As I’ve written about many times here, I love reading (and sharing) stories of entrepreneurs with unique online businesses.
Today’s guest, Amantha Tsaros, is an artist who sells her art online. It’s interesting to see how some traditional internet marketing tactics (such as guest blogging and email marketing) work for her a business. For example, Amantha has been able to build a very targeted email list that saw an open rate recently of 63 percent (which is awesome).
Amantha, tell us a bit about your business and journey as an artist and entrepreneur. How long have you been selling your art online, and what types of art do you sell?
I create and sell original abstract art that uplifts spirits and marks new beginnings.
My original art is available from my online shop and through other online galleries. Reproductions are available as prints and on products such as pillows, mugs, rugs, shower curtains, and iPhone covers. You can cover your entire home in uplifting, mood-enhancing form and color.
I started my career as an illustrator in the days when you had to deliver actual artwork to magazines and newspapers. I always had a side job and worked hard to help others achieve their business goals, and I always wondered what I could accomplish if I worked as hard for myself as I had for others.
Eventually, I gave up illustration and dreamed only of being a fine artist. In watching my children paint, I realized that it was time to get it together and just go for it. I didn’t want to be at the end of my life saying, “Well, I sure am glad I never pursued art.”
What do you consider to be your greatest success so far in your business?
This year has blown my mind. My traffic has tripled in the past year due to guest blogging and online outreach I have been engaged in — making internet friends is a huge help.
But what I love the most is the active community on my email list. My latest mailing drove a lot of traffic to my site and had some high engagement. This is important to me because what I am selling is personal, and an artist must cultivate a strong relationship with collectors.
My greatest success has been seeing that I have repeat customers who will buy art with every email campaign related to their particular interest. It astounds me that I am able to connect so strongly with my audience.
My email list is very targeted. I am not trying to grow numbers for the sake of numbers. Last month’s open rate for my campaign was a crazy 63 percent of my list. A lot of my list writes back to me, and I do not end the emails with a question. They just feel like sharing back. I love it. But I do constantly check my email — unless I am painting.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced on your journey, and how did you overcome it?
There is a ridiculous amount of tension between being an artist and an entrepreneur. There is this weird idea that artists are not supposed to sell their work; you’re a sellout if you pay your bills through art sales.
At first I took the standard Serious Artist approach and presented art online along with a note to contact me for purchase. The idea in the art world is that you can’t possibly put a price on an item and indicate it is for sale. Can you imagine trying that with any other product or service? It’s bizarre.
To start selling I had to overcome the fear of being a “sellout.” I spent time thinking about this and thought, “Wait, so I am sellout if I can buy my art supplies through my art, but I’m not a sellout if I work at a fast-food joint to support my art habit?”
I researched the lives of famous artists. In reading their biographies, I tried to tease out the details of how they got to be well-known and how they started selling.
- What did they do to get where they were?
- What steps did Picasso take for us to know his name?
Being curious about overcoming this and working out how they managed to become well-known and sell well while also maintaining “credibility” helped me find my path.
I questioned what I thought I knew and dug under their reputations, legends, and the assumptions to find out what was really going on there. The myths aren’t necessarily true and there is a whole lot of selling in there. But if you are a real character, then people aren’t noticing the self-promotion as much.
From there, I decided to shrug off preconceived notions of how it should be done and started doing things in a way that makes sense to me.
It is critical to remember that although this is an art, business is a business. The art part — well, that doesn’t make me any different from anyone else with a product or a skill they sell. It lets me get away with a bit more kookiness, maybe, but I still take my business seriously.
When you were just starting out, how did you go about driving traffic to your website and other places where you sell your art online? In other words, what has been your most effective marketing strategy?
Facebook has been very good to me. I know there is a lot of concern about engagement, but as long as your people are responding to posts, it isn’t too bad.
I recently started just posting photographs of what is happening in my studio during the day, and the engagement shot up. It turns out my art fans really just want to see pretty pictures — or messy pictures, depending on what is going on. They want to see what is going on behind the scenes of my super-glamorous art life. They respond best to those images, and that keeps the engagement up on Facebook.
I also get some fabulous traffic from guest blogging. I never imagined that would be so important. It drives traffic, and I make new friends and they in turn bring new fans.
Want traffic? Try to get around — start circulating like a dollar bill and make friends in a sincere and honest way. That is the key.
Although there may not be many people reading this right now who are looking to start a business selling art, I’m willing to bet there are some very valuable lessons you’ve learned that are applicable to all types of entrepreneurship. What advice do you have for someone who has an idea for a business but is perhaps afraid to actually give a shot?
When someone has an idea but is hesitant, they tell themselves, “I want to, but I’m not the kind of person who…” They just need to stop that — stop, just stop. No one is the “kind of person who…”
Just remember that there is no secret talent. Creatives who want to start a business frequently bemoan their lack of business acumen and often say, “But you are so good at this stuff.” I’m not! I’m not a natural businessperson. The only thing I am good at is performing Google searches and using my library card. We are all just a bunch of squishy human beings trying to figure it out. Everything is figure-out-able. So get to it.
Then there is the hard part: You must keep at it and not quit. Things take time. And by “time,” I mean a whole lot longer than you might be willing to wait. I have been digging into Pinterest, and I understand that it is going to take me a year to start seeing the results I want.
- Start now.
- Keep going.
What are your favorite online resources that have helped you in your business?
I am a screaming fan of Nathalie Lussier. She has a thorough 30 Day List Building Challenge that will blow your socks off and grow your list. It is not easy, but it works.
If you are just starting to build a site, she also has a wonderful self-study to help you build your WordPress website using Headway, and she makes learning SEO easy to understand. I wish I had found her earlier.