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Selling Art Productively – Tips on How to Sell More Art


How to make your art business about you... no matter how unconventional
How to make your art business about you… no matter how unconventional

Selling art is a process.

Knowing how to sell art effectively is a learned skill. Helping collectors get enthused about buying your art takes practice. But, the good news is any determined person can do this.

Learn. Practice. Perform and Repeat.

It’s a glorious thing when a new buyer loves a piece of art and immediately purchases it with little or no effort from the seller. If you have been selling art, you know very few sales jump in your lap. Sales are reactions to the things you do. 

With that thought, here are useful observations on how to sell art. My experience shows readers benefit by reading them. 

But first…

A Personal Note from Barney Davey

I encourage you will read this post to the end. There is an invitation for you there. Here is the important part for those in a hurry. 

I invite you to join the Art Marketing Toolkit Project. We learn about art marketing and talk about ways to live the life of an artist as you expect it to be. No pretenses. Just what you want and need.

Attitude   

You don’t have to be humble. In fact, it’s not recommended. Confidence is an attractive quality that wears well on all. Attitude will either work for or against your attempts at selling art.

Be as likable as you can. Not phony. Just be comfortable being you. Here is a suggestion to help you be relaxed and confident.

Practice centering with deep breaths.
Visualize you’ve made it through the worst thing that can happen and everything is going to be okay.
Then realize you are capable of handling the best outcome you can imagine. You’ve lived in the best and worst moments already.
You’re ready!

While you don’t have to be likable, you must at least be cordial, accessible, and willing to communicate with potential collectors, gallerists, and the media.

Pricing Issues

 When your art is on display at shows, openings, in your studio, or online, it means it is up for sale. Make it easy to find and understand your prices. Whenever possible, please have someone available to answer questions about the art and how to buy it. Selling art means being involved in the sales process; that’s you or someone you trust to represent you. Success in selling art doesn’t happen on wishful thinking; it happens on intentions and actions.

Be transparent and consistent with your art pricing. You don’t want galleries or other collectors finding out you are selling art at low-ball prices. Never price gouge when you think you have a well-heeled buyer interested in your work. Research so your work is priced competitively. When you overprice your work, you lose sales. Price your work too low, and you are leaving money on the table.

Negotiation Skills

Effectively selling art requires you to learn negotiation skills. A properly prepared negotiator includes a reasonable discount. Understand you will get low price offers and be prepared to haggle a bit. Don’t take offense at an offer for your work that is low. It’s not personal; it is a negotiation tactic. I will take a low offer versus an “I’ll think about it” reply every time.

Don’t leave a sale on the table because you have no discount to offer. Use the negotiation to get a commitment from the buyer. If I can work out this lower price, will you purchase the art today? Pushing back shows you have some moxie and are not a pushover.

Don’t let your opinion about various pieces enter into the conversation or your selling art dialogue. Don’t recommend someone a bargain price on a piece you don’t like. It might be the one they love the most.

To get up-to-date information on pricing giclees, see my How to Price Art Prints ebook.

Email Marketing

In selling, if you have failed to make the sale now, don’t hand out brochures, or business cards, get an email address and follow up promptly and professionally.  Once you have a prospect, you have to work on communicating with them or you will lose their interest.

Create a systematized approach to consistently follow up with interested buyers that segments your messages according to their interests.

Presentation

 You have one chance to make a favorable impression. When buyers come to your booth, studio, website, or gallery, they form an immediate judgment about how things are organized. This is simultaneous to their investigating your available art.

If they find things are disorganized or art that is not properly displayed, it dims your chances of having your art seen in the “best light.” Don’t allow distractions from the art buying experience you’re in. This includes employees or friends who are goofing off, on a cell phone, and otherwise disengaged from the fact you are selling art.

Showing intent is good and the opposite of desperation. By your actions, your pleasant but serious intent to engage qualified buyers in the brief moments when you have a chance becomes obvious. Buyers and employees will respond to your leadership and example.

You don’t have to be always on. Just when you need to be. — Barney Davey 

Have your introduction honed, so it rolls out smoothly with enthusiasm! You don’t want to push it, but when asked about yourself, you want to start with something concise that aptly describes who you are and what you do. It requires practice.

Engagement

Talk to as many people as you can when you are at a show or opening. Don’t prejudge any customer on their appearance.

I had a friend who sold pre-owned exotic sports cars. While I was visiting him in the showroom one day, a scruffy guy with cutoffs and flip-flops came in to look around.  Two other salespeople let him walk by without even saying hello. My friend left me and introduced himself. It turns out this guy was an eccentric, successful architect. He bought a Ferrari that day and a Maserati a few weeks later.

Zen into a Place Where the Best You Comes Out

You may have reluctance, it’s normal. But part of you is up to make the best presentation for the few minutes or hours necessary. Call on that resource.

If you are in the booth or at a show, don’t look bored or unfriendly. Don’t sit and read the paper or play with your iPad, cell phone, or doodle. Be aware and ready to be engaged. Don’t send the message that you prefer not to talk with someone. It’s hard, but you are only there for a short time.

Don’t ever be too eager. Engage, explain a bit, and give the person space and time to absorb your art. The best is they engage and buy from you. The worst is they decide they aren’t going to buy.  

Sales Techniques

Before you start pitching or closing, you must earn the right to do so. That means you have learned something about the potential patron, whether they are interested in your work, and their needs and plans for buying art. It becomes easy to ask open-ended questions with a genuine interest in learning the answer.

Don’t annoy or be annoyed by people who don’t want to buy from you. If you have made a sincere, professional attempt to engage and to learn if they are interested, and they are not, let it go. Put it in the “You can’t win them all category” and move on.

Unprofessional Behavior

Respect others. Keep your appointments, be on time. Being late is discourteous and shows a lack of concern for others. They are busy too, probably busier than you.

If you are at a show, or an opening, keep your alcohol intake to none or very little. If you partake in other recreational drugs, don’t be stupid and show up stoned. You may be laughing at this comment, but I’ve seen it happen, and it is shocking and sad to experience.

Be available for your collectors, galleries, reps, and media contacts. Publish your contact information on your site, business cards, and informational brochures. When you have messages, make sure to respond to them promptly, at least within 24 hours whenever possible.  

Inappropriate Ill-advised Contact

 When you are making contact with potential collectors, galleries, art dealers, or related parties for the first time, make sure you identify yourself. Explain your reason for contacting them, give brief details about yourself and your work, and offer full contact information for prospective follow-ups.

In selling art and life, you only get one first impression. Do your best to make your communications first-class quality. Poor grammar, misspelled words and incomprehensible ramblings diminish your presentation.

Don’t make demands from art critics, journalists, bloggers, gallery owners, dealers, or others who can help you. They don’t owe you anything. You need to earn their respect. Making requests to view your art, or to write a piece about it, or confronting them on work with which you disagree makes dismissing you easy. Walk a few steps in their shoes, find out what they need and then show how what you have fits that need.

Hey! It’s’ good to see my kind down here.

Glad you made it. Whether you are a reader or a subscriber, you are my kind of people. If you believe it’s possible to have a joyful, well-lived artist’s life then you’re even more my kind.

An Invitation from Me to You.

Please join me in the
Art Marketing Toolkit Project

We learn about art marketing and talk about ways to live the life of an artist as you expect it to be. No pretenses. Just what you know you want and need. Maybe you don’t know. All the better to join and get ideas that will help you know and understand the what and the why of it all.   

Art Marketing Toolkit
Working to make a joyful, well-lived artist’s life is a noble and freeing goal.

We don’t know it all. Who does? Discovering the true answers and real solutions about the mysterious art business, and sharing our finds. That is our jam, our thing. If you like how our approach to learning and living life sounds. Please join the Art Marketing Toolkit Project.


Tags

How to price art prints, how to sell art, Selling art


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  1. Fabulous advice Barney – it’s all good stuff. One thing that I have to work on is my follow up with people who I got a sense were really interested in my paintings/portraits and I had a great connection with. I usually contact them very shortly after the first meeting, but I don’t continue to follow up. Thanks for the reminder that I am not dong a good enough job.

    I recently received my copy of Jason’s new book – and it’s FANTASTIC Every artist should get a copy & read it and re-read it over & over.

    Thanks for your posts – everything in them is gold!

  2. Hi Barney – I don’t want to sound like a Smartie or “no-it-all”. but there are a few grammatical and misspelling errors in this article, which proves your point about how important it is to get it right for best first impressions, since this is the first article of yours that I have read. Thanks for the tips.

  3. Claire, thanks for taking your time to comment. You are hardly a Smartie; you simply are right. I realized the problem and now too late, after the fact, the mistakes have been corrected. This proves there is always time to do things right the second time.

    It is a cruel bit of irony that my post contained error thus robbing me of some first impression credibility when I mentioned it in the piece.

    There is a lesson for others like me who pursue a passion around a full-time job and other distractions. The lesson is worked that is rushed hardly ever is the best one can do.

    Normally, I write a piece and wait a day or two to review it and refine it. This time I didn’t and ended up with egg on my face as result. Given I am dealing with some health issues that cause fatigue, I should have been more aware of taking extra time to work through a long post like this before hitting the “Publish” button

  4. The eight ideas noted in selling art work parallel closely the strategies and tactics used in professional level sales. There’s nothing wrong with becoming your own best advocate and sales person – Jon Wyderka

  5. I don’t believe you,
    dont you know artists that’s real artists are not like everybody else,
    art and your real sales word bs sucks.
    iknow because I was a carguy.

    1. Thanks for your refreshing insights. Proving once again, you can’t make all the people happy all of the time. Do you think being a car guy was what made you so cynical? Or, did you become one because you already were? And, by the way, I know some ethical, intelligent and honest car guys!

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