Selling your work and creating a network of customers

Written by Leigh Blanckenberg

As a young artist, emerging onto the scene, it is no small task selling a work. So it was great to see a few red stickers at the Joburg Fringe Art Fair 2011 in the Assemblage gallery, as it means that some of you managed to do so. After speaking to a few artists at the Joburg Fringe I realised there seems to be a need to talk about how artists should  interact with the buyers of their artworks. It is tricky to find a way to maintain a great relationship with those that buy your work. However, it is crucial to develop and maintain a professional relationship with those that have an interest in what you do. Especially if you have chosen to manage yourself and are not attached to a gallery who does this work for you. For some, it seems easier to try and become involved with a gallery as the admin of selling work no longer becomes your problem. Initially it might provide you with a sense of security, knowing that your work will be consistently exposed to a buying market. However, I believe that as a young artist signing yourself to a gallery can be hugely restrictive. It means you are limited to where , when, how and for how much you can exhibit your work. Your work picks up the reputation of the gallery that you sign to and you end up paying a large amount of commission to them. Depending on what gallery it is, this can sometimes result in the sale of your work barely covering your costs. I am, by no means, saying that you should not exhibit in galleries, but there is a way to be more independent. You do not have to sign a contract with a leading gallery in order to become famous! By becoming your own salesman/woman you have the ability to sell to a full range of galleries (once they have bought from you they will resell at a higher amount making your work more valuable), museums and private collectors, while collecting all the profit, thus exposing yourself as much as possible and putting yourself on the map to success.

As most of you will know if you have had displays  in an exhibition, there are two standard ways in which a customer can show interest in buying your work. This is usually shown with different stickers. They can offer to buy the work (red sticker) or they can reserve the work (green sticker) in consideration that they are thinking of purchasing your work.  Essentially they mean the same thing as neither are confirmation of a sure thing. If you as an artist do not take the details of the customer and follow through with the interest in the work, you are less likely to sell that piece. The best way in which to do a follow up after an exhibition is by personal email. A phone call can do the trick but is often more daunting and therefore easier to mess up. I suggest, that if you can, take photographs of all your works that go into an exhibition. That way you can include a thumbnail photograph of the artwork the buyer is interested in.  If the buyer can see the work again you have a better chance of evoking the emotions that came when the work was initially viewed. The idea of the email is not only to make sure that the buyer is actually going to follow through but also to make sure you stay connected for future sales. Thank the buyer for attending the exhibition and showing interest in your work. If they have placed it on reserve ask them if they are still interested.  Ask the buyer if you can include them on a mailing list to inform him/her of future exhibitions and new works for sale. Invite them to view your work space or studio. Refer them to your website (it is good to have one). Only at the end of your email provide methods of payment and cost of artwork. If the buyer responds positively and you sell an artwork, deliver it to them personally once the exhibition is over and they have paid. This shows the buyer that you are not only professional but efficient. All of this should be completed a week after that sticker was placed by your work. Any later and the buyer will have most probably lost interest.

Creating a network of possible customers is critically important if you want to pursue a career as an artist. If you do not build, manage and maintain your mailing list, your works will be quickly forgotten. Although it takes time, it is not difficult to follow through on sales correctly and once you get the hang of it I think your network will snowball.