Monday, December 13, 2010

I'll Be There

I recently devoted half of a Saturday to delivering two paintings to new clients of mine.  I had first met them at a fall weekend art event when they bought a large mixed media work from me, the largest in this year’s inventory. After I sent them a note thanking them for the purchase (using stationery I order with my artwork on it-go to Grandma Was Right for more on this topic) the wife emailed to ask how they could buy smaller works as holiday gifts.  I directed them to my etsy shop, they bought stuff, and so here I was, driving their purchases to their home in a nearby town. 

When they initially bought the two smaller works, I emailed to tell them both were in an exhibition, could I possibly mark them as sold and ship them later?  They agreed, but instead invited me to come to their home, asking if I could bring additional works with a specific theme so they might get more holiday gifts.  I was pleased to avoid the hassle of shipping and handling (artwork getting to a destination all in one piece is always a gamble) and I like as often as possible to have a personal connection with my clients, so we arranged a date for delivery.

From that point forward I got to painting, mostly focusing on their request, but only when inspiration moved me in that direction.  Over half of my inventory had sold this fall and since then I’d been too busy to commit adequate time to art.  For any of you who are selling a product, handcrafted or otherwise, always make sure you have more than a decent selection.  While my etsy shop still had nice items for sale, anyone viewing it would get the first unwanted impression that these items were the scraps, the dregs of my inventory.  I can’t tell you how often I’ve experienced this as a potential customer when touring an art festival or visiting a shop.  One doesn’t get excited if there’s nothing to root through, no treasures to be discovered.  So by the time I went to their home, I had created four new paintings (I’ve done more since), each of them loaded up on etsy as soon as they were dry.

In preparation for the Saturday delivery, I wrapped not only their purchases, but each potential purchase in colorful tissue. Then I placed them in a bright yellow bag.  I use pop colors for all of my packaging, along with a2n2 labels, to further the impact of my Retro Girls brand.  I wanted the clients’ first impression to be that these items were already theirs.  I also rolled up bubble wrap for them since I knew their purchases would be shipped over to relatives in Europe. 

It was all about presentation.  I arrived on time and laid out the artwork on their blessedly long dining room table, first showing them the two paintings they’d already bought then carefully unfurling each potential additional purchase.  I offered to wrap everything for shipping, having brought, in addition to the bubble wrap, tape and scissors.  And I gave them a discount on all purchases for that day.  You might think this was a bit over the top, but they bought three more paintings.  That makes six paintings of mine for one household.

If small businesses have any real hope of competing with the big chain stores and the big websites, and believe me artists-like it or not-you are a small business, you must learn to be reliable, dependable, consistent, and straightforward.  In other words you have to be professional and provide the best customer service possible.  Depending on folks to do the right thing and support local business is not going to make your career happen.  People don’t have the time and patience to do the right thing in this crazy busy world.  They want life’s tasks, including shopping for gifts, to be as simple and quick as possible.

I’ll never forget a neighborhood pet supplies shop from a handful of years ago.  When it first opened we were thrilled to have somewhere local to buy our dog’s food, toys, etc. Unfortunately the place never maintained its posted hours, often being inexplicably closed when it was supposed to be open.  One morning my husband went over to buy dog food so our pet could have a late breakfast.  He told me that he and four other people waited at the front door for 15-30 minutes before each gave up and reluctantly left to take their business elsewhere, including my husband.  That’s five disappointed customers, and God knows how many more until someone arrived to open the store.  Naturally the place went out of business quickly.  A new, far more professionally run, pet supplies shop opened up the street, and a clothing store took over the empty space.  Luckily the owners of this store take managing a business very seriously, and as a result they’ve made quite the name for themselves. 

It’s very simple, folks: Be There.  Think about what this phrase means to your small business.  Be There.  Have an online store?  Have an actual shop?  Keep it stocked and bring fresh inventory in regularly.  Be sure to package purchases in a visually appealing, secure manner that further enhances your brand while keeping the product safe.  Ship things to customers quickly to ensure they receive their order as soon as possible after the purchase date (as I write this, I have been waiting for over two weeks for orders to arrive from a few etsy shops-this is unacceptable).  Update and maintain your online presence and marketing regularly.  Respond as immediately and politely as possible to inquiries and requests.  Keep in contact with your clients. Have all the tools you need to run your business smoothly in advance.  Don’t say you can’t afford to.  You have to invest in your business to make it a business. If you don’t have your own space or an online presence, book yourself regularly in public events, and/or get your products in shops. 

I read an interesting article in this month’s GQ magazine, “The Viral Me” by Bartholomew Cooke (December 2010).  Yes, I have a subscription to a men’s magazine because unlike women’s magazines, which spoon out dribble about shallow women and obscenely overpriced fashion, GQ tells me where to go to get the best cocktail or burger, or burger and a cocktail.  But that’s beside the point.

“The Viral Me” was about the Silicon Valley start-ups that are creating the Facebooks-of-The-Future: the new ways in which everyone will be able to slather yet more of themselves onto the Social Layer.  Brian Pokorny has a theory he calls “Friction”.  This is what Cooke writes when it comes to Friction.

“Friction is what you don’t want. Friction is what keeps people from signing up for your site or downloading your app.  Because it’s too expensive, it’s too embarrassing, because it’s too difficult, because it’s difficult at all.” (page 326, December 2010) 

Now take out the words “site” and “app”, and put in your small business, your product.  Like it or not, in order to compete with the big chains, the big websites, heck, even other small businesses, we have to create for the customer the most Friction-Free experience possible. 

For example, at art events artists should always make sure their visual displays are appealing, eye-catching, but most of all, easy to translate: when the viewer sees something they are interested in they should learn within seconds how much the item costs and what methods of payment are accepted.  Online websites like etsy do the visual organizing for you but you still have to make sure the transaction is as instant and pleasant as possible. And in a world of Walmart and Amazon, it doesn’t hurt to add a personal touch.  It is beyond me when I purchase something from an etsy seller and they don’t bother to at least include a quick handwritten “thank you” on the invoice.  Every customer of mine receives a handwritten note thanking them for their purchase.  Returning customers often receive discounts and gifts. 

Yes, I know we are in the thick of the holiday season and it may feel like it’s too late to change your ways before the shopping frenzy is done, but I hope you can take this information and use it in the future-perhaps developing and enhancing your small business can be your New Year’s resolution. 

My goal is to provide my customers with personal care-something they can’t get from a Walmart or Amazon-through an easy transaction at a reasonable price.  As a result I sell and show my artwork on a continual, ongoing basis.  Isn’t that your goal too?  Want to make it happen for you?  Then, Be There.




Live in the New England area?  Come see me on Wednesday, December 15 @ 6pm at the Portsmouth Museum of Art.  I’ll be part of a panel discussion on how to be a professional artist.  The topic is Art and Commercialism.  Portsmouth Museum of
Art One Harbor Place Portsmouth, New Hampshire 03801
http://www.portsmouthmfa.org/ 603-436-0332


Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Role of the Female Artist: Creativity versus Motherhood

In the spring issue of RISD's (Rhode Island School of Design) new XYZ magazine for alumni, professor Jennifer Prewitt-Freilino's article "On Being Whole" really resonated with me.  See if you can google the magazine and find it.  I responded by emailing both XYZ and professor Prewitt-Freilino.  Both contacted me to thank me for my thoughts, and XYZ asked if my letter could be published.  I almost have an entire page of the new fall issue!  Go to page 4 to read it. 
RISD XYZ "Whole Response"

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

While You Were Out...

Yes, I know I promised to be on here more often.  It isn't that I don't have anything to say, it's just I've become recently obsessed.  Most of my free time online is filled with creating treasuries on www.etsy.com.  For those of you who are not familiar with treasuries, well, creating a treasury is like shopping without money-which is the state I find myself in most days in this pitiful economy.  It's like being a curator of a gallery without all the overhead.  If you're a creative person like me, it provides inspiration and at times, humiliation when you discover someone whose talent makes you want to give it all up and jump out the window. 

So for a moment (well, more like an hour or so) pretend like you have all the cash and credit you'll ever need.  Grab a warm cup of something, sit down and enjoy!  You can visit all my treasuries by clicking on this one (you'll see the link to my other ones). And you'll see that I do indeed have a serious treasury addiction!

She Used to be Snow White But Then She Drifted..

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Grandma was right! The Needless Death of the Thank You Note.

Before I begin let me say I realize blogging is a commitment, one that requires attention if not daily, at least weekly.  Fall is always a challenging time for me, but then again, when is my life not crazy?  So I promise to do my best to carve space out of each week to add a retro girl thought or two.

Growing up in the Deep South my siblings and I were expected to adopt the general courtesy synonymous with Southern Hospitality, to the point of taking paid lessons in etiquette-not kidding.  Within a week after opening a gift a thank you note was to be written and mailed off.  This of course was in addition to the "thank you" we had already said to the giver, either in person or over the phone.

I don't know what happened to the Thank You note, I guess it fell alongside written letters in general, though I think it died first.  I love sending and receiving mail.  And though my friends might find it tedious that I write them a little note for each gift and almost every time we get together, I want people to know their effort is appreciated.  In this crazy, busy world, it can be nothing short of a miracle for two people to schedule time to spend with one another.  And Heaven forbid if that time together involves making arrangements!

The same goes with my clients.  I want them to know how much I appreciate them supporting my artistic endeavors. Whenever possible I find out their mailing address so I can send them a Thank You note. I regularly order cards with my artwork on them so when clients receive a note, they are essentially receiving a piece of free artwork, not to mention a visual reminder of what I'm all about.  This can be especially effective if someone purchased your work at an art event or festival.  More than likely they bought several items from several craftspeople and it may be difficult after the fact to remember who was who.

Thank You notes are a kind and easy way to convey your gratitude while endearing yourself to a customer.  As a result of my effort, clients return again and again to add to their collection.  I recently sent a thank you to a couple who purchased a large, mixed media work of mine.  They hadn't given me their contact information, but had written a check for the piece, so I used the address off of the check.  As a result I received an email, thanking me for my note, and asking if they could either purchase three smaller paintings or commission me to create work for holiday gifts for their relatives.  Not only do I have additional sales because of my note, I also have their email address and can now keep them in the loop regarding my upcoming art events.

Please know my writing and sending thank you notes has nothing to do with manipulating my clients or forcing them to feel obligated to me.  One must operate from a center of genuine gratitude in every aspect of life.  What's wrong with thanking people for any gesture, from holding open a door for you to sharing their time, money and energy with you?  Wouldn't this world be a much better place if we all became more aware of each other; acknowledged each other?  Thank you notes shouldn't be an antiquated idea, a thing of the past.  They are needed now more than ever!

I have propped up on my desk a wonderful Japanese post card from a customer I met this summer in New Hampshire.  He and his partner bought two paintings of mine as a gift for a relative.  I sent them a thank you note.  The post card he sent is beautiful and suits my aesthetic perfectly, though he couldn't possibly have known it would.  After telling me how much the relative loves the paintings, he goes on to say "Thanks for your card.  You're great!" 

I can't tell you how much this post card warms my heart.  It's amazing what taking a brief moment to spread a little gratitude can do!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

don't ever start a blog during your craziest month of the year and more importantly, do right by your fellow artists

I knew I shouldn't begin a blog during September, which is historically my most insane month of the year between my art career and work as a small business consultant.  Honestly, I never thought I would blog.  It generally has a bad reputation and I recognize the commitment it demands.  However, I was having lunch with a friend of mine-a fellow RISDoid who majored in fashion, and we were ruminating over the quandary of blogging: to blog or not to blog.  She said she had been resistant to it until a number of people asked her to answer their specific fashion questions.  She realized a blog did not have to be about her personal life-she's a very private person,which is rare in this reality t.v. world-instead she could share her knowledge.  So that's what I hope to do here, share my knowledge.  About art, small business management, life and anything else that comes to mind. 

The topic that encouraged me to start blogging...well, let's just say in the limited amount of free time I have I do occasionally peruse the Internet, and I am surprised by how little there is out there to share guidance for artists.  This summer I created and taught business classes for artists.  Yes, there are many books and I'm sure far more expensive courses providing this information, but I was asked by a local art association to teach, given my experience and my level of success as a professional artist.  I have mostly my father to thank.  Neither one of my parents are remotely creative, but I was born while my father was at Harvard Business School.  I grew up being taught how to handle finances, and manage businesses.  As a result most of my mainstream jobs have involved leadership, and I now juggle a full-time art career, small business consulting work, creative coaching, volunteering and my writing on a daily basis.  I'm not bragging, I only mean to share my credentials to add some weight to anything I may write in the future.

So today I am going to write about doing right by your fellow artists.  This is based on a recent experience of mine.  A handful of months ago I participated in a weekend art event in our area.  My husband and I admired some work by one of the other artists.  I looked at a few pieces, noted her prices, and decided to get in touch with her after the show.  I emailed her shortly after to tell her I'd like to buy a piece or two for my husband for our anniversary.  We set a date and I had my husband meet me outside her studio.  I wanted him to pick out what he wanted.

First thing that happened: she tells me she can't remember how she had priced her items at the weekend event we'd both been in, but now she was in a gallery, therefore her prices had gone up.  And they had gone up, considerably.  I had planned to buy two to three pieces, potentially more as holiday gifts.  We ended up with two pieces that cost over $150 more than they had at the weekend event.  She admitted she was new to an art career (no duh).  We left feeling glad we owned something of hers, but our happiness was overshadowed by the sensation of having been robbed.  Needless to say, we will not be purchasing art from her again.

Artists, here are my general rules about selling art. 

-If someone has seen your work and contacted you after a specific show or event, you give them the prices from that specific show or event.  It is your responsibility to keep track of your prices.  This is quite simple to do.

It was completely irrelevant that she had some of her work in a gallery.  We were not standing in the gallery, we were standing in her studio.  I've been exhibiting in galleries for years.  I even have a gallery rep.  This month I have a commissioned painting in a museum.  Is any of this relevant if someone contacts me directly about a purchase?  Of course not!

-Always, always, ALWAYS do right by your fellow artists. 

At every weekend event I do I let the other artists around me know I am happy to trade.  I have beautiful pieces from other artists by doing so.  And if an artist asks if they can purchase something of mine, I always give them a discount, even if it's a small one.  Why?  Because artists don't generally earn a lot of money.  And usually the ones who are interested in your work are the ones who know you, or at least live in your community. 

Case in point: shortly after that experience with the anniversary gift, I taught the first of my two marketing classes for artists.  I stress in both classes that artists need to support and look out for each other.  At the end of the class one of my students came forward.  She recognized my work and said she'd always wanted to own something of mine.  A few days later she emailed me to buy two paintings.  I emailed her back with a discounted rate and told her I would meet her personally to deliver the work.  When we met she thanked me for the special price.  She said it was unnecessary for me to give her a discount but that she was glad I did, because in this economy every dollar counts. 

You may be thinking, okay, you gave her a discount, which means you lost money.  How does this pay off?  Well, here is how it pays off.  At the end of September I participated in a community art show.  Four different people came to see my work based upon my student's recommendation.  They said they had seen my work in her home, loved it, and she had told them where to find me during this weekend event.  Over half of my inventory sold that weekend.  I earned more money at one show than I generally earn in a month.

You don't have to be an artist to do right by others in your community.  Believe me it will come back to you.  The goal for any professional is to provide clients with a positive experience.  You want them to walk away anxious to tell others about you.  Despite this electronic world we live in, great power still dwells in word of mouth.