by Lee Down

Making a living as an artist is challenging, to say the least. The gallery system is a battle to get into at the best of times. Getting commissions with any kind of regularity requires you to already have a significant audience. Thankfully, the rise of the digital landscape has meant that you no longer have to purely rely on these methods to have a career.

Starting an e-commerce art business could be an ideal way to support your creative ambitions. Firstly, it’s one of the most accessible businesses you can start, needing little more than your creative skills, a computer, and an internet connection. Beyond making money directly from sales, it could also lead to greater attention to your works, resulting in opportunities for commissions, exhibitions, and collaborations.

So, how do you actually launch an e-commerce art business? Let’s peek at a few of the essential elements.

Make Solid Plans

It’s easier than ever to make an art e-commerce store. This doesn’t mean that jumping in hastily is necessarily in the best interests of your or your burgeoning business. In most cases, you’ll find it’s better to take a little time to make solid plans before you embark on launching your business.

Starting an e-commerce business is different to brick-and-mortar companies — you don’t have to rent a location, for a start — but you still need to follow a lot of the same actions any new enterprise must. Begin with defining your target market. Who is most likely to buy your art products and what is the demand for what you’re offering? You’ll need to perform some market research to get some solid insights here. This helps you to make decisions about the amount of inventory you’ll need to keep in your store or what type of marketing will be most impactful.

Another planning element you’ll need to consider is your business model. E-commerce in itself is a method of service delivery, rather than a business model. Your choices here could include traditional online retail, in which you keep inventory on your premises and deliver them directly to consumers. Alternatively, you could use dropshipping, in which you upload your art designs to a third-party print-on-demand (POD) service which handles transactions and shipping.

Importantly, set goals for your e-commerce art business. Your aims can guide the decisions you make for your company and how it develops in both the short and long term. Do you have a certain amount of revenue you want to bring in during your first year? Are you aiming for specific levels of social media engagement for your art brand? Do you want to target collaborations with other e-commerce or art businesses? The more specific you can be about these goals, the more practical the steps you need to take to reach them are likely to be.

How to Launch an E-Commerce Art Business
How to Launch an E Commerce Art Business

Choose the Right Platform

Not all e-commerce platforms are alike. Each has its individual advantages and disadvantages, market focuses, and even audience demographics. It might seem wise to open stores on as many as possible to extend your potential reach. However, this can be an inefficient approach, particularly if you’re working alone. It’s wiser to pick the type of e-commerce platform that best aligns with your goals, business model, and capital.

Some of the platform types to consider include:

Website integrated platform

If you’re intending to take the most independent approach to your e-commerce business, you might consider a platform that’s integrated with your own website. Platforms such as Shopify and Wix offer subscriptions to e-commerce store software. You can build store pages, operate checkout aspects, and view data on your sales via the platform. They also allow you to build your website around your store directly from their platform if you don’t already have your own site.

While the transactions are completed through these platforms, you’ll need to handle all elements of inventory, shipping, refunds, and everything else involved with running a store. This can offer a great amount of freedom but can be more challenging if you don’t have experience or if you have a small starting budget.

Specialist platform

There are specialist platforms dedicated to providing artists with access to community and an online marketplace. In essence, these platforms act as storefronts for sellers of handmade items. Not to mention that you’ll have access to an audience that is already engaged with looking for and purchasing art-related items. One example of such a network is the Arts Artists Artwork (AAA) platform, which has “morphed from a simple social media sharing platform to an extensive online marketplace for artists.” You’ll need to pay a fee for these platforms, but if you don’t already have an audience, it’s a worthwhile consideration.

Print-on-demand platform

Another option available to you is a POD e-commerce platform. These platforms enable you to upload your designs to a range of merchandise templates. This could include t-shirts, prints, homewares, bags, and stickers, among an increasing number of other items. You create a shop with a portfolio of items featuring your designs and the platform handles everything else.

Like the specialist platforms, the additional plus-side is an engaged audience browsing for relevant items. However, in most cases, the profit margin for creators is very small. This means you’d have to sell a lot of items to make this a viable business model. Therefore, it tends to be a practical choice if you already have an audience or you’re not quite ready to make your store a full-time endeavor.

How to Launch an E-Commerce Art Business Online
How to Launch an E Commerce Art Business Online

Offer Diverse Products

Naturally, you want your art to be the primary reason people engage with your store. There’s little more gratifying than to hear that a customer selected your original artwork among a crowded marketplace of artists, purely because they love your work. Nevertheless, it’s worth considering that some consumers might not quite be able to stretch their budget to an original work, or they might be more in the market for a cool design on a t-shirt or bag. By diversifying your product range, you’re likely to capture a wider variety of consumers.

This doesn’t mean you have to saturate your store with every possible item that you can slap an image onto. You’re allowed to be discerning both as an artist and as an entrepreneur. Think about what types of products are best suited to your artwork. Perhaps your street art style could mesh well with prints, skateboard decks, and hoodies. Your original cartoon characters might work on t-shirts and stickers. Your oil paintings may make great limited-run prints while also gracing cell phone covers. By being selective, you can be true to yourself as a creator and your store may feel more authentic to consumers.

With this in mind, your diversity of products must be met with high-quality standards. If you’re buying in a lot of inventory, develop relationships with your suppliers whereby you can visit the factory to check out their quality control standards. If you’re using a POD service, get some samples of each type of product, so you can examine both the quality of materials and how well the printing process holds up. By taking a little extra time here, you can forge a good reputation among your customers.

Leverage Social Media

Marketing will always be essential to the success of your e-commerce art business. Even when you’ve developed a solid audience years down the line, your efforts help you strengthen your customer relationships and forge new ones. Naturally, as a new entrepreneur, you’re unlikely to have a huge marketing budget to play with. The good news is that social media can be a viable option to market your launch.

Social media has become a powerful business tool over the years. It’s one of the most cost-effective options, with most platforms allowing businesses to set up free accounts. You get to view immediate insights into audience engagement on your posts, which allows you to make adjustments to your business and marketing. Perhaps most importantly, you’re able to directly interact with a global audience, particularly with younger demographics.

As with so much else related to your art business, though, it’s important to be strategic. You need to carefully curate the content you post on social media to best represent your products and resonate with your target consumers. You should also ensure that there’s some form of brand consistency in your posts. This may be the voice in your captions, the days and times you post content, and visual choices in your images. You don’t need to be robotic and formulaic here, but a little consistency can help set expectations followers have about your company which can boost engagement.

Some of the social media elements you could consider to drive a little buzz in the run-up to your launch include:

  • A countdown every couple of days before launch, featuring a product in each post.
  • Preview products with relevant influencers.
  • Behind-the-scenes posts of the making of your products.
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Launching an e-commerce business is accessible, but it certainly requires some work. Make sure you have solid business plans to guide the direction of your enterprise. Select a platform that meets your needs and offer a diverse range of quality products. Remember that social media is your best friend when it comes to cost-effective marketing for your launch and beyond.

These are far from the only considerations you’ll need to make as you edge toward the launch date. There will always be additional options and challenges you need to address. Be thorough in your research when responding to these and look for inspiration from seasoned art e-commerce entrepreneurs. Above all else, be open to making mistakes that you can learn from and grow your business.

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