Selling Your Art Online: The Marketplace Option

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Nicky Laatz creates digital assets in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, which she sells online. It’s been a pretty profitable enterprise. Her online store just celebrated its one millionth dollar of sales, every penny of which came from her handmade digital goods. She created it all from home with some basic art supplies, a computer, and a bit of software. We spoke with her to give you an insight into selling your art online.

Anyone with design skills and a willingness to succeed can make and sell digital assets — but not everyone succeeds as well as Nicky did. So, what’s her angle? How did she get so successful?

Self taught from the beginning, Nicky gave up the life of a deadline-driven graphic designer with clients years ago to focus on selling her work online, which is an increasingly more attractive option as large publishers disappear and the tools of design become affordable and accessible to everyone around the world. Anyone with design skills and a willingness to succeed can make and sell digital assets — but not everyone succeeds as well as Nicky did. So, what’s her angle? How did she get so successful?

Nicky Laatz one million dollar seller
Nicky hard at work (at home on the floor) for a hand-drawn lettering project.

Find your marketplace

First and foremost, she found a place to sell her work online. Deciding on the right marketplace for your work is perhaps your biggest hurdle to selling your art online. Nicky’s choice, Creative Market, screens applicants, so not everyone is accepted, but of course that keeps the quality of the entire marketplace high. They pay out 70% of profits to artists, which is (frankly) unprecedented, and each artist sets their own prices. Most marketplaces pay out 40-60% to artists and some even decide the pricing for you with complex tiering systems (e.g., sell significantly more units and you get to keep more profit). Creative Market doesn’t require their sellers to exclusively sell their work on their site, but some marketplaces insist on exclusivity. If you’re the type of person who prefers to keep her options open, or if you want to spread your seed as far as possible, Creative Market may be a good fit for you for selling your art online. Other options to consider include Envato, 123RF, and various stock photo marketplaces that are trying (sometimes not so successfully) to expand their offerings to include more types of design assets.

Know your marketplace’s trends

There are big design trends that everyone who creates online assets seems to be collectively following (or, um, dropping), but you may notice that each marketplace rewards specific types of content. A trend may spread like wildfire through a marketplace over the course of a few months for both organic *and* inorganic reasons. This is partly due to the purchasing trends of the community (simple popularity) and partly due to the company behind the marketplace. The people who run online marketplaces are the curators of the featured content in the marketplace. What they feature in emails or in bundles or on the marketplace home and landing pages makes a huge difference in what sells. What gets seen more sells more, so spend some time getting to know both fellow shop owners in the seller forum and the community managers of your marketplace. Watch what they feature. How might what you make fit into their future plans or sale events?

Nicky Laatz Classic Marketing Style
Nicky’s signature marketing style is this top-down photo style that shows an artist’s working space.

Make your products marketable

Put yourself in the shoes of the people who run the marketplace. They want to showcase the best content on their site, so they’ll choose products that have compelling screenshots or images that explain what people will be buying. From a quick look at Nicky’s shop, it’s easy to see that she spent some serious time making images that showcase her products. As she says, “It’s half the job of making your item sell. Even the most experienced designers need shop owners to help them see how the product can be used.” She designed an “artist workspace” style with a top-down photographic motif that hints at what type of projects her products will be a good fit for. She’s also gone the extra distance of creating multiple design dummy projects, which shows potential purchasers an even wider range of uses for what she’s selling. It’s no wonder she’s been featured again and again in Creative Market emails and through special bundles. So much so that her particular marketing style has become its own trend inside the Creative Market seller community.

Don’t sell your “self” short

Of course, you don’t always succeed by chasing trends. Even though you should pay attention to what other people are selling, true success as someone who makes money from their art is never losing sight of the *art* part. Nicky notes, “If you keep trying to please 100% of the people, you will run out of design mojo very, very quickly.” You have to keep creating things that interest you. Yes, flirt with trends and do your own take on what everyone else is making, but stick with your intuition about what you should be making next. The happiest folks we’ve met who sell their art online, whether selling unique works of art or commodity assets, always seem to identify as artists first and business people second. This kind of “money second” attitude seems to be the healthiest way to sell your art online.

Nicky Laatz Sample content
Nicky does an amazing job of creating “dummy” content that shows how her watercolor paper images might be used.

Consistency, consistency, ___________

The ultimate measure of how successful you are shouldn’t be gauged by how much money you make, although that is always the most tempting barometer to choose. With any creative endeavor, it’s often better to gauge your progress on your consistency at doing. When asked by the Creative Market team, “How often do you create a new project?” Nicky says, “I think the question should be how often do I try to launch a new product. I’m constantly making new things, but I like to make sure I finish and launch at least one product a month in general.” That seems, to me, like a much better and more manageable way to stay enthusiastic in this type of environment — much better than loading up random illustrations you’ve created over time to your store, hitting publish, and hoping for the best. Make as much art as you can (always), but carefully edit what you choose to sell for presentation, and be proud of the assets you’ve created. And make sure what you sell comes out on a regular basis. If that kind of deliberate, once-per-month plan turns into a million dollars in sales, all the better?

Taking the first step

As we noted, not everyone who applies to open a Creative market shop gets accepted, but if you’re skilled at illustration and can make things that appeal to a broad audience, consider your own entrepreneurial path as a maker and seller of digital assets. Read more about Nicky’s 1 million dollar milestone on the Creative Market blog if you want to hear more about her experience. Even if you don’t have a desire to open up your own shop, we highly recommend signing up for Creative Market’s Free Goods of the Week newsletter. Each Monday, they give away some excellent design assets. (The fonts alone are worth it!)