Monday, August 13, 2012

No Seriously, Take Yourself Seriously.

As I and a lot of other local artists prepare for autumn’s round of various neighborhood Open Studios, I think this topic is worth a post.  I’m sure we can all relate to visitors who treat weekend art events as bargain bin sales, no matter how much effort you put into presenting your work in a professional, visually appealing manner.  Just like those scams where someone contacts you to purchase one of your most expensive pieces, these folks are banking on the assumption that you are a starving artist desperate to part with your work for a song, just for the sake of unloading as much inventory as you can by Sunday. 

If you’re like me discussing money makes you uncomfortable.   Instead of recalling all the hours of labor and costly materials I have invested, I tend to consider how this poor person is about to part with a portion of his or her hard-earned income.  This is why most artists would gladly have their work in a gallery where someone else can handle all the business transactions.

Does this discomfort only happen to artists?  No.  I find it happens to the self-employed in all fields of work.  In fact this example is not an artist, but a friend who does consulting on a freelance basis.  He was recently bemoaning the fact that his clients take their sweet time paying their invoices.  We discussed the most obvious reason: our economy sucks and most of us are just scraping by.  However as we continued the conversation another reason became clear. My friend will do the work and then not bill them until days, if not weeks, later. 

I explained to him that by delaying the bill, he is diluting the appreciation for the work he does.  He is essentially communicating: Hey, this was no big deal to me, so it shouldn’t be a big deal to you either. This friend does amazing work.  He really knows his stuff, and as a result, he has saved his clients’ butts time and again.  But by not invoicing in a timely manner, he is discounting the skilled labor, the expertise and the solution-finding wisdom he brings to a job.

So let’s go back to you standing there at the art show.  It’s been a long weekend with very little return.  Circles are creeping in and surrounding your eyes.  Your smile and shoulders are slumping.  Guess what, the bargain hunter has detected all of this and here he comes.  Before you know it, you’ve agreed to sell him three paintings for a little over the price of one.  As he gleefully skips away laden with some of your finest work, you start to feel queasy. 

How do we buffer ourselves against these weak moments?

Be Passionate, Even When You Aren’t
Let’s face it.  Art events are exhausting.  One must talk to countless  people, answer ridiculous questions, listen to asinine observations about the artwork, all for hours-if not days-on end.  Due to this, a show with little payback can be especially disheartening.  But do not grow faint hearted!  Why?  Because you believe in who you are and what you do.  You know your brand: why you are unique and what you have to offer that no one else does.  So as the vultures begin circling, you can, with great pep and confidence, explain your process, the materials you use, the benefits of your product, and why it is priced the way it is. 

Know Your Pricing
It is shocking how few artists keep track of their investment of time/money/energy when it comes to owning and operating a business.  And by the way, if you are creating and selling a product, you own and operate a business. 

Keep records of material costs, and how long it took you to create something.  Just like any other job, you deserve to get reimbursed for your costs, and compensated for the work you do.  If you are knowledgeable about your investment, your voice will not waver as you’re discussing price with potential buyers.

Offer Customer-Friendly Solutions
There’s a big difference between someone who is treating your display like a miniature Filene’s Basement and someone who is genuinely interested in your work but simply can’t afford it.  Be sure to offer inventory that covers a wide price range.  That way, while a customer may be unemployed at the moment, she can still afford that print, or that t-shirt.  Eventually when she has a job, she may be back for that big piece she fell for, especially since you provided a way to start collecting your art without ruining her budget.

Remember, It’s About Relationship
Your goal in any interaction is to instill confidence in your brand.  You want people to initially feel comfortable approaching you and then as they speak with you, excited about what you do.  That’s how you begin to forge relationships.  If someone approaches you with an interest in your work, and would like to purchase more than one piece, offer them the added incentive of a discount.  It has been my finding that customers who got a break on their first purchase always come back for more.  The objective is to be appreciative and engaging, not foolishly stand by hard and fast “rules”.

Every Moment is An Opportunity
To invite people to get to know your brand.  To entice people with your product.  To encourage connection and collaboration.  Having a slow weekend?  Make the most of it in another way!  Set a goal of meeting a certain number of people and getting them to give you their contact information (more people to reach out to for the next event!).  Plan to distribute a certain number of business cards.  Don’t allow the situation to get you down and divert you from the path you are on: to take your business seriously, and have others take you seriously as well.

When the bargain hunters come around pull those shoulders back, smile, and be prepared to skillfully share why your work is worth every penny.  If they’re still stuck on getting a deal, offer them a post card for $1.

Here are a couple of helpful resources:
Learning Charisma
Set Pricing That Benefits Everyone

Thanks to Kate Lewis Design for putting it so eloquently!