You people are so lucky. You don’t even know. Had I grown up during the internet age, my life would not only have been easier, but I’d know a lot more about porn. More importantly, though, I’d be a much more competent person, and sooner. But, alas, I was late for the party. I was no kid then. But I’ve never really been much of an adult, either.
At least I came to the internet in its early days. Not as early as some, but earlier than many others. I’d worked with computers for a while before I finally got a modem in the mid-90s. I upgraded to a faster one around 1996 and began building a crappy website, which was the whole purpose of my (then) not-so-meager investment. You’d be surprised how few artists’ websites were around then. Not many. The web was actually barren of artists.
I built my first site on an AT&T subdomain back when the /~ was still a “thing.” Ha ha ha. (That might only be funny to us oldtimers.) Geocities was just getting started, eBay became wildly popular with Beanie Babies, and I was selling my art in online auctions, including Yahoo! auctions by 1997 (there was such a thing!). This is when I truly began to sell my work, quadruply more often than before I got on the Internet (we spelled it with a capital ‘I’ then, by the way). I went from selling my work in the low hundreds to up to a thousand, finally.
Instead of promoting to people I only knew in real life, the entire world was now available to me. What an enormous difference. I was astounded and thrilled with how everything picked up so fast. I saw it as a miracle.
Before that, it took me about ten years to grow a mailing list of three hundred people. Most of those people I’d connected with by being on the road as a musician. I was sending out my newsletters through the regular mail—handmade, cut-and-paste booklets I made at Kinkos. And that was quite costly. I started to get people to pay for special subscriptions to offset some of my costs, but I was also selling my art on payment plans to multiple buyers this way. It was giving me a small income stream. Very small, but it added up.
Maybe that all sounds like life was good, but it was a hustle, to say the least. Then the internet changed my life, and especially when the rest of the world got onto the web, which did take time.
But once I finally learned how to code a better website, I realized the importance of getting a real domain name.
Why was this so important? There were a few reasons. I wanted to be seen as professional as possible and needed a main hub where I could drive all my auction traffic. EBay was like my first social media because that didn’t exist yet. I also wanted to be relevant (searchable) in search engines, which at the time were mainly Yahoo! and AltaVista. Google also didn’t exist yet. I needed my own place where I could connect my artist self with the rest of the world, and that was how.
This was yet another investment, as domain names were $100 a year then. I don’t remember how much hosting was, but that was another expense. But like any other necessity (like art supplies), I considered these things part of my job expenses. They are just a must, I tell you. And it’s all a fraction of the price these days.
Your website is where everything is located in one place: your visuals, your artist information, your available works and how to purchase them, news about where you might be exhibiting, a way to join your mailing list, any projects you’re involved in, your blog, and much more. It represents your identity and your artistic presence. And you can give it any personality you wish.
Your domain name doesn’t matter so much as just having your own that’s hosted on a server like Dreamhost, or someplace like that. I’m only using that one as an example. They have different tiers of hosting plans. And domain names are so cheap these days, hell, you can buy a few different names that all point to the same site (joeblow.com, joeblowsart.com, theartofjoeblow.com, etc.).
It was true thirty years ago, and it holds true today. Having an online presence is an integral part of your business. And today, there are even better tools to manage it, like seeing your analytics/statistics, integrating your sign-up forms and shopping carts, taking credit cards, sending newsletters, and linking to your social media. There are even no-brainer ways to build websites with fool-proof templates that don’t require knowledge of coding or search engine optimization. It couldn’t be any easier!
Though you should give your site your own special touch, it should still have a clean and easy-to-navigate design. Simple is always best; nothing cluttered. No ads of any kind! Not even “Website by Wix.” That’s not professional. But its main purpose should be about connecting to the viewer, first and foremost. And if you don’t have your site’s SEO (search engine optimization) in order, you might as well be operating in a vacuum, so having access to the inside of that code to do all that is important. The site should be yours to manage and not on a subdomain. And if you don’t know how to build a site yourself, pay someone who knows what they’re doing to make you one. It’s something you should invest in—because it’s your career!
Now, your SEO is the most important technical aspect of the site. This includes your site’s title, description, and content most of all. Keywords are important, too, for sure, but Google leans more on titles and descriptions more than anything else. These things can be found in your source code under the <head> tag. If you build your site in a platform like Squarespace, it’s as simple as filling out a few fields in the SEO section. No coding is even necessary. This is if you want to attempt to build your own site and if you don’t mind a small learning curve in doing so. You’ll save money (not paying someone else) but NOT TIME! If you don’t really know what you’re doing, you might be working on it for it forever with much frustration.
It’s also essential to integrate a mailing list form of some kind, whether you use what comes with a template site like Squarespace mentioned before (I do recommend that platform, by the way–but only for the website, not the mailing list aspect) or you can use something like Mailchimp. Once I had my own domain with a newsletter sign-up, my mailing list kept doubling every two to four years. Doesn’t sound like much, but I get a lot of interaction with my audience. It’s how I connect to my viewers most of all.
Both Squarespace and Mailchimp will keep a database of your emails, but Mailchimp has way more options, and I highly recommend it. It’s free to a point. You can also separate your lists into different groups, schedule your newsletters/mailings, and see who is opening your mail and how they interact. There are tons of template designs to make your life simple and easy, too. There’s a little learning curve to that too, but it’s worth it.
Sending mailings and keeping your list of people updated is everything. Even if you feel like you’re sending your newsletters out to a bunch of crickets, there’s always a percentage of your people who will appreciate it. This is how you connect to your audience, after all. You are keeping them informed about you and your career, so can tell them things like:
- Recent art ideas
- What you’re working on
- Works in progress
- What you’ve recently accomplished
- Where you are showing
- What’s on sale
- Plans for the future
- Where you’ve already shown and how it went
- Any sales you want to talk about
- Your thoughts on art
- Acknowledgments to special people
- New updates on your website
…or anything else you can think of. Get creative. How often you want to contact your peeps is up to you. Some artists send out mailings once a week, once a month, or whenever they feel like it. I send a long newsletter with all my goings-on seasonally (every four months).
You might get unsubscribes every time you send something out, but that’s perfectly normal. You will gain and lose subscribers all the time, but you can’t let it bother you. Everyone has reasons for leaving, and it probably has nothing to do with you personally. And remember that it’s quality over quantity. You don’t want someone on your list that doesn’t want to be there. The people that stay are your audience. Your “market,” if you will. That group need not be huge, just loyal and interested.
Lastly, about mailings: don’t spam. Make sure the people on your list either joined of their own volition or you ask them if it is okay to put them on there. Never just stick them on there. That’s actually illegal, not to be a narc. It’s just something I thought I’d mention.
Now you probably want to know how to build up your resume, don’t you? Well that figures. Well, You’ll have to give me a couple of days to post about that one.
In the meantime, if you have any questions about internet or website stuff, please do not hesitate to ask me in the comments. I’ll be happy to chat more about it. Now get out there and start building your empire!