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  • Learn to Sell Art Like the Galleries - Marketing for Artists

    Collectors can buy art wherever they want, but even in this Internet age many still choose to shop exclusively with galleries or dealers. When asked why they prefer shopping at galleries or dealers to buying directly from artists, their most common answers are that artists can sometimes be difficult to deal with and can tend to present problems the galleries don't. This does not have to happen. Artists with no gallery representation can increase both in-person and online sales by simply adapting public relations and sales techniques of the galleries.

    The one huge advantage you have over art dealers and galleries is YOU, especially with all the online options available to actively present and draw attention to your art, talk about your background and inspirations, and deepen the appreciation and connections people have when viewing your work. You are the number one expert on your art and the most motivated qualified person on the planet to represent and sell it. You also have the ability to make every in-person, studio or online visit to see your art a pleasure, an experience, an education and an adventure.

    The following suggestions may or may not apply to your particular way of doing business or your type of art. You decide what works best and what doesn't. 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 work to serve collectors and why they exist.

    * If you sell out of your studio, keep regular visiting, viewing or contact hours. Whether for one hour a week or forty, have standard times when you're open for business or are otherwise available to speak with either by chat, phone or in person. This saves potential buyers the trouble of having to figure out when they can make contact and avoid having to go back and forth with you trying to make appointments. This doesn't mean you have to be available 40 hours a week. Five hours is fine or even less, but make sure they're the same hours every week. Of course, make yourself available for appointments as well, either in person, by phone or chat.

    * If you sell your art mainly online, return all emails and other inquiries promptly. If someone would like to talk or chat before they make a purchase or have specific questions about specific works of art, make appointments to talk with them, sooner rather than later. Art tends to be somewhat of an impulse buy, so whenever someone expresses interest in your work, moving the transaction towards completion with reasonable speed is always better than dragging things out. Buyers really appreciate artists who make themselves accessible, offer to answer questions, and work with them in other ways from initial inquiries to final purchase.

    * If you're meeting in person, make collectors feel welcome and comfortable. Answer their questions, show or direct them to whatever they want to see, and if they ask, talk a bit about how you work and make your art. Have your bio, resume, and other relevant materials available for them to read. If you're making contact online, direct them to specific image or gallery pages according to their preferences. Also direct them to any text or explanation pages or other information about yourself that's relevant to what they want to see.

    * Provide a little background information about what you do and why you do it. Keep explanations simple and be careful not to ramble on and on, or start answering questions that people don't ask. Best procedure is to always let the other person lead the conversation and move at their speed, no matter how slow you might think it's going. Unless someone expresses interest in having more in-depth conversations, move the agenda on to viewing your art as soon as the opportunity presents itself. In-depth conversations are great as long as they get you somewhere in terms of making a sale.

    * 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 individual 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 a table or easel of your studio against a backdrop of all kinds of other art, materials and accessories.

    * 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. The same holds true for your website, image pages or other places where your art is on display. Make sure it's organized into groups or series of related works.

    * Allow collectors to see the full range of your work ONLY if they insist; limiting the viewing options is preferable, but not always possible. Let them spend time looking through whatever they want to 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 interested buyers state preferences or gravitate toward specific works, offer to show additional examples of those types of art. Don't try to push them in other directions no matter how badly you might want them to see certain pieces of your art. When you do that, 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 might 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, especially art someone already owns, decreases your chances of making sales.

    * Be sensitive to buyers with modest budgets. Make every effort to sell to anyone who likes your art enough to start talking prices. These are your biggest fans; do everything you can not to disappoint them. Your goal is to get your art out there. Always remember-- your art is your billboard, your business card; the more of it you sell, the greater the numbers of people who'll see it, and the greater your chances of selling even more.

    * 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 really appreciate your allowing them 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 the homes or offices of potential buyers. The easier you make it for people to see your art, the greater your chances of making sales. The more courtesies you extend, the more appreciative they'll be and inclined to say yes when it's time to make up their minds.

    * Deliver art at no charge when buyers can't move it themselves. Better yet, offer to deliver it before they even ask. This is assuming they live within a reasonable distance of your studio, of course.

    * Set all selling prices ahead of time and make sure they're visible either on the art itself or on price lists like you see at galleries. If you act unsure about how much you want for your art, expect collectors to feel the same way about buying 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 resumes charge for their art. Like it or not, you're in competition with other artists, or put another way, collectors have choices and often consider art by more than one artist before deciding what to 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'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 decide what's worth what. No matter how much you end up selling something for, it's still exactly the same art and you're still exactly the same artist.

    * Be flexible. If a collector makes an offer wants to pay less and is capable and is polite and reasonable about it, seriously consider lowering an asking perhaps in the vicinity of ten to twenty percent. Galleries are often negotiable on their art; you should be too. 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 your personal attachment to art 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. If you're that attached to it, hide it and don't offer it for sale.

    * Some buyers say they want to buy something, but that they'll come back and pay for it later. Suggest that they put down deposits on art to show they're serious about buying-- no matter how small they may 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. If they would rather not put money down, tell them you'll hold the art for a reasonable period of time, say two weeks to a month. If you don't hear from them within that time, or you call or email and get no response, back goes the art into your stock.

    * Allow collectors who might have difficulty paying all at once 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 you might have trouble with, plan ahead as to what your policy will be should the situation arise. If you have any concerns or reservations about a particular buyer, consider keeping the art until it's paid for or having the buyer sign payment plan agreement before taking the art.

    * Provide buyers with written statements, documentation, receipts, and explanations that give them insight into who you are and what the art that's being purchased is all about. Not only do these materials serve as proof of purchase and authenticity, but they take on additional significance over time as historical records relating to your career, no matter who ends up owning or inheriting the art. Galleries can only give receipts and secondary documentation; you can make it personal.


    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 in-studio and direct person-to-person sales altogether. Instead focus on cultivating an online following, selling exclusively online, looking for gallery representation, showing at select non-art venues like hotel lobbies or restaurants, regularly entering juried or non-juried shows or competitions, or figuring out other enterprising ways to get your art out in front of the public without you having to be there selling it.

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    (art by Tamra Seal)

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