Leverage Your Livelihood

by Daniel Grant

Courtesy of The Crafts Report
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In the past 15 years, the U.S. economy has suffered two serious and prolonged recessions. One might reasonably assume that before the next decade is over, there will be at least another. The U.S. economy is resilient, but knowing that better times will eventually return doesn't help anyone in the middle of a downturn.

Some full-time artists may find that they need to get a part-time job, while others will put renewed effort into strengthening ties with current collectors and establishing awareness among prospective ones. This isn't always a matter of doing a lot of different things; rather, it involves putting more energy into the most basic elements of marketing and sales.

1. Be an extrovert in an introvert field

In terms of elevating their presence within their communities, artists should consider becoming publicly active, such as arranging a demonstration of their specific creative techniques, giving a talk, or writing an article in a local newspaper on some arts-related subject. All of this establishes them as experts in their fields. Similarly, taking part in a local charity benefit or community project has the potential of generating free publicity. The local media may be

Team up with outside groups:
  • Local chamber of commerce
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Rotary International
  • Local museums and schools
  • Kiwanis
  • Optimist Clubs
  • Lions Clubs International
willing to profile a specific artist only once every so often, but collaborating with other groups offers additional opportunities for one's name and work to be brought up in a positive way.

Artists should make a greater-than-usual effort to remember the names of the people they meet, and follow up with a written ''nice-to-meet-you'' note and the hope of meeting again. In these days of so much email, Tweets, and text messages, an actual letter or postcard in the mail will seem more like an occasion to the recipient. The note is apt to stick around longer than an easy-to-delete email.

Additionally, when contacted by someone showing interest in one's work, responses to emails and telephone calls should be prompt, because a prospective buyer's interest may wane if that person is kept waiting. Creating a lasting and favorable impression can make the difference between finding and losing a possible buyer.

2. Rev up your online presence

Artists with websites should take a second look at how easily they can be found in an online search; if their site doesn't come up high in a search, they might alter their meta-tags or improve their links. Text messaging and videos can be added to alert current and would-be buyers to the completion of new work, exhibitions, or other events. The websites should be easily navigable.

As art brings out a lack of confidence in many people who fear that they will be making a mistake if they buy something, the website should answer all the same questions that a visitor to an art gallery might ask.
Does your website answer these questions?
  • What is the size of your work?
  • How soon can delivery be arranged?
  • What is the price?
  • Can buyers pay with credit cards?
  • What is the return policy?

How to compose the perfect artist statement:
  • Ask others to read your draft
  • Check spelling and grammar
  • Ask--is it interesting?
  • Ask--does it make sense?
  • Keep the content simple, and positive
  • Avoid ''cryptic'' messages
Websites also may contain an artist statement. The artist statement that doesn't directly lead into a long look at the artworks on display may be detrimental, because readers may keep the words in mind rather than the images. A poorly conceived or written statement is apt to make visitors think badly of the artist. So many artist statements aren't interesting. For example, ''My landscapes reflect my interest in painting the natural world,'' or, ''I have been drawing and painting ever since I was a child,'' can be said about any artist. Better yet, ask people who aren't friends or relatives. Ask them to look over the statement in order to determine whether or not it presents the artist in a positive light.

3 Small Business Marketing Mistakes
Here are the top 3 marketing mistakes that small businesses make:
Putting all Your Eggs in One Basket Putting all Your Eggs in One Basket

Marketing does not work by just throwing all of your resources into one idea.

Just having a website does not bring traffic to that website. Just having a Google AdWords campaign doesn't guarantee traffic.

Marketing is about diversity. Make sure that you hit your target audience in multiple ways to sustain long term growth.
Choosing to Only Use Word of Mouth Choosing to Only Use Word of Mouth

Word of mouth is changing. When a company is referred to a potential customer, that person is likely to check you out online first.

Focus on keeping positive information online that will make you look professional and well organized. People like to research you before making their buying decision. Make that choice easy.
Not Measuring Campaign Effectiveness Not Measuring Campaign Effectiveness

Marketing need to be monitored. Start out simple and create a few traffic drivers and measure those drivers. Without numbers you are effectively throwing speghetti against a wall and seeing what sticks.

Make sure to have a solid foundation and start measuring what actually helps your business.

3. Bang-out a blog

Another area of online communication is a blog, which when part of an artist's website is an effective marketing tool. A blog is an online diary of sorts, usually containing brief thoughts and opinions, with new comments added every week or every day--and sometimes more often than that. Responses from readers are solicited, creating a dialogue or, when numerous people write in, a round table. Some artists expect and want current and potential collectors to visit their websites and read their blogs.

For artists, a low point in the economy might give rise to additional investments in marketing. There is often a lot of trial-and-error in marketing, as artists narrow down the potential avenues for sales to those that show the best results. Narrow Down the Potential Avenues for Sales

''I used to hold open studios and do art fairs, where I would always talk to collectors,'' said San Francisco artist Anna L. Conti. ''Now I leave paintings with my gallery, and the people who buy my work never meet me anymore.'' She added: ''I started a blog as a way for people to check in and find out about me.'' Conti's blog is focused on the day-to-day life of herself as an artist, offering details of a painting that will be on display at an upcoming gallery exhibit, the type of framing she used, and an installation view of the show.

Example: Simple Blog Post

''I mounted the paintings inside a flat wooden case, which I picked up one day when I was walking past one of those urban nomads who was cleaning out his van. After a bit of cleaning, some paint, and some new hardware, it was just what I wanted.''
Another painter, Elizabeth Torak of Pawlet, Vt., also directed her blog toward collectors who are already familiar with her work and want to find out more about her. She noted people say to her, ''I wish I could have stood by and watched you go through the entire process of doing a painting.'' Torak's blog reveals in words and images the step-by-step process of creating a new work, from preliminary drawings to roughing out the shapes on a canvas and eventually culminating in a completed picture.

In one instance, a couple that had previously purchased several paintings by Torak was interested in acquiring another, but didn't see anything they wanted at her gallery. The gallery's director recommended that they look at her blog where over the course of six weeks, they saw the progress of a new painting and then bought it. Six months later, Torak met these collectors at the opening of her show, and they told her how much fun they had following the progress of the painting on the blog. ''I had been completely unaware that they were doing this and was surprised and pleased, and also relieved that I had kept my language on the blog upbeat and temperate,'' Torak said.

Creating a blog is also a commitment--if you start one and then take a long break from it, some people may be apt to think you died or are doing some other kind of work. There also needs to be some sort of consistency in your postings. If you start out writing about art in general, or your art or your art career, and then post messages about your friend's love life or your cat (known as ''blah-blah'' blogs), you give readers less incentive to come back and you may not be seen as serious.

4. Help buyers make purchases

Of course, when finances are strained, ordinarily enthusiastic buyers may show reluctance to make any purchases, which may prod artists to offer extended payment terms. This type of flexibility can create potential risks for artists--will the artist need to hire a repossession company if the buyer stops making payments? However, extended payment terms are more likely to generate goodwill and more sales.

Another possibility is to accept payment (in whole or in part) in the form of barter, such as goods: appliances, food, furniture, or an automobile, for instance. Services can also be traded: the preparation of a tax return, legal advice, or dentistry, for example. Barter is taxable at the ordinary market rate--a lawyer may charge hundreds of dollars per hour--and must be reported as income to the Internal Revenue Service. It might be advisable for artists in the 15 percent tax bracket to be paid at least that amount in cash. However, the absence of any actual cash as payment could make sense if a new buyer is a good prospect to become a regular collector.
Outline payment terms:
  • Layaway
  • Cash
  • Credit
  • Check
  • Pre-pay special orders
  • Trade

Yet another option is to create a loyalty or rewards program for regular and long-time collectors, which many companies offer to their customers. This type of program extends a discount on their fourth purchase after they have bought three, for instance. ''Easier terms are better than discounting prices,'' said William B. Conerly, an economist in Lake Oswego, Ore., who consults to businesses. ''The best customers are the ones who pay you,'' he said.

5. Plan first; then execute

Recessions generally raise calls for economic retrenchment--spend less and wait for things to improve. However, economists ever since the Great Depression have advocated that governments should invest more in public services--''priming the pump,'' in order to generate new and more private spending.

For artists, a low point in the economy might give rise to additional investments in marketing. There is often a lot of trial-and-error in marketing, as artists narrow down the potential avenues for sales to those that show the best results.

Why avoid ''spaghetti'' marketing?
  • It wastes a lot of time
  • It wastes a lot of money
  • It is difficult to measure success
''I used the spaghetti method of marketing,'' said James Wall, a painter in Charlottesville, Va. ''You throw spaghetti at the wall and what sticks you stay with.'' He tried sending out brochures of his work to art consultants, art dealers, licensing agents, and print publishers. He offered to paint a mural on the wall of a restaurant for the modest price of $2,000, believing that ''a lot of people will see my work that way,'' and that has resulted in some sales to diners.

New York City abstract expressionist painter and printmaker Mike Filan spent $2,000 to print 4,000 fold-out brochures that featured a number of color images of his work and spent another $2,000 for mailing. He was fortunate that he had a friend who did the design of the brochure, which only cost him one of his prints in barter. Filan also spent several hundred dollars on purchasing mailing lists of art dealers and consultants.

Between five and seven percent of those people to whom he sent a brochure responded to his mailer. ''Out of that, three percent have actually sold work,'' he said. ''All you need is one, two, or three corporate consultants to sell your work regularly.'' Most of the sales have been prints--a dealer in Florida sold five, while a dealer in Texas sold 10. There were sales of five others to Colgate-Palmolive, ten to Pfizer, and twenty to a group of teachers. All in all, Filan has earned $30,000 from that one mailer.

Joan Gold, a painter in Eureka, Calif., has also had success marketing artwork to consultants who, in turn, act as agents for her work to private--usually corporate--clients, taking a percentage of the sales price (from 30 to 50 percent) as a commission. ''Eureka is at the end of the world,'' she said. ''There aren't many galleries close by.'' She added that her few experiences going from one gallery to the next were ''just plain bad.''

Gold purchased her list of consultants from artists' career advisor Caroll Michels and sent each person on the list a brochure of her work. The result was responses from dozens of consultants to whom she began sending out her original paintings, rolling her canvases, and placing them into hard cardboard tubes that are sent through Federal Express. ''The benefit of consigning work to consultants is that you get a commission without additional expenses,'' she said. ''The consultant pays for framing.'' Gold works with thirty consultants, twenty of whom are actively promoting her paintings at any given time. ''I keep in touch with all of them by cards, mailers, and phone calls--they need to be reminded of whom you are and what you do,'' she said. One or two paintings (with an average price of $3,000-$6,000 before commission) sell somewhere each month, and she has sold between thirty and forty paintings.

Of course, on the other side, artists should examine their work and home expenses to determine if there are ways they could reduce spending. For example, artists who rely on professional photographers to produce images of their work may want to learn how to use a camera, or advertising that hasn't produced new buyers over a period of time might be eliminated.

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