What is your definition of success as an artist?
Is it express yourself? Have a creative outlet? Create social change? Make a living doing what you love?
If your goal is to make a living doing what you love, D’lynne Plummer, a consultant with the Arts & Business Council of Greater Boston, has some advice for you. Having coached artists for more than a decade, D'lynne focuses on marketing and business skills to help artists achieve their goals.
But here’s the hard truth: all the talent and marketing skills in the world won’t deliver financial success if you can’t close the sale.
"I know this not from my experience as a marketer and a coach, but as an art buyer."
D'lynne shares her top three tips for closing art deals in 2018, from her experience as both a coach and a client.
Be in it to win it (anticipate selling works and have backups ... especially for long shows)
I’m not accustomed to buying artwork at the gym. It’s strange enough to find myself actually at the gym, never mind browsing artwork while I’m there. However, a few years ago my athletic club decided to turn its lobby into a temporary gallery, showcasing and selling work by local artists and there I found myself — about to buy artwork in my gym clothes.
I fell in love with a photograph that almost didn’t make it home with me because the artist didn’t have another work to put up in its place.
The photographer asked if I could wait three more months (when the show was scheduled to come down) before claiming it. Collecting purchases at the end of a month-long gallery exhibition is one thing, but waiting three months seemed like an unnecessary downer.
Fortunately, we negotiated through this impasse, but it became clear to me that the artist hadn’t actually anticipated selling her work (or expected it all to be collected at the end of the show!
Go into every opportunity assuming your work will sell, so you’re prepared for a successful outcome. And always have inventory at the ready.
Your best new client for your artwork is an old client
My favorite piece of art hangs in my living room above my mantel, where I admire it multiple times a day.
Hundreds, maybe thousands, of times over the years I have said to myself, “I wish I had more work by this artist.”
Strangely, I have never received a single email, postcard or notification about upcoming shows from this artist. I am completely in the dark about what she is currently making. While it’s possible that she assumes I’m on her mailing list, the fact that I already own one of her large works makes me an easy target for a repeat purchase.
If this artist were to send me some images of current works for sale, I would almost definitely purchase one, or maybe start a conversation about a commission.
Keeping a list of your past clients (separate from your entire mailing list) and sending out direct emails, letters, or maybe even giving them a phone call, will help close an easy sale and turn them into lifelong collectors. These people already love you and your artwork, the hard part is over. Follow up with small gestures to let them get the first peek at your new work.
A long-term customer is of more value than a single-deal customer, and it’s a lot less expensive to re-engage a current customer than to acquire a new one. Make your current collectors your top priority.
Make house calls
A few years ago, my husband and I bought an awesome piece of abstract art at an annual art fair in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park. Well, technically, we didn’t buy it at the park, we bought it in our house, a mile away.
Making a big decision about a large work of art at a crowded fair in the middle of an Atlanta summer is … challenging. Which is why the artist offered to bring his van full of work to our home, at the end of the weekend, before he left town. This way, we were able to see the work in the exact spot we intended to hang it, in the comfort of our home, over a glass a wine (ok, two).
He carried several large works into the house so we could compare various options. We got to know him better, shared some laughs, and even got his advice on hanging and lighting.
The odds he’d close the sale were improving by the second. He left an hour later with a check in his pocket.
When possible, take your work to the potential buyer (especially for large or high-priced works). The extra effort will likely be rewarded and, either way, you’ll be cultivating a long-lasting relationship.
Learning to anticipate the needs of your clients in scenarios like these will help you become a stronger business person in 2018 and maybe even a more prosperous one!