1. Expose yourself (your work that is) keep it before the public in any venue you can find--restaurants, libraries, banks, gift shops, doctors' offices, book stores--anywhere there is shelter, some security, and a decent amount of traffic.
2. Beware of local art galleries. In a tiny art market, galleries come and go as fast as the weather. Most are opened by those with more dreams than business savvy and quickly fold once the economic realities of the minuscule art market make themselves felt. Those that don't are usually owned by other artists who are more interested in selling their OWN work than yours. And if you DO display in a local gallery, especially a NEW one, watch them like a HAWK!
3. Work and sell out of your own home. The IRS is quite generous with tax allowances if you can document them adequately. It keeps the overhead down. Keep in mind that your home must be easily accessible and the space professionally organized. An upstairs bedroom does not meet this requirement.
4. Advertise very carefully. A business card is a must. A brochure is nice. An outdoor sign is a good investment if it's artistically done, well-placed, and easily readable by passing motorists. Study other signs as you pass them on the highway to decide how big and how much to put on yours. Keep it near your place of business to direct visitors to your door.
5. Know the art tastes of your community. Forget abstracts. It takes an elite, art-educated clientele few small communities have to appreciate such work. Stick with landscapes, pets, cars, or portraits (or better yet, all of the above).
6. Distinguish yourself from the local amateurs. Go to workshops, read books, take classes, anything to be the BEST artist in your community.
7. Keep your prices low. Price your time at twice what you could make working anywhere else in your community and you'll be pretty safe. Then keep the amount of time you tie up in individual pieces to a reasonable level. Learn to work quickly--do it right the FIRST time. Take any shortcut that saves time and doesn't sacrifice quality.
8. Paint local color. It is absolutely necessary that a buyer establish an emotional tie with any work he or she proposes to purchase. Local landmarks may seem boring, but if you search for unique and creative approaches to that school house you've painted ten times already, you can alleviate this. Best sellers--churches, bridges, schools, courthouses, old homes, historic landmarks, monuments, gazebos, parks, picturesque places of business, no longer standing structures, even residential street scenes.
9. Donate old work to charity. Make sure you get a receipt for tax purposes. I've donated a half-dozen or so pieces to our church. Organizations are constantly looking for work to raffle off.
10. If you can take the heat, boredom, and hard work, do art shows, either indoors or outdoors, but choose your shows carefully, the burnout rate for this sort of thing is VERY high and often there is some financial risk given the high entry fees for some of the better shows. Don't be discouraged if you don't break sales records at a show, it's the exposure that counts. I never know how good SOME shows are until months later when the exposure begins to pay off.
11. Learn html. Put up a web page. It may well be your ticket OUT of your small community.
12. Keep the size of your work reasonable for your subject matter. Paint pets about life-size (except for a horse, of course). Landscapes can be the largest. Even a couch painting though should seldom be more than four feet in length. Vertical format landscapes are often quite easily hung in many homes and are usually quite eye-catching because of their verticality. I seldom paint larger than 3'x3'.
13. Murals (either indoors or outdoors) are becoming popular, even in small markets.
14. Eat up local free publicity. It's far better than any you can buy.
15. Guard your business, personal, and artistic integrity at all times, it's your most valuable commodity. In small towns, people talk. Word of mouth is great, just make sure it's all positive.
16. Get involved in local community service work. You'll meet people with money. People with money buy artwork.
17. Give lessons...even children's classes...it's a nice little sideline.
18. If your community has no art association, START one. As a pro amongst amateurs, you'll be a big cheese. Make the most of it.
19. Learn photography. Then learn to USE photography CORRECTLY. It can save a tremendous amount of time and costly errors. The artist who refuses to use this valuable modern tool, both before and after the work is created, is working with one hand tied behind his back.
20. Don't be afraid to venture OUT of your local community but do so advisedly. It's a big, mean, nasty art world out there and there is always those in the art market especially waiting to devour the naive country artist visiting the big city for the first time.