So, how’s your online gallery doing these days?

*These days* here refers to few major companies and a myriad of smaller agencies which run and, effectively, OWN the image market today.

The web is over-saturated with images. A portfolio with several thousand images, even several tens of thousands is a mere drop in the ocean on the market where a single agency offers over 60 million images, and an equivalent of your and my entire portfolio of new images each day.

Furthermore, in a climate where big players can afford to pump millions of dollars into marketing and advertisements, a one-(wo)man-show with no means to fund pricey sale campaigns can hardly hope to win a market share substantial enough to keep afloat.

How do you compete then?

And how do you make your own little online gallery work for you and sell your images?

Here are the 5 tried-and-true ways you can and, unsurprisingly, being successful does take more than producing fabulous images.

Build it, then Build Some More

Creating a visually stunning image gallery and waiting for buyers to flock over is nowadays the same as building a tree house in the midst of Australian rainforest and waiting for Bedouins to drop in for tea: Potential buyers are blissfully unaware of what you offer and, what’s more – no one even knows you’re there!

“Build it and they’ll come” no longer holds water even on a silver screen.

Setting up your shop at a nice cyberspace plot has never been easier. Getting someone to come over, to keep visiting and start shopping is a whole other matter.

Once you build your site and set up your gallery, get ready to build some more.

1. Start Blogging

If you want to have visitors and generate interest and leads, adding a blog to your main website – or each of your sites (if you happen to have more tree houses strategically positioned around the rainforest) – is a must.

Gone are the days when one only needed to dress-up their shop window, then sit nicely in the shade and wait for buyers to flood in. The only chance mom-n-pop corner shop has these days is to build their own community of like-minded individuals with shared interest, who will help keep them in business.

So, fire-up your WordPress, get in and start talking to people on the other side. Get to know them, learn about the issues they are trying to solve, show how you do things, share what you know.

Keep your site alive by keeping the blog furnace running.

2. Offer Free Goods and Services

Admit it: you love freebies too! Is there anyone who doesn’t?

Now try to think of all the web sites you visit daily. Which ones are you more likely to remember, bookmark and visit again – those that are only showing what they have to sell, or the ones which are also giving stuff away, free of charge?

A definite no-brainer.

Being an artist with substantial experience, there’s tons of things you could teach – from choosing the best lighting and photo equipment, to working with Photoshop layer effects. What’s easy and a mechanical process for you might be discovery of a whole new universe for your visitors. Don’t send them to a 12-year-old on YouTube who just got his first camera and can’t wait to share his excitement with the Whole Wide World. Keep people on your site by showing your skills.

Sadly, many digital artists who sell their goods online are reluctant to share their knowledge fearing competition. The problem is that such attitude leads nowhere: they lose a potentially huge client-base, while failing to keep competition at bay.

Those who want to learn something will find a way, like you and I did. Isn’t it better they do it through you and on your web site, than to let them go elsewhere?

3. Start Building Subscriber List

Once you have set up a gallery to display your images and manage downloads, the next order of business is to create forms enabling subscriptions to your site.

Subscriber list is vital to your online business – if done correctly, your subscriber list will represent the very core of your audience. Your subscribers are not just passers-by, they are repeat visitors who share your interests and can become loyal contributors and clients.

One thing to keep in mind though: Building a list of subscribers is not a contest to collect as many email addresses as possible, any way possible. The objective is to have a base, the very core of loyal visitors, who want to be updated on the subjects you are covering and want you to contact them from time to time.

There are two very wrong ways of building the list of subscribers:

– The first is hounding people who happen to land on any of your pages with incessant pop-ups and alerts, annoying the hell out of them, virtually forcing them to give you some rarely-opened email address, just so they can read one of your posts in peace. I’m quite certain people who do this collect LOTS of email addresses. Equally, I know the value of such lists is close to zero. Several thousand email addresses where no one opens your messages or, worse, marks them as spam the second time you try to send a newsletter, are far less valuable than ten email addresses from people who wanted to be in touch.

– The second mistake in handling subscriptions is failing to stay in touch. Some web masters who have been told they need to build a list of subscribers have done so without fully understanding the purpose and potential benefits for their business these lists hold. They never write and never try to contact people who subscribed, effectively showing that subscribing to their site never had any benefits for subscriber in the first place.

When someone subscribes to your site – someone who wasn’t held at gunpoint to subscribe – you need to pay attention and plan the ways to keep them engaged.

As with all things, keep the contacts reasonable, professional and sensible.

Carpet-bombing people with Buy Now buttons for every new icon you just drew in Illustrator is not cool. Also, someone commenting on your site, even though she left an email address in the comment form field, is not a subscriber and should not be added to your subscriber list. Unless and until she chooses to add herself to it, by filling your Subscribe form.

4. Promote

Actively promoting your site is another essential ingredient for online success.

Surfing the web will help you unearth dozens of clever ideas people use to promote their own shops – everything from 30-Day-Challenges and YouTube tutorials, to paying for Facebook and Google ads.

One of the most efficient and least obvious marketing tool for small online businesses is creating newsletters and sending them, monthly or more often (depending on the tolerance of your core audience), to your subscribers.

For this, you need to find a reliable marketing software provider and to set some time aside to learn the ropes – once you go through the steps it becomes quite easy, I promise.

There are several reputable marketing software providers you can use free of charge to start sending your newsletters, email updates and latest information you want to share. I’m currently working on a list of recommendations for these and other software to help sell and promote your digital goods online (will post it in the next few days).

5. Connect & Speak Up!

Unless you are a recognized misunderstood genius in your profession, sitting atop the hill and playing Buddha for the rest of the World Wide Web is not going to bring you any success or credit.

Spread out, connect and speak up.

Leaving comments on other people’s blogs and sites is often the most disregarded aspect of connecting with a wider community and potential audience. We all want others to come to our sites and leave comments, but to most it never occurs they should do the same.

Getting genuinely engaged in some topic on someone else’s blog earns you, at the very least, appreciation – just as you appreciate a well thought-out comment on your site, so do the others when you grace them with your presence and make yourself known. Commenting on other people’s blogs also has a potential to lead to link exchanging and some form of recognition, like getting a royal treatment as an expert in the field. This is how the connections and communities are built. If No Man is an Island holds true for life in general, it is a Universal Law for the web.

Forums are other such venue and offering to be a guest blogger free of charge is yet a third valuable way to spread out and reach more eyes and ears. When you volunteer to write a post on someone else’s blog, even if it’s just a teeny-tiny cabin in the vast cyberspace, you get promoted to the hilt.

True, you won’t earn money, but you will earn a brand new audience via the link to your website every web master will be happy to post along with your article.

(To be continued…)