What I learned selling nearly 20 prints in a month

What a crazy period! Holidays always seem to leave me exhausted rather than replenished. But, here we are, a whole new year before us.

It also happens to be a period when I sold a lot of photography. I decided to share some of the lessons learned. As creatives, selling work can be a part of the journey. Here’s what I honestly know so far.

How it began

I was going through my desk in early December and remembered I had all these photographs that were just hiding in my drawer. I wasn’t using them, but someone else might.

So I got an idea, let friends and family know that I was selling them. People could name their own price. It could be a nice way for people to give some small one of a kind gifts.

Publicity/Marketing

I highlighted my sale of 4×6 prints on social networks. I also wrote an email out to friends and family that weren’t active on places like Facebook and Instagram.

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Pro tip: be sure you know how big your photos are before selling them. I kept getting confused.

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The most succesful social network for me: Facebook.

I’m not sure why, but this one worked best for me. Perhaps it’s because it was based more around my deeper social connections. My network on Facebook is probably larger and full of longer friendships, so people who know and like my work would be more likely to see it there. Still, I made sure to post something every couple of days on social networks to ensure maximum visibility.

I also sent out an email to friends and family letting them know I was making this sale. I did both a generic email to many people, as well as reached out to a few people directly.

Which worked better? That’s right, the direct message to one person. Granted, this wasn’t a complete experiment: I didn’t do an email follow up to the big mass email. Reaching out to family and friends, I didn’t want to push them.

Reaching out on a personal level may take more work, but I believe comes off as more sincere and engaging.

Marketing matters

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This may be the hardest part for many artists. It can be uncomfortable promoting yourself. You may feel like you’re shouting at the world. Or perhaps you’re taking up too much space talking about yourself and your work.

But to sell your work, especially at the beginning, promotion is key, especially to people you know. Everyone who bought from me during this period was either my friend or family member.

Promotion doesn’t have to be pushy. Think of it instead as an awareness campaign.They don’t have to take you up on it and that’s ok. But you never know who might actually want your work. It may be the person you least expected.

Working with my customers

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A few friends did reach out from the beginning. I had to keep in mind who was first, because of my inventory with many images only having one copy. For some, like my friends who live in DC, I could simply bring my images with me to meet them and they could pick what they wanted there. For others who lived in places like Philadelphia and Seattle, I had to scan images and send them via email.

Pro: It was customer friendly in the sense of first come first serve. It was a fair process that encouraged people to step up quickly to get photographs.

Con: It made the process slow, especially with email. Each person would take at least a day to look at photos, slowing down the process for others. It could have also made it more difficult for people to choose and buy (cut out this line). Because I didn’t do this through a store, it became harder with email, to ensure I was presenting what I actually had.

Pricing

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I chose to make it name your own price. Why? Because I was more focused on moving inventory rather than making a lot of money. Plus, with family and friends, money can be a harder subject to broach. I thought that name your own price would be easier for them.

In reality? It made people uncomfortable. They just wanted to know what I wanted for them in many cases. Once again, because long-standing friends and family were involved, people want to do right, but what is the value of a photograph? For people who aren’t artistic, the value, the work behind taking a shot can seem difficult to make.

In the end, I helped a few people decide how much the photos were worth. In this period, I didn’t sell a photo for more than $5. For 18 photos, was it worth all that effort? For me it was. The money was nice, but I did it more as a learning experience and way of cleaning out house. I certainly wasn’t looking to make a killing this season.

What I would do differently next time:

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1. Give a time limit for how long people have to look at images

This will ensure people move quickly and not hold up the process for anyone else. Or, I might invest in putting it online, on a site like Etsy, so multiple people can shop at the same time.

2. Name a price

I’d keep the prices low, especially for a clearing out sale like this. But, it would reduce issues/confusion for people. That way, more sales, less hassle, and everyone leaves feeling like it went well.

3. Provide ideas for photographs/prints

One issue is that people thing that photos are only to be matted or framed on walls. Photographs can be used in so many other ways including:

-Postcards
– Remix materials for art/collages
-Bookmarks
-Envelope liners

I might create some blog posts with other ideas when highlighting another sale. It’s not just about creating something beautiful, but also showing how someone can use it. Creating a photography gift guide around my project could have helped people see new ways to use it other than wall decoration.

Selling art of any kind, is a learning process. They way I learn is to stumble in head first, making errors and learning from them as I go. Whether you want to sell photography, music, or any other medium, be sure to know what you can and can’t give. At first, be willing to spend a lot of effort to make very little.

Have you ever tried to sell your work? What lessons did you learn? Leave a comment and let me know!

6 Comments

    1. Thank you. Pricing is quite difficult. It really takes time to figure out how much it is worth as far as time and effort behind the work. It’s something I’m still learning.

  1. Very interesting reading. I can relate to many of the subjects you talk about (specially the marketing part. I am still working the way to do it without making me too uncomfortable). Aslo the pricing, yes. I haven’t had to deal with that yet, but I am sure it will give me a lot of troubles because it is hard to measure your efforts and adjust them to what they expect from you. But overall, I hope you have learned from the experience. Once day soon I will go through that too and I will make my own conclusions =)

    Good luck!

    1. It’s always a back and forth in trying to figure out what is worth your time and effort. Part of what I’m learning is, how much is the time and effort of making the art, marketing, and any other additional materials worth? There’s a reason framing a photo comes out at a higher price: it’s a lot more work/effort than just selling the photo. It’s something I’m keeping in mind and will affect future prices I set.

      Also the emotional feeling afterward, do you feel used/drained for the work? Does the money feel enough? Often resentment means that the equation wasn’t quite right for you. Guilt could mean the other way around. It’s not a perfect system. But keeping a gauge on my own emotions also helps me decide a lot of this.

      1. I agree with the feelings part, and how much do you think your time and effort is worth. I turned a few text the other day and I know that unless they pay me way more I was not going to do it again. However, for the same price I wouldn’t mind writing something that I like, because I enjoy it and helps me to grow.

        It is pretty complex, I believe, but I like the way you put things. I am sure next time it will be easier.

        1. Yeah trial and error. It’s a hard way to go, but at least you know what’s right for you. Also apologies on the slow reply, wading through real vs spam comments can be a bit overwhelming!

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