Invest in Your Art
In my blog post about making original art, you saw how much goes into making a piece aside from just drawing and painting. Making art can be expensive, so it's good to know what to spend money on and what to do without. If you Google 'selling art online' you'll get a ton of search results linking to blogs and services. When you're just starting out you need to be very careful not to get ahead of yourself and start spending money on things for your art before you actually start making money from your art.
When to spend
There are some things I believe you should never skimp on when making artwork. Most importantly, you need to use quality material. Are your pigments light fast and archival? You don't want the colors to fade or change overtime, so it's worth paying a bit more for paints or colored pencils that are going to stay true to their original pigmentation throughout the years. The same goes for your paper or canvas. You don't want it yellowing or deteriorating in 10 or 20 years, so spend a little bit extra to get artist quality materials.
If you want to sell prints of your work, then you also need to spend the money to have your art professionally scanned or photographed. Or, if you plan on photographing your art yourself, buy a good camera with at least a 55mm lens. You can find a pretty good deal on Ebay, just make sure you read the seller reviews. Having good digital files of your work will ensure that your prints turn out beautifully. The last thing you want is to get a reputation for selling crappy art prints because you wouldn't invest in high resolution files.
You'll also want to take care when you ship your work. Whether it be the original or prints, you need to ensure that the buyer will receive what they paid for. This means spending a little extra on packaging. For my smaller prints, I buy clear plastic bags and poly bags with solid chipboard. The plastic covering protects the art inside the package, the poly bag is weather resistant (ensuring moisture won't get inside) and the chip board keeps the package from bending. If you're shipping larger art, you can either roll it into a tube and package the top and bottom with packing paper or ship it flat in a box. I like to ship original art flat because the paper I use is really thick and would crease if I tried to roll it. This costs a lot more in shipping, but it's worth it to ensure the art arrives in perfect condition.
If you don't have the money to invest in these things in the beginning, I suggest waiting until you've sold a couple original pieces of artwork. Then you can take the profit from those sales to invest in making prints. Prints are often a lot more affordable than original art, so you can typically sell more of them.
As you sell more art, continue to take those earnings and pour them back into making quality artwork. You'll probably have to do this for the first 1 - 2 years before you make enough to put into your bank account. But it's worth it because people will trust you and be willing to share your art with others. Once that starts to happen, your sales will start to increase. So be patient and focus on offering quality work.
When to save
Some things you don't need to spend too much money on in the beginning are your website and paid promotions. Don't hire a website designer, just use Shopify or Squarespace. They're both incredibly easy to use and have e-commerce built into their platforms. It'll cost you a monthly fee, but it's much more affordable than hiring someone to build and maintain a site for you. You can even register a domain through Squarespace, which is what I used to build this site.
Also, sites like Etsy, RedBubble and Fine Art America (FAA) are all great platforms to get you going in your first year. I always recommend having your own website also, but if that's too intimidating to begin with then do some research and decide which of these sites will work best for you. I was on Etsy for a few years, and it was a great way to start off selling prints.
I wouldn't recommend at this stage trying to pay for any promotions. Facebook ads and Instagram ads aren't really worth it yet, especially if you aren't regularly making sales. Like everything, you really need to be consistent with these things to make them work for you. Instead, I suggest making friends with other Instagram accounts (like interior decorators) and offer to send them complimentary art prints in exchange for a shout-out. You can even give them a special coupon code for their followers to use if they buy from you.
Also, if you do a Google search for 'selling art online' you'll run across so many online courses and services that promise to boost sales. Unfortunately, they also cost money. And honestly, nothing is going to boost sales except for you staying consistent and learning as you go. There is so much free advice out there, you don't need to pay for courses or services to sell your work. Go to YouTube, read blogs, and try everything. See what works best for you then stick with it. No matter what, it's always going to take you a couple years to really get going, and at least 10 years before you become established.
"Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."
And, if you really want to start feeling profitable, the fastest way to get there is to stop spending money on yourself. Cut your expenses down to the bare minimum, get a roommate, don't buy clothes, and don't eat out. Track every single penny and you'll be surprised how quickly you can actually start to live off of your art.
Those are my tips on spending and saving money on your art. There are an endless amount of things you could be spending your money on. So be careful! Decide what is worth spending a little bit more on, and know when to DIY a project and not get distracted by shiny things. Nothing can really speed up the process. You just have to stay consistent and make sure that you're always sending out your best work. All those other things aren't necessary.