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Business Basics: Product Ladder

As an emerging artist, it can be a challenge to know how to begin selling your artworks. A simple economic concept that can really help you to organise your sales and build a reliable customer base is the ‘product ladder’. This simply means offering a range of items for sale at different price points. The idea may seem obvious, but it can be really helpful to implement when you are setting up a commercial exhibition, designing an online shop, or posting on social media.

Here are some easy-to-follow steps to start drafting a product ladder that, in the long run, can increase your pool of customers and increase customer trust. Importantly, it can really boost your confidence as a creative, and you may find that the structure of a product ladder gives you greater freedom and insight into planning your next project.

Price categories

Firstly, think about the artworks you are currently producing, and try to sort them into distinct categories according to their cost. Pricing your items is a thorny issue in and of itself. One approach is to establish an hourly rate (check out the Artists Union England's rates of pay for inspiration), keeping track of the hours of labour an artwork took to create and the cost of materials used. Another is to benchmark your work against that of artists doing the same sort of work as you do. Finally, there is the more fluid element of 'perception': some work which may have taken less time and effort to create, can look more... pricey. You need to build all these elements into your price mix. This is a highly subjective activity, there is no such thing as an objective price list in the art world, so you may find it useful to share you thoughts with a fellow artist to sense-check your prices.

Your market

Now think about your work and who might be your target customers. Are you aiming at anime-obsessed tweenies? Or wine-tasting young professionals needing to decorate their apartment? Or pensioners who adore crochet art? The work you create will appeal to different types of customers and this will have a bearing on your pricing. Older, more established customers will be able to afford more than students, so if your target market is in the latter group, you will want to price it affordably. Knowledge of your customers will also help you decide which digital platform(s) you want to use to display your products: Ticktock, Etsy, Facebook, Insta, Artsy, etc. We might come back to this topic on a future post.

The content that you create and that you might already be displaying on social media platforms, on your website, or for exhibitions, presents opportunities for you to showcase your brand and tell your story as an artist. Make sure this content can be seen and easily accessed by the customers you are attempting attract. Think about how you can use story-telling and brand equity (the value and distinctiveness of your particular brand) to your advantage. Also, think about where your customers are: do they use social media? Do they read certain type of magazine or websites etc. This will give you insights on where to post your work.

Your product ladder

Below we have identified some rungs of what a product ladder could look like, to get you started. Bear in mind that every artist will have their own unique ladder based on their practice and how known they are...

1st Rung: Entry Level (£10s – £100s)

Your first rung of products should be affordable, less complex, smaller in size, and relatively easy to make. They could comprise of series of prints so that you can offer multiple customers work from the same series, or copies of your original, more expensive, artworks. When customers begin to buy your work, they are unlikely to immediately go for a costly, large piece, so having entry level products can be a good way of establishing a relationship between you and the buyer. As more trust is gained, particular customers who love your work will eventually progress to the next step of your price ladder.

2nd Rung: Mid-Level (£100s – low £1,000s)

The Second rung of your product ladder should comprise of larger, more complex artworks than the first. Instead of being multiples, these products are more elaborate and unique.

If your first rung products are A4 etchings, for example, your second rung products could be original drawings or paintings of the same size.

3rd Rung: Premium (£1,000s and beyond)

At the top of the ladder you should place your biggest, most time-consuming artworks. These might be the works you are most proud of, along with the works which took you the longest to create and have more depth and complexity. Even if you aren’t immediately selling any of these premium artworks, make sure they are seen by your customers, so that they have knowledge of your full range. The point is that if you keep customers in the know about what products are available higher up your product ladder, you will create an aspiration, and perhaps some of your existing customers who build trust in you and your work, will start to climb up the ladder to ultimately purchase more expensive items.

Once you've drafted your product ladder, the next stage is focus on creating awareness for your work. For instance, you could think about creating free content about the process of making each piece, it’s exciting for followers to catch enticing glimpses and behind-the-scenes posts about your work. But this is another topic altogether. How to market your work, will be the subject of a future blog post!

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