How to Become #1 as a Result of This Financial Downturn

You, me, and every artist on earth is wondering the same things right now. How do we survive this virus shutdown? How do we survive this economic downturn?

Today I’d like to suggest some ideas you may want to consider. I have had the benefit of surviving three recessions before this one (whether this is a recession, a depression, or a temporary downturn). Survival was not easy. But I came out on the other side ahead. Here are a few ideas. I’m sure I’ll have more later.

Be smart. Don’t close your doors for business.

I’ve been in the media business (mostly radio and TV) for decades, and I have deep experience in this. Though you want to react, if you overreact, you’ll be out of business forever. I’ve probably seen it happen to a few dozen companies. If you’re selling art, you as an artist are a businessperson or a company. The same things apply to you. Let me explain.

The first thing we all do when there is no money coming in the door is trim expenses. It’s a must, of course. Yet when I held a company meeting this week, I outlined what we were going to do and not do. One of the things we’re not going to do is turn off the income faucet.

Few people understand that the income faucet is their lifeline. This faucet may not have as much “water” coming out as before, but if you turn it off, there is no water at all.

The income faucet is marketing and advertising.

I’m sure you’re thinking, “Of course you’re going to say that, Eric, because you’re in the magazine business.” No doubt. But I’ve lived it, which is why I told my team we’re making cuts in all areas, but we’re actually increasing advertising.

Why? Why increase advertising and increase risk?

I’ll give you two gallery examples. I’ll not mention names, but you can figure out who they are if you know galleries from around 1998, when another big recession hit.

Gallery A called me and said, “We have to cancel our advertising. Things are really bad.” I talked to them about the income faucet, but they cancelled their ads with us and everyone else. They also stopped all other forms of marketing. They stayed open, but that was it. About six months later, they announced bankruptcy and eventually disappeared.

Gallery B called me and said, “We’re starting up a new gallery and we want to buy a bunch of advertising. Several pages in each issue.” Within one year they became one of the top galleries in America, and they still are.

One day I had lunch with Gallery B’s founders and asked what their strategy was at the time. What they told me was something like this: “I’ve studied recessions and what happens to businesses because I was a business consultant. We knew we were going to start a gallery, we had our artists lined up, but we wanted to wait for the recession to start. I knew all our competitors would stop advertising. And I knew that though their businesses were soft, they would still be selling art because rich people always buy. They buy less, but they keep buying.”

He went on, “But I knew if they did not keep advertising, they would soon be out of business — and there were about eight big galleries that went under. Had they kept spending in advertising and made deeper cuts elsewhere, they would have survived. Instead, they handed their customers to me.

“I was advertising, and even though I was new, I looked strong because we had big ads, in some cases several in a row. And I stood out because there were not as many people advertising. I started hearing from customers, sold them art, and they were then on my list. I’ve sold many of them millions in art over the past years, and we’re now their go-to gallery. This is exactly what I was counting on.”

As I probed deeper, he told me he did not buy wide, meaning he didn’t buy in six or 10 publications, but he bought deep in about three. In his case, he picked my magazine Fine Art Connoisseur because he knew we had lots of ultra wealthy readers, and a couple of other publications. He told me, “Always follow the money.”

I have a saying I use in my marketing classes for artists: Always stand in the river where money is flowing.

It’s no secret that money won’t be flowing as well. But consider this.

Let’s say there are 10 galleries (or 10 artists) who have a strong customer base and who have been advertising. Now let’s assume each is only getting 20 percent of the sales they normally get — but five of the 10 stop advertising. That 20 percent of continued spending will go to those who remain visible. In the case of Gallery B, eight galleries stopped advertising, and Gallery B couldn’t keep up with the business.

There is another important principle, and that is to prime the pump for when things get better. All the people who love and buy art are not going to stop loving it. They will continue to read their favorite magazines. They need to see you the entire time. The reason is that when the money faucet turns back on, some galleries or artists will have stayed visible, branded themselves, and stood out when others had gone away, and they created interest and demand. Buyers may never have noticed you before, but now you stand out, and you are soon on the “eventual buy” list in their heads.

As a business owner, I know every dime spent is painful. But a visibility strategy is important to retain customers.

So is social media the answer? Of course it will be helpful, but there are a couple of things few people realize. If you have 5,000 Facebook friends and you do a post, only 2 percent are fed that post. So you think you’re reaching 5,000 people, and you’re really reaching 100. And just because you posted something does not mean those 100 saw it: Only 3 percent actually see or notice a post, based on their browsing habits, how the post looks, and how attention-getting it is. So you’re being seen by about three people.

You also have to remember that the people who follow you may not be people who buy art. Maybe some do, but chances are most are other artists. To reach people who spend money on art, you need to find a place that has a concentrated audience of known buyers.

Even if you can’t do what Gallery B did and buy several ads, some presence, any presence, will keep the money flowing in, though more slowly. No presence is like turning off the money faucet.

If you’re new and have not been an advertiser, there is no better time to launch a campaign and be seen and stand out. This is when kings and queens are made.

Case in point… during the Great Depression, Post Cereal was number one in America by a landslide. Because they were so confident that everyone knew them and loved them, the board made a decision to stop all advertising. Meanwhile a young startup called Kellogg’s launched during the Great Depression. The Post board still did not advertise, believing Kellogg’s could not possibly hurt them. By the end of the Depression, Kellogg’s was the number one cereal brand in America and had taken away more than 50 percent of Post’s business. They remain the leader to this day. Post tried everything but could never catch up. That’s why recessions and depressions are kingmakers.

You and I are faced with difficult decisions. Every dollar counts. We don’t know how long this will last, or when things will get better. But just because we’re frightened, we shouldn’t be foolish and assume nothing is selling. Just today a friend told me he sold a big, expensive painting, and earlier this week another friend told me she’d sold a painting.

In the Depression there was a money shift. Lots of millionaires were made during the Depression, and they were spending. In fact, the bankruptcy lawyers and others who made a lot at that time bought up real estate and businesses for pennies on the dollar, and many became the barons of the time. There is still money out there, and people are still buying.

This virus containment time can be an advantage to you. People are spending a lot of time in their homes, and many are focusing on redecorating or rearranging. This will reveal needs for new art. Also, they have lots of time on their hands, and they will read more. We’re seeing massive, bigger-than-ever open rates on our newsletters and websites, and others tell me the same. I’m assuming they will spend more time with the print magazines like PleinAir and Fine Art Connoisseur as well.

With every downturn, there is an advantage. Be smart, don’t turn off the faucet. Turning it off could turn off your business forever.

Oh, one more thing …. there is a principle in advertising called momentum. If you’ve been visible issue after issue for years and you suddenly stop, you kill your momentum. Though everyone thinks, “People know me they will remember me,” it’s simply not true. Out of sight, out of mind happens fast. I could name artists who were big brands making a lot of money who are not selling at all now because they were resting on their past brands. People no longer know who they are. Only the artists or galleries who stay visible will survive this long-term.

Food for thought. I hope it’s helpful. Please let me know what you need and how we can help you.


By |2020-03-21T21:11:55-04:00March 23rd, 2020|Branding, Business, Sales|0 Comments

The Gallery-Artist Debate: Is Each Earning Their Percentage?

Recently a well-meaning artist posted this statement on Facebook:

“The standard gallery practice since I started selling in galleries has been a 50/50 split of the retail price sale with the artists. However, in the last 7-8 years it seems like galleries are doing much less for artists but still demanding the same split. So many shows now require that artists pay for shipping both ways. So many shows feature artists the gallery does not represent. If you are not representing me and trying to build my career, if you are not trying to get magazine articles for me, if you aren’t really presenting my work to collectors, then you are no longer earning 50% of the sales. Is anyone else standing up to galleries? Are we so afraid of missing out on being part of shows that we all just do whatever galleries ask of us? Why are we, as artists, giving so much power to people who are offering us little other than wall space?”

The artist isn’t necessarily wrong, but he isn’t necessarily right. Here’s why:

Complaint: “In the last 7-8 years it seems like galleries are doing much less for artists but still demanding the same split.”

Maybe instead of the question being “Why aren’t you doing more for me?” the question should be, “Are you selling my paintings?”

From my perspective, though it would be nice to have a gallery promoting and advertising me, I look at their primary role. They are a sales agent, to whom I pay a 50% commission.

What matters to me is whether my work is selling. Everything else is gravy. Though many of the outlined promotional activities can lead to a sale, they are also expensive to implement. If they are not necessary, and not part of an agreed-on expectation, that shouldn’t matter if the gallery is doing its primary job … selling paintings.

If someone wanders into a gallery and buys a painting without ever having seen an article or an ad, does it really matter? The sale is what matters. 

Another way to state it: If a gallery has figured out how to sell my paintings without articles, without PR, without ads, do I really care? Again, the sale is what matters.

If paintings are NOT selling, then one has to question the entire relationship. But every business has unpredictable up and down cycles, which is why I think all artists should have galleries in different regions, and probably have at least three. Some years my gallery sells every painting I send, other years not a peep. But I know they are trying.

Start With an Agreement

Unless he had an up-front written or verbal agreement, the artist could be complaining about not receiving something he never should have expected. I think it’s important that every gallery have an agreement in place. Start with a dialogue: “This is what I hope you can do for me. Can I expect this from you?” And it’s a two-way street; the gallery should explain exactly what they need from the artist.

I like written agreements — not to avoid future lawsuits, but for clarity. A simple one-page doc stating the artist’s and the gallery’s expectations is important.

Oh, you’ll also need some protections. I’ve watched friends lose paintings when a gallery when bankrupt and the court seized inventory. You should have it in writing that the gallery does not own your work, and that in the event of a bankruptcy or at the first indications of financial problems, they will give you a chance to get your work out. You’ll have to be willing to go collect it — if a gallery is going through a financial crisis, don’t expect them to pay for shipping.

Complaint: “So many shows feature artists the gallery does not represent.”

This statement assumes that the gallery should sell only artists it represents. However, as an artist, I celebrate when a gallery does something like an OPA show, AIS Show, etc. Why? It’s helping put the gallery on the map, it’s making new people aware, it’s bringing outside promotion, and ultimately, it’s driving traffic to the website or the gallery where potential buyers can find my work.

Frankly, anything that keeps money coming in the door and keeps a gallery healthy is a good thing. If they are having a cash crisis and decide to do a special show to make some money, support them. Otherwise you may be picking up your work when they go out of business.

Complaint: “So many shows now require that artists pay for shipping both ways.”

Guess what: Things are not the way they used to be. It’s harder than ever to be in the gallery business. Rents are high, expenses are high, and galleries are seeking ways to save money. We as artists cannot expect them to behave like it was still the good old days. We have to work in today’s market. Shipping terms should be part of your written agreement.

Complaint: “in the last 7-8 years it seems like galleries are doing much less for artists but still demanding the same split.”

The split is a commission, as I mentioned above (unless there are other terms). Here is a fact: More galleries have gone out of business in the past five years than have survived. Galleries cannot operate the way they used to operate. In the old days droves of people walked in the doors; now those expensive rents do not produce foot traffic. So they may be paying $25,000-$50,000 or more for a retail space when there is no retail business. 

One gallery, which since has gone out of business, asked what I would recommend for them. When I asked what percentage of their business was from locals, walk-ins, or in-person visitors, they said 10 percent. I suggested they close their retail space (which was costing them $25,000 a month), deck out a small showroom in an inexpensive warehouse space, and focus on selling more to the 90 percent. For half of that $25,000 a month, a gallery could dominate all the art magazines and drive more business by Internet and phone. But their egos got in the way, they were in love with their space (which was incredible), and that $300,000 in rent drove them out of business. Would it have been better to downsize and survive?

You and Your Gallery are Partners

It’s a good idea to have an ongoing dialogue with your gallery about what you can do to help them and what you need them to help you with. Find out what is selling. One gallery owner told me recently his art was no longer selling, so he got all new artists and moved in a different direction, making his business healthier than ever. Galleries cannot control the market, they can only reflect it. If you understand trends, maybe you can make adjustments in your work to meet those trends. Also, though you’re looking to the gallery to market you, they need your help too. Are you letting people know who your galleries are, how to find your work at galleries, and referring customers to them? Again, it’s a two-way street. 

Complaint: “If you are not representing me and trying to build my career, if you are not trying to get magazine articles for me, if you aren’t really presenting my work to collectors, then you are no longer earning 50% of the sales.”

I can’t emphasize this enough: Unless you have an agreement for articles and other career-building, the gallery’s only job is to sell your work to earn that commission. Of course they will present your work to collectors and buyers — by giving you wall space and talking you up.

Complaint: “Are we so afraid of missing out on being part of shows that we all just do whatever galleries ask of us?”

If a gallery is asking for help, ask yourself why. They want your participation because they are seeking new ways to bring customers in the door. I’d much rather cooperate with reasonable requests than be the one artist not in a major show. If I’m in a partnership and my partner needs my help, I’ll be there. 

Selling with Honey and Not Vinegar

Two artists I know have different approaches. One calls the gallery and berates them for not selling enough work. He calls frequently, and, other than bringing people’s attention to his work, or possibly doing a show or advertising, it sells if it sells. But this artist completely alienated his gallery and they fired him. Why? He was not worth the hassle. They dreaded his calls. He made them feel bad even though they were trying everything. People were just not buying his work, and they could not make him happy. And they had lots of choices of other artists who were selling.

The other artist is the nicest guy in the world. He doesn’t call much, because he knows the gallery is busy, and if every artist called every week, they would never get anything else done. When he calls, he doesn’t even ask if things are selling or what they are doing. Instead he simply says, “How can I be of service? What do you need from me? Is there a kind of painting anyone is seeking I might be able to paint?” Oh, and he sends a small gift to the salesperson each time they sell a painting. 

Who would you rather do business with?

Complaint: “Why are we, as artists, giving so much power to people who are offering us little other than wall space?”

Oh, I’m sure it seems that way. But keep in mind, some months a good gallery may not sell enough artwork to pay the bills. They may be wondering, “Why aren’t these artists earning their 50% by helping us more? After all, we’re putting out tens of thousands in rent, ads, electric for all that lighting, employees, sales commissions to employees, shows, food for shows, public relations, etc.”

It’s important to make sure you understand both sides of the story. Wanna really feel empathy? Ask your gallery if you can come there for a week to be a salesperson. See just how easy it really isn’t.

The bottom line is that you and your gallery can both gripe about a lot of things the other could be doing. But be thankful they have selected you when there are 200,000 other artists they could pick. If you’re one of 30 or 50 they are hanging, you are in the upper 1 percent of artists in the world. Be thankful that they are exposing your work, hanging it, lighting it, and paying for that wall space. Be thankful they are doing everything they know to bring people into the gallery. Could they do more? Of course, and they will if they can afford it. Be thankful they can sell your work while you’re sleeping, or painting. It beats trying to do it all on your own, and the expense that goes with that.

A Message to Artists

Consider this. The gallery business is at risk. This is the time we all need to support them, help them survive and thrive, and celebrate that they are doing what they do for 50 percent. I know an artist who gives the galleries 75 percent and is now one of the richest artists in America because they favor his commission over the others. He’s not complaining because he did $5 million in sales last year.

A Message to Galleries

Consider this. Artists put their heart and soul into their work, and you exist because they don’t want to have to learn to sell on their own. If they wanted to be business people, they would have gone into business. They need you to communicate with them, and they need to understand your issues so they don’t look at everything as one-sided. 

Both artists and galleries can do a better job of communicating. There is no right or wrong, we’re all in this together. If one falls, the other could fall. Let’s all work harder on communicating.

By |2020-01-21T11:54:01-05:00November 8th, 2019|Art Galleries, Business, Sales|0 Comments

What to Do if Your Art Stops Selling

Last week an artist told me he was suffering. His sales were way off, and the steady income he had become used to had suddenly come to a stop. He also told me his galleries were not selling much of his work anymore.

I asked him what he thought the problem was, and he told me he is doing everything he can to generate income … more workshops, working on a book, working on a video, getting into more plein air events, doing an online mentoring program and an online school, and trying to schedule some gallery shows.

As I probed this with him, I asked which came first … all the activities or the slump in sales? His answer was no surprise. “I was doing really well and hardly had to do anything to sell paintings, but I wanted to make more money, so I started working on these other projects.” When I asked him if he was painting as much and sending as much to the galleries, he said, “Well, no. I don’t have as much time.”

This is going to sound absolutely counterintuitive, but less is more.

The disease many of us have is thinking we have reached a peak with our income and that therefore we need to start doing new things to bring in more money.

An example is my buddy Jim. Jim owns a coffee pot business. It’s a pretty big business. He has pots made in China with his brand, and he sells them on Amazon. He has made a lot of money, but when we last met, he told me he was getting out of the coffee pot business and getting into the vitamin business. 

Why? Pots had stopped selling as well, and he sees lots of people making a lot of money in vitamins. 

The grass is always greener. Someone else looks successful doing other things, yet we forget that when we do new things, there is a tremendous learning curve, time to understand it, and often it’s not naturally in our skill set. Someone else might be successful, but we don’t know how many decades of struggle they went through to get there, or how much money it cost them to start.

Any time you start chasing shiny objects, you suffer somewhere else. I should know. Success magazine called me the “Shiny Object King,” and it was not necessarily a compliment, though their point was that some shiny objects turned out to be better businesses than what I had.

As an artist selling art, you are a small business. All businesses have up and down cycles. Sometimes those downs are caused by the economy, sometimes they’re caused by a change in the industry or business, sometimes they’re impacted by events like the California fires or election fears. Sometimes we don’t know.

Something I do know: In Ecclesiastes it says there is a time to reap and a time to sow. I find that when business is off, we have to put the shiny objects aside and protect our core business. 

My friend Jim is giving up because he is in a down cycle and moving to something else, forgetting that startups are hard. I think that instead he needs to keep his head down and stay completely focused on solving the problem.

We all love to place blame. It’s a lot easier to place blame on other people, or other things or conditions. But my friend Jim is to blame for his own problem, as is the artist who got so distracted by shiny objects he failed to protect his core business. 

There are two issues with shiny objects. First, they are a distraction. Second, they send signals to the market. With social media, people know everything. This artist used to post paintings and thank customers for buying, but for the past year or two, all of his posts have been about his shiny objects. That’s sending a signal to his market that he’s bored with painting and has moved on to other things. I’ve been seeing this a lot lately.

There is no problem with wanting more income, but you want to start with this question…

If I focused more energy on my existing business, could I find a way to grow it to the level of income I want from all my other shiny objects? The answer is yes, and if you don’t know how, all you have to do is find out. There are plenty of experts out there to help.

What if, right now, you had every customer you’ve ever had?

Most people buy one painting from you. But what if 50 percent of the people who bought one painting from you bought one painting a year? Would that change your income? Of course.

The solution to every problem is found in a series of questions. If you ask great questions, and you try to come up with 50 answers for each question, and don’t just pick the first few easy answers, you’ll solve any problem.

The same day this artist told me that nothing is selling, his friends aren’t selling, and he thinks we’re in a bad economy, another friend told me he sold more art this year than any year in his career and that a lot of his friends were thriving too. Hmmm.

Lots of artists I know are coasting and in the danger zone. 

Some things to consider if things are not going as they should:

  1. Am I as focused as I should be?
  2. Am I doing all the things I have normally done to keep business strong?
  3. Am I too reliant on others for my income? Should I control it more?
  4. Am I being distracted by shiny objects?
  5. If I could pick only ONE thing to work on for the next two years and could not work on any other thing, what is that one thing?
  6. What questions should I be asking myself? (There are probably dozens.)
    1. How have things changed, and what do I need to be doing differently?
    2. Has my worked changed, and do people want it?
    3. Is my work still relevant? 
    4. Is my category of art still hot?
    5. What could I do to get income out of past buyers?
    6. Am I sending bad signals to the market?
    7. Am I willing to work as hard?

If or when you see things changing, get focused on solving the problem and keep your head down. A concentrated effort can make a huge difference toward solving any problem.

By |2020-01-21T11:57:21-05:00November 1st, 2019|Business, Sales|0 Comments

Why I Hate Marketing

Dear Artist Friends,

I hate marketing.

There, I feel better now that I’ve said it. 

I hate marketing when it’s sleazy. I hate marketing when it’s dishonest. I hate marketing when it exaggerates. I hate marketing when it lies or it misleads.

Most of the artists I know also hate marketing. They think it’s dirty.

In fact, most of the artists I know believe that art should sell itself. That someone should see it, respond to it, and buy it.

I’d like that too.

I’d also like it if I sat down at the counter of a soda fountain in Hollywood and had a producer walk in, discover me, and make me famous. That’s what supposedly happened to Lana Turner, a 1940s Hollywood star. But it turns out it’s a myth — it never happened. It was crafted by a Hollywood PR agent so people would feel more connected to this new star as “one of them.”

Tens of thousands of young wannabe stars show up in Hollywood hoping to be discovered. And those tens of thousands get whittled down to a few hundred who ever get a part, a few who become famous, and a tiny number who stay famous.

Though most in Hollywood want to believe that luck plays a role, most Hollywood agents will tell you that the ones who succeed make their own luck because they outwork everyone else. These “lucky” people do 20 times more auditions, they meet 20 times more people, and they work 20 times as hard. And once they get famous, they keep working 20 times harder because they know that Hollywood is littered with out-of-work “has-been” actors who got lazy once they got famous.

It turns out that marketing your art is similar. The ones who succeed, the ones who get “discovered,” work 20 times harder than most. The ones who succeed continue to market for as long as they plan on selling artwork.

In Hollywood, once you get one part, it helps you to get another and another, if you keep working the system. Art, too, has momentum. Sales lead to sales, as long as you remain visible and continue to get attention.

Marketing is NOT about luck. It’s also not about needing to do anything dirty, sleazy, or dishonest. Most marketing isn’t that.

It’s also not always about talent. There are lots of success stories about people who are not the most talented.

Like the Hollywood actors who are showing up and promoting themselves, it’s the same for artists. Show up and promote yourself. Do it over and over and over.

Showing up in the case of an artist means being seen and finding appropriate and tasteful ways to get noticed. Nothing more.

Showing up can mean mounting an exhibition or show and making sure the world knows about it. It can mean advertising. It can mean social media. It can mean direct mail … postcards, letters, personal notes.

Of course, massive action can work best … doing them all (and more) all at once. 

Luck comes in when you get fast results, which is rare. Most get lucky by building and keeping momentum … showing up again and again, day after day, week after week, year after year.

I watched an artist’s career launched by massive action … showing up constantly and consistently for about five straight years. 

Then I watched that career decline because the artist decided he was famous and known and no longer needed to do all that hard work. Today no one knows his name, and he is broke. We mistakenly believe that we can market till we see success, then stop.

A commitment to marketing is no different than opening the doors of a store. If your doors are open, the store has to work hard to keep people walking in those doors. Than means continuous advertising, creative promotion, and other things to draw attention for as long as you want customers. When you stop, they stop showing up.

Believe it or not, people are not thinking about you or me all the time. In fact, if we’re not visible, we’re out of mind. (We mistakenly think we’re being seen on social media, but social isn’t being seen by everyone, or even everyone on your friend or follower list.) Therefore we have to determine who the buyers are, where they spend time, and that’s where we need to be … constantly. 

In Hollywood it’s considered career death if your face stops appearing in People magazine. As an artist, if they’re not writing about you, if you’re not advertising and not being seen by the people who continually spend on art, if they are not reading about you (people often confuse advertising with editorial, and that makes them feel like they’re reading about you), and if you’re not staying visible and generating publicity with new shows and exhibitions, you can easily be forgotten.

If you’ve ever found yourself confused about marketing or what to do, just know that anything consistent and frequent is better than waiting around doing nothing because you’re not sure what to do. I’ve built entire careers on advertising alone, which is the most powerful form of marketing other than editorial. The difference is that you can’t get publicity consistently and can’t control if or when you get it. But you can control your advertising.

Consider this. If you want to make a living as an artist, you have to open the door to your “business” and continually work to get people to walk in the door. You can do it tastefully or distastefully. You can blend in by being like everyone else, or you can stand out. But if you do it consistently and never stop, you will be the success you’ve always dreamed of.


By |2020-01-21T11:46:57-05:00July 15th, 2019|Business, Sales|0 Comments

What One Marketing Method Would You Use If You Were Just Getting Started?

Louise Murphy of Fredericksburg, Texas, asks, “What one marketing method would you use if you were just getting started?”

Well, I know you’re eager to get out and start marketing.

But Louise, before you do anything, before you get your work out there and start selling, you need to know where you want to go — before you go there. You don’t get in your car and start driving before you have a destination in mind. Same for this: Before you start marketing, you need to set your goal. Then you’ll build a strategy and tactics to get you to that goal.

I suggest starting small, and building out from there. When getting started, you just want to focus on a couple of things — the important first steps, so to speak. I’d suggest setting one, maybe two goals for things you’d absolutely die to achieve in the next six months.

For instance, if you haven’t sold any of your paintings before, maybe you’d like to sell your first painting and get some money for it. That’s an admirable and achievable first goal; it’s always a really good starting goal for a painter. Or maybe your goal is to find someone to sell your art for you, like an art gallery, or perhaps you’d like to find a partnership where you could display your art for sale in a local restaurant.

It’s so important that you set some basic goals before you do anything.

Secondly, you need to find three really honest people who are professionals and will tell you the truth. People who will tell you if your art is ready or if it still needs some work before you’re ready to start selling. I don’t recommend asking family or close friends; rather, I suggest that those three people could be fellow artists, art gallery owners, or other professionals who know what makes a market-ready piece of art. It’s critical to know if your work is ready for prime time, so to speak. If all three are saying it’s ready, then you probably should have been selling already. If two out of the three really honest people say it’s ready to go to market, then you should try to fix the problem identified by the person who disagrees, but you should still try to start selling while you work on it.

Once you set a goal, then you start to collect the e-mail addresses and mailing addresses of people interested in your work.

One strategy that will be important for your goal of selling is sending people to a website to view your art, so you’ll need to start building a site to show your finished work. You’ll want to get comfortable talking about your work and telling the stories behind your paintings, and maybe blogging about your work as well. These are all important things for new artists getting started.

Building a website, talking about your art, making e-mail and mailing lists of the names of people who like your work … these can all be goals for an artist who’s just starting out. And they’re all things that other successful artists did at some point in their early career.

There are lots of companies that can build a website for you — you don’t have to become too technical or build something from scratch all on your own. Work with people who work with other artists; you’ll want to be sure you’re showcasing your best work.

Once you’ve got a website and a handful of people who are interested in your work and are on that list of yours, you can start working on getting those people to visit your website, and then, hopefully, getting them to buy your artwork.

To summarize: Set goals. Keep them achievable. Make sure your artwork is good enough. Accumulate and capture a list of people who like your art. Build a website, get comfortable talking about your art, and start directing people who have an interest in your work back to your website.

I hope, Louis, that helps you understand a solid art startup.

Interested in growing your art sales and income? Read my best-selling book Make More Money Selling Your Art: Proven Techniques for Turning Your Passion Into Profit.


By |2020-01-21T12:21:30-05:00August 22nd, 2018|Business, Sales|0 Comments

Are First Impressions Killing Your Art Sales?


Last week I gathered my family for our annual visit to a local history museum that we love very much. We’ve been members for years. In fact, I’d received a membership renewal e-mail the week before, which is why the museum became top of mind, prompting us to visit. Thinking I’d be at the front desk to check in anyway, I’d simply renew my membership on the spot, which would probably be faster than taking time online. (I know, it sounds backward.)

We arrived, were asked if we were members, and of course I said we were, and that I had just received a renewal notice. “Sir, you’re not a member. You must be mistaken. You don’t show up in our system.” I was frustrated, but I recognize that people often spell my name wrong, or try to use the name on my credit card, which is not what I go by. Still no results. The looking went on for 10 minutes while my family waited impatiently. Finally, the woman at the desk, sounding angry and frustrated herself, said, “You’re not a member, never have been a member. Would you like to become a member? All you need to do is fill out this form.”

Not wanting to take more time, I simply said, “I’d just like to buy tickets.” At which time I was told, “You’ll have to go to that line over there.” I said, “There is no one at that desk.” “Oh, she’s around somewhere, you’ll have to wait.” I waited, the employee returned, and I overpaid for tickets because I didn’t have my membership.

Sadly, when I get frustrated or disquieted, I lose my joy for a few minutes, and I was grumbling under my breath about the museum. And I kept finding problems. Ultimately, though we go there every year, we decided it was not all that great anymore, so we probably won’t return. And I started to question my own memory. Maybe I wasn’t a member. Of course, that changed today, when another membership renewal notice came by e-mail.

What has this got to do with marketing art?

Every first impression matters. It sets the tone.

If someone goes to your website and can’t find what they are looking for, it sets a tone of frustration. They may have gone there looking for a particular painting, or to check you out, and the second they get frustrated, they leave, and they probably won’t come back.

Or you’re in a booth in a tent show. Someone sees something they want to buy, but you’re busy with a line of other customers and they can’t get your attention, or they hear “I’ll be with you in a minute.” They may wait, or they may tell themselves they will come back later, or they could leave in frustration. Maybe they are in a rush and can’t wait. In any case, you may have lost a sale.

Maybe someone sees your work somewhere and sends you an e-mail, but you’re out at a show and not checking your in-box. What you don’t know is that they are having a big party on Friday, they want that big painting on your website, and you’re not responding. Or perhaps they call and get your voicemail and they don’t leave a message, or they find your message box full — or they simply want to talk to you right now.

You may be thinking, “I’m only human. I can only do so much.” True, but customers think differently. And in these days of instant communication and Amazon purchases, they expect what they want, exactly when they want it. Not five days from now.

In person, first impressions matter too. You’re at an art show and the customer doesn’t feel you’re dressed appropriately, doesn’t like the quality of your frames, thinks the lighting in your booth is bad. Little things have a big impact.

Though you can’t please everyone all the time (and some people are just cranky), just remember that first impressions set the tone for your brand in the customer’s mind. You may have spent thousands of dollars over many years building a brand in a customer’s mind, yet once they decide to take action, their impression changes based on their first real encounter. Either it reinforces your reputation and brand, it’s neutral, or it hurts.  

Though you’re “just one person” and “just an artist who can’t do everything and can’t afford help,” know that you could be losing business. If the phone rings three times and isn’t picked up, they may call the next artist on their list. If you answer “Hold, please,” you’ll lose half of the people who call. If the type on your website is too small to read on a phone, they will probably leave.

To solve this, do a first impressions audit. Ask yourself about every customer entry point and if it is customer-friendly and fine-tuned to give customers what they need the moment they need it. Ask some friends to evaluate everything. See if you can improve it. Though it may cost you money to fix any issues, consider it money well spent in order to capture customers.

First impressions matter, and if you’re in the business of selling art, you’re in business — and that means customers expect the same from you as they would any other business. One painting sale lost a year is too many. If you do an audit, you can fix a lot of little things, and that could mean a change in your sales.

By |2019-01-24T14:13:15-05:00July 26th, 2018|Business, Sales|0 Comments

The Empty Building: What You May Be Missing as an Artist

Minutes from my home, in a very popular part of town, I’ve watched a new office building go up as I pass when driving our kids to and from school each day. Now, after months of construction, the building is ready and available for tenants. The sign went up long before the building was finished, and yet today, months after it’s been finished, it sits empty.

Keep in mind that Austin is booming, companies are leasing space like crazy, and all the neighboring buildings are full.

So what’s the problem? And what does this have to do with marketing art?

Several weeks ago when looking for space for a new studio to shoot art instruction films for Streamline Art Video, I decided this would be a great building to lease part of the space. So I decided to call. But driving by the building, I couldn’t read the phone number. My vision isn’t perfect, but it’s not that bad. So I had to drive into the lot, get close, and copy down the number. That’s mistake number one. Designers tend to go for beauty over practicality. Make sure you understand the distance when someone is viewing your ads, website, etc. For instance, on the phone most websites look bad, but they look good on a computer screen. Problem is that 80 percent of all Internet use is on the phone.

The Phone Call

My call went like this…

“XYZ Properties, can I help you?”

“Yes, I’m interested in the building on 123 Street. Can you tell me something about it?”

“Hold, please.”

Ring … Ring … Ring … Ring… “Hi, this is Bob from XYZ Properties. Please leave a message.”

“Bob, my name is Eric and I’m interested in renting your building at 123 Street. Please phone me — I am ready to move in as quickly as possible.”

Bob never called. Not an hour later. Not a day later. Not a month or now, even two months later.

Oh, I may have missed his call. It’s possible it’s in my phone somewhere. But I looked and I didn’t see it there, nor did I see any additional missed calls.

Now perhaps Bob has a deal and has the whole place rented and decided there is no reason to call. Yet there it sits, two months later, with no cars outside and the “Now Leasing” sign still up.

If Bob does have it rented, a call to me is still important because … you should always return calls. Even if you think there is no reason to. What if I wanted to hire the company to manage my real estate? What if they had a space in another building that was perfect for me? What if I wanted to buy their company? What if I wanted to reach Bob to offer him a job? Sometimes the message left is a smokescreen for the real reason behind a call.

The second reason it’s important to return calls? Now his company has a bad reputation in my eyes.

The even bigger issue, and what I suspect is the truth, is that Bob is lazy. Maybe he never heard my message. Maybe he forgot to call. Or maybe he just hasn’t gotten around to it.

In the sales business, we call people like me a “hot lead.” I was interested at that moment. Fact is, I found another building and have since moved in. I’m no longer a hot lead.

How does this apply to art?

Let’s say someone sends you a note, or calls you, and you don’t know why they got in touch. They want to get a birthday painting for their spouse, but they don’t say that because they don’t want to be sold. But 24 hours pass, and you haven’t called back yet because you are busy. Or maybe you left a message and they didn’t call back, and you didn’t try again.

Finally, when you do reach them, you find out the birthday-gift need was that day, last-minute. And you not only lost a sale, you lost a customer for life.

Now you may be thinking, “I don’t want to be too aggressive,” “I don’t want to appear desperate or needy,” or just, “They will call back.” But what if they lost your number? What if they’ve got busy and have been tied up, and forgot to call you back?

When someone calls you, they are giving you permission to reach them, even if you have to call more than once. Your message might simply be, “Your call is important. I want to make sure I follow up with you.” But at least call once.

The key is to call back as quickly as humanly possible. Make them feel important. If you don’t reach them, call a couple more times at least. If you can find them on LinkedIn or Facebook, send them a message.

You never know what is on someone’s mind. Always follow up as fast as possible.

We are living in an e-mail and texting culture, and there is a generation of people who don’t use phones to call, but only text. If this is the case, the text and e-mail information should be on the sign. (Always provide multiple options to reach you on EVERYTHING you do.)

My guess is that Bob is lazy and the building will sit empty till Bob’s boss find someone else to fill it.


PS: I’m doing a weekly blog called Sunday Coffee, where I talk about art, life and just stuff that interests me. You can subscribe or read it at

By |2019-01-24T14:13:04-05:00February 28th, 2018|Business, Sales|0 Comments

How to Kill an Ad Campaign

Why Getting Sick of Your Ads Will Hurt Your Business


“I’m sick of my ad. Can you come up with something new?” said an advertiser I was working with years ago at my radio station.


I had a choice. I could give him what he wanted and take his money, or I could tell him something he didn’t want to hear at the risk of losing his money. I decided to take the risk and provide an educational moment.


“Why are you sick of it?” I asked.


“All my friends at the country club have heard it, all my employees have heard it and are suggesting I change it. Even my kids are telling me I’m running it too much. Frankly, I’m a little tired of it.”


“Do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions?”


“Sure,” he said.


“When you see ads with a person wearing a little white moustache, what do the ads say?”


He replied, “Got Milk?”


What is it that Nike says on all their ads?


He replied, “Just Do It.”


What happens with an M&M?


He replied “It melts in your mouth, not in your hand.”


Alka Seltzer?


He replied “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.”


The biggest mistake advertisers make is getting sick of their slogans, their ads, their campaigns. And believe me, they have to resist: Milk processors and dairy farmers used “Got Milk” for 21 years starting in 1993, Nike used “Just do it” for 26+ years starting in 1988, M&Ms  has used the same slogan since 1954, and Alka Seltzer since 1971.


Ad agencies are notorious for destroying heritage campaigns for something fresh and new — and sales usually go down. Look how many ad campaigns and slogans McDonald’s has had — dozens. Yet the one we all still remember is “You deserve a break today.” That campaign ended in 1975.


It may take some time to get the right campaign created and tested, but your goal should be to find a slogan, a concept for your ad, that is strong enough that you can run the same concept forever.


Our friends-and-family test always fails us because they already know you, they already know your business; they already know everything they should know about you. But the person down the road doesn’t know you exist. Your job is to repeat your promise, your uniqueness, your special offer, to that person over and over again.


“But surely they’ve heard it by now. So why keep running it?”


I always get that question, and the answer is simple. In the 1980s it was believed the average person had to hear or see something at least seven times within a short period of time before they would take action on it. Today, due to all the clutter, experts believe it takes 13 times to get someone to act — it’s almost doubled.


We assume because we ran an ad that everyone saw it or heard it, but that’s simply not true. Let’s say that you’re running ads in my magazine Fine Art Connoisseur, which reaches lots of ultra-wealthy consumers. It comes out six times a year. Though people do receive it, what if they flip through it without seeing your ad? What if they are away on a business trip when it comes out and they miss an issue? No media on earth can guarantee that someone will see and absorb something.


There are three elements to the success of an ad. It has to reach the right audience (not necessarily the largest audience); it has to have creative that grabs your attention so that when someone is flipping through, taking less than a second per page, you jump out, grab their attention, and make them read it; and it has to be run with frequency.


Let’s say they flip through the magazine the first time you run it. They notice your ad, but they don’t stop to read it. The next time they flip through, they pause briefly and think, “I’ve seen this,” but then they keep going. Next time, maybe they pause and think, “Hmm, I should read this sometime.” And the next time, they pause and read it. When they see it again, they might think, “I should pay more attention to this.”


Repetition is nothing more than familiarity, like meeting a new person, seeing them time and again, and then, once you trust them, becoming friends. Then and only then does the friendship deepen enough that they enter your world more completely.


There are many other elements that ads need to contain, which I’ll touch on in the future, but the most important thing is to get people to notice and pay attention. Only then does and ad begin to do the selling.


Once that trust and awareness have been established, that’s not an indicator that someone is going to buy. Now they need a reason to buy. It could be an impulsive, “I really like that painting. I want to own it.” But if they get to that point before trust is built, they will probably tell themselves, “But I don’t really know anything about this artist, so I’ll pass.”


You see, interest in buying ebbs and flows. Timing is everything. If someone is in the middle of moving or downsizing, another painting is not what they want at the moment, but three weeks later, when they are in the new condo, buying new furniture, and thinking, “We need something new for over the couch,” they might pay closer attention next time they see your ad.


In my first Art Marketing Boot Camp video, where I describe the basics, I show an escalator with people going up and going down, to represent that people are always in and out of a market. If money is tight, or if something is going on in their lives, like illness or a family issue, they are not buying. If they come into money because college bills ended, they got a bonus at work, they inherited some money, got a raise, or sold a business, they may feel the desire to spend.


Big brand advertisers never stop advertising. They understand that people are always in and out of the market. I don’t want or need a new car today, but in a year my kids will get their license and will probably get my old car. Advertisers understand that there are always changing circumstances. Though they also repeat and repeat to gain top-of-mind awareness, they also know you must be there when the decision to spend is made.


I often tell the story of my friend Raul, who suddenly found himself with a lot of money. Because he loved Sargent, he decided to buy a Sargent painting. Though he was a reader of my magazine, he called and said, “Who carries Sargent? Where can I get one?”


Ironically, the company that sold Sargent had advertised a couple of times and then dropped out because they felt they were not getting any results. A year later, I got this call and I referred him to these people. He bought two Sargent paintings, spending millions. He was lucky he knew to call me. But what about the other 500 who wanted to do the same thing and never found the seller?


Of course, today the answer is “Google it,” but how do you know who is trusted? Reviews? Maybe, but this is where brand-building is important to focus on those most likely to buy (known art buyers) so they recognize your name when they do Google something.


Another friend, a major collector and an avid reader, told me he wanted to buy a Holbein painting. I suggested he go to a particular major fine art fair in Europe. “What’s that?” he said. We were in his office and he had a stack of art magazines, including mine. I flipped through them and found an ad. “Oh I’ve seen that but didn’t know what it was.”


This is a case where perhaps the advertiser assumed everyone already knew about the event. But it had not reached him, either because he did not see it enough times or the message did not cut through. Later, I researched it and found the fair had only advertised twice, about 30 days before the event. They assumed everyone already knew them, so they were not doing enough repetition to get their message across. In a case like this, an advertiser needs to use bold, attention-getting creative.


Usually an advertiser bails out before an ad is working because they assume everyone has seen or heard it, but in reality people are just starting to see it. Great campaigns take time to get attention and rarely work instantly, but once they start working, they work forever. People may have heard the message, but not been in the market. But after years of hearing it, when they are in the market, they buy.


That’s how advertising repetition works.


That advertiser I was telling you about earlier used just our one radio station, because that was all he could afford. But with repetition, he sold so much merchandise that he had to move to a bigger showroom. Then he out grew that one, so he opened a second store, then a third, and by the time I left town, he had built to six or eight stores and was the biggest furniture seller in town.

I’ve not stayed in touch, but chances are some ad agency somewhere talked him into changing his message and his ads — but hopefully did not destroy the business we built.


Whatever you do, do it with repetition. Don’t get overly concerned that people have seen it or heard it, because they go through many stages before they are aware enough to buy, and then they need to be in the market at the right time for them.


By |2017-10-05T14:30:26-04:00August 8th, 2017|Business, Direct Marketing|0 Comments

The Land of Danger for Art Marketers


Imagine walking through the Sahara desert. In every direction you look, you see what seems to be miles and miles of sand. The hot sun is beating down on you and you’ve run out of water. You’ve slowed your pace, and you’re in danger of collapsing and baking in this Sahara oven if you don’t find water soon. Then, as you see the sunlight reflecting off water on the horizon, you muster all your energy to run toward it. But as you get closer, you find there is no water. It’s merely a mirage.

As artists working on our own marketing and branding, we often feel like we’re in the desert. We feel barely able to make it, but then something gives us hope, something gives us the feeling that we’re making great strides — but it’s only a mirage.

Recently I was having a discussion with a company and I asked the marketing team about what percentage of the market was aware of their brand. Boldly, they said, “We know that at least 75 percent of the people in the art world know us.”

It was a mirage.

I was feeling especially kind and non-confrontational that day, so instead of challenging them and giving them a much-needed dose of reality, I simply asked how they knew.

They told me about all the things they were doing and all the places they were doing them. Frankly, it wasn’t much and hadn’t been going on for long, and they had barely scratched the surface. By asking questions, I was finally able to get them to come to that conclusion on their own.

Their perception had been that they were known, even a household name, but it was all a self-imposed mirage. The reality is that they were barely known, if known at all.

As a marketer, your self-confidence (or your ego) can kill your business. When you think you’re doing well, when you think you’re doing everything you can, you start to believe that is enough.

Recently, right after I was on stage and speaking at the opening of the Plein Air Convention, a young woman walked up to me, introduced herself, and asked politely, “Who are you, and what do you do?”


I’m at my own event, with my tribe, I’ve spent tons of time and money on marketing, I’ve told my story a thousand times, yet this person was unaware.

I felt completely stupid and realized I had become overconfident.

The next morning, when I went on stage, I started Art Marketing Boot Camp with my story, because if there was one person there who didn’t know it, chances are there were others.

As someone recently told me, “You cannot tell your story enough.”

Remember that marketing team? After all my questions, I told them that there was a very big chance that they were known by only a small percentage of the entire market. Others might be aware of the company’s name but not know what it does.

We all grow so close to our marketing that we sometimes make insanely stupid assumptions, like…

  • Everyone knows who we are
  • Everyone knows our story
  • Everyone knows exactly what we do
  • Everyone has read everything we ever put out
  • Everyone has visited our website
  • Everyone has seen our artwork

But we need to understand that there are always people entering and exiting the market. Through attrition, our customer list is always changing, on average by 10 percent each year, and in bad economic years, by 30 to 50 percent.

That means you have to…

  • Constantly be telling your story
  • Constantly be helping people know your product or art
  • Constantly bring new people into your list
  • Constantly stay visible

We wrongly assume that because someone sees a story or an ad, they have “captured the message.”

The reality is that most people don’t pay close attention. They don’t read things we think they should read. They skim a lot of things.

And since the average person has to be hit over the head about a dozen times with seeing or hearing your message before they become a prospect, you have to be constantly pushing and repeating that message.

And don’t assume they saw or heard it every time you ran it.

Also, repetition fades with time, so you have to compress time by being seen more frequently over shorter time periods.

There are other critical pieces. You see, every campaign is about four things:

  • What you say and how you get attention
  • How often you say it
  • How often your target prospect sees it
  • Who you say it to, which has to do with where you say it

On stage recently I asked the audience how many had seen ads for “” In a room of 1,000 people, only about 30 hands went up.

I’ve seen these ads on TV probably a hundred times in the last year, yet only 3 percent of the room was aware of them.

After seeing the ad for the hundredth time, my wife finally bought the product.

Every buyer has their own timing. Your campaigns need to repeat your story and message to the point that you are personally sick of it and think others are as well.

Even then, you’ve tapped only a small percentage of a market, and sold only a small percentage.

It all works due to the volume of people being reached and the constant repetition of the message.

I’ll bet if I asked the CEO of the company that makes MyPillow, he would say the world knows about his product because of the thousands of people reached and the large number of orders coming in. Yet he would be embarrassed and frustrated with the 3 percent of the room I surveyed.

His marketing person, on the other hand, would probably understand that more time will be required to reach more people, and even then, not everyone will be aware.

The point?

Don’t get overconfident and think the world knows about you or knows the details about your product.

Overconfidence will lead you to think you’re big when you’re not, and will lead you to reduce or stop your marketing because you believe that, or because you’re seeing some results.

Marketing is like a jet that never lands and has to be continually refueled in the air. If you land it, you lose momentum and it’s much harder to take off again — and you’ll see a reduction in business before long.

A great marketer understands the land of danger and the mirage of assuming people know who they are and know their story. A great marketer never lands.

By |2017-10-05T14:45:07-04:00May 3rd, 2017|Business, Direct Marketing|3 Comments

Gut Leadership

Two years ago I came to my staff with an idea for a new magazine. They listened politely but they were secretly rolling their eyes. "Here he goes on another harebrained adventure," is probably what they were thinking. I could feel it. I was way out there… and they were disinterested. Even my visionary top people were screaming on the inside while politely hearing me out.

Upon receiving everyone’s feedback I heard that my idea was a bad one, that it would kill the company, that it would be a wild goose chase. I almost took their advice. Yet my gut kept telling me I needed to move forward. So, I announced that we were indeed launching this new magazine. It was not widely supported. Some were mildly interested while others thought I was insane. After all, I’ve launched many things that did fail.

Almost two years and a whole lotta cash later I am initially vindicated. Wild success for the product is an understatement. In fact the success fell at a time when part of our other business was soft. The natural reaction is to "hunker down" and conserve cash, which of course we did… kind of. We hunkered down everywhere other than the new launch. Turns out it has become our cash cow, has brought in countless subscribers and advertisers and may surpass billing of some of our other business units.

Why share this? I’ve been glued to a CEO chair for more years than I would admit.  The majority of times I have had wild, harebrained ideas I rarely get support internally (and often externally). It’s critical to listen to your people because they are usually right… yet no one in the company has your perspective, your experience, your vision, and your gut. A CEO must follow his or her gut against all odds. As a sole business owner I live by my decisions and they impact my net worth one-way or the other.

I’m reminded that Abe Lincoln asked each of his cabinet members if he should enter into the Civil War and 100% advised against it. After loss of sleep for days Lincoln proceeded against the advice of his strongest advisors. Truman did the same when making the decision to drop the bomb. (Sadly in both cases lives were on the line where in my case the impact is not life or death).

The moral? Listen carefully. Follow your gut. Live with your decisions. Its not about being right or being popular, it’s just business.

By |2005-02-04T00:50:40-05:00February 4th, 2005|Business|0 Comments
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