Selling to Tourists: Louise’s Workshop

Let’s create a hypothetical watercolor artist by the name of Louise and place her in a particular locale—let’s say the art tourist town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California—and see how she might go about selling to tourists.

Step 1. Brainstorm tourist-oriented experiences and products

Louise finds herself surrounded by visual artists, all vying for the same tourist dollars, and more than one hundred galleries in a square mile radius. Although she is represented in a local gallery, her intermittent sales there do not produce enough income. So she makes up her mind to sell more directly to tourists.

Because her studio is blessedly large and airy, she decides that she will offer watercolor workshops out of her studio. She doesn’t want to turn her life over to this activity—she is still first and foremost a working artist—but by the same token she wants to give this new enterprise some serious energy and some serious weight. She decides that she will try to run one or two workshops a month, recognizing that she can’t really tell if that will prove too taxing or distracting until she gives it an actual try.

Step 2. Create a plan

Louise decides that she will choose to do her workshop on a day of the week when many of the galleries are closed. She opts for a short workshop and makes the decision to run it in the morning, since by the afternoon tourists are inclined to head for the beach or other outdoors places. She decides that she will keep the workshop short—just two hours, from 10 am – noon. This will give tourists a chance to have breakfast and won’t interfere with their lunch plans.

She then makes a decision between focusing on subject matter—teaching tourists how to capture the iconic Monterey cypress—or on process—giving them a chance to “play” with watercolor. She opts for the latter, calculating that focusing on one tree is too narrow and might not attract much interest, whereas keeping it light might be exactly what tourists want. She tries out many titles for her workshop in her mind—“Introduction to Watercolor,” “Play with Watercolors,” etc.—and settles on “Carmel Colors: The Watercolor Experience.”

She continues her planning, deciding on when she will run her first workshop (three months hence, she decides, to give herself enough time to market and promote it), what she will charge ($395, she decides, which will include as a takeaway a miniature watercolor of hers, one much smaller than her gallery watercolors so that she is not competing with her own gallery), how she will use the two hours (moving quickly, she decides, from demonstration to participants having a hands’-on experience), etc. She calculates that if she can possibly attract 10 participants to each workshop and if she runs two successful workshops a month, that would amount to a gross of more than $90,000 annually, which would make a huge difference in her life.

  1. Promote, market and advertise

Louise knows that she will need to try many things in order to attract customers to her workshop. First and foremost, she will need a website dedicated to this workshop. She recognizes that her main method of promoting and marketing her workshop will be through the Internet and so she quickly creates a clean, crisp website for her workshop, one that makes use of search engine optimization principles. She uses the basic tools of marketing and offers a discount for signing up early, a discount if two people sign up together, a gift certificate option, etc.

She makes it clear that no previous experience or artistic skills are required. She likewise makes it clear that she will supply everything that might be needed. She touts her credentials—who collects her, what shows she’s been in, which galleries represent her—and creates an elegant slideshow of representative watercolors, underlining the fact that every participant will come away with an “original Louise” whose retail value she underlines. Having quickly tackled the construction of her website (which, fortunately, she is able to do herself), she begins thinking about and looking for other marketing and promoting opportunities.

Can she get herself announced on the main chamber of commerce website? Will her gallery promote her workshops or will the owner there see her as competing with him? Where in town can she drop flyers or put up flyers? Who in town might want to partner with her: might some hotel or business promote her workshops for a fee? Are there ways she can “go public” to promote her workshops, say by giving a public demonstration indoors or outdoors? To what extent can she point prospective participants her way by use of signage: what sorts of signs are permitted on her house and in the private and public spaces near her studio? Could she, for instance, get the café on the corner to put a sign pointing prospective participants in her direction? What might she offer them in exchange for that signage?

Louise makes one decision after another—for instance, that she is completely open to accepting commissions and that she will promote her willingness to do commissions; she makes one effort after another, for example picking a single social media platform to focus on and building a presence there; she tests out her marketing and promoting language on friends to see what language works the best and creates the most interest; she reaches out to local media in an effort to be interviewed and written about; and she investigates and gives some thought to paid advertising.

Is Louise guaranteed success? No. But is there a reasonable likelihood that her efforts will pay off? Yes, indeed! Given the thousands of tourists who regularly flock to her locale, given their interest in art, given the relatively small number of participants she needs in order to make these workshops profitable, and given the strong effort she is making, there is no reason to suppose that she will not succeed over time. Maybe not every workshop will fill up; but it is altogether likely that many will; and these workshops may make the literal difference between Louise being able to live as an artist or having to find some time-consuming, meaningless day job to supplement her art sales.

Selling to tourists may never become the central thing that you do. But I hope that I’ve made it clear why you might want to expand in this direction and how making an effort to sell to tourists (and promoting the creative tourism model) might make a significant difference in your life. Most artists need to supplement the income they receive from their art sales—this is one very reasonable supplementary source of income. Maybe this will work beautifully for you!

Exercise 1: Do you think that you might want to make the effort to sell to tourists? What do you see as the pros and the cons?

Exercise 2: If you do want to make that effort, what will do? Are you ready to identify the product or service you might sell and create a plan for selling it?




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