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  • How to Work With People Who Bargain for Art

    Q: I get upset when people want to buy my art but try to bargain me on my selling prices. I price my art fairly at what I think it's worth and don't negotiate. That's always my policy. The only problem is that I think I'm losing a certain number of sales. How can I explain to people in a nice way that my prices are fair just the way they are and that my art is worth what I'm asking for it? In other words, what can I do to sell more art at the prices I want to sell it for?

    A: Art buyers and collectors like to believe they're spending their money wisely and paying fair prices no matter who they are, what they're buying or where they're buying it. They want to feel like they're getting their money's worth, though they may also have other reasons for wanting to pay less such as limited budgets, not being able to pay all at once, and so on. Regardless of their reasons, having someone ask whether you are flexible in your prices and open to offers is perfectly normal.

    In other words, if someone would like to pay less, don't take it personally or get angry, upset or defensive. The sooner you get these kinds of counterproductive responses out of your repertoire, the better. These people like your art, they want to buy, and the last thing they want to do is insult or offend you. Price talks get a lot easier when you understand these things in advance. Also keep in mind that no matter how much you end up selling a piece of your art for, it's still the exact same art and you're still the exact same artist. The art is not somehow better if you sell it for more or worse if you sell it for less, and the same goes for you as an artist.

    So let's say someone wants to make an offer. The worst thing you can do is shut them down immediately and tell them you don't negotiate. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. They have an idea of how much money they'd feel comfortable spending and are wondering whether you're open to talking about it. They want to continue the conversation, not end it. Best procedure is to hear them out. See what they have to say and where they're coming from.

    This is how conversations about art move forward, especially conversations about buying art. Any time you have an opportunity to hear someone else's side of the story, take it. Understanding how people think in relation to your art is essential to your success as an artist. Resist the urge to turn the conversation into an argument or hammer away about how fair and reasonable your prices already are. If someone wants to pay less, do your best to understand why. When all's said and done and you each understand where the other is coming from, then you can decide if or how much you'll be willing to drop your price.

    The good news is that no sale ever has to be lost over what often amounts to not all that much money when compared to the full price. Now if it becomes clear during a conversation that a buyer wants to pay nowhere near your asking price, then it's probably best to graciously part ways. But have the conversation regardless. No matter how it ends up, it's always a learning experience.

    In general, people who buy directly from artists like being around artists, engaging with them online, visiting them in person or spending time at their studios if possible, learning about how they work, and just plain talking about art. They also tend to believe prices are lower and somewhat more negotiable when buying direct rather than buying at galleries, art fairs or other retail venues... which in many cases they are. The way things are going online, especially with social media, following and contacting artists has never been easier and as a result, artist-to-buyer transactions are constantly on the rise. For any artist who's serious about getting exposure and selling their art, establishing an accessible online profile is essential. Being open, willing and available to communicate with your fans is key. About the worst thing an artist can do is get a reputation for being difficult in any regard.

    For people who buy direct-- either online or in person-- searching for art is often a big part of the adventure; they prefer the thrill of the hunt to the more sterile environments of galleries. Discovering new artists, new art, making new contacts and negotiating buys are all significant parts of the mix. At some point in every buyer's search, they begin narrowing their choices and deciding down whose art they really want to own. When it comes to making the final decision, all else being equal, buyers typically gravitate toward the artists who they get along best with and who respond to their needs-- artists who they feel some sort of connection with. So be aware in advance that inflexibility on any issue including prices can get in the way of establishing good relationships and ultimately making sales.

    In the art world, negotiating prices is generally viewed as part of the buying process. That's just the way it is. If it'll make you feel any better, anyone who is willing to make an offer already likes your art enough to want to own it, and that's saying plenty. At the very least, you have to respect them for having the nerve to step up and make it. This doesn't mean you have to tolerate insultingly low offers from people who are simply playing games, who bargain for sport, who start harping on negatives, or who badger you to the point of distraction (the sooner you get these losers out your life, the better). But for anyone who seems to genuinely care and is clearly excited at the prospect of owning your art, get flexible and give them a chance. Do whatever you can to cultivate these conversations and consummate a sale. You never know-- reducing the price on a first purchase can sometimes lead to many more.

    Here are some compromise options and approaches in no particular order that might help ease those monetary tensions at various points along the way:

    * If you absolutely positively can't stand lowering your prices, raise them maybe ten to twenty percent and then let people bargain you right back down to whatever dollar amounts you would have been satisfied selling for in the first place. This way you can still be firm, but not look like it. It's not necessarily the best or most compromising way to go, but at least you give the appearance of being open to negotiating.

    * Make every effort possible to sell to every collector who really loves your art, makes reasonable offers, and who respects you while doing so. You want these people to own your art-- the ones with the potential to become your biggest fans and advocates. Reducing an asking price by ten or twenty percent is really not that big of a deal when you think about it-- especially over the long haul-- and often pays dividends in more ways than one. You get the art out of your studio and into people's homes or offices and essentially enlist them as supporters who will likely talk you up at every chance they get. You also get a reputation as someone who's approachable and willing to work with buyers. Collectors talk about the artists whose work they own all the time, and when they talk about you, you want to maximize the chances they'll say good things and send new people your way.

    * If you'd rather not drop a price quite as far as someone would like you to, offer a modest discount in combination with the option to pay the balance over time. For example, let the buyer pay a certain amount per month, or pay off the balance however they choose as long as it's within a set time period, or pay by whatever other plan or method you can agree on. With time payments, buyers often feel like they're paying less... and sometimes might also be willing to spend more since they're putting less stress on their finances all at once. Draw up simple written contracts or agreements whenever you use this option, and keep possession of the art until it's fully paid for.

    * Accept as many different forms of payment as possible. Not only does this make you look more "official" in terms of having your business act together, but different buyers have preferences about how they like to pay. Offer options including payment by cash, check, money order, credit card, online, and so on. As stated above, some buyers prefer paying by credit so they don't have to come up with all the money at once. They feel more comfortable about buying in the first place and may even be willing to spend a little more than they would if you only accept cash or checks.

    * If you're having difficulty agreeing on a price, ask whether they have anything they'd be willing to trade-- either goods or services. Or be willing to consider a part cash / part trade agreement. You never know who has access to what, and sometimes a trade can work out far more profitably than a cash sale. You'd be surprised what people have to offer.

    * When collectors bargain you on particular pieces that you simply don't feel comfortable reducing, rather than reject the offers altogether, suggest other pieces that you'll sell at those prices. If that doesn't work, have them point out their favorite pieces and then show similar ones that are priced more within their budgets. Perhaps even show them art that's slightly more than they can afford, thought not as expensive as the ones they made their initial offers on, and reduce the prices on those instead.

    * Keep all negotiations open for as long as possible and explore as many options as possible. Treat every potential buyer like the perennial used car salesman who asks, "What do I have to do to get you into this car?" Whenever someone expresses genuine interest and appreciation in your art, do everything in your power to make sure they walk away with something. Assuming a buyer is sincere and you both approach the situation with a reasonable degree of flexibility, sooner or later the two of you will figure out a way for them to own your art and for you to feel good about selling it.


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