Building Business – Got Tips?

Something non-car related…..

As most of you might know, Mrs Swade (otherwise known as PJ) is into painting. She’s a watercolour artist and while she’s dabbled in numerous styles over the years, she’s found an appreciative audience in recent times for her emu paintings. They’re bright and colourful and they usually achieve their aim of putting a smile on people’s faces.

CF005180-367x500PJ’s hoping to turn this hobby into a reliable part-time income so that she can cut back on her 9-to-5 day job and take things a little slower. Neither her nor I are business people, however, so I thought I might tap into the expertise of people reading this to see if you’ve got any experience to share.

What we’ve started so far:

Built the PJ Paintings website – that was the easy part, of course. Adding content is more laborious but she’s getting the hang of things.

Building the mailing list – it’s slow going, but a monthly email update goes out to a number of subscribers now. And of course, we’ll look at continuing to build that progressively.

Built the PJ Paintings Facebook page + advertising – We had a slow climb to 100 Likes, mostly from family and friends at first. It accelerated from 100 to 150. In the last week we’ve done some targeted Facebook advertising for just $5 a day and now have nearly 450 Likes after around 10 days of advertising.

Diversified into fine quality, limited edition prints – Why sell one painting when you can sell the print 100 times? We’ve sourced a great photographer/printer and will soon be marketing fine quality, limited edition prints in various sizes. The marketing hasn’t started for those yet, but we’ll get that underway once the Facebook advertising finishes at the end of the week.

Diversify into greeting cards – the paintings lend themselves nicely for use as greeting cards and the first proofs we got back from the printer were very encouraging. We just want to see what the next size up looks like. Once that’s sorted, we’ll have them ready to go in no time.

Added a store to the PJ Paintings website – It’s one thing to have all these products but you’ve also got to get them to market somehow. We’ve added a store to PJ’s website as a first step in doing this.

Signed up for our first major eventAgfest is a big agricultural show here in Tasmania held at the beginning of May each year. We’ve signed up for a stall and will be there in The Craft Shed selling as many prints and cards as we can. This will be our first event and we’ll use it to gauge the wider interest not just in the paintings, but for the whole event scene.

——

That’s where we’re at right now.

Mrs Swade will keep on doing new paintings, either from her own mind or on commission. Some of those paintings will be professionally photographed and used as limited edition fine quality prints, or cards, or both.

We have the product. Now we have to market them and sell them.

Any hints or tips on how to best do that. We have a few ideas in mind that are basically extensions of what we’re doing now, but any out-of-the-box suggestions based on your experience would be appreciated.

How to decide what product mix to take to Agfest?

How to get people to move from being visitors, to being shoppers?

Advice on pricing?

Anything else you can think of.

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16 Comments

  1. Have you approached local cafes?

    In Sydney there are a few cafes that have deals with local artists. The art hanging on the cafe walls are changing, and the artist’s work is displayed. Normally under the artwork is a note with the details of the artist and that it is for sale.

    1. She’s had a few local exhibitions, in particular at one busy restaurant in North Hobart. They’ve gone well and she’s sold a good number of paintings there, but I guess we’re looking at establishing the print business more at the moment. Originals can take 50 hours or more to paint so being able to sell quality reproductions is probably the only way of getting a decent return for her time.

  2. We have started enrolling our management level team in an awesome resource program. Check out http://www.coursera.org. They have wonderful business courses online through some of the top universities in the USA. We have several employees enrolled in a course right now at my alma mater, UVA. The title is Grow to Greatness: How to Grow a Small Business. The course is great and Professor Hess is extremely good at his profession.

    We have been able to improve our bottom line, by enrolling management members in these courses as opposed to sending them to expensive conferences and seminars, that require travel expenses and time away from work.. The online courses are free and not overbearing.

    There are over 60k people enrolled in the Good to Great course and might I add some extremely talented and sharp individuals. The class forums connect all 60k enrolled students in a manner that allows you to not only get wonderful insight into a particular business situation, but also it has created numerous business opportunities online, through the forums.

    It may be possible to take your unique business situation to one of your local business schools or even one of the Coursera member schools. Each week, in the above mentioned course, the students are given a case study to review and analyze. The feedback is worth “a million dollars”.

    If you wish for me to put your in touch with Professor Hess just let me know.

  3. Wow. I have only two things to say:

    1. Do what you think, even if some people say you shouldn’t or you can’t. It’s your business, after all, not theirs. Of course, don’t disagree with good advice, but don’t be afraid to ‘Follow your own road”. 😉

    2. Try to be in a position to say ‘yes’ to as much as you can. Commissioned piece? YES. Put the paintings in show? YES. Meet the deadline? YES.

    That’s my advice.

    PS — You know way more about the whole “social media” angle than I do…. the Facebook thing will multiply with ‘shares’ of the content that you put on the page. Again, you know it better than I do…. real social media leadership takes dedication and perseverance.

  4. Get her work listed on Etsy.com. You can register for an Etsy store… one of our Saab friends sells gemstone trees via Etsy. You can also upload her images to a site like cafe press.com and have them printed on coffee cups, t-shirts, hats… whatever you like, really…

    1. Yeah, something like Etsy’s being considered. There are a few alternatives and each one seems to have its fans and non-fans from an operator’s point of view. Some service like that is probably the next point for development online (well, that and maybe a Facebook shop).

      Cafepress, not so much.

  5. Get the word out about her work as much as possible…and in as many places as possible. If people know she is around, she stands a good chance to grow…which would be wonderful for the both of you.

    Steven, you may…or may not…remember my writing, both here and at SU, about a SAAB dealership I went to work for in 1988, who rarely ever advertised. Hardly anyone knew they existed, and they had a half dozen or more brand new TWO YEAR OLD vehicles sitting on their lot when I walked in to take over running the SAAB store. And as ironic as it eventually became, they were also a GM dealership. Once I started to advertise, I sold all of the old stock within 6 months. The owner screamed at me for spending 1/10 of what he was spending for advertising for the GM part of the business, but the results were clearly there. He made me stop the advertising, and I left not long after that. I finally was able to convince SAAB corporate to take the franchise away from them…and they did just that about six months after I left.

    Best of luck to you both. She clearly has talent, and needs to be rewarded for all of her hard work. 🙂

  6. A business plan is in order , make notes as you go and adjust to what the patron is wanting . Cost for the time spent , and dont undervalue what time is worth , talent and time is what any business is selling .
    Fine arts is a rough business , but dont let that take away from the fun part . My business is service but we spend a big amount of time with the customer selling ouselfs and the quality of what our service is , once you know what a customer wants be it prints or orignal art play to that market . Also every print needs a frame , I buy prints that I spend more money on framing and protecting than the print . I see a market for you in the framing and matting as much as the art itself . Just my 2 thoughts it takes years to become what your business plan lays out . I’ve been lucky I started with a talent and the desire to work for the patron , and give a quality product blended with making a profit begining in 1990 and I stay in the black , pay my bills and still enjoy what my art is , outstanding service for the customer . Best of wishes on the adventure for you both , your kindness will be rewarded .

  7. Hi Swade,

    As I am the co-founder of the à la London Design Market in Gothenburg (www.alalondon.se) I know a little bit about creating something somewhat related to what you are working on.

    à la London is a physical design market for the type of artists that your Mrs belongs to. From my point of view, I have a few recommendations:

    – Be visible! Try to get press in any way or form. The paints are very unique and worthy of attention, send a short press release with pictures in it for your next exibition. Maybe arrange a launch party at a local gallery for the limited edition prints?
    – Be accessible! Diversifying into a large range of price ranges is great. Everything from post cards, to prints, to originals are a great idea. Stay away for the tacky stuff though, at least this side of the business… That way you make the art accessible to anyone.
    – Attend markets! Find out if there are any design markets similar to ours in the Hobart area. It’s a great way of meeting new customers and fellow designers.

    A side note could be to make a few unique and maybe less detailed and maybe more playful designs on commission for the Australian tourism market. It’s a matter of finding the right partner you are interested in marketing the products. My comment regarding detail level is based on the fact that I think it is important in order for these products not to cast a negative shadow on the art work side of the business.

    Regarding Etsy, I think those kind of sites can be quite good. I don’t know if there is anything like http://www.wonderwall.se around in Australia which focuses primarily on art. If so, I would say it’s an even better way to go than Etsy which is very diverse.

  8. Ohh, and another one.

    Regarding Ag-fest, without knowing much about the venue, I concentrate on less expensive things such as prints, postcards and maybe even posters if possible. Bring one or two originals but don’t expect to sell them. They will mostly function as a quality guarantee for the other products on display/on offering. Most people simply won’t be carrying around much cash at all and are always a bit hesitant to fork up large amounts at a market. Bring business cards, even if they don’t buy a print or original, make it easy for them to get in touch with you afterwards. Don’t be surprised if they do!

    Also, since we’ve had about 300 exhibitors over the years at our markets, I have seen the value firsthand of being friendly and communicative to the customers. Chating with customers is a great way to break the barrier, be appreciative of any positive feedback. Make the customer feel that you appreciate the any postive feedback. Engage in conversations in order make the customer stay at your table (but do not let the conversation engulf you). People are herd animals and they are more likely to stop at a table if there is already someone there, just make sure to give the new customers some kind of recognition so they do not feel like they are a part of the group/left out.

    1. Hi Matthias.

      Thanks very much for the inside advice. It’s really appreciated. I’ve forwarded it all to Mrs Swade and we’ll have a good chat about it all over the coming days.

      I’ve been unsure about the Chair Candy venture as I tend to think PJ’s work is a bit too light-hearted for what they do. But I’m glad it’s happened as it’s a feather in her cap that we can use, whether anything from her designs get bought or not. It’s happened and that’s the good thing.

      Agfest will indeed prints and cards. We weren’t going to take an original at all as we’ll only have a small 2m x 2m market space. We’ll be taking around 150 prints of different designs and heaps of cards. Hopefully we’ve selected the right ones. It’s a market research exercise in many respects. Our main hope is that we don’t lose a bunch of money on it, but the stuff will sell eventually anyway. We’ll be looking for art/craft fairs afterwards.

  9. Hi Swade and PJ,

    Some of the pics are great (some are not to my taste).

    Have you thought about reproducing some of the ‘sold’ ones? There are a couple that I liked enough to buy a print of.

    What size is S, M & L?

    Would you have any connections to estate agents or such like for show houses – or even better, sell them to banks? Can you sell them with big ticket items – eg instead of getting a bunch of flowers when you buy a car, you get a PJ pic?

    I think the Etsy thing is great, but perhaps there are other similar ones – eg Not on the High Street?

    Can you encourage some friends etc to be ambassadors or find an ‘agent’ to promote them?

    Just a few ideas.

    Best of luck with the venture.

    Simon

    1. Thanks Simon.

      The sizes are written on the print pages. We’re limited for space up top but it’s in the fuller description below. It’s also shown when someone uses the size selector.

      Out of interest, which sold originals appealed to you? It’s helpful for us to know what style of painting is going to be most popular. Some of the prints actually are of sold paintings that we’ve been able to photograph with cooperation from the owner. They’re relatively new sales, though.

  10. I’m certainly no expert in the matter, but I’ve bought a number of posters from http://www.allposters.com and they’ve always been reliable and delivered in a timely fashion and in good condition. And they are easily accessible from around the world (if you’re looking for easily serving Australia, America and Europe etc. I live in Finland.). The posters I liked there were sold in different sizes and fabrics. Perhaps this is not the channel you’re looking for, but on the other hand it could be an additional one. I’m not familiar with their conditions for the artist though.

    On a personal note I really liked the musical theme paintings, being an piano player myself on my spare time. I could definitely see myself buying a poster variant with that theme (e.g. in the spirit of “Musical Medley” 1 or 2).

    Good luck!

  11. Hi Swade,

    I liked the ‘Ducks in Ink’, ‘Got a Light?’ & Curious George’ (but I’m not sure how it differs from Morning Greetings VII). Yes, I should probably learn to read too!

    Best regards

    Simon

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