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How to start a creative business with no money

A guide to start selling your creative stuff with almost no cost up front.

Figure out whether you sell goods or services.

Here's an easy way to tell if you're selling goods or services: If you create the thing once and it's able to be sold again and again (books, prints, on-demand), it's goods. If you have to show up and spend time to make it happen (teaching, coaching, designing, creating on behalf of others), it's likely a service.

Let's talk gray area.

  • If it's a good, but you're also delivering it or customizing it, you have a combo–you're selling goods AND offering a delivery or customization service.

  • If you're providing a relatively automated service, you may be selling Software As A Service (commonly known as SaaS).

  • If you're selling a good (or anything really), but you need to answer questions about it, and make sure people are happy, you're still selling goods or services. Tip: Helping people have a great experience with what you're offering is simply customer service, which is not what you're selling–it's a benefit of what you're selling.

Choose the right place to sell your art.

The internet abounds with places to market and sell your art, whether physical, digital, or service-based. For every creative industry, there are myriad places online to sell your work, along with the traditional venues like festivals, conventions, shows, stores, and fairs.

With the onset of pandemic restrictions, we're seeing even more of these traditional venues move online.

So what's the best way to get sales online?

Well... that has everything to do with you and what you're willing to put time into, in order to get sales. Let me break down a high-level list first, then I'll go over some of the pros and cons of different avenues.

  1. Ecommerce options (standalone and tied to services): Shopify, Etsy, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Vimeo, Wix stores, Squarespace, Square Marketplace

  2. Licensing communities: Unsplash, Envato, iStock Photo, Shutterstock, Soundcloud

  3. Subscription platforms: Vimeo, Patreon, the new Twitter "super follower" option

  4. Teaching platforms: Teachable, Skillshare, Tuts+

  5. Crowdfunding: Indiegogo, Kickstarter, Gofundme, Kofi

Make your web presence trustworthy.

If all goes well, people you don't know may discover your "thing" online, and then be excited enough to buy it! That's easier said than done, but the first step is to build a nice looking showcase for what you're offering.

Given they don't know you, it's seriously smart to choose a name, handle, and account extension that encourages "the most people" to buy.

What do I mean by the most people?

The broadest collection of people who still fit into the definition of who you'd like to buy your thing... In marketing jargon that's a "target demographic".

What do I mean by encourages them to buy?

I mean you don't want any janky email addresses that sound unprofessional. No aol, yahoo, and hotmail addresses. You want details that hit like the legit business you are, and not like a Nigerian Prince offering an urgent 4-thousand dollar bank transfer.

Gmail is acceptable for business, but ideally, you want one from your own domain name. If you're on a tight budget and your web host doesn't offer free email services, Gmail will be OK to start out. A quick google search will lead you to many great options.

More tips for building trust

You don't generally want to abbreviate your business name with slang or numbers (e.g. Scrubz2Cleanz) unless you KNOW your niche target demographic is going to be all over buying from that kind of name.

In any site or service where it's possible to "verify" or "validate" your account by providing identification that gives you a verified seal, you want to do that. (Of course, never send ID to sites or services that give you the "heebiejeebies" or seem scammy. If you're concerned, do some research on the service you're considering.)

Decide what you really want to sell.

To make your budding creative business satisfying, you'll want to create a set of offerings you can provide (repeatedly) without getting frustrated. Take some time to pick out what sells most easily for you, now. If you aren't in business yet, focus on what you like doing the most that's also requested or praised by people you know.

Try not to promote goods or services you don't enjoy offering or working on. Take this opportunity to grow your quality of life alongside your income stream!

Bundling, discounts, offers, and bonus materials.

While it's not recommended to come out of the gate discounting your hard work, it can be effective to reward customers who buy frequently or in large quantities!

If you want to entice new customers, you can create an offer for them to try or buy your goods with either increased value or a discount for a limited time.

All of this can be done using free or free-upfront services such as social media, listing to directories, word of mouth, and emailing people directly.

You can quickly get set up to process payments online with PayPal/Square Marketplace etc., which both offer the tools to create discounts and offers.

Get the word out.

No store or business takes off without a bit of advertising, marketing, and audience building. This is often the toughest part of the puzzle, but be patient, and don't be afraid to step outside your comfort zone.

Finding your audience is all about imagining where the people who might like your thing are spending their time (both IRL and online). Chances are you already know some communities who like what you're doing, but if not, this is the time for research.

You want to start engaging, in whatever way you feel comfortable, with as many people who might be interested as possible.

Don't fear! I'm not suggesting you bust into every community group you know and start a sales pitch (ugh!)... On the contrary.

Simply start to be present and listen.

Make yourself known, and when it's natural, feel free to mention you are doing a project about exactly what's of interest. When it's not a sale, people are very likely to want to know more!




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