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.