Learn to Sell Art Like the Galleries - Marketing for Artists
Collectors can buy art wherever they want, but many choose to shop exclusively at galleries. When asked why they prefer shopping at art galleries to buying directly from artists, their most common answers are that artists tend to present problems that galleries don't. This does not have to happen, however. Artists with no gallery representation can increase in-studio sales by adopting techniques of the galleries.
The one huge advantage that you have over art dealers and galleries is YOU. You are the number one expert on your art and the most qualified person on the planet to represent and sell it. You have the ability to make every studio visit a joy, an experience, an education and an adventure for your collectors.
The following suggestions may or may not be suitable to your particular way of doing business, but if your goal is to increase sales, to sell more art, then the more of these tips and techniques you incorporate into your presentation, the greater your chances of bulking your bottom line. If none are for you, at least you'll come away with a deeper understanding of what purposes galleries serve, how they operate and why they exist.
* Keep regular business hours. Whether for one hour a week or forty, have standard times when you're open for business. This saves potential buyers the trouble of having to make appointments. This doesn't mean you have to stay open 40 hours a week. Five hours is fine, but make sure they're the same five hours every week. Of course, be available for appointments as well.
* Make collectors feel welcome and comfortable. Answer their questions, show them what they want to see, talk a bit about how you work and make your art while you're doing this. Have your bio, resume, and other relevant materials available for them to read.
* Educate collectors about what you do and why you do it. Keep explanations simple and avoid lecturing or becoming argumentative unless people express interest in having in-depth conversations.
* Set aside a part of your studio to show finished work. The closer you can approximate gallery viewing conditions, the better. Collectors have an easier time understanding the impact of finished works when they can see and appreciate them one-by-one in clean, well-lighted, uncluttered settings. A painting hanging on a white wall and nicely lit without any interference from other paintings is far more compelling than that same painting, hanging on a wall crammed with other art or sitting on the floor of your studio against a stack of other paintings.
* Show only select examples of your art and keep the main focus on what you're doing now, on your current work. Best to keep things simple. Showing too much art from too many different time periods in too many different styles can overwhelm or confuse people. That's precisely why galleries limit and unify the number of pieces that they have on exhibit at any given time.
* Allow collectors to see the full range of your work ONLY if they insist. Let them spend time looking through whatever they want to-- if they insist-- no matter what you personally think of what they're looking at. If they like something that you don't, fine. Not everyone's tastes are identical. If they're more interested in your early work than your current work, that's OK too. If they end up buying something, great. If on the other hand they exhaust themselves and overdose by looking at more than they can handle, at least you'll understand why.
* When collectors state preferences or gravitate toward specific works, offer to show additional examples of those types of art. If you try to push them in other directions, you decrease your chances of making sales. Remember that every person's tastes are unique. Let them control the showing.
* Collectors may mention names of other artists in their collections. No matter what you may think of these artists or their work, respond positively. Avoid making comparisons or value judgments about other artists or their art. Going negative on anything decreases your chances of making sales.
* Be sensitive to buyers with modest budgets. Make every effort to sell to every single person who likes your art enough to ask about buying it. Your goal is to get your art out there. Always remember-- your art is your billboard, your business card; the more of it you have out there, the greater the numbers of people who'll see it, and the greater your chances of selling more art.
* Let collectors take artworks home on approval for a week or maybe two. Deciding what art to buy is not easy for many people and they appreciate having time to live with your art and to decide in private whether it's really right for them.
* Offer to show selections of your work in collectors' homes or offices. The easier you make it for people to see your art, the greater your chances of making sales. Collectors feel more indebted to you when you extend these sorts of courtesies.
* Deliver art at no charge when buyers can't move it themselves. Better yet, offer to deliver it before they even ask.
* Set all selling prices ahead of time and make them visible either on the art itself or on price lists. If you go back and forth about how much you want for your art, expect collectors to go back and forth about whether or not they want to to buy it. The more you waffle, the less the chances you'll sell. Hesitancy or uncertainty about prices gives collectors ideas that perhaps you don't sell very much or that prices vary according to your whims or that different people get quoted different prices for reasons known only to you. Can you imagine going into a store and seeing no prices on anything they have for sale? You wouldn't feel very comfortable trying to buy something, would you?
* Clearly mark all pieces that are not for sale "NFS". Better yet, hide them. Tempting people with art they can't buy is never a good idea.
* Price comparably or somewhat less than what other artists with your level of experience and qualifications charge for their art. Like it or not, you're in competition with other artists, or put another way, collectors have options and often consider the works of multiple artists before they go ahead and buy.
* Don't base selling prices on your current financial situation, whatever that may be. If, for example, your studio rent is due, don't decide that that's the minimum amount of money someone has to pay for whatever they're interested in. Prices must remain relatively constant in order to instill confidence in collectors about you and your work. Or if you do change them, you'd better have a good reason-- one that collectors will understand.
* Don't confuse selling prices with self-esteem, like thinking that the more money you sell for, the better that makes you as an artist or the better that makes your art. You'll run into problems if you get too involved or emotional when the time comes to hammer out money issues. No matter how much you end up selling something for, it's still exactly the same piece of art and you're still exactly the same artist.
* Be flexible. If a collector wants to negotiate a price and is capable of doing so in an inoffensive and appropriate manner, seriously consider lowering it perhaps ten to twenty percent. You're under no obligation, however, to work with anyone who is rude, insulting, bargains for the sport of it, or wants to buy your work for as little as possible without regard to your feelings.
* Avoid overemphasizing the personal attachment of a work of art that a collector wants to buy. Don't act like he's ripping your heart out or absconding with your firstborn. He's not buying your mind, your soul, or your essence. He's buying your art. You can always make more.
* Encourage prospective buyers to put down deposits on art they're serious about buying-- no matter how small those deposits might be in comparison to the selling prices. This is always a delicate dance; you don't want to be too overbearing, but at the same time, you want them to commit to the purchase.
* Allow collectors to pay over time or make cash/trade or barter arrangements (assuming you have a use for what they have to barter).
* Don't be shy about collecting money that's past due. If getting buyers to pay is something that you might have trouble with, plan ahead as to what your policy will be should the situation arise. If you have concerns about a particular buyer, consider keeping the art until it's paid for or having the buyer sign payment plan agreement.
* Provide buyers with written statements, documentation, and explanations that give them insight into who you are and what the art that's being purchased is all about. Galleries can only give receipts and secondary documentation; you can make it personal.
To repeat, the more of these techniques and pointers you can implement, the more art you'll sell. Then again, not all artists are skilled at selling their own art. If you're not good in social situations or the above suggestions seem like a little much or you have difficulty relating to collectors, you might either think about having a friend or acquaintance sell for you or skip the studio sales altogether and focus on your online profile, look for gallery representation, enter juried or non-juried shows or competitions, or figure out other ways to get your art out in public without you having to be there selling it.
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