Category Archives: qualifying buyers

QUESTIONS YOU DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER

I have a good series going on at Fine Art Views, an online marketing newsletter. The series is called “Questions You Don’t Have to Answer” (when selling your artwork.) Check it out!

I’ll try to post a series of links to all the articles later today. Six months later…..

1. How Long Did It Take You To Make That?
2. Do You Have a Website?
3. Why Is Your Work So Expensive?
4. Where Is This Place?
5. How Did You Do That?
6. A Question From An Art Teacher (You Don’t Have to Answer)
7. Where Do You Get Your Supplies?
8. Are You As Good As….?
9. Can You Do Better On The Price?
10. How Long Have You Been Doing This?
11. Why Does This One Cost More Than That One?
12. Do You Teach Classes?

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GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #5: The Design Diva

Fifth in a series about how to get certain people out of your booth at art and craft shows.

This one is going to be odd, but if you’ve been in business long enough, you’ll be nodding your head. (Or holding it in your hands or tearing your hair out.)

It’s a special type of customer. The picky, picky customer. The contessa of custom work.

The Design Diva.

It’s the person who love, love, loves your work, and wants to own a piece. But nothing you have on hand really suits. It has to be a special piece. It has to be custom. It has to be….

Micromanaged to within an inch of its life.

If you aren’t careful, this faux customer will take up tons of your time and energy, designing that special piece–yet you will never close the sale.

Some custom work and special orders are easy. The customer wants this necklace, but in a longer length. Or this wall hanging, but a bit bigger to fit a special niche. Orders like these don’t require a lot of fussing.

Some custom orders are necessarily more involved. You’re going to be making something you’ve never done before–a brand new animal totem, or a piece larger than you ever attempted before. Some customers have never placed a custom order before, or they may not be familiar with you. Or it’s a lot more money than they are used to spending. More attention and hand-holding is necessary.

But there are some custom orders that are almost doomed to fail before they even start. It’s not you. It’s not the project.

It’s the Design Diva.

I’m talking about the faux customer who has you absolutely convinced that you have been commissioned to make a fabulous piece of art for them–who then drives you crazy with all the details they want to be in control of. The process drags on for months, long past the point where you can ever hope to profit from it.

Or they drop off the face of the earth after they leave your booth.

Or they cancel the order when you make your first follow-up call.

This customer actually envisions herself as the creative genius behind the work. She knows exactly how it will look, down to the precise size and shape and color.

You, with your technical skill and tools and materials, are simply the working stiff that will bring this imagined piece into the world.

IF the Design Diva actually ends up buying the work, it would be some solace. But sadly, most of these over-managed orders end up going nowhere.

The worst thing about these people is, they get your engine going about the big sale you are going to make. They can also suck up huge amounts of your time and your energy. You may not be able to take care of other would-be customers in your booth, trying to close this “big sale”.

We all go out window shopping, and it’s fine for customers to window shop in our booths. But this goes way, way beyond that.

Why would someone do this to an unsuspecting artist?

The question to ask is, what’s in it for them?

They get to play art patron. They get to be “Lady Bountiful” for a day. They get to have the undivided attention of a talented artist (you), eating out of their hand and hanging on every word about their artistic sensitivities, their lovely collection, their beautiful home.

It’s an exquisitely powerful position for someone to hold. And I suspect that some of these people are shadow artists, themselves.

Here are a few sad stories about Design Divas.

One customer approached me at a show for a three-piece wall hanging project. We worked out the idea. We talked for a long, long, time. I did not collect a deposit. She was so nice! I was thrilled to have such a big order to work on.

After the show, I sent her a design, fabric swatches and a proposal. When I didn’t hear from her, I called. That’s when I found out she’d found another option for that wall space from an artist in the next tent at the show. Thirty feet from my booth, she found a cheaper solution to her decorating dilemma.

She could have doubled back and tell me she’d changed her mind. She could have called. But she didn’t–because she had nothing invested in the process and nothing to lose. If I’d had a deposit, she would at least have called to make sure I didn’t cash the check.

Another buyer at a wholesale show came back to my booth three times to admire my work. He was a very pleasant gentleman, and eager to tell me about his fabulous multi-niched business. He placed a huge order for wall hangings, and wanted to buy a ton of jewelry, too.

But oddly, he could never find his wife to complete the order. After the show, when I called to confirm a ship date, I was told that though he was part-owner of the store, he was not the buyer. It sort of sounded like he did this a lot, too. Apparently, he enjoyed pretending he was. (At least he hadn’t ordered custom work.)

It’s actually a good strategy to get people talking about your work in their home or store.  The thing is, at some point, they have to commit to actually buying your work for it to actually be in their home or store.  Design Divas stretch out the talking, and never really get around to the buying.

Some hints that you are dealing with a design diva.

It’s not really about your art. It’s about their home. You hear more about the room it’s going into than anything else.

It’s not really about your work. It’s about the other stuff they have. You hear more about the other fabulous objets d’art the collector has already acquired than about yours.

It’s not really about you, the artist. It’s about them, the art patron. You hear more about the collector herself than you the artist. And why are they spending so much time talking about themselves, trying to impress you? Real collectors gather as much information about you, the artist, as they can. Because the stories about you are the ones they’re going to be sharing with their friends and guests when they come see your lovely work in the collector’s home.

Your artistic vision isn’t quite…quite. The way you do it isn’t quite good enough. There will be many, many changes and alterations along the way. The shade of rust you pick is a little off. It needs to be a wee bit bigger. Oh, and can you add some stuff over here?

It’s not really up to them. There is a mysterious husband who has to be consulted before anything is final, and he’ll probably say yes, but he never appears or can be contacted at the show. (Trust me, when he is finally found, the answer is always “no”…)

It just takes too long. Long after the order is recorded, the terms are discussed and it’s time for this customer to move on, they’re staying on way too long. It’s hard to explain, but it’s like they know they’ve got a big one on the line–you! And they’re having too much fun to let you go.

How can you protect yourself against these folks? It’s really hard, because they look so much like real customers. But here are some strategies:

Maintain control. For example, if you start to feel like you are simply a seamstress-for-hire instead of an artist, you can refuse to play the game. Put on your artist hat, and have confidence in your skills. “This sounds more like ‘work-for-hire’. Maybe you would be happier with a seamstress who can follow your exact specifications instead. Here’s the name of a good one near you.”

Get the OK from everyone involved. If they start deferring their final purchasing to some other person, stand down. You are either not dealing with the actual decision-maker, or the customer is starting to realize that significant “other” is probably going to say “no”–and that’s going to be embarrassing for everyone concerned. In fact, it’s so embarrassing, they won’t tell you that to your face. They’ll wait til you call for the next payment and tell you it’s all off. Get firm. Don’t go any further until you have the decision-maker in on the buy, too.

Put all your terms for custom/special orders in writing! Have your terms for custom work ready. And if you are not familiar with the customer,or you start getting those odd vibes, stick to your terms like glue. You can always relax your terms as you get buyer compliance.

Make it clear you charge a non-refundable design fee. Some people make it a percentage of the total order amount, others make it a flat fee–$50, $100, depending on how much work you anticipate putting into it.

Decide how many times you are willing to tweak the design to satisfy the customer. (Portrait painters have a hard time with this, especially when they are just starting out and their reputations aren’t “big enough” to command respect.) One or two tweaks should be all that is needed. More than that, accept the fact you will never come up with a design the customer will be happy with. You may want to charge for extra re-designs (beyond one or two) to discourage this.

Decide how much money you need as a deposit. 50% down, 50% at time of completion is an option.

At wholesale shows, many craftspeople simply refuse to take custom orders on new accounts. Changing a bead color here or there is one thing. Creating a whole new design you might not be able to sell anywhere else if the order falls through is another.

And remember…it’s okay to qualify your buyers–even retail buyers! Get references. Ask if they’ve commissioned work from artists before, and check them out. I did this at a new show for a custom order I took from a very nice couple. They actually offered the other artist’s name as a reference, and the artist gave them a rave review. (See how the buyers were trying to reassure me?) Everything went beautifully.Make them step up to the plate. If you feel like everything is sliding away, our first reaction is usually to work frantically harder to close the sale. But I’m learning to step back and think, “I think I need to see a commitment from you. Prove to me how badly you want my work!” Don’t draw up sketches or send swatches until you have money in hand.

Defer the big decision til after the show. This one is tricky, especially if you’re doing a show far from home. But if you’re getting that bad feeling about the whole transaction, and it’s a biggie, better to have it come apart later than to waste another precious minute of booth time. Arrange for the prospective customer to come for a studio visit. Or arrange for you about the project to consult in their home (paid, of course.)

Know when to fold. If you suspect you have a customer who will never be pleased, throw in the towel. Return as much of the deposit/payments as you can (keeping all the work you’ve already produced for them, of course) and refer them to someone else. (Preferably another artist you don’t like.)

Even with all these protections in place, however, all the person has to say is “My husband is a lawyer” (like one customer did) and you know this is a battle you are going to lose. Even if you are right, do you really have the time, the energy, the resources and the money to pursue this?

Truth be told, I still get tripped up by people like this. It’s impossible to close all the loopholes.

But f I can save you from one Design Diva, this column will not have been in vain.

Remember, your audience LOVES your work. They WANT to have it. They would not dream of jerking you around just to make themselves feel more important–because then you would never sell to them again.

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Filed under art, booth behavior, business, craft, craft shows, customer care, getting people OUT of your booth, qualifying buyers, selling, shows, time management

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #1: The “Free Milk” People

We spend so much time and energy trying to get people into our booth at a craft show, it seems totally counter-intuitive to think about how to get someone out.

Sad to say, there are such times–and such people. Sometimes you just have to pull the plug on someone who has overstayed their visit.

The first scenario? “Why pay for the cow when the milk is free?”

There are people who wants your work for free–or worse.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” I can almost hear you exclaim. “Who goes to a craft show and expects you to give them your work?!”

Actually, it happens a lot.

Artists at a craft show are kind of a captive audience to this kind of person–we can’t escape our booth, and they know it.

How about the budding craftsperson who wants to know everything about what you do? Where you get your ideas? Where you get your supplies? Who you sell to? What shows you do? How you learned your techniques?

How about the person who only wants to know how you make your stuff, so they can make it, too? (Yes, I’ve actually had people sat this to me outright.) This can be someone who sees themselves as “crafty” and thinks it’s okay to “borrow” your ideas, your designs, your color schemes, etc. They may excuse themselves for many reasons: They don’t intend to sell it, they just want to make one for themselves. Or they do intend to sell it, but only in Connecticut, because you don’t do shows in Connecticut anyway, right?

As for requests to give away my work, I’ve actually had people hint I should lower my prices or give them a deal, or even give them a piece , because they like my work but they think it’s too expensive, or they simply can’t afford it.

Some people simply see everyone as a benign and generous source of all kinds of free information because of the altruistic nature of their calling–education, for one. I hate to malign an entire profession because of a few lazy apples but you need to know: There are a few teachers are so caught up in the nobleness of their education thing, they think the rest of us are happy to share our trade secrets so they (the teacher) can use your ideas and techniques for a class project. They will spend a huge amount of time talking to you, having you convinced you have a new major collector on your hand, only to say cheerfully at the end, “Well, this will make a great lesson plan! Do you have any brochures I can take with me?”

Before I caught on to this, I had one teacher, when I gave her a brochure (thinking she was a really interested customer), who actually said, “Oh, what you’ve written about the Lascaux cave is perfect. I don’t have to change a thing! I can just use this whole text in my lesson plan!” I asked her if she were going to attribute that content to me. She was totally confused. With a smile, I said, “Well, all this material is my original content, developed from my research and endless hours of writing and editing. And of course, it’s copyrighted material.” She stammered an unconvincing, “Of course….sure…” and exited the booth.

Other artists do this to us, too. I know we are all inspired and energized by the creativity of others. And I know there may be nothing truly new under the sun. But when an artist says to you, “I want to change to something easy and quick to do that I can make a lot of money at, and I think I could do what you’re doing. How do you get the horses to look like this?”, your bullshit detector should be going off like a fire alarm in a gunpowder factory.

And if someone steps into your booth with a camera and starts snapping away at your products, you need to find out immediately if they are simply an enthusiastic yet innocent and clueless admirer, or someone swiping your designs.

Before you say, “Surely you exaggerate…?” let me assure that these are all things that have actually happened to me. All the weird questions and statements are that have actually been said to me. These situations tends to happen more at retail shows. At wholesale shows, the buyers are usually pre-qualified. They are there for a purpose, to find products for their store. But this stuff can happen at wholesale shows, too.

What’s going on?

Some people see shows as entertainment or education. They don’t know, or they forget, or they overlook the fact that you have spent a heckuva lot of time, money and energy to be there. As generous as we’d like to be, we must also sell our work so we can afford to keep doing what we’re doing.

We cannot afford to overlook or ignore paying customers at the expense of someone who has no intention of paying for what we have to offer.

There is no right or wrong to all of this. Some people would not be bothered a jot by any of the situations I’ve described, while others would be even less tolerant than I am. It’s totally up to you how much time you want to give to someone, and what your comfort level is. If a show is slow, it’s certainly nice to at least look like you have customers and buyers in your booth.

But if you’ve hit your comfort level, or there are other people, potential paying customers in your booth you need to get to, then it’s time to move these “non-buying” people on.

Now first, how do we identify who is a potential customer who is simply interested in your work, from someone who is looking for the free milk?

And how to we participate in the simple act of sharing our expertise and experiences freely with others, without feeling taken advantage of by those few people that, well, take advantage?

To answer the first question:

People who are really interested in you and your work (and not just what you can do for them) ask you questions–and listen to the answers.

These people are genuinely interested in you and your work (whether or not they are ready, able or willing to buy it just yet.) They want to know more about you and the work.

People who are interested in only what you can do for them, ask questions–and then interrupt to tell you their answers, and their issues, and their work.

Or they argue with everything you say, but those people fall into the “energy vampire” category which we’ll cover later.

Or their questions have everything to do with the “how”, and very little to do with the “why”.

The answer to the second question is, know that you get to decide what you are going to give “free” to people that ask. You get to choose! You can share your time, your expertise, your advice. But it is up to you how much and how detailed.

And most importantly, when you share that. (Hint: After the show!!) (Yes, you are going to hear that over and over today.)

Some things and thoughts that have worked for me:

First, if there is anyone else in your booth who is acting more like a genuine customer, you on your party manners and excuse yourself: “Well, hey, it’s been really nice talking to you, but I have some things I need to get back to.” Move away, greet your other customers, and do your regular booth schtick–offer to answer questions for your new arrivals, adjust your display, keep busy.

If there are no other customers, you can choose how much–or how little–advice/time/information you give away.

For the customer who claims my work is too expensive, I’ll come right out and ask, “What is your budget?” I show them the less expensive work in that range. If I feel they are quibbling, or are being ridiculous (“Five dollars!”) I simply say, “I’m so glad you like my work, but it’s so labor intensive, I’m afraid I can’t help you.” I sometimes even move them on to another artist’s booth with work in that price range.

If they insist they want expensive work, I tell them about my extremely cool layaway plan. They will either step up to the plate–cool! A new collector! Or they will realize you know the value of your work and that you’ve priced it fairly–and that you’re not going to be guilt-tripped into offering a discount.

BTW, if you are an artist who does offer discounts, and that works for you, be sure to ask them first what they are willing to pay. Otherwise, you get into this weird game of trying to guess the most they are willing to pay–you offer a discount and they get to say it’s still too high, and it goes downhill from there.. Get them to commit to an offer they will definitely accept first, then work up from there. OR offer them another piece in that price range.

I sometimes feel it’s justified to have people do some work if they want to learn everything I know. Consequently, I keep a few resources memorized to meet such requests.

For people who want to know where I get my supplies, I tell them to check out the advertisers in trade magazines like Bead and Button Magazine. Websites like Glass Attic are encyclopedic resources for videos, books and classes on polymer clay. You could have ready similar resources for your medium.

For people who are farther along than that, I keep a few good wholesale sources memorized to pass on to them. I have several with a range of wholesale requirements and corresponding price breaks, and the artist can figure out which ones suit where they are now in their career.

I keep the contact info for local teachers who teach classes in simple jewelry-making or introduction to polymer clay. If you teach yourself, offer your own workshops. After the show, of course. Put their name on a separate mailing list for classes.

For the people who insist I teach a class on how to make something that’s too personal, or one of my core products, I tell them that. Again, nicely. If they have a professional bone in their body, they’ll understand. If they don’t, I simply act like they do. I say something like, “You know how it is with art, some things are just too personal and totemic to share right away…”

I also refer people to my blog for information on how to get more publicity, how to decide whether to do wholesale shows, how to design a better booth, etc. Why should I stand in a booth at a show I’ve paid hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars to be at, and talk at length, when they could simply read my blog?? If they say they don’t have time, well then, I don’t have time, either. If there are blogs out there you find useful, share them with these people.

For artists (especially ones new to wholesale) who want to know where I sell my work, I offer the name of a store or two I think would be a good fit for them. But I might also ask them for the name of a store, museum or other venue they’ve come across in their travels that would be a good fit for me.

If artists want more feedback on a show, say a wholesale show I’ve done, I can often refer them to specific essays I’ve written on my blog. Of course, the best advice I can give is for them to actually visit and walk the show themselves, so they can decide for themselves.

For the teachers looking for lesson plan material, offer to come in and do a project or artist presentation for their class. There is often a little money in the school budget for things like this, or sometimes grants are available from your craft guilds and state arts and crafts organizations. Of course, if you are willing to donate your time, that’s an option, too…after the show.

Last, I tell people I’m happy to talk with them–but not at the show.

I point out that my first goal at the show has to be to earn money so I can continue to make my beautiful work! They can call or e-mail me after the show. I smile, I stay happy, I maintain a positive atmosphere, I am polite–but I am also firm. Sometimes I have to say “after the show” quite a few times… but you’d be surprised how simply pointing this out to people can snap them out of this mindset.

Now, there are many people who do not actually buy my work, and I am happy to spend a lot of time with. But they have “paid” me in other ways–by collecting my work in the past, by introducing my work to others, by providing me with opportunities, speaking engagements, paid teaching gigs, publicity, or just plain ol’ support and encouragement.

There are many times people ask questions about my work, and I am not bothered or annoyed at all.

It’s not the action–it’s the intention. It’s when I feel the expectation that I am to give it away that I feel the burn.

Know when the intention is not serving you. Learn to recognize when the interaction is not balanced. Know that as long as you stay professional and courteous, it’s simply okay to say that enough is enough, and it’s time to move on.

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Filed under art, booth behavior, business, craft shows, customer care, getting people OUT of your booth, qualifying buyers, selling, shows, time management

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH

Yes, you read that right. Usually we’re trying to get people into our booth so we can sell them our work. But sometimes it’s just as important to get them out of there, too.

I was inspired by Donald Clark’s new column in The Crafts Report called “Just Ask”. Donald is a co-owner of Ferrin Gallery in Northampton, MA, and an author and artist in his own right. He gave a few suggestions for getting rid of a “talker” in your booth–the person who has no intention of buying anything, but is distracting you from other customers.

The advice was sound, but you could actually write a book about this topic. So I’ll share some suggestions and insights that have worked for me.

This will be in small doses over several days, as my ability to type is compromised. And I would love it if you asked questions or shared your own tips and suggestions along the way!

And okay, I’ll admit it–the title is provocative. You don’t necessarily need to boot every non-customer out of your booth! Not every transaction is about money, not by a long shot.

But no one needs “bad transactions”, either. There are indeed times when someone is being a jerk, a downer, a whiner or simply an energy-vampire. If they aren’t driving other customers out of your booth, they are practically driving you out of your booth.

You must contain and deal with that negative energy. Not only your sales, but your peace of mind may depend on it.

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Filed under art, booth behavior, business, craft, craft shows, getting people OUT of your booth, qualifying buyers, selling, shows, time management

BELIEVE HALF OF WHAT YOU HEAR….

Recently on a professional forum, I fell into a thread concerning a difficult store owner. I had my own sad story to share, and did so.

Soon, however, I realized I’d only contributed to a vague panic. Some people were saying they would not take orders from the store, based on the negative feedback some others were sharing. (Some people had had good experiences with the store.)

Here’s what I had to say about that:

I want to urge people not to necessarily blow off an order because of my not-so-hot experience.

First, you should never accept another person’s version of events at face value–even mine!! I had a bad experience, and some other people did. But that can be a function of many different things.

I know someone who used to badmouth a particular company, one that I had dealings with, too. She said horrible things about them on public forums. Still does!

I, on the other hand never had any problems.

I finally heard the back story on that other person.

Not only were many of the things she said untrue, which is bad enough. But the artist caused a lot of the problems herself.

It turns out the artist was so difficult to deal with, the company quit ordering from her–even though they were very successful selling her work.

My cautionary tale was to encourage you all to think about worst-case scenarios–then develop sound business practices that will protect you. Business practices that still allow you to grow and run your business the way you want to.

This particular buyer may be having a difficult time right now–money may be tight, or there may be family or health problems. Or maybe she just doesn’t do well with artists who are “too obliging”–she may need firm boundaries. Whatever! She may NOT be a problem buyer for someone else.

I also realize if I’d followed my own rules, and stood my ground, I may not have had so much trouble. I could at least have nipped it in the bud sooner. I think I enabled her, in a way.

She liked the work, but she was conflicted. Usually, if there is one or two issues with a potential customer, it’s good salesmanship to reassure the buyer and overcome objections–up to a point. Beyond that, you are dealing with something else, something unsaid. Something more than a simple objection or to. Try to force the issue, and you are going down a path you may regret later.

In this case, she was extremely conflicted. I would reassure her on one point. She would immediately raise another. I would back off, and she would come back with enthusiasm. But when I started to actively sell again, she would retreat and find fault again.

That was my warning sign. I should have listened to my gut.

In hindsight, I should have immediately gone back and stood by my rules. No custom orders on the first order. No exchanges on custom orders. No messing with the show special–it has to be ordered at the show, and that’s what makes it “special”. No defending my prices–I know what my work is worth.

Bending rules should be for highly enthusiastic customers who need a little push to fully commit. Bending rules for extremely ambivalent customers always comes back to bite me.

I hope I’m saying this the right way. I was happy to hear that my issues with her weren’t just “me”. But I also don’t want to paint her with a permanent brush of bad will.

Listen to what others have to say about a difficult store. Put your rules and terms in place, and stick to them. Proceed with caution.

Then make up your own mind about the situation.

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