Posted by: Liz Massey | December 5, 2012

The Artist @ Work: Helen Aldous of Artonomy

Helen Aldous, owner of Artonomy.

Helen Aldous, owner of Artonomy.

Today, we hear some words of business wisdom from the British artist-entrepreneur Helen Aldous of Artonomy. Helen is a printmaker and illustrator who also provides web design and online marketing services for her clients. She shares what she knows about running a successful arts-based business on Artonomy, and even offers free classes from time to time on how to make more online art sales.

Helen’s message blends practicality with just the right amount of inspiration. Enjoy!

Tell us how and why you created the Artonomy site.

I was working in the web design industry at the time and was being asked a lot of questions by artist friends about how to set up a website and start selling their work online. I realized that there wasn’t a lot of information out there specific and relevant to artists, with all the jargon stripped away. At the time a lot of the information available was aimed solely at web designers and could be a bit unfathomable. I thought it would be helpful if I could make this information more accessible, understandable and easily available to artists, so I started Artonomy.

A big emphasis on your site is learning how to sell one’s creative work online. What are some key areas related to this where artists tend to stumble?

Selling work can often make artists feel a little uncomfortable in general. Artists can often have difficulty with the idea that to sell work online, they have to use their website as a selling tool and not just a showcase. This means making it as easy as possible for someone to complete a transaction. Therefore, anything that gets in the way of this can stop your work selling. For example, making the navigation pretty and interesting but difficult to use can mean visitors giving up and leaving the site without buying work. Similarly, not putting a price on the work in the hope that someone will get in touch to ask rarely works. You need to keep it all simple and be up front about the price of the work and how to purchase it.

How do selling online and selling offline intersect? Are different skillsets and strategies needed for each area?

Online and offline do intersect in that both really require networking skills. The nice thing about selling online is that it can be more comfortable for artists who perhaps don’t enjoy the social side of dealing with a gallery [the private views etc.], but like participating in forums and communicating with people who like their work online. The added bonus is that contacts made online can transfer into real life too so you can find a new source of people who like your work and who may visit your “real life” exhibitions too. It can be a really positive cycle.

You’ve also declared your Artonomy site a tech-jargon-free zone. Do you think artists struggle more than other entrepreneurs with making friends with the business aspects of websites, or using social media for marketing their work?

Yes. I have really found that artists don’t really enjoy that side of things. We would all much rather be creating than having to struggle though unnecessary layers of technical bumph. For that reason, I try and remove as much of that as possible from my site and cut straight to the chase with the information needed so that people can get it done quickly and get back to the creative stuff.

What post topics have been most popular among your readers? What do you think that says about what creative folks want and need to know about running their own business?

By far and away the most popular post is my big list of the best sites to sell or promote your art. I try to keep adding to this when I find a good new site and visitors suggest their own favorites too so it keeps growing.

I think that shows that creative folks are really proactive when it comes to marketing and are out there constantly looking for new ways to share their art with the world. I think its really positive.

How has developing the Artonomy site influenced how you’ve run your art-related businesses?

Difficult question. I think being in contact with so many artists has been a really positive thing and has given me a great insight into the issues that a lot of us face. For example, the fact that so many artists feel very under-confident in their own work and struggle to price it properly because they under estimate its value and worth. So many artists create beautiful work, which they then feel nervous to show and I find that really sad. When I see things like this happening with other artists I can try and recognize those traits in myself and stop myself doing it too.

What are three crucial things a creative person who wishes to become an artist-entrepreneur can do before taking the plunge full time?

I think firstly build up a good savings pot of money as a support so you have chance to build up your business with a safe fall-back position. Then TEST TEST TEST the market. Really make sure that your work will sell before taking the plunge. People may say they love it but will they buy it? Do some fairs, meet the public and gauge opinion and see what sells. Then if you are sure it will work, sort out your branding so that your business has a recognizable identity. This doesn’t have to be expensive but will make sure people who love your work can recognize you. Get a logo and a website and then start to build up your business. Don’t leave your job until you have the business up and running and the money is coming in steadily. Then you can start to concentrate all your time and resources on it and do what you enjoy.

How do you think changes in the world economy will support (or challenge) creative entrepreneurs in the future? What opportunities (and challenges) stand out in your eyes?

The current world economy is a challenge for creative people as collectors are perhaps less inclined to spend money on art – seeing it as perhaps a non-essential purchase.. However, creative people, being independently minded are in a good position to become more entrepreneurial and set up creative businesses working for themselves in a more flexible manner that fits in with the new economy. Artists are great at thinking laterally this way and making the most of the situations they find themselves in. So overall I think it is a really positive time for creative entrepreneurs. I wrote a post about this:

Is there anything else that’s relevant that we haven’t discussed?

I just want to encourage more artists and creative people to get their work out there so it can be seen. There is so much wonderful work that is hidden away so I would encourage everyone to embrace the web and social media and let the world see their gorgeous work.

A screen shot of Helen's art marketing site, Artonomy.

A screen shot of Helen’s art marketing site, Artonomy.

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