For most artists, turning artistic endeavors into something profitable is a blessing and a curse. There's a perceived line in the sand between (1) spending time creating and (2) spending time building the business around your creations. However, if turning your artwork into something profitable is a serious goal, you'll need to be good at both. Especially considering that one affords the other and vice versa. As a Society6 employee and weekend-warrior photog myself, I've felt the dilemma. I've also learned plenty from it. While this post is slanted towards Society6 because that's been my area of expertise, I'd say most of these tips are very relevant to any artist trying to build a business around their artwork in the print-on-demand space (and beyond).
Having been privy to observing artists employ all sorts of tactics to get eyes on their shops, successful and not, these are things I see as most worthwhile when it comes to giving your Society6 shop a leg up. Let's start with the shop itself...
1. Put up a strong body of work. The more the better.
In other words, bring your best designs/artwork to the table, and as much of your best artwork as possible. Obviously, this is relative to where you are as an artist. This doesn't mean masterpieces only. Rather, post work you're really proud of and apply it to the products that make sense. The larger your body of quality work, the more there is to shop. Pretty straight forward.
Example: Mat Miller - Member since October 2011
Pro Tip: You can test your artwork on Instagram first. I've found that if I post my film photography on Instagram first, I get a sense of what will do well on Society6 just by the number of likes and comments I get.
2. Consistency in your artwork counts.
The more cohesive your body of work feels, the more inviting it is for new and repeat customers to really get a sense of you as an artist. It goes a long way. The more people feel like they understand you and your style, the more likely it is they'll settle into discovering more of it and, best case, scoop something up.
Example: Esthera Preda - Member since June 2014
3. Optimize your artwork and designs for individual products.
Yes, it can be some work. Yes, it is most definitely worth it. Why? Because good products get shared, bought and sometimes go viral. If you're the master of snarky quotes, make sure you cover your bases with coffee mugs, iphone cases, laptop sleeves, and anything handheld or wearable. If you shoot landscape photography or paint a mean mandala, make sure your Wall Tapestries and Throw Blankets are dialed in. Patterns are awesome on anything that prints all over. That BARELY scratches the surface and there's exceptions to every rule.
I'm limiting my learnings here because you'll likely surprise yourself (and us) with the perfect artwork-product combo that fell outside the box.
Example in preparedness: Andreas Lie. A member since October 2014. When the Norwegian artist went viral last May (2015) with his double exposures, he was prepared with a decked out shop. Thousands and thousands were visiting his shop daily. The result of his artwork being available across all products? Cash money. Needless to say, he had a fantastic year and now sits among our top sellers. Other artists that have gone viral, John Holcroft, Witchoria, Busymockingbird, and Kerby Rosanes to name a few.
4. Create regularly. Post regularly. Rinse. Repeat.
Creative hustlers don't find success because they hit a home-run every time, it's because they're chipping away at their 10,000 hours. If you're creating regularly, you have new work to post regularly. If you're sharing new artwork and products across social platforms regularly, you're giving any/all potential customers a *new* excuse to visit your shop.
Pro tip: As tempting as it may be, don't ever drop a ton of work all at once. Anyone who doesn't catch it will miss all your best stuff. You'll also be pitting your best work against itself for a homepage appearance. Instead, block off a few hours on the weekend, prepare several pieces of artwork across your products, then schedule the release of new artwork accordingly. Again, give people new reasons to come back regularly. Once you have everything designed for products, the upload process is really quick.
Example: Beeple. He's been a member since August 2012. He diligintely posts artwork from his EVERYDAY project as frequently as it sounds. He doesn't make his work available on any other product than art prints, but he does it more consistently than any artist I've ever seen on the site. An inspirational follow on any platform. All that frequent posting drives a lot of traffic to his shop. Because his artwork is awesome and consistent, he sells well.
5. Be diligent with posting relevant tags and descriptions.
First and foremost, you want your artwork and products to be found. Think about what a customer might search for when looking for something like your work. See my example below. I've included a fairly straight forward description and some relevant keywords/tags as well. I'd guess few, if any, are looking for a photo of Burney Mountain, but if they type in "pine trees", I pop up on the second page in Society6's search. I'd say it's a pretty different option compared to what currently exists within the "pine tree" search.
Second to being searchable on our own site, you should definitely be considering SEO. Chances are you've seen or even familiarized yourself with the term SEO. Whether you know what it is or not, here's a quick lesson on why it's important to you and your Society6 shop. It stands for Search Engine Optimization. Basically, search engines reward you for sharing relevant info with your artwork. Relevant being the key word here. Google wants to show people what they're searching for. But it's on you to help them do it. Good descriptions and tagging are quite literally to help people find what they want, your work.
A word of caution: avoid "keyword stuffing". This is a tactic where people tag everything under the sun to get short-term views on their content. Google recognizes this and penalizes you by keeping you out of search results. Or worse, a potential customer sees no relationship between what you've tagged and what the actual content of your artwork is and leaves a bad taste. Don't give them reasons to avoid you.
Example: Ben Renschen - Member since August 2014
6. Share your products with your people.
Seems obvious, but it's bears repeating. If you're on Society6, bets are you're not trying to go all Vivian Maier with your work, keeping it under wraps your whole life. Instead, take to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Snapchat, etc. Let your network know that you're busting ass on all these awesome pieces and products. If a fan of yours isn't interested in buying something, it's not uncommon for them to tag a friend who is. Imagine they reshare your product on any given social platform or add their own hashtags. Before you know it, a brand new fan is buying your throw blanket for a friend's birthday. Just by letting people know that you have artwork and products for sale is a great way to encourage sales.
Hannah's been a member since Sept 2015.
7. When you have some sales under your belt, double down on your best sellers.
First, you have to figure out what your best sellers are. Start by going to your Earnings Page by clicking on "MY ACCOUNT" in the Nav.
Then click on MY EARNINGS on the right.
Then click on Pending, Cleared or Paid.
From here, figure out what sells. It'll show the title of the artwork and product it sold on. In my case, here's what my sales looks like from the last two months (by clicking on Cleared and Pending):
A quick assessment of the my pending and cleared earnings show that I've sold a handful of Wall Tapestries:
- 8x A Break From the Pack Wall Tapestries
- 5x they're coming down Wall Tapestries
- And a few other tapestries as well
Knowing that my money makers are a few specific Wall Tapestries, I'll send friends, family and fans to my Wall Tapestries page and let them explore my shop from there.
Pro tip: Putting your most popular designs in front of people during a given season or promotion is a great way to take home some extra loot. Which leads me to...
8. Take advantage of our sales and seasonality.
We represent a community of independent artists, so we're always creating new opportunities to promote your work. That said, I'd recommend paying attention to our emails, because we create promotions with you, the artist, in mind. If you see a sale pop up that gives a steep discount on any of your best-sellers, make sure to promote to fans.
Further, it's always worth paying attention to any given season or holiday. This will determine what products you should be pushing. If we're going into summer, beach towels should be at the top of your list. If we're in Back to School season (which begins late June), promote dorm-friendly and college related gear. Some quick Googling should return popular holidays and commercially relevant holidays.
Pro tip: Tailor designs to a holiday or season 4-8 weeks in advance. That'll give customers time to pick up your goods and we'll have time to discover that artwork and put it into our seasonal or holiday-specific collections.
9. Take advantage of your Society6 Artist Promo.
Regularly, we offer pretty solid discounts for you and your customers. It'll usually be a product and free shipping. Something like 15% off Wall Tapestries and Free Worldwide Shipping. And rather than just giving you the info, we also send you promotional assets/overlays so you can just drop it right onto your own artwork. Quick and easy way to promote your shop so you can get back to whatever else it was you were doing.
Pro tip: Do a quick search in your email for "Artist Promo" to see what I'm talking about. If you've missed any opportunities to push your best selling products, make sure to start paying attention. They exist so you can hook up long-time or new fans with a deal.
10. Post great content on your Instagram to build a following.
The larger your following, the more people to market to. The quickest way to do that, produce great social content that people want to share and tag their friends in. Works in progress (#wip) and time lapses are a great place to start. Fans and fellow creatives love them and love to share them. Thus getting you more exposure and followers. You can put your Society6 link in the shop.
Example: Wendy Ortiz. Recently, we watched a time lapse video of hers get picked up and go viral on Instagram. An average video of hers was getting between 25k and 50k views. This particular video has over 1 million views and she picked up over 30k followers in the process. Click the image below to watch...but promise you'll come back...more good stuff ahead.
Pro tip: Add your Society6 shop link to your Instagram bio. Another example from @wendyortizart.
Wendy's been a member since January 2013.
11. Add Society6 product or a banner/link to your website.
Not commonly considered, but certainly makes a positive impact on traffic to your shop. If people are googling you, they might want to see your artwork without distraction. So they land on your website. When they fall in love with your work, you send them to a place where they can scoop it up.
Pro tip: You can also add the Society6 bug (little round S6 logo) to your list of social icons on your website.
Example #1: Ghostly Ferns - product-integration directly on website
Example #2: Beeple - strategically placed custom society6 banner
Example #3: Ben Renschen - subtle link to prints in website nav
12. Prepare your own marketing material.
You can always use ours, but more often than not, your fans will respond better to something that has your flavor of creative because they already like your vibe. Seaside Spirit is an great example of an artist putting up some killer creative.
Pro Tip: Don't forget you can always pull the preview images of your products and cut them out to help build your creative like below.
Example: Seaside Spirit - Facebook post from 2015 holiday season.
Adrian Macho (aka Seaside Spirit) has been a member since October 2014.
13. Finally, set goals, set goals, set goals.
This is less business-y than it sounds. You're more apt to succeed on Society6 (and let's be honest, in life) if you have actual targets you're shooting for. Aside from setting some sales goals, it can be as simple as committing to 30 minutes of painting every weeknight, emailing your newest series to 25 art blogs this weekend, or emailing your five favorite artists looking to assist them. Setting goals is about finding clarity in what you want to achieve and focusing in on it.
Pro tip: By setting goals, you'll have more time to do want you want with your life (artistically or otherwise). You won't waste time or resources aimlessly. And remember that no failure is a failure if you've learned something. At the very least, you paid for a lesson.
All in all...
Making a living off your art can be a full-time job. And you'll spend a ton of hours hustling on the business end because you have to. It doesn't make sense to build Rome and then not tell anyone to come visit.
I spend my weekdays at Society6 producing content. I spend my weeknights processing my film photography. I spend my weekends traveling and shooting for fun and for art. Those weekend road trips exist when I'm not shooting or traveling for freelance clients.
I feel like this is a pretty comprehensive list of to-do's for any artist on S6 and I hope this helps everyone wrap their head around some new or familiar concepts to get eyes on their work. A lot of these are general business practice applied to being an artist on Society6. If there's anything I forgot or you have any questions, please add to the comments.
Good luck out there!
Header image by Nadine Nicole Heimann
Some gear from Ben Renschen's shop: