Sorry I’m a day late posting this one, guys! Time got away from me last night. Last time, we discussed what it meant to be an Indie Artist, we talked about what it meant to be an ambassador of Indie projects, and how important it was to put your best foot forward. It’s important to put your best foot forward in the right areas as well. If you’re doing amazingly well in areas X,Y, and Z, but areas A, B, and C are what you’re being judged on, it doesn’t really do you any good. Today I’m going to go over what I’ve observed from my time attending cons as a guest and as an artist, and while being active in the community that makes the thrive. This isn’t a definitive list by any means, but it’s what I’ve found to be the top five most important things.
I’m going to approach this from what I consider most important to the least important, though remember, this is the top of a longer list. Least important here is still pretty damn important.
You’re on a con floor surrounded by anywhere from eight-hundred to ten-thousand people, depending on the con. You’re surrounded by at least fifteen other artists and creators. Not to mention all the cosplayers on the floor, the special panels, celebrity guests, publishers, toy guys, collectables vendors. You name it, it’s there. And everybody is screaming for the same thing you are: People’s attention.
If you’re sitting in a booth with some pictures on a plain, uncovered convention center table then you’re not doing business unless you’re the Leonardo Di Vinci of the modern age. People are passing you by for flashy banners and slick print outs, price tags all over everything in clear view. Fun fact: Some people won’t even engage you if your prices aren’t in clear site. Your hemorrhaging sales. HEMORRHAGING.
And it’s even WORSE online! Between sites like Etsy, DeviantArt, et all you’re like a tiny fish in a pond full of sharks. If you’re not making every effort to measure up, you’re falling short.
Con displays cost money. Websites cost money. That’s rough, ESPECIALLY when you’re first starting out, but here’s the deal: Good presentation is the first step to bring in customers who will give you that money back for your products. You’ll have your initial investment paid off before you know it, and be able to expand from there.
That last part was key, by the way: Expand from there. Don’t go and drop a thousand dollars on a con display and be in the red for months. Drop a hundred on a table cover (with your name or logo on it if you can swing it), some slick prints, and some cheap easels to display your favorites. If you sell your prints for, say, $20 each, you’ll have that made back in five prints. Once you do that, put aside the next bit of money you make for more prints, then a banner, or something else you can add to really make your display stand out in a crowd.
Same thing goes with websites. With things like http://weebly.com and http://wix.com that are free, or offer a free option, there’s really no reason to not make something nice. Yes, they’re stock sites. Yes, they might look like someone else’s site, but its for free and it gets you in the door. Set up a store online with http://etsy.com or with http://storeenvy.com and start selling there, buy a domain (they’re cheap!) and make it work! If you’re already adept at making websites, then have at it, but look at competitors’ sites and make sure you’re keeping up with the Joneses.
Learn SEO (Search Engine Optimization). It sounds all fancy and technical, but it’s really not. It’s easy, and a lot of free website builders include tools to make it easier. It’s the equivalent of posting a giant neon-billboard online to bring people to your site. More people you have following your site, your Facebook page (Make a PAGE, don’t use your personal account!), your twitter, your Instagram, and whatever else, the more people you’ll have recognizing you at cons and wanting to check out your work in person. The more people looking, the more people buying! It all works out!
But getting folks to your booth isn’t the only part; next is keeping them there. What do I mean by this? Am I asking you to be the next Greg Capullo? No. I’m not. You have your own distinct style and your own progression level to contend with. What I’m saying is that you need to be putting out the best quality art you can put out, even if it’s stick figures with witty one liners. Make those the best damn stick figures out there. And as you improve, get rid of your old stuff. Either stop selling it all together (I prefer that option, personally) or stick it all in a bargain bin for 5 bucks a piece.
Make sure that what you’re selling is nice, as well. Prints that look like they came out of your grandmothers inkjet (sorry, Nana) when it was almost out of ink aren’t going to sell for 20 dollars. Go to Kinkos or whatever your favorite print shop is and have them run off ten of each of your prints. Pick affordable sizes. Don’t be afraid to offer smaller, photo sized prints as well! A lot of places have photo printers that will print off 4×6 images for less than a buck! That’s way affordable. AND it looks good, and you’re giving your customer something that’s worth buying. Key chains, buttons, prints: There’s plenty of vendors out there now that offer affordable, nice looking goods to hand to your vendors. And don’t be afraid to invest a little bit in something cool and free, like mini print or even a collector card. Just make sure it’s something good!
Honestly, I think I could devote an entire blog just to this. (Note to self: Devote entire blog to this later). Personality is key. In my last blog entry I mentioned that you had to engage potential customers when they approached your booth, and that if you can’t do that get someone who can. I meant that! I don’t care if it’s your girlfriend, your wife, a friend, or even your mom! If you are a major introvert and can’t ready and openly engage people as when they start looking at your stuff, you will not be successful. Smile, greet, ask folks what they like. Don’t be afraid of your customers, they’re the best friends ever at cons! Even if you do have a friend doing most of the extrovert leg work, make eye contact and smile. I know it’s hard! But you gotta! And if they ask you a question, you have to answer. Just be friendly and tell them their answer then, “I’m sorry, but I’m super swamped with commissions right now! <insert friends name here> can help you with anything you need!”
So, so, SO important, guys! Remember this one!
You’re not charging too much (unless you are). Something that I fell prey to – and a lot of other artists have admitted to falling prey to – is the idea that your art isn’t worth paying for. I think to some extent we’re all capable of self-evaluation. We’re probably harder on ourselves than most, but learning to cut ourselves a break is awesome. All artists are not created equal. Your art won’t command the same as a thirty year veteran of the comic book industry, but look around at other artists in your vein. Both artists that have more practice in than you, and artists that are still working up to the level you’ve reached. Find a nice medium price range in there and set it. Set it solidly, and don’t let people haggle. If they don’t want to pay you a fair price for your art, they can move on. I can promise you, you’ll be surprised what people are willing to pay. Remember that when you look at your art and you internally rage fit out because it’s so horrible and so flawed, you’re seeing things that most people won’t. You’re seeing “That ear is off! The perspective is one! What the hell is that texture I made! Why does that look like play-doh? Where is gravity with those boobs!” while the people who are looking at your art are saying “Wow! What a cool drawing!”
Try and think about your art as an hourly, too. How many ours did you dedicate to a task? Let’s say you dedicated 15 hours to a commission for someone, and you got 25 bucks for the commission. Congrats, you’re making $1.67 an hour. Does that seem fair to you? That’s not even minimum wage! If you’re looking to make a living doing this, that isn’t fair. At minimum wage you’re looking at over 100 bucks for the same pic. Seems a little more reasonable now, doesn’t it? Now consider how uncommon artists for hire are compared to other professions. At minimum, I’d say you’re worth ten dollars an hour.
I stopped and broke down my hours for one of my last commissions and was sort of disappointed in myself. I spent at least two hours on comps for the customer, another three on pencils, three on inks, and probably four or five on colors (this was an 11×17 big ole commission). Twelve hours minimum, and I charged 60 for it. Sounds expensive, doesn’t it. STILL not minimum wage! I undersold myself! Don’t be afraid to ask what you’re worth!
Advertising is one of the simplest things you can do, but it sounds like the hardest. There’s a million ways to do it with the internet. You can start by reading up on SEO marketing. Pick some keywords, update your site regularly (use a system like Wordpress or something similar so you can do blog posts) with content that has the key word in it as much as possible. Add meta tags to your site, and start trying to get links made back to your site (Facebook shares are awesome!). Make a Facebook page for your creative ventures and post often (daily if you can). Start a twitter, a tumblr, an instagram. Make your artistic endeavors interesting, not just to you, but to everyone. Have fun with it! Get business cards, layout fliers (most cons have a nice general table for fliers, etc), post on Facebook Event pages for cons your attending with links back to your website. Let people know you’re going to be places, and more importantly try and get them EXCITED that you’re going to be there.
The point is: Get yourself out there. Advertise your art, your appearances, your store; anything you can do to get your name and your product out there, do it! I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: If you’re going to look at this like a business, you HAVE to treat it as one! Have faith in yourself, and make it happen!
Remember to make yourself stand out in the crowd, give folks quality items that make them want to approach, approach your customers when they approach you, charge what you should be charging, and get your name out there! Keep your standards high, and we’ll make this community of ours something to really be proud of!
See you on Friday to talk about getting Big Dog Process at a Small Dog Price!