This post is by guest author, Jack White. This article has been edited and published with the author's permission. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here. This author's views are entirely his own and may not always reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.
WARNING! Before you read this column, be aware I’m a master salesman. There is a real possibility you will become enamored with eBay before you reach the end.
One very important thing to remember before you launch on eBay: Selling on eBay is the same as a brick and mortar gallery, only the commission scales are much smaller. You need to record all checks, cash or Pay Pal payments received from your eBay sales for the IRS. You are required to pay income taxes on all eBay sales just as if the online sales were a ground-based gallery. These sales are income and the government will demand their share.
I became interested in eBay marketing because of my Professional Artist readers. Several of them mistakenly thought I knew about every phase of marketing art, including eBay. I knew I couldn’t fake being an eBay expert. I had to know more before I wrote.
After some looking into it, I decided to give it a test. Could an unknown artist, starting at ground zero, end up earning a living making and selling art on eBay? I knew I couldn’t connect the fictional artist with Jack White or the trial would be skewed. I needed a new face, a different name and story not associated with me. I picked a good Texas cowboy name and then constructed a story about him owning a ranch somewhere north of the Mexican border. I made my experimental guy a handsome, six foot two inch hunk. Since there were no photographs available for my new star, I did a flattering oil portrait of what I envisioned him to look like. As long as I was dealing with fiction, I made him handsome and macho.
My first goal was to get 10 positive feedbacks, then 50 and finally, 100. By the time I stopped selling on eBay, my guy had about 750 positive stars and no negative feedbacks. He became a Power Seller. I knew until my star power was fairly high, sales would be slow and prices low. No one likes to buy from a newby.
I painted cowboys, horses, longhorns, wild animals, a variety of birds, landscapes and some off the chart stuff. After my guy became established, I began to list Indian portraits. I have a source where I purchase my canvas at cost, allowing very little investment in the product. I painted on regular stretched canvas, no frame and no gallery wrap. But, I’m getting my wagon in front of the mules.
I learned from selling on eBay to begin my auction bid at one cent. I know you are thinking, “One Cent! That’s nuts, I can’t do that.” Yes, you can. The penny bid is all about ownership. It’s easy to get someone to bid a penny, whereas they won’t bid 99 cents. The moment someone places the one-cent bid, they own the art. They immediately begin thinking about where the painting will hang and what type of frame to use.
Then, someone decides to bid two pennies, the ownership has changed and we are off to the races. When four or five claim ownership, the bidding gets crazy. On one 11” x 14”, five bidders were involved, running the final price up to $1,780. I couldn’t let the winner pay that much, so I gave them a $1,200 savings. As you would expect, they became a huge collector. They were stunned with my honesty.
The biggest mistake artists make on eBay is trying to start the opening bid at a high amount. This discourages bidding. The key to eBay is the contested bidding. This is why it’s called an auction instead of selling. I see art with opening bids of $24.99 with no bid. Worse yet an opening bid of $99. What this implies is I’m willing to sell this painting for a small amount.
But the real answer is competitive bidding back and forth. When people claim ownership, they get down right angry when someone out bids them on their painting. If you can’t grasp the ownership (auction) concept, then eBay is not for you. You are not going to be able to list art, place a retail price on the piece and sell it on eBay. Let me stress, eBay is an auction house, not an online retail store.
A real no-no is trying to tack a few extra dollars onto shipping fees. Your clients are not stupid. They know what postage costs and they think you are a crook when you jack up the actual fee. After I began to see my sales going over $100, I started giving free shipping in the continental United States. Giving free shipping increases the bidding and the final price you receive. eBay loves those who give free shipping. BUT...don’t give free shipping until you are doing well enough to cover the cost.
Writing a solid title is essential to your success. Start with your name. If your name is long then don’t put up your first name. If your name is Jo Smith, then you can write in the full name. The subject line on eBay is their search engine.
Do not use hyphens in your title. This search engine doesn’t recognize Jack hyphen Jones. The hyphen made you lose two words and ten characters. I saw one posting with hyphens between each word. Only by accident did people find the artist’s work.
Don’t use commas, stars, parentheses, or any punctuation marks.
Never use the word NEW when selling a painting.
Do not abbreviate watercolor with WC. Again, people don’t search for WC.
LOL might be okay for texting, but the eBay search engine won’t recognize what you are talking about. The title you post is the only way you are found on eBay.
I’m listing a few great key words. Art, Artist, Original, Oil, Painting, Acrylic, Water Color or Pastel. Then the name of your subjects: Cardinal, Longhorn, Fruit Bowl, Grapes, Cat, Lion etc. You have 55 characters in the Title Line and 55 in the Subtitle. This includes spaces and punctuation marks, that’s why I say don’t use commas, periods, etc. Jack White counts for 10 characters.
The subtitle is an additional 50 cents. I seldom used this feature. Great titles can save you, while a bad title will break you. Let’s say you are listing an oil painting of a cardinal. Here is a sample title: John Jones Art Original Oil Painting Cardinal Red Bird
You have the option to set the time you want your listing to go off. The experts say the best time is 6PM in California. This allows everyone to get home from work. Never let your listings expire in the middle of the day. This service cost you 10 cents extra, but it’s worth the money. When the art goes off is extremely important. You don’t want the auction to end Christmas Day or on any other big holidays. Use your brain. The seven-day listing is ideal. When inventory was short, I resorted to using the ten-day auctions to give me a chance to get some work painted.
You will find eBay is loaded with extra promotional stuff you can purchase. NEVER use any of these promotional deals. Instead, make art people will want to purchase and write great titles. Again, the title is eBay’s search engine. You must understand this concept to be successful on Ebay.
When you begin listing, it’s imperative you have the mind set you will stay the course for one year. You can’t start, stop and start up again. I’m told there are 200,000 new pieces of art put up each day on eBay. When you get discovered, you want to keep art posted. My recommendation is never fall below five pieces posted at one time. NEVER list more than seven pieces of art at one time. In selling art, the axiom is less is more. I see artists with 70 original pieces of art in their eBay store. There is zero urgency to bid. These artists look as if they have never sold a piece of art. People want to buy from the successful. Make your auction appear as if you cannot supply the demand.
Make sure when you are uploading your images to select the Gallery Plus and the Picture Pack. This will give the optimum image sizes to show your art. For the best quality, use pictures that are more than 1000 pixels in height or width. You have the option to post 12 images on one listing at no extra cost. The image in the first position will be your gallery image so use a picture of your entire painting. From time to time, I used three images if I wanted to show close up views. Most of the time I just did one image. Time is a factor when you live in the country. We don’t have broadband, but wireless which is only a few steps above dial-up. If the wind is blowing or rain pouring, we have difficulty staying online.
By now you are thinking, “How well did my secret guy do?” He was on eBay for about three and a half years. The first couple of months, only one painting sold for more than $25. A few went for the opening bid. That was when I realized the quality of the work would need to be pumped up a notch. The next month, two paintings broke the $50 barrier. At the end of six months, the average sale was almost $100. That year my guy sold approximately $29,000.
Year two, my guy knocked on the $40,000 door, the third and final year he came close to cracking $45,000. By then, I realized an artist could earn a nice living making and selling art on eBay. I felt I knew enough to help my fellow artists.
Other factors came to play in my choice to stop. My right shoulder was destroyed in an auto accident several years ago. I had to learn to paint with my left hand. I became fairly skilled but not enough for the tight detail. With my eBay guy, I blocked in the painting and did the rough work with my left hand. Then I went back in with my right and dressed out the art. The pain at night got to be too much. When painting with my right hand for an hour or longer, I get big knots in my back under the shoulder blade. The hurt was not worth the reward. I did what I set out to do. I proved an unknown artist could earn a living making and selling art on eBay.
The art people liked best were my Indian portraits. When I posted one of these portraits, I knew the final bid would be at least $300 and most would go for $400. A few reached $600. You don’t need many of those to have a great month. For three years in a row, my fictional guy sold about 250 pieces annually. One man collected around 60 original paintings and another over 40. Many had 15 to 20. What amazed me was the number of very wealthy people purchasing or commissioning art. My collectors were doctors, college professors, several large cattle ranchers, and lawyers. There was even a small portrait commission by the lead singer of the music group, Alabama. In the end, only one person ever discovered my guy was Jack White. She is an artist who somehow made the connection. When she asked, I told her the truth. I’m sure she will read this column.
Here are a few keys to success. Paint fast, keep your art simple and make it good. You cannot take three days to paint a 9x12 but neither will a 15 minute knockout do. Keep the painting bright. It’s difficult to get any bids on dull, tobacco juice paintings. Don’t slap out junk, because the eBay collector is a lot smarter than you think. They know quality art. You might fake out your mother, but not the intelligent eBay bidder. One word of caution, eBay is not for the weak of heart. Your faith will be tested. A painting you think is excellent will bomb.
Take good images of your art. You will be amazed at how many people post images that are cropped poorly or out of focus. The image is the only thing the bidder has to judge your work. Take killer photographs.
Don’t look at your listings several times a day. This will frustrate you and I can promise it will not increase the final bid by one cent. Watchers are not as important as you think. I had pieces with 40 watchers that sold for $90 and pieces with 10 watchers selling for $500. Look for bidders; they drive up the final price.
After I got a few names, I hand wrote each one a thank you note card. I made sure I mailed them three times a year. Not emails, but snail mail. I printed cards on my desktop using my guy’s images. I kept his name in front of them. If a client was having problems, I’d write them a personal letter. One collector lost her dog. I painted her a free portrait.
Here are some final words of wisdom about selling art on eBay. Listen to your bidders, they will tell you what to post. I did a cardinal, not expecting much, because the cowboy stuff had been steaming. The little 9x12 sold for over $200. Guess what? Over time I listed seven or eight more cardinals and none ended up less than $200. I tried a couple of 16x20s and realized 11x14s brought about the same final bid. I did very few 8x10s. Mostly 9x12s and 11x14s. From time to time, I used a 12x16 because I needed the format for a portrait. If you do large paintings, collectors will have wall space for only a few. Small ones they can stack. (Smile)
One thing I did that I wouldn’t expect you to do. I wrote a murder mystery under my eBay name and posted a daily, extremely conservative, Christian blog. I had my artist attend TEA Party events, which Mikki and I actually do. When I stopped listing, there were at least 1,000 blog readers from all over the world. Keep in mind my blogs were right wing, Christian conservative and hotly political. A few liberals wrote scalding emails but most readers were my cheering section. I did the book and blog to make my guy authentic.
I also wrote about life on a working ranch. We had cattle stolen and illegal immigrants caught on the property. I had one shoot out with rustlers. My artist owned a permit to carry a pistol. It’s a Texas thing.
I subscribed to two small town newspapers to keep up with the price of hay and cattle and to glean real life stories. Since I was raised on a real ranch as a youngster this was easy to write about. Scores of my eBay readers forwarded the blogs on their social networks. The readership became wide spread. On each blog, I posted the current eBay painting with a link back to the auction.
One mistake -- I made my guy too attractive. A single woman sent nude photos and several proposed marriage. I had no choice but to get my guy married FAST. The marriage broke a lot of hearts. I think the best requests were from retired people wanting to park their trailer on my ranch for the winter. One guy said he would pay for the electricity he used. When my housekeeper retired, several offered to move in and do the cleaning. My character went to church under a big oak tree, where everyone had to ride horses to the service. Very similar to the Cowboy Churches springing up all over.
My shtick was talking to old ranchers at the Local Dairy Queen. If I wanted to be funny, I had my old retired rancher tell me the jokes while we were eating burgers, having fries and a big shake. This allowed me to tell jokes and add some light spots without them coming from my mouth. I also used a lot of Texas sayings. Like, “Don’t squat on your spurs.” Not only did I earn extra money, I had a blast writing fiction.
Make sure you ship quickly. We use priority mail and book online. When booking online, the postal carrier has to come to our front door to pick up the package. The post office will supply you with shipping boxes. The day after we are paid, the art is shipped. If for some reason the art is lost in the mail, we give them a full refund including their postage if it wasn’t free on the listing. We never lost a piece, but were prepared to give the full refund.
I had two rules. One, the client was always right. Two, if the client was wrong, refer back to rule one.
I used Winsor-Newton Griffin Alkyds for most of the work. I wanted the art to be dry at shipping time. They work like regular oils only dry much quicker. I added a nice coat of spray retouch varnish to the painting before shipping. Also, a lot of time I shot a blast of varnish in the box so when the client opened the lid they smelled the “fresh oils.”
If you are LAZY, then eBay is not for you. If you are easily discouraged, then stay off eBay. You will list pieces that go for the minimum. A winner will accept the challenge to paint better. A loser will hang their heads and give up. Had I paid attention to the first few months, I would never have learned what I now know. I know if all of our galleries were to close, Mikki and I can earn a comfortable living making and posting art on eBay. This is our security blanket. We look at eBay as a retirement account.
Jack White has the title Official Texas State Artist and recently Governor Rick Perry appointed him an Admiral in the Texas Navy. Jack authored six Art Marketing books. The first, “Mystery of Making It”, describes how he taught Mikki to paint and has sold over six million dollars worth of her art. You can contact Jack at firstname.lastname@example.org.