Sally Perry, who with co-founder Janine Collins launched GoFigurative.com in 2008, talks to eSellerMedia about social media, the need to find a niche and why you should steer clear of cruise liners.
Where did you get the inspiration for GoFigurative.com?
At art school, I was working alongside a vast number of talented but very alienated artists. They wanted to showcase and sell their work but had no idea how to get the ball rolling.
This is when my business partner Janine and I realised the need to provide a platform for these extremely talented individuals to be able to get a foot in the door in such a closed industry.
With online sites having such low barriers to entry, this meant that anyone could take advantage and promote their work.
How did you turn it into a reality?
We bought the web domain for Go Figurative in November 2008, right at the time when the credit crunch happened. This meant that we really had to use our creativity to make the idea work. We spent the first year building the platform to make it really appealing to artists and potential new clients.
We took full advantage of social media and found a number of our clients via Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. The rest was all done through talent spotting at galleries and word of mouth. After three full years of business, we now host almost 1,000 artists on the site.
Did you have an help in setting it up?
The British Library’s Business & IP Centre was hugely helpful in providing pre-business set up research. We took full advantage of using the extensive resources available to help us plan how we needed to structure the business and how to target our audience effectively.
Through the centre, we were also involved in and attended numerous networking sessions and were invited to a number of events that were crucial to the successful outcome we’ve had. We met some great people, and through them, our horizons have been massively broadened.
When we were selected by the British Library as one of their success stories, it gave us a huge confidence boost. It’s also really helpful to be able to show potential clients that we have been recognised for achieving something really great.
What’s good about being an eCommerce business?
The beauty of ecommerce is that the barrier to entry is extremely low and there are no geographical boundaries.
We found that the primary reason for people accessing the internet is to carry out research. From this, we knew that if we provided a website that solved a problem for a buyer, the level of difficulty in getting off the ground would hugely decrease.
If we could provide our audience with an answer to their questions, chances are they might proceed to buy from us. We found a great web team in Norwich, Neon Tribe, to set up the site to specifically cater to our audience and kept a clear vision of where we wanted to go.
As a result, we now have artists on the site from across the globe – the UK, the US, South Africa, France and Holland to name just a few. With start-up costs being relatively low, we would say that the level of difficulty in starting was never a huge issue for us.
Were there any big stumbling blocks?
Fortunately, there haven’t really been any! We accounted for the fact that the site could become a victim of spamming or misuse, especially being a free platform to join, but to date this hasn’t happened.
When did you start to feel like you were really taking off?
There are a couple of key things that really made us realise that we were doing a good job. Firstly, we attracted a large investor. This was a huge boost psychologically, and having the name behind us really helped to grow our brand exposure. Winning a number of big corporate clients was also an indication that we were growing successfully.
What would say to plucky start-ups?
Remain focused. You need to be consistent and clear with your business idea. You need to know what your customer proposition is, what your product is and who you are targeting. It’s important to realise that you can’t appeal to everyone. Find your niche and stick to it.
This is particularly true in the art world. People buying art will know what they’re looking for – if you’re too broad and try to cater to the masses, chances are you’ll miss out on the people actually looking for you.
Always look for opportunities too. Media partners are a great way of building brand exposure. We have worked alongside The Independent Newspaper, for example; it’s all about looking at how you can work with others to gain mutual benefits.
What platform is the site based on?
We used Drupal content management system to build the site. This allows us to update content as frequently as we like, as well as enabling the artists to update their own pages freely. It is crucial to keep up to date, and Drupal enables this to happen as readily as we like.
What are the next steps for you?
Being an ecommerce business, they key thing to growth is our website. We are always looking for new ways to make it more visible and accessible to new clients. On top of this, we are moving to new premises in Old Street, London. This again is a real testament to our success so far.
If you could have done anything differently, what would it be?
We recently invested a large amount of time and money into running an exhibition on a cruise liner. This is one thing we would never do again due to the costs and risk involved. It’s all about measured risks though. The key question to ask is ‘can I afford to lose this cost?’. If the answer is yes, and the success rate looks high, go for it. Never do anything though that you can’t recover from, it’s not worth it.