There was a time when you had to persuade a business that they needed website. They really couldn’t see why they needed one. Imagine that!
I remember it well because that was my job for a while, building websites for businesses and getting them visitors from Google.
Those days are long gone. Now it’s accepted wisdom that if you’re a business, you just have to have a website.
If you’re a professional artist, making your income from your work, or teaching (or more usually, both) then you’re a business too.
I know it might feel strange to think that way. We do what we do because it gives our lives meaning. We hope that we can make a living out of it so that we can keep on doing it.
Nonetheless, if you’re an artist, you’re a business. So it should follow that you would need a website, right?
But do you, really?
Artist’s portfolio sites are dead in the water
When you think about it, you don’t actually need one to show what you do.
If I want to keep up with what an artist is doing, I’ll go to their Instagram feed first.
They’re probably more active there. They’ll be posting works in progress, finished pieces, they might even be advertising their workshops there.
A lot of artists know this, so they don’t bother with their websites much.
Why go to all that bother for something no-one ever sees?
Websites are a lot of work to maintain, so most artists don’t.
Unless a website is constantly updated and unless it’s something more than just a portfolio site, it’s unlikely that many people will be visiting anyway.
If you’re not already known, chances are no-one will be visiting.
No wonder so many artist’s website are left to gather dust.
So what are artists websites for now? Why bother at all?
Because the way artists make a living is changing
If you’re doing great with galleries, and they’re handling all your marketing and selling your work and paying you well, you can safely stop reading here.
But I’m guessing that’s not you, because from what I can see, the way artists make a living is changing.
If you want to make a living independently, on your own terms, that means becoming a small business.
And yes, doing marketing. Because that’s what small business do.
And what’s the most effective way to do your marketing?
It’s been email for a very long time, and it still is. If you want to make an independent living as an artist, the most useful thing you can do is to grow an email list.
Cutting through the noise
Here’s why: On a social media site, you’re just one of many accounts that someone follows. And it’s an ever changing feed. You’re just one post in long string of similar stuff.
Unless someone is online when you post, they’ll have to scroll through a whole load of posts before they see yours, if they see it at all.
There are things you can do to increase the odds. Stories get prominence on Instagram. Video gets prominence on Facebook, at the moment.
But it’s still hit and miss.
There are lots of statistics out there, produced to show businesses that email is much more effective than social media.
It really all comes down to this: People are much more likely to read an email than they are to see a post on social media.
I’m a big advocate of building meaningful relationships with people instead of “marketing” to them.
I start from a position of wanting to help. This site, my blog, has always had that as its main reason for existing.
Somewhere along the way, I realised that it had become a very good place to sell my work and to let people know about the online courses I’ve made.
Without this website, I wouldn’t be making any income from art at all. I’d be doing something else, and painting and teaching would still be a sideline, if I was lucky. More likely, it would be something I was desperately trying to find time and energy for in the evenings and at weekends around a day job I hated.
Been there, done that and it’s not fun.
The best thing about what I do now is that it’s very meaningful to me and is – I hope – a positive contribution. I try to make sure I give much more than I take.
It just feels right to me to do things that way. If your’e an artist, or you would like to become one, you’re probably wired like me and you probably feel the same.
This is what artists websites are really for now
Here’s the one thing you can do with a web site that you can’t do with a social media site: you can make it possible for someone to give you their email address, to give you permission to contact them in a format that they’ll actually see.
You can only do this with a website.
I’m not saying that social media platforms are a waste of time, by any means.
The way I look at social media is that it’s a party where anyone can come along. You might meet someone there, but it’s not so easy to have a deep conversation with all that noise.
It’s not easy to build a meaningful relationship.
For that, you want to invite them back to your house. Have them round for dinner, make something delicious for them and chat. Stay in regular touch. Get to know each other.
People often complain about the superficiality of social media, and it’s a just criticism. It is superficial, and it’s often an idealised view of someone.
That happens even if you don’t intend it to. When I look at my instagram feed, it’s mostly pictures of works-in-progress, some finished paintings, random shots of the countryside here and a few of my kids.
Even to me, it looks like an idealised life. I’d love to live that ideal version of my life!
But if you’re on my email list, it’s different.
I can give you in depth information on what I’ve learned and am still learning about colour.
I can give you exercises that have helped me develop my skills and might do the same for you
I can share with you my deepest fears, my most cherished dreams, I can show you my struggles and you can see yours reflected there and feel better about them.
We can both realise that we’re not alone.
But aren’t blogs dead now too?
No, they really aren’t.
I do hear this sometimes, and I suppose for some people it might be true – of their blogs.
It’s like this: I started working in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO – getting visitors to websites from Google) almost 20 years ago now.
When I started, in 2000, Google had just come on the scene. Back then, people were saying that SEO was dead. Over. The ship had sailed. You couldn’t do SEO on Google.
Yet now SEO is a bigger than ever. It didn’t die, it changed.
If you approach a blog like a one-way conversation in which you post up your random thoughts, it’s unlikely to be interesting to anyone but you. That’s the hard truth.
If you want people to read what you write, you have to be useful and interesting. You have to think about what you have to give to people, how you can make their lives better in some way.
You have to make it about your visitors, not about you. Make it about them.
This blog is over ten years old now and it isn’t showing any signs of requiring life support. In fact, it’s busier than ever. I get just as many comments, emails and readers as I ever did. More, actually.
But I don’t have time to blog!
I get it. More than you know. I’m a blogger after all!
Blogging is a lot of work, it’s true. It means writing sometimes instead of painting. Coming up with interesting things to write about is not easy. Doing it well means doing more than just sitting down and thinking “what shall I write about today?”
It means thinking ahead, it means thinking “what do I have that will be useful, helpful, interesting to other people? What can I share? How can I contribute meaningfully?”
If you’re not looking at it like that, even a blog will end up the same as a portfolio site. It will be an empty little corner of the web that you occupy but no-one ever visits. A shop on a back street with no sign.
Do you own social media or does it own you?
One more thing to consider, and this is the clincher: You own an email list. The contact details on it are yours.
On social media, the company who owns the platform owns your contact list. It’s facebook or Instagram (actually, the same company) that allows you to contact those people that follow you..
And those companies can do anything they like, including restricting your access to your followers if it serves their business interests. And it usually does, and they usually do.
Facebook and Twitter have both done this. No doubt Instagram will have too, or will before too long. As soon as you see sponsored messages on a channel, that means someone can pay to get more attention from your followers than you do yourself.
Your email list belongs to you.
But doesn’t it take a long time to build up an email list?
Yes it surely does. That’s why I’m always advising people to start now, whether they’re ready to turn pro or not.
Start now, because then when you do turn pro, you’ll be prepared.
I’ve been very lucky: I started building an email list before I ever thought about becoming an independent artist. Before social media sites even existed.
That’s why my email list is so much bigger than my follower count on any of the social media channels.
That’s also why I’ve been able to “turn pro” independently.
The bottom line is that is that if you want someone to give you their email address you need a website.
That’s what websites are for. Building relationships.
And that’s why, as an independent artist, or someone who would like to be one some day, you need one.
Best wishes and thanks for reading,
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