Guidelines for Selling Your Art
Guideline Number 1
Do Not Make Gifts of Your Art
If you truly desire to sell your art as a for-profit business, then do not make gifts of your art. No one (that is to say, NO ONE) will place a higher monetary value on your art than you do.
Even if someone was willing to pay $400 for a giclee print, but they knew you were selling prints to your relatives for $65.00, then that is all that customer will be willing to pay.
Or worse yet, if you are displaying your work in shows or galleries and your collectors discover that you are selling your art, on the side, for hundreds less, then they will not continue to buy at the higher price, and the gallery will stop showing you.
If you want to donate a framed print for charitable purposes, then that of course is a business decision. If you are being inundated with donation requests, and you want to respond favorably, then choose some specific work(s) and dedicate that print edition to the donation aspect of your business. If you can sell some, that is OK, but at least the galleries and collectors are aware that those particular prints are serving that purpose.
Another way of donating without getting into the "give-it-away" dilemma, is to advertise that the net profit (or a portion thereof) will be given to a charity. Then you can maintain the higher price for your reproductions, your collectors will still feel comfortable in investing in the art, and their conscious will be refreshed because their purchase helped a charity. You can alternate charities as necessary to fit the particular interests of the buyers.
Guideline Number 2
Provide incentives to encourage spontaneous buying
If your prices have enough profit built in, you can provide incentives to generate sales:
True story: I (George Lynn) know a man whose wife owns a beauty parlor in Pasadena Texas. She asked the vendor to quit stocking the professional hair dryers because they were not selling at $80, the MSRP. The vendor said to increase the regular price above $100 dollars, but put up a sign advertising a markdown to her customers. Sam said his wife started selling-out of the professional hair dryers at the bargain price of $80.
Art is the same way. You must build "fat" into the price to allow yourself to bargain with a customer. You already know your lower limit. When a customer sees your willingness to help them obtain the art may be what clinches the sale.
If you do not have the print in stock at the show and if your prices are high enough, offer "free" shipping in a tube. Stretched canvas is too complicated for free shipping, but shipping an un-stretched canvas in a tube is good if you have it built into your price. Be sure to collect in full at the show.
If you do not collect "in full", then you must collect enough to cover your printing and packaging / shipping costs--even though shipping is "free". Do not ship the art to the buyer until it is paid in full. You run the risk of never seeing the money, plus you must manage tracking post-shipping payments as well as sending multiple reminders to those who take months to remit: ix nay on the "pay after shipment plan".
Concerning incentives to close a sale, remember how the music recording companies offer bonus tracks on CD albums to encourage sales and to get the artist's music published? You can offer an additional, different print at reduced a price (this would be a print that is being used for that purpose, and your collectors would not be offended to see it treated this way). If prints are used as the buying incentive, then consider using a smaller matted print such as a 9x12 so your costs can easily be recovered.
Certainly you should not always be providing incentives, but if sales are slow, low cost incentives are a good method of clinching the sale without taking a beating on the price. Even though you are offering an incentive, your prices must be set to recover the cost of the primary print plus the incentive piece, as well as make a satisfactory profit.
Guideline Number 3
Figure your prices so that after expenses, you can at least double your money on the print cost.
The print cost includes any cost that you incur to put the print in the customer's hands: this includes buying the print, matting, framing, and commissions paid to a gallery.
Other costs have to be considered such as your time, booth and show expenses, and various other costs that are hard to figure but must eventually be recovered. If, after expenses, you have at least doubled the money you invested in selling the prints, then you are achieving what many other businesses try to achieve.
If, after actually doubling your money, you do not feel that you are making enough to justify your time, then the only wise thing to do is to increase your prices. If sales drop because of the price increase, then you have to make a decision whether the profits are worth the effort.
However, do not short-change yourself...
The value of your talent, your name, and the uniqueness of your art will allow you to increase the price of your art, and buyers are willing to pay for those attributes. As you see the demand for your art increase—original or prints, you must likewise increase the price of your art. Otherwise, you will find yourself unable to keep up with demand and you may burn out. Once you have people seeking your work, your prices will control how much you sell—original or prints.
Guideline Number 4
Offer down-sized prints.
The most beautiful part of having a giclee print is that you can offer your art in smaller sizes to fit the budget of anyone who may want to purchase the image. Just make sure that your sizes are substantially smaller so the buyer must make a deliberate choice between the small, medium, or large size.
Guideline Number 5
Take off your artist apron and become a salesperson: Make contact with the "lookers" and sell your art.
Show yourself to be open and friendly. Be immediately available to the people who look at your art. Introduce yourself. If you are painting while at the show, let them watch you paint, but engage them in conversation. Do not allow them to leave without spending individual time with them.
Physically give them a token (as opposed to relying on them to just pick it up) to take with them which has your name, web site, etc., even if it is a brochure of your work.
Take them on a tour of your other work and try to discover a connection between them and your art. Explain the meaning and significance your work. Ask them what attracts them to a certain piece that they seem particularly interested in. This will allow you to get feed-back for future art ideas, and it also subtly generates some verbal commitment from the potential buyer.
If they seem to want your art but are unwilling to buy, explain that you sense they like the piece and ask if they would like to own it. If they say yes, then find out what is keeping them from buying: it could be the price, the effort of carrying it around, the wrong size, etc. It may be that they will mention something that you are unwilling to change. If that occurs, then make a counter offer.
For instance, let's pretend that they say the price is too high. Explain that collectors are buying your work at that price and you are unable to reduce it—i.e., explain you are unwilling because you are protecting someone else's investment. In lieu of dropping the price, offer to throw-in another print (one that you really do not mind unloading) for "x" dollars (like they do at the store: buy one get the other half off—or something similar to that.)
There are a variety of other things that you may be able to offer instead of prints. Just keep the overall cost in mind so that you are not giving away your target profit margin.
If they do not want to carry the art around after purchase, then offer to hold it for them during the show, or even ship it to them. Do your homework ahead of time and get good estimates of packaging and shipping costs that will need to be paid at the time of purchase. Add enough to cover your time. If you spend a week prepping items to ship, that is a week that you are not doing other activities.
If the print is too big or too small, then show them a different size, if you choose to make different sizes available.
In almost every case, people come to art exhibits with a set amount that they are willing to spend that day. If the money is not spent at your booth, or on your art, it will be spent somewhere at the show. The artist who becomes the profit-minded salesperson, who eliminates the buying obstacles and connects the "looker" with the art is the winner.
Guideline Number 6
Make your booth a well-lighted showplace.
Light your booth as much as possible. Display your best work within that light. If lighting is limited, have at least one spot where the art can be moved to for better viewing. If someone is interested in a certain piece, move the art to that spot for them see.
If possible, drape neutral colors behind the displayed art to allow it to be viewed without the distraction of a booth setting.
Make an attractive display of your prints. Shrink wrap them or bag them against a cardboard backing. Use a liner to keep the print away from the cardboard and create a good presentation. Group your work, if possible, so that someone who is looking for flowers does not have to look through marine life paintings to find them.
Label your displays if they are sectioned into groups so people can see the variety of art that you offer. Plainly post a list of those groups so it can be seen what type of art people (that are passing-by) can expect to find in your booth. It may lure someone to your booth that may not think you have that kind of art.
Make photos of awards and ribbons that you have earned and display them. Plainly list any art leagues and associations that you belong to (such as NSA and what allowed you to reach that achievement). Briefly mention them as you conduct your tours.
Provide a flip-through portfolio/artist's diary for people who take an active interest in your personal work (But attach it to the table with a sturdy—but not gaudy—chain so it doesn't "walk-off").
Guideline Number 7
Collect names and addresses
Have interested lookers sign up for a prize drawing. Get them to provide names, home / business postal addresses and email addresses. Yes, they are signing up for the drawing, but in a separate paragraph explain how the winner(s) will be notified and other rules of the drawing. Also explain that each entrant is agreeing to be contacted by email or regular mail with news about new paintings, shows you are attending, etc.
Guideline Number 8
Allow yourself time to grow, and allow your disposable income and art sales to get you there: do not go into credit card debt to fund your business.
Use your disposable income to initially promote your business. Then, as your business grows, begin using the profits you've gained to finance your business needs such as art shows you might attend, booth spaces that you might rent, advertising, etc.
The point is this: Continually evaluate the investments of your disposable income and art-sales profits, and do not (i.e., never) stack charges against credit cards that will carry lingering balances.
Guideline Number 9
Maintain a "Never give up" attitude
After the darkest days of England's history, Winston Churchill visited Harrow School to hear the school's songs he had sung there as a youth. During the speech that followed, he told the students that they should not use the words "darker days" within their song, but rather change the words to "sterner days" (which the school did per his suggestion).
Within the body of his speech he told the students, "Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense."
It is reported that he sat down after the short speech and was asked if that was all he was going to tell them. He responded that he had just told them everything they needed to know.
And so it is with all endeavors, great or small. You, like others who push-out into the business world, will face your "darker" days. Your emotions will tell you to quit. You may be secretly saying that it will never work. But in your heart you must allow your convictions and good sense determine your actions.
As Churchill said, the days are "stern", but do not think of them as "dark" where there is no hope of success.
Attitude: It is the root and foundation of every long-term successful endeavor that has ever been accomplished.