Passion is an intense motivator. You have chosen a career in art because that is what you are truly passionate about… but passion is the easy part. The difficult part is maintaining the business you love—especially in the toughest of economies—through the proper understanding and appreciation of the art of sales.
Having spent more than 20 years in the art industry, I’ve learned the ins and outs of what it takes to find success, a.k.a. the ABCs of selling art. Whether you’re a gallery owner, art consultant or artist, there’s a tip in here to help you attract—and keep—new clients.
A is for Art
Offer art that represents your personality. Selling what you love should be easy, because you believe in your product. Your excitement will not go unnoticed either, as enthusiasm rubs off on your customers. Still, when selecting pieces to sell, keep in mind that your art should reflect current trends in color and style and appeal to a variety of potential clients.
B is for Bold
Don’t be afraid to make a statement in your gallery or studio. The art you offer and the customer’s experience should be memorable.
C is for Consulting
No one wants to feel like someone is trying to sell them something, but people will listen to genuine advice and suggestions. Your current and potential clients need to see you as an expert in your field and know that you have their best interests in mind. Always be accessible and reliable.
D is for Dreaming
Dream big! Look for the best artists and create a beautiful space to show off their work. Seek out qualified buyers by hosting unforgettable events. Every day, week, month and year, think of ways to improve. Never stop learning.
E is for Excitement
Create exciting events and promotions. Do what your competitors aren’t doing. Give your clients something to look forward to and figure out interesting ways to reach out to them, the design community and other target markets.
F is for Framing
What is cake without its frosting or Oreos without their filling? Art and framing go hand-in-hand. If you don’t offer custom framing services, you’re losing out on higher profits.
G is for Giving
When you give, you always get much more in return. Host a charity event, volunteer with your favorite arts-minded nonprofit or find some other way to give back to your community. You’ll feel good, gain respect and meet like-minded individuals, many of whom will be interested in learning more about your work!
H is for Honesty
Be truthful with your clients, the artists you represent and the vendors that serve you. Artists who have managed to sustain their business for many years are respected for their honesty and integrity.
I is for Inventory
Carry a wide range of artwork that can accommodate various personality types. Different styles, subjects, media and price ranges will reflect your diversity and create more selling opportunities.
J is for Jargon
Don’t overuse industry jargon. Clients who understand it will see right through you, and those who don’t will feel uncomfortable and confused. If you have to use technical terms, follow them with an explanation. Tailor your words to the person with whom you are speaking. You should discuss art differently with an artist or designer than you would with a corporate client.
K is for Knowledge
Be an expert in your field. Even after 20 years as an art consultant and gallery owner, I’m constantly learning more about art, framing techniques and business and sales tactics. Go to trade shows, attend seminars, read books and magazines and talk to other experts. Make it a point to learn something new every day.
L is for Leaks
The walls have ears. Don’t discuss confidential business matters in places where it’s possible to be overheard. Refrain from gossip, as it can hurt your personal reputation and your business.
M is for Money
Don’t be afraid to charge what your service or product is worth. If you’ve done your job of building trust and loyalty and have proven that you’re a professional, your clients will not question the price. They’ll accept that what you’re selling them is of high quality and value. Anyone who questions your pricing or negotiates too intensely might not be the type of client you want or need anyway.
N is for Networking
Take every opportunity to meet people and tell them what you do. Join business and networking groups, connect with interior designers and host events. Practice your “elevator pitch,” a 30-second (or shorter) description of your business. Never cross your arms while talking or standing alone. Always smile. A friendly attitude will open doors.
O is for Options
When working with a client, I always offer a variety of options that fit what the customer has requested—but I like to offer some surprises, too. During a presentation, throw in a few pieces that aren’t as good as the others or are more expensive, as they’ll make the others much more desirable in comparison.
P is for Pricing
Stay consistent with pricing. Always discuss with your client what they are comfortable spending and present art that works within that budget. Be fair and honest. You’ll never regret this in the long run, especially when your clients come back to you again and again.
Q is for Qualifying
Does the customer walking into your gallery have collecting in mind, or are they on a Pottery Barn budget? Ask important questions—What does your home or office look like? What style of art do you currently own? What are you comfortable spending?—to determine what the customer wants and needs. Getting these questions answered early on will save you time and energy later on.
R is for Referrals
In a highly specialized field like fine art and custom framing, referrals are critical to success. It’s so much easier to call a colleague or a “friend of a friend” than to make a cold call. Don’t be afraid to ask your clients if they know anyone who has built a new home or remodeled an office. If the client is happy with your work, he or she will gladly send you referrals. Tip: Interior designers always refer their clients to their favorite art vendors… so make sure you’re one of them!
S is for Seeking
I’ve built my career working with banks, law firms and various other businesses. To secure corporate clients, you need to be prepared. Offer original art from local and nationally-known artists in a variety of media, as well as limited edition prints, posters and custom or contract framing. Be prepared for larger orders and potentially lower margins. You’ll also need to offer installation services and site-specific commissions. There’s a great deal of effort that goes into corporate work, but it’s well worth it.
T is for Being Thankful
Show your gratitude to everyone who has helped you succeed. Handwrite a simple thank you card to an artist who went out of his or her way to help you make a sale, send a small gift to a new client or call to thank that customer who gave you a referral. Remember, we aren’t in this business alone. Many people help us along the way, and there are multiple ways to show them your appreciation.
U is for Unique
Offer pieces your customers can’t find anywhere else. Be exclusive. Discerning customers desire one-of-a-kind pieces that will make their home or business distinct, interesting and unique.
V is for Visionary
What is happening in art and design in other cities and countries? Research new trends. Seek out exceptional artists. Exhibit works that are powerful, beautiful and special. If you stand out in a crowd, artists, designers, potential clients—and the press—will notice.
W is for Win-Win
In every sale there should be three winners: The client, the artist and you. The client always comes first; be fair and stay true to this. W is also for Website. Make sure yours is exciting, easy to navigate and full of fresh, interesting content.
X is for Exciting
(Okay, give us a pass on the spelling.) Is your gallery or studio interesting and appealing? Offer your customers unexpected discoveries as they explore and teach your clients new things. Consider the flow and create a space where people will want to linger. Get rid of any and all art you haven’t sold in years.
Y is for Saying “Yes”
to Social Media
Utilize Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and blogs to engage current and potential customers, friends and business associates. Make sure to create a Facebook business page in addition to your personal account (and make sure to maintain your professionalism in all posts). If you personally don’t have the time to keep up with social media, hire someone to help you.
Z is for Zest
Your business is a reflection of you, its owner. Showcase pieces that you love and your customers will notice. Your zest for the art that you offer will undoubtedly influence your customers’ desire to work with you. ABN
ABN Contributing Editor LITSA SPANOS is an award-winning gallery owner, educator, art consultant, custom framer and the president of Art Design Consultants Inc. (www.adcfineart.com). Connecting art and design has always been an important mission for Spanos and her company; she and her team provide artwork and extensive custom framing services to private individuals and corporate clients. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 513/723-1222. Check out “Litsa’s Blog” at www.adcfineart.com/blog.