PPP: Building an Online Presence

March 1, 2011
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Diligently building your online presence can help enhance your success as an artist.

Most successful artists would agree that you need to do what is best for your business, but no single best approach exists for everyone. Many artists choose to sell through boutiques, galleries, trade shows, craft fairs, and other venues, in addition to selling online. An online presence is just another option with its own perks and drawbacks. So, why get online?

Simply put, the digital era is here and now, and online shopping is very common these days. Globally, more than half of Internet users have made at least one purchase online in the past month, according to Nielsen.1 During the current economic crisis, people are still shopping online, even if the practice has slowed apace with offline shopping.

Etsy connects consumers with independent artists, craftspeople and collectors.

Low Overhead

The low cost associated with an online presence is pretty hard to beat. A perfect starting point for online marketing is your own web address (or URL). If you have the ability or the resources, you can build your own website, or you could join an affordable site that hosts independents' shops. Of course, we recommend Etsy (we work here!), but many options are available with varying features and costs.

At Etsy, we connect consumers with independent artists, craftspeople and collectors to find the very best in handmade and vintage goods while providing these entrepreneurs with the technology and information they need to start and grow their own businesses. As one Etsy seller, cobblerscabin, points out, there are "no major expenses in starting online as there are in craft fairs such as tents, entrance fees, displays, etc. You don't have to transport all your items and do set-ups and take-downs."

Location, Location, Location

Even if you only want to present your artwork to brick-and-mortar stores or galleries within your city, an online address can serve as the professional calling card you need show off your latest work. It's important to keep in mind that people are increasingly using the Internet as a research tool before reaching out and making an initial contact.

In addition, shoppers who primarily buy from you in a shop or craft fair might want to find you later. The Etsy seller behind MamaVSoap underscores the benefit of having an online presence, "As a buyer, I have a problem when I purchase a small item at a craft fair and then can never find the seller again."

Pervasive Time and Space

With an online shop, you can reach an audience of potential customers beyond borders and make connections to people in foreign countries. This opens your shop up to different time zones, and, even more close to home, you can "extend your hours" by having an online presence. After all, the Internet never sleeps.

That being said, a virtual online presence can offer challenges-where do you hang your sign for all to see? You'll need to put yourself in front of "virtual foot traffic," where online shoppers will find links to your items. Many sellers do this by purchasing ads, joining group marketplaces where they know shoppers will be searching for products with keywords or "tags," and by generating buzz through print and blog coverage. Another challenge? "It's difficult to stop 'working' on your Etsy shop," says the artist behind Etsy shop littleTstudio. "It's so much fun, it's hard to say 'OK, I'm done for the day.'"

No Face Time

The lack of face time is one aspect of selling online that individuals entrenched in the real-life selling experience might find different. For some folks, the lack of face-to-face interaction with customers is a bonus. Selling online works particularly well for shy people or those who have a hard time selling in person. It's also great for parents who want to work from home so they can be with their children, as Etsy seller BululuStudio notes.

For some people, however, selling online feels isolating and too impersonal. In other words, if you thrive off of your embodied presence, it may take some time to figure out how to translate that through a keyboard. Direct e-mails or the Etsy e-mail system (called Conversations or Convos) are a fairly intimate way of communicating with customers, and it's up to you to find your own professional/friendly tone.

Online language can be chirpier and come in quick spurts (especially for Twitter users), whereas some forum regulars prefer ongoing text-based discussions. Still other folks like the interactivity of the Chatrooms and the real-time, webcam-enabled Virtual Labs. Bloggers will tell you that sharing their lives and creative processes through their blogs can garner them quite a following.

In a way, you can document your life and have your face time on your own terms (and on your good hair days). All kidding aside, it is an art form in itself to be able to express your personality and vision largely through text and photos (perhaps short videos, too).

Technology Requirements

We all know a couple of people who seem to have an electric charge running through their bodies that makes computers just randomly start hiccupping until they are kaput. If this is you, you need to do something about it, because there's no denying that you're going to need some electronic equipment and a little bit of savvy if you want to sell online.

Once that's taken care of, the required gadgetry is pretty straightforward. You'll need a digital camera and a fairly speedy Internet connection. You'll need a computer with enough juice to store photos and run Photoshop and a word processing program (though you can use Picnik and Google Docs, which are free browser-based applications).

Keep in mind that it takes time and passion to shoot photos that conjure the artistry of your pieces. You also need to be able to sign in often and check on your online presence. Just because you aren't physically there doesn't mean you shouldn't be virtually "present" and staying on top of any messages or sales.

It can be daunting at first, but launching your online presence can be a very fruitful endeavor if you stick with it.

For additional information, visit www.etsy.com.


1. Nielsen Global Online Survey, http://www.nielsen.com/media/2008/pr_080128b.html


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