Selling original art has its time and place if people are willing to pay the asking price. The town I am from was hit particularly hard by the recession and has limped on ever since with businesses frequently closing. I’ve seen high priced original art for sale locally which remains unsold after several years! Taking this into account I realised that to make any kind of profit on an original piece I would first need to cover my time and costs which pushes up the asking price.
This article discusses how you can sell your art by targeting lucrative subject matter in your town, city or local area. Focusing on a niche has several advantages such as providing a manageable business with less competitors, but with plenty of opportunity and a demographic you can give adequate attention to.
Art has a high mark up price given its subjective value in the ideal circumstances, so sticking to a small market means you can conduct research on a regular basis and is a great way to get started. A particular age group or gender narrows things down enabling you to produce something more unique and less generic. Since you will not be trying to appeal to the population at large, you will be able to target your prospects with an effective marketing campaign.
I have always been interested in creating small residual income streams where a large project is undertaken and from which I will benefit further down the line on a regular basis with minimal initial investment. In other words, do the work once and get paid many times over. For the purpose of this article I’ll be telling you how, using photos, I created 4000 greetings cards from six illustrated images costing less than £350 using money awarded to me through The Prince’s Trust in 2007.
Originals vs printsOf the six illustrations I created, each took approximately 9 hours, including taking the photographs I copied from. So before I have even considered how much I paid for tools and materials, let alone profit, the cost of my time (based on £7.50 p/h) amounted to a price of £67.50! Even if I did work faster to get this figure down, the retail price would still be ridiculous, plus I would have to keep producing more images to maintain an income. I decided keeping hold of the original illustrations was a much better idea because I could always use them for future projects.
How I did itHere are my tips for creating print reproductions of your original artwork:
• Choose a niche market. Christmas time is good as people are willing to buy, making selling easier. Also take into account age range and the income the demographic is likely to have.
• Keep the master images, scan them into the computer at high resolution and use Photoshop to correct any issues.
• Go for a decent volume in production terms. The economy of scale lowers costs and increases turnover.
• Obtain any additional envelopes, wrappers or packaging at the correct dimensions for low cost.
• Come up with a suitable design for business cards and buy a few hundred, or make your own.
• Have an initial local sales outlet in mind.
• ALWAYS price to value and not to just cover costs plus the profit. With art you can raise the retail price higher than you think in the ideal selling circumstances.
• Research and contact local organizations. I targeted my local history society and found out where these people spend their time.
• Be smart in how you establish business relationships. I volunteered a few hours of my time each week at my local museum to help out in the community. I started as a DIY/Handy person and ended up creating my own exhibition and sales space.
• Get a template contract as soon as you are able. It is a mere formality but an important stage and a good habit to have. It protects you, your work, the copyright, any downside and misunderstandings.
• Have your name and contact details clearly displayed on the back of your products.Display the date and copyright © symbol. By default your work is protected by copyright as long as you possess the original images as proof.
• Be prepared to negotiate over sales commission you will give to the business or organization promoting and selling your products. 20% is average and acceptable.
• You can obtain a Pedlar’s Licence under the Pedlar’s act 1871 where you can sell door to door. The advantage – you keep all the profits by dealing directly with customers.
BUSINESS PLAN“Ilkeston Art: Design and Illustration” (From 2007/2008)
SECTION 1The type of business proposal and services to be offered
I am initially proposing to produce a range of six illustrated Christmas cards depicting various local areas in and around Ilkeston. I am qualified as a graphic designer and want to use my creative abilities for my own endeavours.
Method of operation
I have created the original illustrations in my home. They only require correct reproduction/printing.
Location and operating area
I am based in Ilkeston and most of the customers will come from Ilkeston and the surrounding area. Also plan to expand into other areas of illustrations and customers could come from villages and towns in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.
Outline of market and customers
The customers will comprise mainly of middle-ages to elderly people who are looking for something different as a Christmas card and/or are interested in local history, art, the community etc
Statement of viability
There is no other illustrator locally who has produced anything unique or marketable for the local area(s) specifically, apart from one or two fine artists. Due to feedback, research and liaison with local organisations I have found this to be the case.
SECTION 2I own the copyright to the illustrations and will remain in possession of the original artwork and the associated digital files. In addition to myself, the staff of Erewash Museum will assist with the sales of the cards. Their knowledge and expertise of Ilkeston will play a role in the interest and sales generated.
Reasons for choice of business
I am qualified as a graphic designer at degree level but have faced challenges finding suitable employment. Since design and illustration are also my hobbies, I felt it appropriate to follow up the profitable opportunity that my work presents. My current status of unemployment is a primary motivating factor as is the fact I see this venture as low investment/low risk.
Personal skills and experience relevant to the proposed business
All my education has revolved around art and design, I spend my free time practising my skills, and on numerous occasions people have made financial offers for various pieces of work I have completed. Also, in 2006 I joined an e-commerce marketing business as a sales and business rep – something which I develop in my spare time. Through their training I have learnt much about business and feel inspired to put my own ideas to good use. The training consists of personal and professional development through a home study course including books and audio literature. I have attended seminars, functions and conventions to broaden my knowledge.
Skills needed in order to achieve an efficient and profitable operation of the new business
SECTION 3Inventory of required equipment and materials
- Printed, trimmed, creased and folded greetings cards, of which there are six, on a “true card” (greetings card quality) at least 330gm in thickness.
- As many A6 envelopes as there are cards (4000)
- Posters/adverts/point of sale literature and details
Schedule of available resources
I already have the original illustrations. I also own art materials, a computer, scanning equipment and all the necessary software for setting up the designs for professional print.
Premises requirements, availability, necessary modifications etc
Erewash Museum in Ilkeston town centre has expressed their desire to sell illustrated cards and/or postcards. Their building is open six days a week. No modifications will be necessary as they already have a gift shop with ample space. I also intend to hold some of the stock to sell on as I have received many enquiries from friends, neighbours etc. This way I can charge the retail price. Personnel requirements Staff are at the Museum. This has no bearing on the budgetary plan as they are employed by the council or are there voluntarily
Erewash Museum have stated that the purchase of the greetings cards will be on a sale or return basis. Expenditure wise I have printing costs, the bulk purchase of A6 greetings cards envelopes, a small sum for some advertising and any unforeseen expenses to consider.
Breakdown analysis and profit forecast
I have initial printing costs and envelopes, but no overheads. Based on a £500 initial capital investment, I estimate the breakeven point will occur after a few hundred sales of cards. Here is an estimate based on a quote for printing costs that I have already obtained from a local firm:
- Four thousand greetings cards, colour, using 330gm true card plus trimming, creasing and delivery is £347.40 - this works out at 0.08685 pence per card
- If I sold the cards to the museum at 60 pence each, with an envelope, the sale of 579 would generate £347.40, covering printing expenses.
- One thousand A6 greetings card envelopes are £26.99 from a Derby stationary wholesaler. Four thousand envelopes are £107.96 exc. Delivery.
- The sale of four thousand cards at 60 pence each minus £107.96 for envelopes is a turnover of £2292.04. Minus £347.40 for printing and an additional £50 such as delivery charges, giving out free samples, advertising or unforeseen costs leaves a profit of £1894.64
- The sale of four thousand cards at £1 each minus £107.96 for envelopes is a turnover of £4000.00. Minus £347.40 for printing and an additional £50 such as delivery charges, giving out free samples, advertising or unforeseen costs leaves a profit of £3494.64
The geographical area in which the business will operate is mainly Ilkeston town centre but there is potential to reach the target audience within a few miles radius if the cards were placed for sale in the correct locations, such as garden centres, art galleries, and gift/crafts shops. All year round in Nottingham for other greetings cards/illustration/artwork shows potential, since it is in the media spotlight concerning urban development and renovations. This presents and opportunity for postcards.
Market research – completed and planned
- What market research has been carried out to date?
- I began casual research last year when I decided to give friends and family unique greetings cards featuring my illustration work. The feedback was good and it was suggested by several people that I produce them and sell them, as nothing like this is available in Ilkeston. They were especially well received with the 50+ group.
- I have since visited the Derbyshire County Council local library, the Erewash Museum, Shipley garden centre, and The Bottle Kiln which is a fine art gallery and gift shop. Shipley garden centre are interested and there is much evidence to support this interest. The Bottle Kiln is currently taking no more greetings cards due to lack of space, but will see me after Christmas.
- Erewash Museum stated that members of the public regularly enquire about illustrations/artwork of Ilkeston.
- Also spoke to someone who used to run a greetings card business, buying from wholesalers and selling them on. He recommended a magazine called “Greeting” though it may have been discontinued.
- What other market research must be carried out?
- I must speak to people from the target age group for advice on other venues/locations to consider. Recommendations and tips have been helpful. Also need to find out if any of the retailers ever sell individual “special” Christmas cards and if so how much they retail at.
- Giving out samples, enquiring everywhere possible and perhaps strategically leafleting certain areas or pinning ads on free notice boards in supermarkets are all to be considered.
- Find out when Christmas greetings cards begin to sell.
Identification of any special market influences
The greetings card market is subject to specific trends and patterns, the most obvious of which is that Christmas cards stop selling in large quantities on Christmas Eve. The run up to Christmas is when they sell but how exactly I am unsure. Whether sales peak at certain points or go exponential in the last week before Christmas is part of my research.
The earlier I can make them available, the better, as some Christmas gifts/decorations etc are already available in shops.
- The supervisor of the gift shop at Shipley garden centre advised me that some people actually take the size of the product into consideration, as opposed to the quality. When folded, my cards are A5 in size which is quite small, but no smaller than an average greeting card.
Analysis of competitor’s products and services
My direct competitors are other local artists in the area. Although I have yet to see anyone create cards depicting Ilkeston and local areas, there are postcards and calendars that show scenes of Ilkeston at Shipley garden centre and these may detract from my sales.
My indirect competitors are other greetings card publishers on the high street. There are several greetings cards shops but Tesco always seems to have lots of stock. Most people shop there and are likely to casually buy their greetings cards.
The prices charged for other illustrated greetings cards (birthdays, generic celebration) seem quite high.
- At Shipley garden centre I saw an upmarket handmade birthday card for £3.99
- At the Bottle Kiln I saw illustrated birthday cards in the region of £1.85
- At Tesco the best quality birthday cards sell for around £2.65
The products offered by the competition differ from mine by the fact I have created unique artwork to celebrate the local areas in which most of the customers live. This is likely to resonate more with the target audience rather than standard greetings card art which is non-specific. Because no one else is offering individual illustrated Christmas cards of Ilkeston I feel that selling them for 60 pence to each establishment and negotiating a sensible mark up is reasonable.
The Marketing Plan
The Product: Six unique illustrated Christmas cards each of which depict various local scenes in winter. They’re different to any other Christmas cards because they carry an identity that local people can connect with. A high quality print reproduction on gloss card with an inside matte finish ideal for a personalised greeting. Each card comes with an A6 envelope.
The Price: Other specialised greeting cards, whether they’re for birthdays or marriages sell anywhere between 59p to several pounds. Christmas cards are usually sold as a set. My cards will sell individually to accentuate the importance and quality of each design. I want to sell these to the retailers at 60 pence each, with an envelope for each. I will keep some stock also to sell at a retail price.
The Place: Erewash Museum gift shop. Products will be displayed alongside books, maps, literature etc concerning Ilkeston and the Erewash Borough. Shipley Garden centre have expressed an interest although they have yet to see any print reproduction samples. I will be distributing by word of mouth and consistent efforts.
Craft shows or even car boot sales may attract the target audience and present opportunities.
The Promotion: Posters featuring the artwork displayed preferably in free advertising areas such as supermarket notice boards and windows. Free samples can be given out strategically, and leaflets distributed candidly. Word of mouth and social interaction with the target audience is also effective.
As Christmas cards only sell well for a short period, I believe there are other avenues that could and should be explored. Erwash Musuem told me there is no commercially available artwork celebrating Ilkeston and that members of the public do enquire about this. I want to create postcards for reproduction, perhaps illustrated calendars of Ilkeston, book covers or framed originals for sale. The cost of producing an illustration is just the time it takes, but once completed can be reproduced many times.