Mckenna Hallett has been helping improve marketing skills and selling skills for over three decades. She is especially dedicated to the artist community. In this interview, we will tap her knowledge base about the role that an effective website plays in encouraging sales. To learn more about her and the services she provides the artist community, visit her website. https://www.mygoldenwords.com
We recently had the opportunity to interview McKenna Hallett about website development. Here are some “pearls of Wisdom” that she had to share.
What advice do you offer someone who is just getting started with a website?
Mckenna: I wish there was a magic wand, but artists need to understand that to thrive and find loving homes for their art requires a foundation of marketing and being a “business” co-equally with being an artist. For those that are self-taught or those who have MFA degrees, the advice is identical: marketing is a verb and you must learn to get your work into the “market” place. And the marketplace must include a very savvy and well designed (for marketing) website.
Ideally, for the best search results, you should be actively changing information (a blog, events page, new work added) at least monthly in order for Google to consider you an active “resource”. If you have an older, untouched, site, it’s very likely that you need a fresh start. There are incredibly simple building tools available today. Starting over is often easier than trying to apply CPR to a site that is outdated and using really old technology.
Assuming they need to rebuild, what is the foundation of a good site?
Mckenna: I am going to sound like a broken record, but marketing is a verb. And so is selling. Buying is also a verb. These three actions need to be at the core of a website. The website must be entertaining, educational, and enticing. Leave out one of those components and you will have a tough go trying to make a sale. As for selling, you are definitely not in business if you don’t have a way for someone to buy from you online.
What do you mean by entertaining?
Mckenna: Good question. I am not saying be a comedian, but we must be interesting, right? Every encounter we humans experience starts in our egos. We need to know, first and foremost, “What’s in it for me?” and we hunt (pretty much all the time) for validation of our needs and what we can get from nearly every experience. We are not curious about the art per se as much as we are curious about what the art will be able to do for our hearts and minds in the long term. Therefore, if you don’t include a “wow” factor, you won’t wow anyone into taking time on your site.
I was on a consulting call last week with an artist who still works in a darkroom. That fact didn’t show up anywhere on the site until reading the third paragraph of the about page. I advised this artist to create a quick 15 to 30 second video for the home page. A video that filled the page showing a photo being processed in a dark room – red light and all! That is a WOW story. That video will instantly entertain, educate, and entice all in fewer than 30 seconds – all within seconds of arriving on the site.
What else can be educational?
Mckenna: Being “educational” is drawn with a fine line. You must educate on the specifics – size, shape, color, materials and so forth of individual work – AND you want them to be educated about your “wow factors”. This line is crossed when there are pages full of words about the process. This will kill momentum. Instead, a page devoted to FAQ’s – which can include process details – is still the tried and true way to keep people on your site and considering a purchase. Anyone who clicks to see the FAQ’s is considering a purchase. Therefore, you need to think about every question you can imagine. People don’t need and probably won’t read all the answers, but they want to know the answers are there if they need them. Put the questions in a most important to least important order on the page.
Many artists struggle with an About page or an Artist Statement. What do you think is effective? Do artist need both?
Mckenna: Same as before, this is a selling opportunity. As such, it’s important to “entertain, educate, and entice” on these pages more than any other. An About Page might need to exist if your process is complex. So a page devoted to “about the process” might really be important.
Just because it’s called the “About page” or “Artist Statement”, it’s still not about you. Once again, you really don’t need to dig too deeply into your history or background in the actual Artist Statement. Create a separate CV and place it under your artist statement.
And this is really important: The Artist Statement must be your thoughts, in the first person, about your art. By the way, the entire site needs to use first person voice and be authentic. Record what you might say to someone who you meet at a gathering in answer to the age-old question, “What do you do?” Just tell people what you do and then why you do it in plain English from your heart.
Bottom line: when they are done reading your Artist Statement, they should be refreshingly excited about viewing your collection and want to remain ON your site.
When you say entice, this is the result?
Mckenna: Exactly right, Ed. They entered the site. They saw work that resonates. They want to know who you are and where you are from and a little tiny bit about your motivations or methods. What we want to do is create a funnel to the possibility of buying. So naturally we need to entice a person into digging deeper about a specific piece: How much, how big, what medium? They like you and now they need to find a piece of art that they like and can afford. Your collectors need to be able to point to a piece of art in their collection and say something about it that “wowed” them – that thing that motivated them to buy. We all have that story ready to share about everything we buy and art is no different.
Should an artist have a shopping cart? Isn’t that too commercial or too manufactured feeling or even a bit crass?
Mckenna: Unless they are fully represented by galleries and don’t want to appear to compete, they should make it easy for people to find and purchase art to add to their lives. To avoid “crass”, I counsel artists to remain independent of cookie-cutter shopping websites. I also never recommend people put their original fine art on sites that have that in-your-face “buy now” button mentality – think Etsy or some of the sites that offer print-on-demand products to sell; coffee cups, tote bags, et al.
That said, some art is really suited to phone cases and pillows, so go for it! However, if you use a site like that as a default because it’s easy to set up, you need to rethink what “easy” is in today’s world. To be in control of your appearance and reputation, I highly recommend using the ridiculously simple site builder called WIX.
Even Google recommends WIX. You own your domain in full and that means you control your SEO. It’s as easy as anything else you might consider using. It’s as easy as using any social media site. If you are already using WordPress, then add the shopping cart plugin Woo Commerce and you are good to go.
Are there any other things to avoid when getting a website up and running?
Mckenna: I think the number one thing to avoid is to make your site so complex, with lots of words and very few pictures (or vice versa!) that people just click away. Over 50 percent of visitors to a page “bounce” away from the entire site within 15 seconds. If they have to digest too many choices of where to go, they just get overwhelmed and leave. You are the tour guide. Funnel their interests into the consideration of ownership.
What about the “do’s”?
Mckenna: Do be authentic. Use your personality everywhere on your site. Avoid “corporate” speak and multi-syllable words. Have pictures of you, your pet, your studio, your spouse and kids if that feels okay to you. You are a big part of what they are falling in love with. Be lovable.
And even if you don’t have a shopping cart, yet, do have prices. Do “ask” for the sale – that is to say, use language that encourages ownership and avoid passive or “wishful” sentiments, like, “I have a goal of creating wonderful art for people to buy.” Change that to, “You will see wonderful art on this site that is finding homes just like yours. Click to enjoy my newest pieces here” and link to a page with images to view – with prices. I repeat: with prices.
If someone is interested in getting their site reviewed, do you offer that service?
Mckenna: They can visit https://mygoldenwords.com/website-review-services/ to learn more. I offer free reviews. I generally only offer it to those who are on my email list, but I am making an exception for your audience. However, people should join my list to get notices of offers and be alerted to new blog posts, too.
Ed: Thanks for taking so much time to address these issues for our readers.
Mckenna: My passion to help artists made this as worthwhile for me as I hope it is for your readers. If they want to add questions in the comments, I will stay tuned for a few days to try and address them.
What qualities of your work would others comment on first?
Lois: I think color. I grew up … well … a while back. Color film was a luxury in my humble home, so most of the shots from my childhood are black and white. I remember a day spent at my grandparent’s farm (I was probably pre-teens?) shooting the old barns, rusty farm equipment, the undersides of buttercups … the whole creative deal … only to discover once the pics were developed that the film was black and white. I’ve never forgotten the disappointment. At that time television was black and white, as were a lot of the movies. So all the drama and excitement of today’s fabulous black and white artwork goes right over my head. I do have pastel and neutral toned images in my portfolio … even a couple of black and whites. But mostly … color.
What are your challenges in doing your work?
Lois: My challenge is probably a common one … and that’s time … both lack of and use of. Though I’ve been working diligently to simplify my life in the past few years, just like everyone I have other obligations and commitments.
Plus, we can’t really dictate when the creative spark will hit. My best times are usually pretty late at night. I’m sure a neurologist or psychiatrist would have a theory, but it seems like there’s an invisible line … a zone. I’m still awake but my brain has tripped over that line and is in a fluffy-float-y place where anything’s possible. That sounds a bit woo-woo, I know. But time … as a definable, quantifiable thing, completely disappears when I’m in the zone. Hours fly by … storms rage … wars begin and end … (my husband says goodnight and the dog wants a cookie) but I’m oblivious. Though I don’t have a life where I have to be at an office at 8:00 the next morning (thank goodness), I do have a “real” life that needs my attention when the sun is up … my wide-awake attention. So playing in the zone until too late at night (or too far into the wee hours of the am) isn’t practical.
Your works cover many different subject matters. Do You Have a favorite? Why?
Lois: I really don’t. Each has its own appeal, and I love each for different reasons. I think a lot of what I produce is a direct result of chance. When the camera and I are in the same place at the same time, and something catches my eye, the shutter button will get clicked. Yes, I go out to specifically capture an autumn landscape, or soaring eagles, or colorful spring flowers and gardens. But even the sun gleaming on the chrome of a stool in an old-fashioned diner can be magic. It’s more a matter of opportunity than anything else. If it’s there and the light is right … I’ll snap it.
Beyond that, my choices of whether or not to publish an image depend on many factors, but I like to say emotion, subject matter, light and “bones” are critical. Whether a piece stands on its own as straight photography or whether I edit heavily depends on the image itself. It will tell me what it wants me to do, and I’ll try to oblige. Lately I’ve been experimenting with getting back to my first love … freehand drawing, sketching and painting. I’ve been creating digitally using Corel Painter instead of traditional pencils, paper and paints. I’m thrilled that my eyes and hands can still work together.
Are there themes that consistently run from one work to the other such as colors, perspective, lighting, movement, style, etc.?
Yes, I think so.
Sadly, I’m all over the place with style. I’ve often fussed at myself for never having developed an identifiable style, but it’s only because I keep evolving what I’m doing. The experimenting is too much fun. Over the years I’ve gone from straight photography to HDR to Orton to textures to filtered work to digital hand painting of photo-based images to freehand digital sketches and paintings … and more. They say it’s not the destination that counts, it’s the journey. Both are important, but I do get a kick out of the journey.
Over the years, I’ve hit on a couple of styles that have been popular, and it would have been easy and probably smart to keep producing those, but I just can’t. I mean, yawn. I don’t know how other people do it. I have to keep learning and trying new ideas.
Even admitting the above, I do think there are consistencies. I’ve already mentioned color. Love color.
But I think the most consistent theme would be hopefulness. Yes, there are a few pieces on the cranky side … but that’s normal. By and large, I believe what’s seen in my stuff is uplifting … images filled with serenity and a sense of fun.
Do you think it is important for photographer / photography-based digital artist to have their own website, in addition to another gallery they appear on? Why?
Lois: Yes I do. I’m on several art POD sites (that stands for Print On Demand). And I’m sure a good bit of my success is thanks to the search engines there. This includes sales but also being “found” by various companies looking to do everything from licensing images to interviews in magazines. Not to mention the benefits of being in an environment of like-minded individuals who daily inspire and encourage, as I hope I do for them as well.
But in order not to get lost in the crowd, my individual marketing efforts are mostly directed back to my own website. It’s far too easy in the world of online art sites for a potential client to wobble off onto someone else’s pages and not even realize it. More than once I’ve made a personal contact … had them Google me … and instead of finding my personal site, they find me on one of the POD sites. Images they described to me later weren’t all mine: my client wobbled!! (Lesson learned: always have business cards on hand.)
The answer is a nice balance of both … a presence on reputable art sites that produce quality product … and my own website where my clients can’t wobble.
If you do use social media platforms to promote your work, which one(s) work the best for you?
Lois: Yes, I do. I don’t know of any out there that I haven’t at least tried. However, my marketing on them can be quite time consuming and I have no idea which work best. I think there are analytic programs that track visitor’s origination, but I haven’t had much luck making heads or tails out of those. Not really my thing. So I plod along putting in time on the ones that seem to create a buzz (hits, likes, responses – nothing scientific) … promoting my images and also promoting the work of others. I’m a big believer in the Golden Rule: do unto others. By that I mean, in promoting other people’s work, I hope they’ll promote mine as well. It’s like dropping a pebble into a pond … those ripples can reach far and wide.
Do you have any final thoughts about you and your work that you think would be important for others to know about?
Lois: In my opinion art … good art … is all about emotion and connection. When you look at the right image … the right image for who you are at that given moment in time … you feel it. You’re connected with the art and with the artist. Visual art is all about a message or a mood that is conveyed without language barriers … it’s a universal that reaches across space and time.
Next time you’re out and about, take an extra moment to look at the art around you … if you’re lucky and find something you connect with, try to figure out what the artist or photographer is saying. Maybe he’s just waving hello at you from years ago … or maybe he’s trying to tell you something. If you’re already feeling that ethereal bond, chances are his message might be important.
Click on an image to enlarge it.
EWW: Terry, What makes your work unique to other artists using your medium(s)?
Terry: I think that my use of many digital processing approaches (e.g., montage, filters, painting, texture) within one image and subsequent enhancement during the printing or post-printing stages distinguishes my work from that of others.
EWW: Besides subject matter, are there any other consistent themes in your work such, lighting, technique, type of shot, etc.
Terry: I love to experiment with techniques and lighting, so these can vary greatly throughout my work. As you point out below, the texture is one of the few constants in my pieces.
EWW: What are your challenges in doing your work?
TERRY: My biggest challenge is balancing the business aspects of marketing my work with the creative component of producing my art. My enjoyment comes primarily from working on a digital painting. But I try to remember that updating a website or planning an exhibit yields delayed rewards that are ultimately just as gratifying.
EWW: What do you see as the biggest challenges for a fine art photographer or a digital artist?
Terry: I see two major challenges for digital artists.
First, I find that many people walking into a gallery are unfamiliar with digital art. When they see my work, the question often comes up: how did you do this? They don’t know if my work is a photograph – but they might say “it doesn’t look like a photograph” – or if it is a giclee of a painting created with classical techniques. They may like the piece but have concerns about the acceptance of this relatively new approach in the art world.
Second, and seemingly inconsistent, there are so many excellent digital artists creating fabulous works that are shown on a plethora of websites. While on-line galleries can reach many viewers, the options for a buyer can be overwhelming.
EWW: Do you think it is important for photographic artists to have their own website, in addition to another gallery they appear on.
Terry: I consider a personal website to be very important for all artists. It provides a showcase for someone who may have seen your work on display and wants to explore further; for a curator of a gallery to evaluate options for a show; for a fellow artist who wants to keep in touch; and for any followers you must know where/when your next show or reception will be.
EWW: Do you use social media platforms to market and promote your work? If you do, which social media platform seems to work the best for you?
Terry: I use several platforms to promote my work; they each have their pros and cons. Some are good for interacting with other artists and others are more geared toward friends and followers. When possible, I provide links to these platforms. My foray into the social media is relatively recent; it is too soon to say which platform is working best for me.
EWW: Terry, just to wrap up the interview, do you have any final thoughts about you and your work, that you think would be important for others to know about?
Terry: My style is continually evolving as I learn new techniques or try new approaches. What I do tomorrow may be very different from what I did yesterday. It is a journey; I’m not sure where I am going but I am having fun along the way.
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Although many of my images are multi-colored, and some are monochrome, I had a time, this past year, when (for some unknown reason) “Gold” was the color of choice and just felt right for the image being created. Here is a collection of some of those “Golden Images” that I hope viewers will find enjoyable.
In school, I enjoyed geometry and I still like using these images in many of my artwork. The point, line, and plane can give rise to enjoyable constructs in two dimensions as well as three. Although many people like symmetry, my images are typically asymmetric… with more focus more on the composition to provide the
balance of the image. These images are non-normal and somewhat imaginary, but I hope they provide an impression that is pleasing to the eye and invoke visual exploration upon which one can reflect.