Despite how vulnerable it may make us feel, as artists we love when people go crazy for our art. We love when our creation resonates so deeply with someone they immediately become a fan. Not only is it personally affirming when another human being connects with our art, but creating raving fans is the best way to build a sustainable art business.
So, how do we define a “raving fan”?
These are the people who want to know everything you’re creating. They come to your gallery shows. They’ve signed up for your email lists. They buy your originals and prints. They’re emailing you for commissions. Put simply, they love your art and they love you.
Kevin Kelly introduced the idea that an artist would be successful if they could find 1,000 true fans. His theory is that a raving fan will spend at least one day’s wages per year on your artwork (which is being conservative as they’d likely spend more). If 1,000 fans spend $100 a year on your artwork, you’ve made $100,000 in a year— not bad.
It doesn’t have to be 1,000. It could be more, it could be less. The point is— developing these sorts of long-term relationships and growing your fan base is a much more reliable way to grow your art business than hoping for random people to find your work.
Growing your community of raving fans should be a major, front-of-mind focus.
If you’re not there yet (most of us aren’t), don’t get discouraged. None of us start out with this base of fans and it’s not an overnight endeavor. It takes some time.
Let’s talk about some of the principles to follow to grow the number of your raving fans.
1. Be generous
The most powerful thing you can do to get new fans and sell more art is to be generous. Give. It might sound like an oxymoron, but go with me here.
How do you feel towards a person who gives more than is expected? A business that gives you something you find valuable for free? What type of feeling does it create?
Finding ways to delight your potential fans is the easiest way to turn them from admirers to raving fans.
Give them something THEY find valuable for free. It could be a free print when they sign up for your email list. It could be sneak peeks into your creative process through videos or blog posts. It could be a steep discount on their first purchase after joining your community of fans. You could host an exclusive show just to connect with these fans.
The ideas are infinite, but the premise is— think about what would delight your fans and do that thing without being asked.
Many artists hear this and think, “I don’t want to undervalue my work by giving things away for free!”
And I hear you. I’m not telling you to prostitute your gift. I’m simply saying that people respond to value and when you go above and beyond their expectations it’s the quickest way to create a raving fan who will follow your career and purchase your artwork.
Be different, be creative, and set yourself apart in the mind of your potential fans.
2. Find ways to connect
This goes along with some of the ideas about being generous, but is specifically focused on making yourself accessible to your fans. Don’t be the wizard behind the curtain. People buy art as much because they love the artist as they like the art.
Be personal and find ways to cultivate relationships. Reach out to your fans. Find ways to get their input and feedback.
Many successful authors will ask their email list or Facebook fans to vote on different book covers for their new books. It allows their fans to feel part of the process and actually have a say in the final product. There are so many opportunities to do similar things with fans of your art.
Blog about your passion, make videos of you creating, connect with local fans in person.
Creating fans is all about letting them see behind the curtain— giving them more and more chances to see who you are, why you do what you do, and why they should care.
Again, be different, be creative, and set yourself apart in the mind of your potential fans.
3. Make it easy to buy
As you’re building your community of raving fans, you want it to be as easy as possible for them to actually buy your artwork.
First, they have to know about your new work. And, second, they have to know how and where to buy it.
Anytime you share an artwork on social media make sure you link to the place where fans can actually buy that artwork. If you have an online shopping cart and sell through a personal artist website, make sure the images in your website portfolio display the prices and have a “Buy” button.
If you sell through a 3rd-party art sales website like Vango or Etsy, make sure you include links to those pages anytime you share your work. Every image on your website should link to where that specific artwork can be purchased. If you’re sharing new artworks on your email list or social media, include links to that specific artwork where it’s being sold.
Don’t make your fans jump through hoops to buy your work. If they can’t easily figure it out, you’re losing sales.
No matter what number of raving fans you want to reach, the point is— it’s doable. 1,000 people who love your art is attainable and it’s enough to sustain your art career. Raving fans rave. They share you and tell other people about your work, creating other raving fans and smaller fans on the periphery (who will also buy your work on occasion).
My hope is this gives you a sense of possibility. You don’t have to become a “famous” artist to everyone. You just have to be famous to a small number of people who love what you do. That is enough to sustain your creative journey and earn a living.