Q: I am a semifamous portrait painter, and I've developed a new printer that uses oil paint instead of ink. I can use any scanned image that, once embellished further, is indistinguishable from a "real" oil painting. The problem: I don't have a clue about how to use the Internet to sell such high-end pieces. Can you help?

A: Selling luxury items over the Internet calls for a very focused approach. The first thing to keep in mind is that it's not about price; it's about creating value and reducing the customer's perception of risk. Here are some ways you can do exactly that:

1. Find your market. Before you do anything else, you have to define your market. Who would buy these paintings? Will they be given as family gifts, for instance, or as corporate recognition awards? The difference is crucial, since marketing to grandmothers is a very different thing from marketing to corporate types. This is too important to just guess at, so you'll have to do some solid market research.

A quick search using Wordtrackershows that fewer than 400 people search for the term "oil paintings" in the major search engines every month. You can't rely on search engine traffic based on these sorts of numbers.

If people aren't searching the Internet for you, you'll have to go out and find them. And obviously, the more you know about your target audience, the easier this will be. So you need to figure out where you fit in the market. Hundreds of artists offer paintings reproduced from photos (either mechanically or by hand), so you have to differentiate yourself. What makes you--and your paintings--different from your competitors?

2. Build trust. To market high-end items on the Web, you have to establish your credibility and address possible buying objections upfront: Are they worried about what will happen if they don't like the painting? Offer a money-back guarantee. Are they concerned about their ability to judge the value of a painting over the Web? Provide a simple explanation of your style or the history of your portraits. Are they worried about the painting being damaged during delivery? Mention that the insurance provided by your courier will cover the cost of a new painting. You get the idea.

You mention that you're "semifamous." You'll want to capitalize on this, so grab all your media clips and testimonials from previous customers and sprinkle them liberally throughout your site. If you don't have testimonials, ask for them. This isn't the time to be shy. Have you done work for any well-known clients? Ask for a plug!

3. Involve the customer. With such a personal product, it's a good idea to let your visitors get to know you and your art. Write your sales copy in the first person, include a photo of yourself and perhaps even show pictures of satisfied customers. Also, make sure you include lots of information about the paintings and the process. While you'll need lots of images to showcase your work, be sure to take the time to optimize them for the Web. Keep their file sizes down so that pages load quickly.

4. Leverage referrals. Here's another technique you should use for high-end items: Always, always, always follow up with existing clients! Are they happy with the work you did for them? Is there anything else they need? Do they know anyone else who might benefit from your service? E-mail has made following up with your existing clients extremely easy and cost-effective, so there's no excuse for not taking advantage of this source of easy extra income. And don't be afraid to ask for referrals. If you've done a good job for someone, they'll likely be more than happy to refer their friends and business associates to you.

5. Sell quality with quality. Selling any kind of luxury item--especially such a visual one--demands a professionally designed Web site. You may be a wonderful painter, but unless you're also a talented Web designer, you shouldn't do it yourself. Find a designer who has experience with high-end sites, and work together to develop a home page that sets the right tone.

Remember, though, every change you make to your site and marketing approach should ultimately create value in your offer and/or reduce the perception of risk. Whether you sell a $10,000 product or a $1.25 product, this is how you'll close more sales!

For more on starting a luxury business, see "Sharing the Wealth"from May 2003 Entrepreneur.

Corey Rudl, president and founder of the Internet Marketing Center, is the author of the best-selling courseInsider Secrets to Marketing Your Business on the Internet. An internationally sought-after Internet business consultant and speaker, Corey focuses his energy on the research and development of practical, cost-effective Internet marketing strategies and software for the small and homebased business owner.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.