exceptions, but an art commission isn’t one of them.)
What happens when the girl is selling 30 different flavors is that your decision becomes much more complicated and usually you’ll choose not to buy any because it’s too much work to decide. You say hi to the girl, she says “which flavor would you like to try?” You say “what have you got?” She says “oh lots, we’ve got 30 flavors!” At which point you think to yourself “uhh… right… I don’t have time for this,” and you leave… politely. (This is called decision fatigue. articles.latimes.com/2009/mar/… )
The same thing happens if you give people too many options in your commission sheet. People will mostly look at it, decide it’s too much work to figure out what kind of commission they want, and leave.
So the ideal commission information sheet will have just a handful of items the person can buy (I think 3 - 6 is considered ideal).
So if you do lots of different kinds of art, my recommendation is to divide your commission information up into several different sheets for different kinds of art. For example if you do illustration, 3D modeling and small ceramic works, don’t put several options for each kind of art on a single sheet – you don’t want to make people wade through all that if they’re only interested in one kind of art. Break it up and create a separate commission sheet for each kind of art: one for illustration, one for 3D modeling and another for ceramics.
Also if you just do one kind of art, like illustration, don’t give people a big a-la-carte system. And especially don’t make your clients do a bunch of math to determine the cost. They should at most have to add shipping cost and maybe one other extra for something like a background.
EXAMPLE (Needs Work):
- Bust - $3 per character -- (I don't recommend offering shoulder-up sketches, it's too small a job)
- Half-Body - $5 per character
- Full-Body - $8 per character
- Simple Background +$1
- Full Background +$3
- Bust +$3 per character
- Half-Body +$5 per character
- Full-Body +$8 per character
- Simple Background +$5
- Detailed Background +$8
- Bust +$1 per character
- Half-Body +$2 per character
- Full-Body +$3 per character
- Simple Background +$1
- Detailed Background +$2
- Bust +$3 per character
- Half-Body +$5 per character
- Full-Body +$10 per character
- Simple Background +$8
- Detailed Background +$12
p.s. Not only have I seen this configuration recently, I've seen it with US Dollars, British Pounds and Euros all on the same sheet! If you want to offer prices in multiple currencies, I recommend you make separate copies of your commission sheet for each currency.
Color (Copic Markers) $20
All prices per-character
Did you notice how much simpler the second example is? If you were purchasing, which information sheet would you want to see? Which one makes it easier for you? The first example is daunting for most people and makes a lot of potential clients feel nickelled-and-dimed. The latter example is more inviting; it makes things easier and helps them feel confident about purchasing. Of course, none of this is absolutely set in stone and you can get plenty of commissions with an information sheet that's somewhere between these two examples. The point I'm making here is you need to look at your sheet as though you were purchasing. As a potential client, how does it make you feel? Your mileage may vary.
Reduce Uncertainty (setting prices): What’s the one thing we do when we’re either buying a commission or selling one? We worry. If we’re buying one, we worry that it might not be what we’re hoping for in the end. If we’re selling one we worry that the client won’t be satisfied; that we’ll spend too long working on it and we won’t make enough money, or sometimes that the client will try and get more than they paid for by continually asking for changes. (This last one was a popular trick with some clients when I was earning my living programming computers.) Since everybody has something to worry about, we should do what we can to reduce those fears and give us confidence on both sides of a commission.
We can’t totally resolve everyone’s concerns, but we can put each other at ease a little if we know how. The best way I know to do this is in setting prices. So how do you set your prices? I know this was a source of anxiety for me – and I suspect it’s a source of anxiety for a lot of us. There are two main schools of thought.
CHARGE PER HOUR:
On the one hand you’ll know that you’re making enough money for your time.
On the other hand this makes things more complicated for your client and increases their anxiety level, because now they get to worry that the work may take too long and they may not be able to afford it.
This alleviates the client’s concerns because they know how much they’re paying up-front.
But now you have to worry again about not making enough money for your time. If you don’t make enough money for your time, then you might not be able to pay your bills.
There’s a third option that lies somewhere between these two options.
Work up several samples of the kind of commission work you’re selling. Use a clock or a kitchen timer to measure how long each piece takes. Then average out your times for that kind of work. So for example, you might do 5 sketches that take between 20 and 40 minutes each to complete. When you add them up and average it out, they take you an average of 30 minutes to complete.
Now that you know the average time for this kind of work, you can place a price for your time on that kind of piece. So if a sketch takes an average of 30 minutes, you can do 2 of them in an hour. So to make at least minimum wage here in the US, each sketch would have to cost at least $4. If you wanted to make more than minimum wage (which I definitely recommend), then you should charge more.
This does mean that some of your works will take longer and you’ll earn less per hour for those commissions… it also means that some of your works can finish faster and you’ll earn more per hour for those. The good news is that the clients get a fixed rate, which helps them feel better and more confident about hiring you for the commission, and at the same time you know that your rate will average out in the long run and you’ll be earning enough money to pay your bills. So this helps put both you and the client a bit more at ease.
There’s one other thing that everybody worries about when marketing commissions: setting your prices. I can’t say that I have any magic formula to tell you how high or low your prices should be… I definitely think they should be above minimum wage, but how much is up to you. It’s normal to worry about this. If you set your prices either too low or too high, you might not earn as much as you could.
Here’s my last bit of advice on this subject – it’s better for people to think your prices are a little high rather than a little low. When people see prices that are low, it gives them the signal that “it must not be very good”, and vice versa that “people must like her work” when they’re higher. So it’s better to give people the signal that your work is valued and appreciated (not to mention that you value your own time), rather than sell yourself short. Your own estimate of your work is probably low rather than high, and selling yourself short also results in people taking advantage of you much more often. So compare your work to some other artists you like, think how much you think your work is actually worth compared to their prices, and don’t be afraid to add on a few bucks. You're worth it.
Blow Your Horn: This has two parts. First, just like when you’re dating, you don’t want to appear desperate. Is it attractive when you meet someone who's begging for a date? "Please, please, please go out with me! No one will go out with me! You're my only hope!" No, begging isn’t attractive. It sends the signal that “I’m unwanted”. So if you beg for dates, at best you’ll get a few pity dates. Begging for commissions will have much the same effect. So never say anything like “nobody will commission me” or “why aren’t I getting more commissions” or “damn I wish someone would commission me”. Those kinds of statements will drive away potential clients. To make yourself attractive you want to emphasize to other people that your art is appreciated and that others want your art. Getting your first commission may be tough if you haven’t had one yet; hang in there!
The second part of this is pointing out to your watchers and others the work you’ve done and letting people know that you’re available for commission. This is distinctly different from “begging”. When you finish a piece and post it online, add a little note in your comment saying for example “Did you like this? I’m open for commissions.” If you’ve done requests in the past, you can use those requests as examples of work you’ve done to encourage people to hire you for your first commission. Whatever you do, give people the impression that you’ve got plenty of art projects to keep you busy, so even if they’re not commissioning you, you’ll be working on something cool.
Lastly, if you really do have an emergency situation like your house was hit by a tornado or a flood – or a combination earthquake-tsunami-nuclear-disaster, it’s perfectly okay to tell people that you have an emergency need. This isn't "begging", it's just being honest about a problem. Many people look specifically for artists who are most in need when purchasing their commissions. If it’s genuine, go ahead and let people know you’re in a bind. You don’t want to do this all the time. If you do this every month, people will stop believing that it’s genuine (like the story of the boy who cried wolf), so make sure you’re only asking for emergency commissions when you’ve got a real emergency. If that’s the case, check out the group ForArtistsAid, a group designed to help artists out of these kinds of binds.
Be Friendly: Talk to as many people as you can. I don’t mean hawk your wares at them, just talk to them. Find out what interests them and talk about that. Share your own thoughts on their interests, especially if you have common interests. The more social you can be, the more people you can talk to, the better. When you write in your journal, remember to be optimistic. You should talk about your goals, things you’re looking forward to or want to achieve. It’s okay to mention problems or things that upset you, but don’t dwell on them and express hope that they’ll be solved. If you sound like Debbie Downer, nobody will want to commission you. On the other hand, if you’re optimistic that will help draw people to you – they’ll enjoy your company, want to talk to you and they’ll be more likely to commission you.
Be Nice: This is the cherry on top of the sundae. On the surface it seems obvious, but there’s more to being “nice” than saying please and thank you. Obviously you should thank people when they hire you for a commission. If you’re sending an original in the mail you can go a step further and jot a quick note to them on a Post-It to put in the envelope. You may also want to stick a couple pieces of candy in there as well. I like to use Starburst for this because they’re small and they’re individually wrapped, so it’s easy to get a couple of them in the envelope. It’s a nice little surprise for your client and they’ll have fond memories of receiving their commission from you.
Good luck and have fun!
p.s. Hey! You finished the article! Did you enjoy it? Great! I'm glad I could help. Now if you have a moment, I'd appreciate a little help from you. Just check out my career-change goal for 2016 here: www.woohooligan.com/2016/da