Secrets of the Trade: Free Marketing and Business Tools (Part 3 of 3)

In the final part of this series, we’re going to discuss a few of the simplest and least expensive ways to sell your art on the Internet. Remember, while every artist should certainly promote their art online, selling it there not appropriate for everyone. Internet art customers generally aren’t going to pay what they would in person, so you need to make sure the works are priced accordingly and will ship relatively inexpensively and easily. The kinds of tools that I’m going to present here are best for artists who want to sell reproductions, merchandise or small, reasonably-priced original works, such as Daily Paintings.

Ask yourself who is driving the traffic to your art listings. If you are driving all of the traffic yourself from your database and social media pages, then you may want to consider simply selling through your own Web site or on your Facebook page, because you can just as easily point your contacts there. If, however, you are relying on existing Etsy and eBay traffic — in other words, people you have no contact with — then selling directly through Etsy or eBay may work better for you. Just remember that the fees are higher to use these systems. Here’s a quick comparison:

Example for a $100 sale of artwork:

  • Etsy: 20 cents to list + 3.5% = $3.70
  • eBay
  • Auction style: $1 to list (based on starting price) + 9% = $10
  • Fixed Price: 50 cents to list + 12% of the initial $50 and 6% of remaining balance = $9.50
  • PayPal: No cost to list + 2.9% + 30 cents = $3.20 (on your own Web site or Facebook through Payvments.com)

Example for 50 sales throughout the year valued at $100 each ($5,000 total sales):

  • Etsy= $185 total fees
  • eBay=$475 total fees
  • PayPal (through your own site or Facebook)=$160 total fees

If you aren’t sure where your buyers are coming from, use the free survey tool mentioned in Part 2 of this series to find out.”]

Also, while Etsy and eBay are both great tools for selling art online when you know how to use them effectively, both of them charge you to list your items, so I won’t be discussing them here. Even though it’s just a small amount, I’m sticking with options in this article that won’t cost you anything up front. Plus, the overall transaction fees for eBay and Etsy sales are significantly higher than what I’m going to present (see sidebar). For more information on selling with eBay and Etsy, download The Pocket Guide to Web Marketing for Artists, available on ArtCalendar.com September 1. You can also refer to columnist Jack White’s article “Making it on eBay” in the December 2009/January 2010 issue of Art Calendar.

1. PayPal Website Payments Standard

If you’ve ever bought or sold anything through eBay, you’re probably at least vaguely familiar with PayPal. PayPal is a system that essentially enables you to transfer funds, make or accept payments with credit cards, and track your invoices without having a formal merchant account. You do not have to be a member of PayPal to purchase items; you can simply pay with any accepted credit card, making it an effective option for online sellers.

While there are several types of PayPal accounts available, an artist who to accept the transactions via PayPal will need to set up a PayPal Website Payments Standard account. This is a free business account which will enable you to sell up to $3,000 worth of merchandise per month without having to qualify as a merchant and without having to pay the monthly maintenance fee. (If you sell more than $3,000 per month and can’t qualify as a “merchant” through their application process, you will need to upgrade to Payments Pro, which costs $30/month.) Of course, while the actual setup for a Standard store is free, you will still have transaction fees. For up to $3,000 worth of sales per month, your transaction fees will be 2.9% + .30.

Once you set up your free PayPal account, you can integrate it into your Web site or Facebook page (see below). PayPal comes with a free shopping cart function that can also easily be integrated into these places, and enables you to add purchase “buttons” so that buyers can purchase individual items or add multiple items to their cart.

Click here to sign up for your free Standard account.

Standard Versus Pro

The main difference between Standard and Pro, besides merchant sales restrictions stated above, is the transaction page. While you can make your store be a part of your Web site, once someone goes to the actual transaction screen that summarizes what’s in their shopping cart, they are taken out to a plain PayPal payments page, one that is aesthetically not like your Web site. A Pro plan will enable you to customize that page so that it looks like your site. Many businesses choose to do this because it looks more professional.

Competition for PayPal: Google Checkout

Several years ago, Google launched Google Checkout, a system which is meant to be a direct competitor for PayPal. Like PayPal, it enables you to create a store for free and accepts all major credit cards. It even charges the same transaction fees. There is no “Pro” option, so you will never encounter a monthly maintenance fee or have to qualify as a merchant. You can also save up to 21% on FedEx shipping costs.

What’s the catch? Every buyer is required to sign in with their Google account before proceeding with their purchase. Even though there are millions of people with Google accounts, any marketing expert will tell you that forcing your buyers to log in to an account like this, or worse, create a new account, in order to make a purchase on your Web site is bad business. It will frustrate people and result in cancelled transactions. If you feel you have a strategy for using it, go for it. But I’m just hoping that Google realizes they are losing business by using this strategy and that they won’t ever really be able to compete with PayPal or the many other transaction services available until they change their ways.

2. Weebly.com: Free Web site, hosting and store

It is vital to have a great online gallery in your Web site. To do this in Weebly and do it right, you’re going to have to get creative, as there is no specific gallery feature. If you don’t have the patience for this, don’t like the result or simply want something more professional-looking, try Artist Websites, ArtSpan, Beautiful Artist Websites or Foliolink. All have easy do-it-yourself systems, but they are specifically tailored to artists and offer integrated gallery options that will make presenting your images much more effective. There are also advanced sales and marketing tools built in to most of the packages offered by these companies. There are a wide range of prices and packages, so be sure to review everything and look at the sample sites other artists have built using these systems to see which will meet your needs and budget. Both ArtSpan and FolioLink are currently offering a free trial (one month for ArtSpan; seven days for FolioLink).

If you don’t have a Web site, or are looking for a good, free option to build and host a Web site, and easily integrate a store, Weebly is one of the best. You can create a free, highly-customizable Web site, integrate a PayPal (or Google) store extremely easily and publish using your own domain name. (GoDaddy.com is one of the most reasonably-priced domain providers; you can often do a Google search to find GoDaddy discount codes available through affiliate companies.) You can also integrate a blog directly into the site.

While lots of companies offer free Web sites, I like Weebly because it doesn’t force you to include any ads on the site (many of the free ones usually do, which looks very unprofessional), and the only thing they require that you have is a footer that says, “Create a free website with Weebly.” To remove the footer, you’ll have to upgrade, in which case, I’d just recommend using another system entirely (see sidebar).

Once you sign up for your free Weebly site, you’ll see lots of template options for the overall design, as well as lots of other options for individual page layouts. You can drag and drop all of these options and add as many pages as you want. You can also drag options to incorporate images, video, flash files, documents for download, a contact form and more. Even the store function is a drag-and-drop feature, so once you have your PayPal account set up (or Google Checkout), click on “Revenue” in Weebly, and drag and drop whichever store option you want onto the page you are working on . You can drag multiple options onto the same screen so, for example, if you want to drag the “Product Block,” which has a large image and small description plus the “Add to Cart” button, just drag as many as you like for the number of items you are selling, upload your images and type the appropriate text.

A major tip for designing a Web site in a template system like this: Don’t make it look like a template. Choose one of the simplest designs, and then think outside the box about the combinations of the different options that you can make happen to give yourself the ideal professional layout. For example, while consistency from page to page is important, an artist Web site will typically only repeat the colors and main toolbar from page to page. Although it’s tempting, avoid choosing a template where you need to upload a logo or image near the top that will be repeated on every page. Choose text-only options instead, and then consider incorporating a large image, slideshow or Flash file onto your main page to create a strong focal point; make the other pages, such as your galleries, have a different, but clean and organized layout. Check out the Web sites of other artists you admire, and see what you can do with the system. It’s free, so if you don’t like what you have, no harm, no foul.

Visit Weebly.com.

3. Selling on Facebook (Payvment.com)

If you have a Facebook profile or business page where you are promoting your work, and you have a PayPal account, you can set up a free store directly into your Facebook profile or business page. Visit Payvment.com to sign up. The system will walk you through the setup process. You can use this store in conjunction with your Web store, or you can take advantage of the new features of Payvment.com that enable you to provide discounts to fans on your Facebook page. (I wouldn’t ever recommend using a discount for original work; you want to always keep your pricing consistent so that your collectors don’t get upset. But for reproductions and merchandise, special Facebook-exclusive offers are a nice way to connect with your fans and show them that you appreciate them being part of your Facebook following.)

Visit Payvment.com to sign up.

In Closing

Remember, all of the tools presented in the this series are just that — tools. It’s up to you how you use them, keeping in mind that the quality of the art you present and the ways you write about your art online are all a part of your overall branding efforts and will ultimately be what helps you reach your goals. But, if you’ve already got a good grasp on how to market your work, and are just looking for things that will enhance your efforts and enable you to cut back on those fixed digital expenses, now you know some of the great options available to you.

An artist and writer, Kim Hall is the former Editor of Professional Artist. She holds a B.A. in Art from the University of Central Florida and an M.A. in Arts Administration from Savannah College of Art and Design. Kim can be reached at [email protected].