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Advice for Artists, Makers & #BadassCreatives

Don't make the same mistakes I did! Learn the top 5 marketing mistakes that artists & creatives make that prevent them from selling more online.

I’ve been working with artists and creatives to get the word out about their work for more than 10 years.

I’ve been on both sides of the fence, as a blogger, handmade shop owner, craft show vendor and digital marketing specialist. I created this site MissMalaprop.com in 2006 as a place to spread the word about artists I loved.

I later ran my own e-commerce shop, where I sold my own handmade work alongside that of other artists. I also sold these products at many craft shows, art markets and festivals over the years. Most recently, I’ve worked full-time at a digital marketing agency, where I’ve worked with businesses of all shapes and sizes to get the word out via social media and their websites.

I’ve seen people the same marketing mistakes again and again, whether it’s independent artists and creatives, small business owners or big companies.

And I don’t want it to happen to you. In the following series of videos, I’ll share the top 5 marketing mistakes that I see artists & creatives make that prevent them from selling more of their handmade products.

(Prefer to listen? I’ve also recorded a podcast episode about this very topic, which includes some slightly different tips and resources than mentioned in the videos!)

Artist Mistake #1: Lack of understanding who your ideal customer is.

The 1st mistake that I see a lot of artists, makers, and even small businesses making is that they don’t have a clear target audience or ideal customer in mind. If you try to sell to everybody, you’ll wind up selling to nobody.

There is not one brand that can appeal to every single person. Think about it, even a brand as popular as Nike or Coca-Cola doesn’t appeal to every single person. And frankly, as a small business, you don’t have the marketing budget to try to appeal to every single person.

It’s much easier to narrow in on a small group of people who are very in line with what you make and the types of things that you create, the types of messages that you share. It’s much easier to connect with those people on a smaller, deeper level than to try to appeal to every single person.

Your target market can include things like gender, age, and how much money a person makes in a year. Do they have kids? Do they have a dog?

I want you to think about those sorts of things, including basic demographics and where your “perfect” customer lives. You should also think about their interests and desires. What motivates them? What types of TV shows do they watch? What sorts of causes are they really passionate about? Do they give money to charity, and if so what charities?

For many artists and makers, your target customers will be very similar to you. While they don’t make the same things you do (maybe because they don’t feel very creative), they are often inspired by similar things.

If you are an artist that is very passionate about environmentalism and that shows through in your work, that’s something that your ideal customer is probably equally passionate about. That type of customer will care that you use recycled materials in your work or give a percentage of proceeds to environmental non-profits. These people are looking to buy from makers and companies that value the same things as them.

Think about your values that are part of your work, and think about the same types of people that align with those values.

Think about the big companies where they shop. For example, if you work with recycled materials, your ideal customers probably care a lot about the environment. So they might also eat Ben & Jerry’s ice cream because that company is famously involved in sustainability and social responsibility. Maybe they shop at Patagonia, which is a very eco-friendly brand that is aligned with those same causes they care about.

The more that you can get clear on who your ideal customer is and have a full picture of them in your head, it will make it much easier to share your work on your website and on social media.

Even better, if you do in person events, like craft shows, art gallery openings or other events where you can see and meet your customers face to face, that will help you even more because you’re going to have an idea of certain people in your mind that fit that ideal customer. Then you can keep those specific people in your mind when you’re writing product descriptions or while you’re creating content for social media.

Spend some time thinking about who your perfect people are. Write it down, stick it on a bulletin board. Think about your ideal customer, and truly care about them. Put them at the forefront at everything you do.

Artist Mistake #2: No cohesive voice and visual brand.

The second marketing mistake that many creatives make happens because they don’t have that ideal customer in mind. Therefore, they have no cohesive voice or visual brand.

Your visual brand includes all those aesthetic things like the way that you take photos of your products, the types of social media content you share, your logo, the colors that you use on your website, and all those visual components. It can even include the way you style your booth at a craft show.

There’s also the written side of it and your brand voice. Are you casual with your audience, or are you very professional and by the book? Do you use emojis when you’re sharing Instagram captions? Everything you share needs to have a clear and cohesive, consistent voice.

It’s much easier to stay consistent and have that clear voice and cohesive visual brand when you know who your target customer is.

I’m constantly looking for new artists to share on Instagram, via the #badasscreatives hashtag, and sometimes I’ll see a photo I like as I’m scrolling through hashtags. I’ll see a photo and think this one photo is great, but then when I look at their entire Instagram feed, there’s just no rhyme or reason. This is not to say that everything that you share online has to look exactly the same, but what you share should have some sort of common thread. A cohesive look.

If you look at accounts on Instagram that have 30,000+ followers, there is a very clear visual look. There’s a clear visual brand and aesthetic. There might be certain types of colors that they often use, and certain types of colors that they never use. They might only use certain types of filters. There are types of photographs that work and don’t work their brand and their audience. And they know what these are and they stick to what works.

For many newer artists and people who haven’t been that experienced in business, this is one of the big mistakes I see happening over and over. This is not to say that you can’t share the behind the scenes stuff. (Instagram Stories are a great way to share behind the scenes stuff!) But I think a lot of people, especially on Instagram and other social media platforms, are trying to blend too much at once.

For someone who is encountering their work for the first time, it will seem like, “Here’s my art and here’s my family and here’s my dog and here’s the food I ate and here’s an inspirational quote.” That new visitor will be confused.

There are ways to share more than one type of thing and still have it be consistent. You don’t have to be monotonous to have it make sense to that ideal customer that sees your stuff for the first time.

Once that ideal customer finds you, you want to make sure that they get what you’re all about. They need to know what to expect from you in the future in order to follow you. Once they’re in, and once they understand what you’re all about, they will want to keep following you. Having a clear visual brand and a clear voice is part of how you bring them in and keep them coming back for more.

For instance, on Instagram, if you look at those six or nine photos that someone first sees on your profile, do those photos look like they all came from the same place and the same person? Try to take a step back from being yourself, and imagine what your online presence would look like to a new customer. You might even ask a very unbiased friend for help. Don’t ask the friend that’s always going to tell you, “Yes, yes, yes,” and try to please you. Ask that friend who’s always going to give you some tough love advice. Ask them, “Hey, does this look consistent? Does this look like something that if you didn’t know me, you would want to follow, or is the kind of thing that you’re only following me because we know each other in real life?”

The same rules apply for your brand voice. Your potential customers want to know more about your story and why you create what you make.

The reason why people are willing to spend more money with handmade artists and makers is because there’s a special story behind that product or piece of art that separates it from stuff that you could just buy at Pier 1 Imports or Wal-Mart.

If someone just wants some random thing to hang on their wall, they could go to one of those chain stores in the mall and find a piece of artwork that has no meaning to them. But when you share the inspiration behind your work, you’re letting people get a glimpse into what inspires you to create in the first place. Those messages will make people connect with you. When they can connect with you and your work on a deeper level, it will make them much more inclined to buy from you once and to keep coming back in the future.

Artist Mistake #3: Poor photography.

The 3rd marketing mistake that many artists, makers and e-commerce shop owners make when selling online is that they have bad product photography.

This ties into having a clear visual brand. Maybe you have photos that look like they all came from different places. Or maybe some of your product photos are on light colored backgrounds and some are on dark backgrounds. Maybe some were taken outside and some have poor lighting. If that’s the case, there’s no cohesive visual message and it sends a bad first impression.

When you’re selling online, photos are the main way that somebody figures out what a product is. Your customer wants to know, “What does it look like? Is it right for me? What will it look like in my home or on my body?” Product photography is a key part of selling online, and you’ve got to get it right.

Now, if you don’t have any sort of background in photography, there are plenty of ways to learn photography. There are lots of free tutorials and affordable classes online. You can also invest in somebody to take photos for you, even if it’s just finding somebody at a local community college who’s taking a photography class.

You don’t need to spend huge amounts of money when you’re just starting out on hiring an awesome, professional photographer. Although, as you start to expand and grow, professional photography is something worth investing in. If you’re just starting out, you could work with a photography student who needs more images for their portfolio and would be willing to work for a lower rate than a professional photographer. You can also experiment on your own.

When I was running my own e-commerce shop back in 2010 or so, I had to try to become a better photographer. I started practicing photography and researching information. I tried to get better at photography because when I first started out, my photos were not cute. They got better and better the more I did it, and the more I focused on learning the skills. I learned about basic lighting and light boxes.

If you’re shooting small products, you can build a DIY light box so that you can get that nice, natural light that is filtered and diffused. Using a light box will make your products look beautiful if you sell jewelry or other small products. Also, if you have products like clothing, jewelry or accessories, or something that somebody would wear, it’s important to have photos of models wearing your products. Otherwise, it’s hard to understand what that’s going to look like on a human body. If you have small products or very large products, your photos can help a potential customer understand the size of that product and put it in context.

Great photos can help a customer visualize how the product would fit into their life. What will it look like in their home? How will it look on a person? Your potential customer needs to see all of that because otherwise, they will have no idea how big something is.

Yes, you can and should put your product dimensions in your product description, but if I just read that something is “36 inches in length,” that doesn’t connect with me in the same way as seeing a product in a room or on a human body. Your potential customer needs to see your product in context.

If you sell artwork, it’s great to have photos of the actual artwork itself. But you should also create a mock-up of what that piece of art looks like on a wall. This will make it much easier for someone to visualize what it would look like in their home. You’ve got to make it easy for them to order it and buy it.

The same goes for sharing your images on social media. You’ve got to have great images to get people to find you on social media in the first place and then get them back to your website, where they can buy your products.

Artist Mistake #4: Not nurturing potential and existing customers.

The 4th mistake that I see a lot of artists, makers and e-commerce sellers making is not capturing the information of their potential and existing customers, and not nurturing those repeat customers. This boils down to primarily email marketing, but there are other ways to do it, too, via social media, in-person events, VIP clubs and all sorts of things.

If somebody visits your website or finds you via social media, chances are they’re not going to buy from you that very first time. They’re just not. That’s not the way that we work as people. We like to shop around; we like to get familiar with a product or company. We don’t often make gut impulse purchases. Some people do, but you have to remember that people shop in very different ways. Especially for art and handmade products that are priced a little higher, it’s going to take somebody a little bit more time before they whip out their wallet and give you their money.

However, if you can keep marketing to that same person repeatedly, you’ll have a chance to gain their trust. They will become more interested in your brand. Once somebody has already purchased from you, they are much more likely to buy something from you again, because they already know that they can trust you. They know what the experience will be like.

It is much easier (and cheaper!) to keep sharing your new work with somebody who has already purchased from you or interacted with you before than it is to seek new customers. You should keep nurturing those existing people, your ideal customers. Email marketing is a great way to do this.

If you haven’t been collecting your customer’s email addresses, you need to start. There are many different tools and platforms you can use to send out email messages.

Mailchimp is a great tool that offers a “Forever Free” plan that you can use for free for up to 2,000 subscribers. It’s a great one to start out with, and it’s what I’ve used for many years. I’ve tested using other tools like ConvertKit, which has some fancier bells and whistles.

If you’ve been doing the email thing for a while and you want to do segmentation where you split off different groups of your customers based on their interests and what they’ve bought before (and maybe what they might be more inclined to buy in the future), you can use something like ConvertKit to start segmenting your email messages. Segmentation is a more advanced email marketing tactic, so if you’re just starting out, focus on collecting your customer’s email addresses and sending them periodic updates.

You will need to make sure that your customers have opted in to getting emails from you. If somebody bought something on your website but they didn’t check some sort of box to opt in or say explicitly that they want to get emails from you in the future, they didn’t give you permission to send them regular emails.

Getting the permission of your customers to email them is important. You need to ask explicitly and get them to opt in. There are actual laws about this. If you’re in the United States, you’ll need to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act, which was created to prevent spammers from jamming up your inbox with all sorts of stuff you don’t want.

I’m sure you’ve ordered something from some big company and then suddenly you’re getting five emails a day from them. It’s annoying. You don’t want to create that experience for your customers. Don’t make your customers hate you.

You want to make sure that your customers want what you’re sending them. You should make sure that you’re sending them stuff of value. If you’re communicating with them, you’re giving something useful, entertaining or inspiring back to them.

For artists and makers, that might be something like a free digital wallpaper download. If you make art, you could take a version of your artwork and make a computer background wallpaper, or a wallpaper for their phone, or a printable yearly calendar that they can hang up on their refrigerator. There are plenty of things you can offer your email subscribers. I’ve even seen people do cool paper doll printables and things like that.

Get creative and think about what kind of value you could give to your customers. It might also be a discount. There are plenty of companies that do this.

If someone goes to your website for the first time, they’re probably not going to buy something that very first time. You could entice them to sign up for your email list by offering 15% off their first purchase. That gets them signed up so that you have their contact information. Now, you can keep reaching out to them when you have new products for sale. If you have an upcoming craft show or art gallery opening, you could use email to let them know about the event and include an exclusive offer.

Tell your email subscribers that if they print out a copy of the email or show it to you on their phone at the event, they can get a special freebie or discount. Maybe you have a sample product that you want to test out. The people on your email list can redeem that exclusive coupon and get this special freebie. They will feel special and you can do some testing with your target audience to see if this new product will be successful.

There are lots of different ways that you can use email marketing, but start thinking about the ways that you can give back and keep nurturing those potential and existing customers. It is so much easier and cheaper to keep marketing to and nurturing those existing customers than it is to find new ones all the time.

Artist Mistake #5: Lack of understanding how search engines work.

The 5th and final mistake that I see a lot of artists, makers and e-commerce sellers making is they don’t understand the basics of SEO, aka search engine optimization.

They don’t use the same types of language and the same types of words on their websites or in their Etsy shop listings that their customers use when they are searching for what the artist makes.

Your potential customers are using search engines. They’re going on Google, they’re going on Amazon or Etsy’s internal search engines and looking for things to buy. When they’re in the mood to buy something, they’re turning to search.

But if you don’t understand the basics of SEO, you’re not going to show up high in those search results and your potential customers are never going to find you.

SEO is basically free marketing.

It’s a long game; it’s not overnight. It is something that takes ongoing work. It’s very much a marathon, but that’s why it’s so important for you to understand the basics so that you can stay competitive.

Here’s the thing: a lot of artists and makers don’t understand this stuff. And that is a problem. It’s a mistake that I see a lot of artists and creatives making. But if you do understand the basics of SEO, it’s going to be much easier for you to compete against all the other people trying to rank for the same thing in the search engines.

I could go into a lot of detail about all the specifics, except I already have: I created an easy to understand online workshop. It’s called DIY SEO for E-commerce. I created it especially for you. It’s for artists, makers and creatives who want to understand the basics of SEO.

I don’t talk a lot about the super technical stuff that’s going to be way over your head and make your brain explode. I’ve kept it very understandable and simple to follow. I focus on the things that you can do on your website or in your Etsy shop to improve your search engine rankings.

My goal is to help you understand the basics of how search engines work.

Like I said, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. The search engines are always changing and tweaking things. If you understand the basics of how they work and how they operate, you can stay ahead of the curve. That’s what I want to share with you.

In DIY SEO for E-commerce, I also talk about conversion optimization and the basics of PR, aka public relations.

Conversion optimization means how do you make a visitor buy something once they’ve found your website via search? How do you make them convert into a customer? I share specific tactics and techniques you can use to make it easier once people are on your website for them to buy your products.

We also talk about PR or public relations because at the end of the day search engine optimization has a lot to do with how other websites link to you and how other websites share your stuff online. A big piece of that, especially as an artist or a maker, is getting your stuff featured by blogs, newspapers or magazines. In this online workshop I share some ways that you can do that.

DIY SEO for E-commerce has a lot of useful information, delivered via 10 short videos plus some bonus materials. The core group of the 10 videos is about an hour and a half long.

It’s not this huge course that’s going to take you weeks to learn. You can spread it out over a few weeks if you want and watch it on your lunch breaks or while you’re eating your breakfast. You can also watch it all at once.

I want you to be able to sell more stuff, make more money and do what you love.

I hope you’ll check it out. If you need a little more free info before you take the plunge, check out my blog post about improving your Etsy SEO. I’ve also got “SEO keyword kits” in my Etsy shop where I’ve done the keyword research for certain popular niches like jewelry and kid’s clothing.

Otherwise, I hope that what I’ve shared here has been helpful. If you have questions that I didn’t cover here, please reach out, and I’ll try to answer them in a future podcast episode.

You can also sign up for the free #BadassCreatives e-mail club. Each week I send out a dose of insights, inspiration and good stuff.

About the Author Mallory Whitfield

Mallory Whitfield created MissMalaprop.com in 2006 as a place to share her favorite cool stuff, handmade products and indie finds. Throughout her journey as a creative entrepreneur, Mallory has worn many hats, including blogger, visual artist, upcycled clothing creator, performance artist, jewelry designer, craft show vendor, creative strategist, speaker, teacher and consultant to other small business owners. By day, she specializes in SEO, content marketing and social media strategy as Content Analyst at FSC Interactive, a leading digital marketing agency in New Orleans.

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Do you believe that art, creativity, innovation, and kindness can change the world? If you answered “Heck yeah!” then this is the podcast for you.

Badass Creatives is hosted by Mallory Whitfield and features marketing and business advice for creatives, as well as interviews with a diverse range of handmade artists, performers, makers, and creative entrepreneurs.

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