Business of Art | Strategies for In-Person and Online Direct Sales

Business of Art | Strategies for In-Person and Online Direct Sales
Uprise Art Founder Tze Chun, Image Credit: Uprise Art

Uprise Art Founder Tze Chun lends her expertise to artists seeking to proactively promote and sell their work.

Entrepreneur and artist Tze Chun was a pioneer in recognizing the potential in online art sales, founding online gallery Uprise Art in 2011 to reach a new generation of collectors. The gallery now represents more than 150 emerging artists from around the world, working with trade professionals, corporate collections, and individual collectors to find artwork for their projects, offices, and homes. Chun recently spoke at  “Defining Value(s) in the Art World,” an online event presented by Art World Conference (Fiscally Sponsored by NYFA), giving advice to artists who are looking to promote and sell their own work. We’re sharing her insights here to help you chart a proactive path for a sustainable art career.

Where to Sell Your Work

For artists looking to have their work in galleries, Chun recommends reaching out to curators whose work might align with yours. Attend openings, make in-person interactions, and keep a list of galleries where you can see your work fitting in. “Galleries are the life-blood of artists and provide valuable career and financial support,” says Chun. Building a community of other artists is helpful; networking will help you make inroads to galleries and curators. There are plenty of gallery alternatives that are not as curated, from marketplaces like Etsy and Minted, which focus more on craft and decor, to Saatchi Art and Chairish, where artists can list their own works. Artists can also utilize pop-up spaces to self-produce shows and promote them through their own channels, in addition to harnessing the power of social media to encourage direct sales. Pop-ups and social media enable artists to have full control over how their work is presented. 

How to Price Your Work

Chun recommends using past sales data to inform your pricing strategy. When evaluating what you have sold for in the past, you can see what the market is willing to pay as a baseline. Also take into account your sales cycle; if you price low, for example, you may find quicker sales results than if you price high and get sales less frequently. “A rule of thumb,” says Chun, “is that you can always raise your prices but you should never lower them.” Instead, she advises to gradually increase prices based on concrete considerations and not emotion. For example, if you find that your work is getting exhibited, receiving press attention, or that there is increased demand, it may make sense to adjust your prices accordingly. Sustainability is key: think about your take-home income and your studio needs before finalizing pricing. And if you’re just starting out without some of these baseline markers to refer to, Chun suggests referencing other art that is similar to yours that is on the market.

How to Build Your Audience

Chun is a big believer in focusing on people over profit. “You’re building relationships–the art world is a relationship business. So you’re building relationships with collectors and curators, and you’re surrounding yourself with supporters” she says. “If your work speaks to these people, the sales will follow.” She cautions against a hard sell to prospective buyers, and recommends instead learning about their involvement in the arts and their interests. Ideally, they will take a similar interest in you and your work, and believe in you enough to either buy from you directly or make introductions to others in their networks. “People are going to be much more likely to buy your work if they have a relationship with you and they believe in your authenticity,” says Chun. She also advises artists to keep track of the contacts they make as well as having a way to classify contacts–like artists you meet through studio visits or curators from corporate collections. 

Once you have your contacts saved and classified, you’ll want to keep them informed through various platforms including social media, your website, and email newsletters. Chun recommends creating different experiences for your audience through these different channels, and, once you’ve determined your approach, being consistent. For example, use Instagram Stories to show a behind-the-scenes look at your practice; your website as a place to present your portfolio, bio, and CV; and email newsletters to focus on updates on shows and clear calls-to-action for sales inquiries. 

Image: A white wall is built out in a large industrial space with giant wood beams and a concrete floor. An exhibition of photographs is hung on the wall in the space.
Photographs by Uprise Art artist Rachel Sussman (Fellow in Photography ’13), Image Credit: Pioneer Works

A Practical Guide to Making Sales

Being organized and developing ways to track your relationships and work can help you make significant inroads in your arts career. At “Defining Value(s) in the Art World,” Chun outlined a checklist for getting your business in order that will allow you to dedicate more time to your creative practice.

  • Inventory Management. When creating work, make sure to catalog it! There are many free or low-cost online options (Artlogic, ArtBase, ArtBinder, galleryManager, Veevart) for doing so, which will enable you to consolidate information such as sizing, title, date, material, and available/sold inventory into one place.
  • Contact Management. It’s important to keep track of how and when you reach out to your contacts or when they reach out to you. Ideally, you can implement the same system as above so you can quickly link to what a contact inquired about or purchased, noting relevant aspects about the sale or transaction.
  • Business Structure. Investigate your tax options. Should you become an LLC, for example? Chun recommends talking to an accountant to determine your best option.
  • Bookkeeping/Accounting. It’s important to keep track of your income and expenses relating to your art business. You should be able to say how much you spent on materials, studio rent, expected material expenses, how much sold last year, goals for selling for next year, etc. “This directly relates to the question about art pricing, that these things all have to align,” says Chun. 
  • Regular Analysis and Assessment. On a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis, look at your expenses and income and track them in relation to your goal. Ask yourself: if you’re financially on track, does that allow you to achieve your creative goals?
  • Planning Promotion. “You may create work in a bubble, but you don’t generate sales in one,” says Chun. Think about what you invest in: travel expenses to go to an art fair to make connections, an email marketing subscription, etc, and think how that aligns with your budget and goals for the entire year.
  • System for Sales. Once you have your inventory management system, contact management system, and accounting software in place, you want to have a system in place for invoicing and receiving payments (like QuickBooks, for example). When you make sales you want to know in your inventory management and contact management systems when you sold work, how you received payment, if you offered a discount, and how the work was delivered. You need to know these things especially if a collector comes back to you later!

– Amy Aronoff, Senior Communications Officer

This article draws tips from “Strategies For In-Person And Online Direct Sales,” a presentation given by Tze Chun, Founder, Uprise Art, at Defining Value(s) in the Art World, an online event presented by Art World Conference (Fiscally Sponsored by NYFA). To learn more about whether to apply for NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship as an artist project or emerging organization, read our FAQ section.

You can find more articles on arts career topics by visiting the Business of Art section of NYFA’s websiteSign up for NYFA News and receive artist resources and upcoming events straight to your inbox. Have an arts career question? You can contact NYFA staff directly by emailing [email protected].

Amy Aronoff
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