Photo by Bob Jagendorf
Tattoo artists are just that: artists. And just like every other artist, we don't want to be broke; being a "starving artist" is seriously overrated. So if you're looking to make some more cash and get new clientele walking through the door, here are 4 things you can do to drive business into the studio:
1. Have a website.
It doesn't matter how great your tattoos are if nobody ever sees them. You can get a long way by setting up a Facebook business page, an Instagram account, and a Twitter, but no matter how much you tweak these sites, your page will always look the same as the others. Your shop website is your chance to show off your aesthetic; because you get to do a lot of the writing, it also lets you show off your personality. Believe it or not, if there are two artists working at the same level, clients are probably going to pick the one they feel more comfortable with - even if they cost a few bucks more. Plus, a site gives you unlimited space to show off your portfolio, pictures of your shop and galleries of your work, which also helps your customers feel comfortable before they've even walked through the door.
You don't have to be a web genie to make your shop website, and you don't need to be the world's best graphic designer; if you're really uncomfortable with technology, Squarespace makes hosting an absolutely beautiful website insanely easy. If you have images available to work with, it takes maybe 20 minutes to have your site up and running. The only thing I'd say is don't cheap out on your pictures! Sure, you know a thing or two about cameras, and maybe your father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate took a photography class once, but it is absolutely worth it to have your images taken and edited by a professional photographer. If you're worried about cost, you can always see if there's a photographer willing to barter tattoo services for their work - just make sure you've seen their portfolio and signed a contract before you start giving away tattoos.
2. Get some practice in.
You should be practicing your artwork constantly; it's the first thing in the morning, the last thing at night, and the doodles on the Starbucks receipt that make your barista smile. If you really love creating and you're on a roll, it's hard to stop - but that doesn't mean you can't get better.
One of the best things I ever did was a local painting workshop on Japanese style. I'm not big on Japanese-style tattoos (I prefer neo-traditional, myself), but learning a new style showed me how much I didn't know about color choices or that style. It can be a great experience and you'll meet plenty of local people, so bring business cards. Don't just toss them at people, but if you've been talking to someone for a while, it's a great way to build a connection while solidifying that you are a tattoo artist. Which reminds me...
3. Get business cards. Or at the very least stickers.
Seriously. I hear all the time that business cards are dead, but nothing could be further from the truth, especially when it comes to tattoo artists. Even if someone can remember your shop, there's no guarantee that they're going to remember your name. In fact, they're almost guaranteed to forget. Yes, even your "very unique" nickname will probably get forgotten. There are two ways around this:
- Carry business cards/have business cards at your station so that people can just glance in their wallet to remember.
- Get business card-style stickers that have your shop info on them and write your name on the back in Sharpie.
Stickers can be a great option, but they have an added problem: people always want to stick them to things. That means that if you did print business card-style stickers, your information would probably get stuck all over town, too. Sounds like free advertising, and it usually is! It's usually great! ...except that the person you gave it to no longer has your information. The other downside is that you have no control over where that sticker ends up, and having personally gotten calls from a church that found my stickers under their pews, I can tell you that it can hurt you as much as help you. So stickers are an option, but I've had better luck with plain old business cards.
4. Partner up with a cause.
Everyone has a cause they care about - it might be your local humane society, a children's hospital that needs funding or helping fund research for breast cancer. These are huge causes that need a lot of donations, and, believe it or not, you're in a great position to help. Tattoo shops partner up with their local community to benefit a huge number of charities every year and it does endless good for you to join the movement; this is the one case where kindness really is its own reward.
The biggest benefits of hosting a charity event are that it brings you into the community, it helps remove the stigma of "tough, delinquent" tattoo culture, it brings a lot of (positive!) awareness to your studio, and it can raise a metric ton of money for a cause that you really do support. If you need some inspiration, here are a few of the studios that have really made a difference in their community:
- Wild Bill's Tattoo in Roseville, CA has raised over $17,000 for the UC Davis Children's Hospital, helping to pay for pediatric research and treatment of children in the community.
- The Shop partnered with Shöne Foto in Fowlerville, MI to raise money for The Torch, a non-profit food truck that delivers food free-of-charge to those in need.
- Freaks and Geeks Tattoo Sideshow in Asheville, NC holds an annual fundraiser called Paws for a Cause that benefits the Asheville Humane Society.
Like I said, these are things you should want to do; if you aren't willing to volunteer your time and get excited about the money raised (that you'd be summarily giving away), you'd probably want to steer clear of hosting an event, but it gives you a great opportunity to use your status as a tattoo artist for positive change. It's guaranteed to raise your visibility and the visibility of your cause.
Ultimately, none of these things matter if your art is really terrible or your shop is a festering health hazard, but these things can help you increase your foot traffic if you've hit a plateau. Keep in mind that no solution is going to give you overnight results: it takes time to build your reputation. Just know that the results are going to be worth it.
Have a better idea for struggling shops? Let us know if you've had success improving your business and what worked for you!