One of the biggest frustrations when running your creative business is knowing how to spend your time. There are about a million tasks it feels like need to get done every day, not to mention actually finding time to design and make your products or your art.
When it comes to prioritization, one of the standard pieces of advice that gets trotted out is to do more of what’s working. And for the most part, I like this advice. But when sales are slow (or non-existent) and it feels like nothing is working, it’s hard to know what to do more of.
One of the biggest challenges when sales are slow is trying to figure out whether the problem is your product itself, or the way you’re marketing it. I’ve mentioned before that it’s ok to make new work if your old work isn’t selling.
But it’s also important to be realistic about why you’re struggling. So today I want to help you evaluate your marketing efforts to know if it’s your marketing or your work that is really the problem.
1. Are you doing enough marketing?
The first question to ask yourself when trying to figure out if it’s your product or your marketing is literally, are you doing enough marketing?
Marketing is more than posting on social media. (So. much. more.)
Do you have an email list? (That you reach out to at least every other week?)
Are you using your blog, Pinterest, and social media to actually drive people to your email list?
Are you reaching out to stores?
Have you done shows (either retail or wholesale) to get your products into the hands of real people?
Are you reaching out to other people to ask them to talk about your work? (This could be press, influencers, or friends and fans of your work.)
Often, especially in the beginning, I find that many artists and makers are just relying on the “build it and they will come” school of marketing (which doesn’t work) or simply posting on social media and feeling like that’s good enough.
So the first step is to really be honest with yourself on the amount of marketing you’ve actually been doing.
But if you’ve been more aggressive with your marketing outreach (stores, shows, press, etc.) and still not seeing the sales you want, then it’s time to dig a little deeper.
2. Are you marketing to the right people?
Your art or products aren’t for everyone, and if you’ve been doing a lot of marketing, but still not seeing sales, then it could be that you aren’t getting your work in front of the right people.
Sometimes, it’s simply that the people seeing your work just aren’t that into it. But it could also be that they aren’t your right customer because they can’t afford your work or they just don’t prioritize spending on what you make.
If that’s the case, the next step is to shift your marketing.
Try different shows.
Reach out to different stores. (This could be different types of stores or different geographical regions.)
Head to a conference. (Not one filled with your peers, they aren’t your customers.)
Try reaching out to different press or influencers.
If you’ve been marketing to the same audience for a while, it can be hard to step out of your bubble to see opportunities.
That’s why it’s also essential that you ask other people’s opinions, especially those who have a different life experience than yours. (That’s one of the things I love about Artists & Profit Makers. With members living in so many different places, it’s easy to help each other spot stores, shows, or opportunities that someone may have missed otherwise!)
But if you’ve tried mixing up your marketing audiences, and you still aren’t seeing sales, then it’s time to dig a little deeper.
3. Are you communicating the value of what you do?
Sometimes, the problem isn’t your products or your marketing. It’s that you aren’t confident in the value of what you make.
This doesn’t mean your art or craft needs to solve a problem. (And you certainly don’t need to manufacture a problem for your products to solve.) But you do need to approach your marketing from a place of feeling like your work has value.
This means understanding that art and craft are truly important to the world as a whole, and then being able to articulate that value by highlighting the experience of your work, creating a visceral response, and making it easy for customers to buy.
And speaking of making it easy for customers to buy….
4. Are you making clear calls to action?
What I mean by this is literally, are you asking for the sale?
Are you telling people to go buy your work?
I’ve found that many artists and makers can get on board with the marketing part (especially because marketing is really just sharing) but they fall short when it comes to asking for the sale.
Are you putting “shop now” buttons in your email marketing?
Are you telling followers on social media where they can buy your work? (And not just hoping they figure it out on their own?)
Are you contacting stores and actually telling them how to order?
Are you attempting to close the sale when you’re selling in person at shows or pop-up events?
For many artists and makers, this is where are fear of rejection (or a lack of confidence in the value of their work, see #3) cause them to fall short. They don’t want to ask for the sale because they’re afraid of hearing a no.
But getting nos is a natural part of the sales process. It helps you understand what is and isn’t working, and helps you refine who your true customer is (and isn’t).
But if you fear the no so much that you never ask for the sale, you’re also making it very hard for the customer to say yes. Which is why it’s so important to make sure that you’re actually asking for the sale in your marketing efforts.
And not just once, but again and again. Which leads me to the final question…
5. Are you consistent (and persistent) in your marketing efforts?
Marketing isn’t a one and done activity.
You can’t just write one blog post and expect Google and Pinterest to send you floods of traffic.
You can’t just email five stores and expect to have a thriving wholesale business.
You can’t just get one piece of press and expect to retire off those sales.
Marketing is about showing up, again and again, in front of your right people, and asking for the sale.
So even if you’ve tried a lot of the things I’ve talked about in this post, it’s important to be really honest with yourself if you’ve actually done any of them enough.
So is it your marketing or your work?
As you can see, there’s a lot of work to be done on the marketing side of your business. And chances are, you could probably put in a little more effort on at least some of these.
But now it’s time to turn back to the original question of this post. Because if you’ve checked most of the above boxes, and you’re still not seeing the results you want, then it is time to think about the work itself.
Some artists and designers are fortunate, in that the work they created early in their careers becomes a runaway success. But many of us aren’t so lucky.
And that’s why, if you can honestly say that you’ve been marketing your work with consistency, then the next step is to keep designing new work, and repeat the marketing process over and over again.
New work gives your business fresh energy.
It makes it easier to market. (“Hey, I’ve got something new!” is the best excuse for marketing there is, whether that’s emailing your list, reaching out to stores, or talking to customers in person at a show.)
New work can also give you different price points to sell at, or help sway someone who has always loved your brand or aesthetic, but for whom your old work just wasn’t quite the right fit for them.
And new work gives you another opportunity to create that next runaway success.
Which is why, if you’ve been pushing your current body of work hard, and you’re still not seeing the sales you want, it’s more than ok to head into the studio and design something new.
Just make sure you market it.
Because that’s what truly successful creative businesses do. They find the sweet spot between making new work and marketing, until they get the traction they want.
Then they do it all over again.
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Want help designing new work so you can give your business some fresh energy? Struggling to create a collection that really drives sales? Be sure to check out my new class, Core & Explore: Creative (yet Cohesive) Collection Design for Jewelers & Metalsmiths! Class starts in April, but early bird registration ends this Wednesday! So click here for all the details and to save $100 off the price of registration!
Not a jeweler or metalsmith? I’m happy to give feedback about your marketing OR your work in my online mentorship program, Artists & Profit Makers. Click here to learn how to join!