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Making the case that Artists are Direct Sellers

Or: I’m making the case that I am an Artist [specifically a visual artist: mosaic and painting] and see my business as a direct selling business.  First, a couple definitions to help this conversation along:

"The Jazz Player" acrylic painting by Linda C Smith

"The Jazz Player" acrylic painting by Linda C Smith

  • Artist: first some quotes: “…What art offers is space – a certain breathing room for the spirit….  ~John Updike”  and my personal favorite: “…I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for….  ~Georgia O’Keeffe” – my personal definition of “artist” is someone who translates what they see either outside themselves or from within themselves through artistic media – could be paint, pencil, mosaic tiles, dance, music, poetry, prose, photography and more.  I think being an artist is something you have to do…like having no choice.
  • Direct Selling: the best definition comes from DirectSelling411 : “…Direct selling is the sale of a consumer product or service, person-to-person, away from a fixed retail location, marketed through independent sales representatives who are sometimes also referred to as consultants, distributors or other titles….”

Taking these two definitions then, you could say that the artist creates a consumer product and then sells that product person-to-person through shows, festivals, physical galleries and online galleries.  I consider a gallery to be a direct selling situation rather than a fixed retail location as purchasing a work of art is nothing like purchasing a gallon of milk.  In a gallery setting it takes person-to-person interaction between the gallery personnel and the prospective purchaser.  There are quite a few artist-owned galleries, so this is even more the case.

Having stated my case it’s my contention, as a business person, that it would benefit artists if they did a bit of learning as regards direct selling.

(1) How to do direct marketing: “…Direct marketing is a method used to distribute advertising and marketing materials such as catalogs, brochures or other items to consumers through mail, e-mail, telemarketing or other methods. Direct selling is NOT direct marketing.…”[again from DS411].  This is an important distinction and often the two get confused.  The key word is “marketing.”  Marketing is giving people information so that they can make an informed buying decision.  Once you’ve given someone information about your product [marketing materials] you still have to engage them in a buying situation [selling].

(2) How to be an effective direct seller: I found at the DirectSelling 411 site, in the FAQs for selling, a list of points that I think would be valuable for anyone to adopt [this list is copied and has my annotations in italics]:

  • Tell your potential customers who you are, why you’re approaching them and what products you are selling.believe it or not, I’ve seen artists at outdoor shows who stand in their booths with their artwork and never engage the people who come to look…these are prospective art buyers who need to know who you are, why they need your work and what you have available.
  • Explain how to return a product or cancel an order.this is as valid in an art transaction as for any other type of consumer product.  Sometimes an art buyer will get a work home then discover it just doesn’t “work” for them…art is “subjective” and human emotion has much to do with the initial purchase and the purchase retention.
  • Respect the privacy of your customers by calling at a time that is convenient for them.- this is good, basic business advice.
  • Promptly end a demonstration or presentation at the request of your customers.- some artists will take a selection of works to a prospective buyer’s home and do a “presentation;” this is good business advice.
  • Provide accurate and truthful information regarding the price, quality, quantity, performance, and availability of your product or service.- in the art world, consistency of pricing is often a difficult animal to master; sometimes a buyer will be interested in a work you have displayed, but wish it were in another color combination – as the art business person, you have to know what you will and won’t do for a client…and if you do it for one, you’ll have to offer it for others.
  • Offer a written receipt in language your customers can understand.this may, or may not, be an issue in an artist’s business; having said that, if you are an English speaker and are doing shows in a community where another language is predominant, you might want to offer materials in that language.  Some American artists travel to Italy, for instance, for shows…this might be good business in this case.
  • Provide your name and contact information, as well as the contact information of the company you represent.- you would be amazed at the number of artists who do not provide this valuable information to buyers of their work…referral sales are as important for artists’ “products” as for any other consumer products.
  • Offer a complete description of any warranty or guarantee.as an artist, do you offer services after the purchase such as fixing damage?  Everything needs to be clearly outlined and understood between the artist and the buyer.

It’s difficult for some artists to put aside the fuzzy feel goods of getting their hands paint splattered and exchanging that for the cold realities of doing business.  However if an artist has decided to make a business of their work and efforts, then the two hats must be worn.  The business hat needs to fit as well as the creative one.  There is much more that goes into a discussion of art plus business; but for me, it helped to define my home-based business as a direct selling enterprise.  I could then further define what I needed to know and what skills I needed to learn to have a balanced business: creating work on one side and marketing and selling it on the other.

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