Struggling to Sell Your Creative Work Online? You Might Be Missing This Key Ingredient

So, you’re trying to sell music, books, jewelry, or art from your website.chefs_woodleywonderworks_flickrcc

You’re religiously sharing on Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Maybe you’ve even got a presence on Amazon, iTunes, Fine Art America, or Etsy.

But you’re not getting great results – and you’re not sure why.

After all, you’re doing what “they” advise – posting three times a day, asking interesting questions, and sharing funny memes.

But still… all you hear is crickets.

First off, let me assure you that’s very common.

Also? It’s not your fault.

See, the problem is that no one’s really spelling out how online sales work for us creative types.

I mean, everyone’s talking about tactics.

They’ll tell you how to get exposure, or how to boost your sales on some platform or another.

But those are just pieces of the puzzle; no one’s showing you the whole process.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m a little frustrated.

I want you to understand, and it’s actually my job to help you understand.

So let’s pull back the curtain and start hammering this all out.

It all starts with understanding the nature of sales for creatives.


Why your relationships are the backbone of your creative business

First, think about what you’re really selling.

Is it tickets to an event? The finest custom-made leather jackets? Exquisite coconut carvings?

You might exchange cash with your fans for a CD, book, or canvas – but as an artist you’re not actually selling those concrete, physical things.

What you’re really selling is warmer and fuzzier.

You’re selling feelings, experiences, memories, and personal statements.

Your followers like you and your work because of how it makes them feel.

Sure, you’ll make some sales (online or in person) just because a random stranger stumbles upon your work and decides that they love it.

But for the most part, the majority of your sales – and repeat sales – will come from people you’ve built a rapport with. That means people who know you, agree with your values and mission, and who want to support you.

Why does it work this way?

Because selling is emotion-based, and your audience’s feelings toward you and your work are stronger when they know, like, and trust you.

Think about it. How many times have you bought something you really didn’t need from a friend simply because you wanted to show support?

I’ve done it many times.

That means that as a creative, your relationship with your fans matters – much more than if you were hawking vacuum cleaners on eBay.

Building relationships in person is easy. You just talk to people. Make jokes. Ask them about their kids.

But how do you make sure people don’t forget about you in between those face-to-face times?

The answer is email.


How your email list powers your relationships more than any other tactic

You might be wondering, in the age of social media, why email is still so important?

It’s because no matter how many followers you’ve built up on social media, your email list is still many times more powerful in terms of building relationships and driving sales of your creative work.

There are good reasons for this.

  • You own your email list

If a social media site goes belly up or arbitrarily decides to delete your account, you’ve lost all your momentum. And when a site loses popularity because some newer and cooler competitor comes along, you’re left in a ghost town with little to show for it.

  • Email is personal and direct

Emails feel like a one-on-one conversation, even if they’re sent to many people. They go directly to your readers’ inboxes from you – there’s no social network algorithm deciding whether a particular reader will see your email in their inbox or not.

  • Email reaches everyone who’s signed up

Your emails are delivered to every person who’s raised their hands and asked for updates from you – unlike social media networks where, even if your update does show up in you followers’ feeds, they may or may not be active and see your posts when you create them.

  • Email drives high engagement

People still read most of the email they receive, and that percentage is going up because more people than ever read their email on mobile devices.

  • Email is still your most effective sales and marketing tool

Once you’ve built your list and nurtured a good relationship with the folks on it, the vast majority of your online sales will come from your email efforts, not from postings on social media. That’s true for any online business.

Sounds great, doesn’t it?

It is.

This is why the whole point of your social media efforts is to get people onto your email list, where you can build a relationship and eventually sell to them.

If you’ve been wondering why social media isn’t producing sales for you, it’s most likely because you’re missing the email list/relationship building piece.

Still, email’s not perfect.


Why you shouldn’t rely completely on email

In spite of all email’s advantages, you might be missing out on some great opportunities if you’re relying on it exclusively.

Here are several ways you might actually be shooting yourself in the foot.

  • You’re missing chances to engage people in conversation

Email newsletters and updates are mostly one-way conversations. You hit the “send” button, but you may or may not get any replies (especially with newsletters.) It can feel like you’re just talking to yourself, and that’s discouraging.

  • You’re missing out on group dynamics

Emails don’t allow for group discussions, for excitement to build, or for people to give you immediate feedback on what you’re doing. Today, people expect to respond and interact online.

  • You’re missing potential for sharing, likes, and social proof

Sure, your readers can forward emails, but it’s doubtful they’ll send it to more than one or two people. But if they could share your updates on social media, you’d be exposed to hundreds or possibly thousands more potential fans.

  • You’re missing out on tremendous SEO benefits

Google likes great content, social media shares, and frequent website updates, but it doesn’t know about the emails you send. If Google thinks your website is neglected, they won’t send you nearly as much traffic, regardless of how “optimized” your pages are.

So, you’re probably thinking, “Alright, Leanne, first you tell me how amazing email is and then you tell me all the drawbacks. What in the world am I supposed to do? Forget about it and lock myself in the studio (please, please?)”

I’m glad you asked… but no hiding away in the studio allowed.

At least not until you’re done reading this post. 😉


What you should do instead of email updates and newsletters

There’s actually a solution that helps you to work around the disadvantages of email, and you can start implementing it today:

Put those updates, or your newsletter content, out on your blog.

It’s a simple strategy, but it’s powerful.

If you don’t already have a blog, you’ll want to create one (if you can) on the same domain as your website.

If you can’t create a blog on your current website (or if you don’t have a website at all yet), then I strongly suggest you create or move your site over to or something similar.

And if the very thought of the tech details sends dread through the depths of your soul, you can get help here from my friend Kerry at The Blog Mechanic (aff.) It will be quick, painless, and easy, I promise!

Now, before you say, “But Leanne, I’m not a writer,” or, “I have no idea what I’d post about,” or, “Oh great, one more thing to do!”, imagine this:

You’ll finally have a marketing system in place that works for you, PLUS that “one more thing to do” will actually make a noticeable difference in your business.

Don’t you think that’s worthwhile?

Here’s how to make it work.


How email combined with a blog powers online sales of creative work

The first step, of course, is to get people on your list. For that, you need a great incentive.

Once you have your website set up to showcase your incentive and make the most of the traffic that comes to you, then you’re ready to start blogging.

(In an upcoming post, I’ll tell you how you can drive traffic to your site as a creative. But for now, you can check out this post to get ideas. These tips are especially helpful if you’ve tried blogging in the past and quit.)

Remember – as a creative, you aren’t selling products – you’re selling experiences, feelings, and memories. [Tweet]

Those are the things you want to tap into with your blog.

Now, your blog will be quite different from mine. You don’t have to write dissertations. You can use photos, videos, audio – whatever you’re most comfortable doing. You can combine these with a few paragraphs about things your readers are interested in and be done with it.

All you have to do is update people what you’re up to and why they should care (because you’ll be responding to their feedback):

  • You liked my last suspense book. I have a new story in the works, and it’s even better!
  • These pieces were really popular at my last show so I’m making more.
  • People always ask to hear me play the ukulele. I’ve written a funny new song, want to hear it?

For great examples, ideas, and artists to model, check out 49 Creative Geniuses Who Use Blogging to Promote Their Art.

(By the way, if you’re not yet getting feedback on your work, you’ve got to build up that list!)

Not doing anything interesting right now? Then share something else that inspires you. Point your readers to other artists’ work. Keep an eye out for cool things you can share when you don’t know what to post about. The possibilities are endless.

But send those emails, because no matter how much your fans like you, they’re busy and distracted, and they won’t visit your website without reminders.

Here’s how the process works:

  1. You post an interesting, fun, and/or educational update your blog,
  2. You send excited and engaged traffic to your post by sending an email to your audience and asking them to check it out,
  3. If your content’s good, people will comment and share it on social media,
  4. You increase your know, like, and trust factor because you’re engaging in conversation with your fans, finding out what they respond best to, and building loyalty.
  5. Eventually, because you’ve done step 4, people will buy from you.


This process is the key. It’s your marketing foundation for online sales of your creative work: that means books, stories, songs, prints, whatever.

This system works for it all – and it supports everything else you do.


How all your other marketing activities fit in

Once you have your marketing foundation in place – your incentive, email list, and blog – all the other tactics that can send traffic to you falls naturally out of this. (We’ll skip advertising for now.)

Social media shares – Once your posts are up, you and your readers can share them far and wide, both now and in the future. The people that discover you from social media will be new to you. They won’t know you, so your goal is to get them on your email list and start building that relationship with them. They’ll eventually buy.

Connecting with influencers – When you reach out to influencers, bloggers, podcasters, and other high-profile sites, they’ll see that you have something going on and that you’re serious about your work. They’ll share your posts and send traffic to you – again, new people who you then have a chance to get on your list. Build those relationships with those new fans and eventually sell to them.

Search engine benefits – Google will see 1) that you’re serious about updating the your content on your site frequently with high-quality posts, 2) the social media shares that your content is getting, 3) your comment activity, and 4) the links from influential sites – all of which will increase your rankings and the organic traffic Google sends – more new people you can add to your list, build relationships with, and eventually sell to.

The good news is that all these marketing and traffic efforts will be stronger and produce better results for you because you’ve got your incentive, blog, and email list in place.


How to rock this marketing strategy

Once your blog is up and running, you will still send emails to your list, but they’ll be much shorter than you’re probably sending now and they’ll include a link to your latest post.

Your goal is to create short, teaser-type emails that will actually train people to click over to your site.

Remember, your readers are busy and distracted. They may love you, but they’re not going to visit your website without prodding and frequent reminders.

Make your emails enticing. Use curiosity and excitement to get folks to click over to your blog. You can say things like:

  • Want to be the first to see my latest project?
  • Help me choose what to work on next!
  • I’m touring! Here’s how to see me in your town.
  • I’m afraid to show you this because it’s so personal, but here goes…

Get the idea? Use those creative talents of yours to get into your fans’ heads, figure out what they’ll like the best, and give it to them.

The emails you send are your most powerful tool for getting traffic – people who already like you! – over to your site.

Look, if you never want an online buyer for your work, you don’t have to worry about this.

If you want to stay small and local and you’re happy with the income you’re generating from your personal networking and paid advertising efforts then you have a free pass to ignore this advice.

But if you want a chance at reaching a larger audience and you’re ready for growth (without spending a lot of money), then combining email with a blog is your best bet.

How life changes once you have your marketing foundation in place

If you’ve been missing the key ingredients of online sales, don’t beat yourself up.

It happens all the time — but it’s also an easy fix.

Imagine the relief you’ll feel once your marketing efforts aren’t scattered anymore and you can focus on the things that will make the most difference to your growth.

You’ll have loads of great content that your new and old fans will love, and you’ll have complete control over it.

You’ll impress influencers because they’ll see that you have your act together.

Your fans will tell you what they love and what to create next. This makes your creation process much easier.

You’re not trapped in any particular format – you can do whatever inspires you at the moment.

You’ll have tons of fodder for social media, so you’ll never run out of cool things to share.

You’ll have activity on your site that helps to grow your list.

And Google will love you.

It takes a bit of time to put together an email list, blog, and enticing incentive. I get it.

But the benefits are massive.

You’ll finally have a system in place that works.

You won’t wonder any more whether you’re wasting your time on useless marketing strategies.

And those sales will start to come in with every email you send.

Isn’t a bit of legwork worth that satisfaction?

Well then, get started!


Photo courtesy of woodleywonderworks at FlickrCC

About Leanne Regalla

Leanne is a writer and musician and the founder of Make Creativity Pay. She's on a mission to help creatives of all types to pursue their art without going broke, living in their cars, or starving to death.


  1. Jeremy says:

    Thanks for this extremely useful article, I’m definitely bookmarking it! I think it’s going to come in handy for me soon. And I’m glad I already have the technical know-how of starting a blog and an email list.

    “Because selling is emotion-based, and your audience’s feelings toward you and your work are stronger when they know, like, and trust you.”
    >> I think this is SO very important to know.

    • Great, Jeremy!

      Yes, I wanted to make the point that selling online is really no different from what we do in person. We all tend to forget that sometimes, I think, when we’re hiding behind our computer screens. It’s not just robots on the other end, it’s living, breathing people.

      Good luck, keep me posted on your progress.

  2. Love the “Help me choose what to work on next!” line. I just hit send a few minutes ago on my most recent email about my atypical approach to equine photography, and it will be a great follow up.

    Hope to sell, buy and move soon, so we can get back to working together!

  3. Alice says:

    Great points you shared in this post. Indeed, using email to bring traffic to the blog is an effective tactic. Your email subject line and eye catching visuals in both the email and your blog really help too compel readers to learn more on your blog or website.

  4. Linda Ursin says:

    I’ve been blogging since 2003, so I’ve got the blog. I also have the newsletter and a list of just over 300. Plus I’m getting great feedback on my art. Now I need the traffic, so I can grow that list a bit faster. I look forward to the post on that.

    • Hi Linda,

      Great! Good for you for having those pieces in place and being so persistent with your blog. One traffic post, coming right up (actually probably the post after next.) 😉

  5. Zarayna says:

    Hello Leanne,
    Just a quick note to thank you sincerely for this, as always, invaluable info, and appreciate that it’s imparted with logic and clarity.

    One day, when I get my head above the rim, I hope you’ll be proud of me but in the meantime, I have stuff to churn through (all my end and very tedious blah, blah, blah).

    Thanks again and please accept my kind regards.

  6. This was very helpful! I love the idea of posting the updates to my website and then emailing my list to invite them to check out my latest post. This is definitely the piece that was missing from my marketing plan. Thank you!

  7. Kim Moulder says:

    I just found you tonight. I’ve worked hard over the last few years designing my website, creating a blog and building my Etsy site. But I’ve continued to come up short on selling. Part of my problem you’ve addressed in your “manifesto” which I’m going to read again—but this post has made me rethink a lot of what I’m doing. I am very neglectful of my blog and I have been doing everything in a disjointed way. I also have not incentive whatsoever for an email list on my blog—and I’ve never even sent out an email. So—that, I see is my first mission.

    I have a question though. I built my website on Adobe Muse, but I already had a blog set up on blogger. So, I have a link in the main menu of my site which goes to my blog. Is this sufficient? Or would it make a big difference to actually have my blog on my website so that it gets the “activity” points with google? —blogger is just so much easier to “blog” on. . .

    Thanks so much! I look forward to engaging with your blog!

  8. Hi!
    Hi Leanne-
    Just found you through Sandy Dell of This is great info…I have a neglected blog about The Magnificent Magnet ( our product, handcrafted refrigerator magnets, that started out with good ideas and a few good articles that I did not continue with. You have made me realize the importance of keeping my blog current. Some simple tips that should bring some big changes! Thank you, thank you, thank you! -Fredda


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