Category Archives: selling

COMPLETING THE CIRCLE: You With Your Art, Your Art With Your Customer

I love it when it's so crowded in my booth, you can't even see me!

I love it when it’s so crowded in my booth, you can’t even see me!

Yesterday I wrote this column for Fine Art Views. It’s about the excuses we make when it comes to selling our art. (It’s part of a series I’ve written about why you should do open studios.

One of the comments caught my attention big time. To paraphrase, the reader said, “Making art is so very different from selling it.”

It may seem that way. Many artists believe it.

But actually, no. It really isn’t different.

Art-making is a circle: You make the art, you get your art into the world in all kinds of ways and manner…to connect your to an audience.

Selling is simply one way of connecting your work to an audience. It’s part of the creative process.

As artists, we think of the “making” as the creative part–often our favorite part! We’ve learned to see what others may not see. By capturing a moment, a trick of the light, a feeling, we urge others to look more closely. By sharing an image that sparks a memory, an idea, an insight, we connect that spark to others.

Yes, we may make art for what it does for us. Perhaps we feel more human, or more whole, or simply happier.

But art is bigger than us. Art is bigger when it connects to others.

When I create work inspired by ancient cave paintings, there is a deepening in myself I can actually feel. But what really breaks my heart wide open is when others see what I see, feel what I feel. For a brief moment, the “I” inside me connects to the “I” inside you.

Art is meant to be shared. (Only when we fear being ridiculed, or punished, or ignored, do we hide it. Because that could be painful for us in so many ways!) We make it, but for the real work to happen, it has to get out into the world. (Did I say “work”?? I really mean “miracle”! Bear with me….)

When our world was much smaller, it was pretty easy for others to see what we made. We knew who the artist/shaman was in our little community. We knew who made the most beautiful weavings, or carvings, whether functional or pure adornment.

The difference now is, the world is a lot bigger, our communities more diverse. We just have to work a little harder.

And so we do exhibitions and shows. We have websites. We send out postcards, and catalogs, and mailings. We create publicity with press releases and events like art receptions, open studios and installations.

And we try to sell our work. (Not all art is sold, of course, nor does all art have to be sold. But when it is–oh my!)

Some of us hate this entire connection process, especially the selling part. Others find it just as creative as the actual making. I do! I love how much people enjoy my postcards. I like welcoming people into my studio. I enjoy reading people’s reactions to a post I’ve made or an image I’ve shared on Facebook.

Where most of us get stuck is getting people to actually buy the stuff.

But if you look at selling as a creative process, too, it becomes a logical outcome of our entire creativity circle. Hopefully, recognizing it will make it more enjoyable–or at least less frustrating!

“Selling? Creative?!”, I can almost hear you say. “What the….?!!!” Bear with me again!

First there is the creative process of story-telling: What we choose to tell people about our work. Some focus on the “how” and the “what”–How did we come to do this work, and how did we get here? (We focus on our resume and credentials.) What did we see, and how do we did we try to capture that? (We focus on our technique and skills.)

For me, the “why” creates more power: Why do I get inspiration from this cave? Why does making this work bring me joy? Why do I use the techniques and materials I use?

But that may not be enough. So here’s where the next creative process comes into play….

We create ways for our audience to make their own connections.

They are the ones who will assign new meaning to what we’ve made. They will fit it into their lives, their homes.

This is where we let our audience tell their story.

Now it’s time for us to ask them questions. Now we ask them the “why”.

Ask your buyer: What attracted you to my work? Why does it bring joy to you? What do you see? What does it remind you of? What does it say to you? And why do you desire to have it for yourself? What place in your home would you hang it, and why? If it’s a gift, why did you select this piece for that person? Who is this person to you, that you are giving them such an amazing gift?

And when they come back to you next year for more, they will have even more to tell you. What else they’ve noticed. How it’s influenced, or even changed them. What other people have said about it. How much the friend enjoyed it.

These are the foundation blocks of the selling process. We establish a way for our audience to connect emotionally, spiritually, to us, and to our work.

When I first started getting my work out into the world, it took me awhile to get this concept. I thought it was all about me, the artist. And so I talked as much as people let me. I sold quite a bit of my work, so I figured it was what worked.

But one day I realized something was missing.

I was focused totally on my experience. I was not giving attention to my customer’s experience.

When I stopped talking and started actively listening, I was astonished by what I heard.

People saw things I hadn’t seen. They told stories I hadn’t thought of. Their connection to what I’d made was just as powerful as the connection I had through making it.

People always ask me what the markings mean on my artifacts. I had my thoughts. But I was astonished what other people saw–sometimes with profound possibilities. Some folks saw musical notation–and now we know how important sound was to ancient people. Some saw a map. A child saw constellations.

The Lascaux Bull now thought to depict the world's first star map (Taurus, of course!)

The Lascaux Bull now thought to depict the world’s first star map (Taurus, of course!)

None of these had ever occurred to me. Yet now I can’t see those markings without a ginormous sense of wonder. A miracle has occurred….

My world was changed and enriched by their connection.

Now when I sell a piece of my work, whether it’s a $50 pair of earrings or a $2,000 framed piece, there is a satisfaction way beyond the actual money transaction. (Although when someone exchanges with me their hard-earned money for my work, that is high praise indeed!)

The satisfaction comes from my feeling the circle is complete.

So why did I mention miracles earlier?

Because miracles are a shift in perspective, from fear to love.

Here is the final miracle:

We can lose the fear of selling. And instead, we can embrace the deep, powerful connection with the world, it represents.

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Filed under art, selling

THE GENDER GAP: Two Articles on What We Can Learn From Each Other

I wrote an article about what women could learn from men about marketing and selling art.

Masculine/Feminine Part 1
Being a “good girl” may not make for a great artist….
read more.

Today is my article about what men could learn from women.

Masculine/Feminine Part 2
Being a “girly man” can make you better at selling your art…..read more.

Enjoy!

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Filed under art, Fine Art Views, selling

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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Filed under craft shows, marketing, qualifying buyers, selling

QUESTIONS YOU DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER: “Do You Have a Website?”

Here’s my latest article at Fine Art Views Newsletter called
QUESTIONS YOU DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER: Do You Have a Website?

Don't be too quick to hand these out!

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Filed under art, booth behavior, business, craft, customer care, questions you don't have to answer, selling, selling online, shows

QUESTIONS YOU DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER: “How Long Did That Take You to Make?”

Here’s my latest article at Fine Art Views Newsletter called
Questions You Don’t Have to Answer.

And here’s a tongue-in-cheek article by Robert Genn on how the Art Marketing Board of Canada can help you price your artwork.

Enjoy!

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Filed under art, business, craft, marketing, questions you don't have to answer, selling, telling your story

ART AND FILTHY LUCRE: Does Making Art for Money Muddy the Artistic Waters?

My art’s bigger/better/purer than your art. So there!

Hierarchies come easily to many living creatures.

It can be a brutal process. For birds, hierarchy can mean life or death. That phrase ‘pecking order’? It’s real. I’ve lost chickens and cockatiels to the process. The bird on the lowest rung of the ladder may not get enough to eat. An even slightly injured chicken will be attacked, killed, even eaten by the rest of the flock.

We humans have hierarchies, too. Our fascination for English royalty, our obsession with celebrities, our own yearning for fame and fortune, all are social constructs based on hierarchy.

Artists and craftspeople are no exception.

People who make their own jewelry components sniff at ‘bead stringers’–people who use only purchased components in their designs. The people who do some wire work or only make their own beads, are sniffed at by silver- and goldsmiths.

Glass artists have been the top of the heap in the collecting world for several decades now. Before that, it was something else. Maybe clay. I dunno–I wasn’t in the biz then.

Fine artists look down on all crafts. Once I introduced myself to a small group as a fiber artist. “Hunh! That’s nice…” was the general response. Ten minutes later, a local oil painter’s name came up. “Now he’s a real artist!” someone in the group exclaimed.

But fine artists have their own internal order, too. Pastels are better than colored pencils, watercolors better than pastel work, acrylic paint is better than watercolor, and oils are better than acrylic.

And of course, across all media is the hierarchy of purity. Who makes money from their art, and who makes art purely for art’s sake? Who sullies their ethos for filthy lucre? Is teaching the purest form of sharing our art with the world?

It gets kinda confusing–and funny–after awhile.

If you are in a group of artists who sell their work, the mark of a ‘professional artist’ is your ability to make a living from your work. How much money you make is your achievement award. It’s proof that you are a serious, full-time artist.

Or people place you on the ladder by the prestige factor of the shows you do. Small local shows don’t count, of course. Why, they let just anybody in!

Being vetted by an organization helps, too. I’ve had people express polite interest in my work until I mention that I’m a doubly-juried member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. Suddenly, I’m treated with respect and deference.

But there’s nothing like the disdain amateurs–those who can’t-won’t-don’t sell their work–hold for an artist who actually, actively seeks sale–those artists who want to make their work and get paid for making it. The disdain the amateur holds for ‘professionals’ is huge.

They have history behind them. The word ‘amateur’ originally meant someone who pursued an activity purely for the love it of it. Now it ranks right up there with ‘dilettante’–someone who pursues an activity superficially. (ouch!) Amateurs, by definition, make their art without the requirement of making money from it. Art for Art’s sake. The purest state of making art.

The reality? Not for me to judge. It’s all good.

I’ve been everywhere on the spectrum in my career.

I began by making jewelry entirely from purchased components, and making traditional quilts. I did a very few small local shows, but mostly I gave my work away.

Then I dedicated myself to finding my own personal vision. It was a powerful step. I was grateful to even be making my art. The thought of being accepted into a show, or of someone even buying a piece, seemed too much to ask for.

As my skills and self-confidence grew, the next step was entering exhibitions across the country. Someone had told me they thought the phrase ‘nationally-exhibited artist’ sounded so wonderful, they made that their goal. I made it my goal, too. And I achieved it within a few years by methodically applying to as many opportunities as I could.

When ‘nationally-exhibited artist’ lost its luster, I turned to money as a measure of my success. It was important to me to make sales. The more money I made, the more successful I felt.

After years of making money, I wanted to be in the ‘good’ shows, the prestigious shows that look on a resume. With time and effort, I managed that, too.

And then I went back to square one.

I transitioned from focusing on these external goals, to thinking about the place in the world I occupy. I’m still selling–better than ever, in fact. But that transition came from a powerful place in my heart, and that is more important to me than ever.

Now, according to many people, I can be placed at every step in the art hierarchy. I’ve been ‘pure’, I’ve been ‘mercenary’, I’ve been ‘published/exhibited’, I’ve been hunkered down.

And yet, it’s the same work. And I am the same person.

Hierarchies evolved as a way for a species to survive. The weak, the sickly, were left to die, so that the flock/herd/group could survive.

We humans can–and do–choose differently.

We try to heal our sick. We care for the weak. We are present with the dying, to comfort them.

We’ve learned that even someone who is sick, or weak, or slow, or awkward, or fearful, or (gasp!) untalented, still has a place in the world.

And given that chance, and that place in the world, the gifts they offer can be profound and huge. At the vary least, they are happier for doing what they do.

So make your art.

Sell it, if that’s important to you. Don’t resent others if they sell theirs, and you can’t seem to sell yours.

Don’t excuse yourself by judging others. They are either on a different path, or (like me) simply in a different part of the cycle.

Recognize the hierarchy of who’s making ‘real art’ for what it is–a way to hide our jealousy of people who seem to have something we want for ourselves. A survival strategy we can choose to ignore.

Decide what you want, right here, right now.

And know that you can change your mind, any time. And do something different.

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Filed under art, choices, craft, craft shows, creativity, jealousy, professional jealousy, selling, starting over

RESPECT YOUR COLLECTORS Part 2

This article was originally published for Fine Art Views.
I forgot to republish this on MY blog!! My bad.

Respect Your Collectors Part 2
by Luann Udell on 12/23/2010 9:56:04 AM

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”

Don’t leave your early collectors behind.

Sometimes artists, in their haste to “get big”, blow off the very people who helped them get there in the first place.

In my first article in this series, I explained how I was introduced to the joys of collecting original works of art. Today I’ll show how—and why–you must honor those early supporters of your work.

In educating me how to find ‘real art’, my friend pointed out a rich source of original art in my own backyard—the prestigious Ann Arbor art fairs. These fairs are a series of 3-4 fine art and craft shows (depending on how you count them) that take place concurrently on the campus and in the town streets.

Taking my friend’s advice, I visited the shows that year with new intention—not to just be amazed and entertained by the beautiful work, but with an eye to actually owning some of it.

I was no longer an ordinary browser or casual shopper. I was an art collector! I had money in my pocket, an open heart and a passion to learn. It was a heady feeling.

There was one artist whose work I fell in love with. I spent quite a bit of time in her booth talking to her, and admiring her work. We talked about the inspiration for her charming motifs, the materials she used to create the enchanting details I loved, her lovely, delicate use of color.

She had work in a range of sizes, but she’d already sold all the pieces in my price range. “I’m just so excited, this has been a GREAT show for me!” she exclaimed. “I’m definitely coming back next year, and I’ll have lots more smaller pieces, too—they’re selling like hot cakes!”

I was pleased that someone so likeable, whose work I really liked, was having so much success. In my budding connoisseur-like mind, it confirmed my instinct to support her art. She didn’t take layaway, and this was before most artists took credit cards. But she assured me there would be ample opportunity to own one of her pieces the following year.

For that entire year, I set aside money, enough to acquire one of her smaller pieces. I kept her postcard on my bulletin board where I could look at it every day. I circled the dates for the next art fair show on my calendar.

When the happy day came, I sought her out. I had my hard-earned money in my hot little hands, all ready to buy something. I was determined to leave her booth with something this time.

To my dismay, things had changed.

Her work was bigger, for one thing. It was bigger. Much much bigger. And consequently, much more expensive, too. Not a single piece was less than several thousand dollars.

It was different. The small, intimate, intricately detailed work was gone. Strong, bold, monochromatic abstract work had replaced it.

Something else was changed, too. Her attitude.

The gushing, friendly, warm, enthusiastic emerging artist I’d met the year before was gone.

Apparently she’d been ‘discovered’. She’d had a great year, sales-wise. She’d juried into several prestigious exhibitions. She now had a following.

She was, indeed, a successful artist—one whose success had evidently gone to her head. Because she was also haughty, disdainful, and dismissive, to the point of rudeness.

She didn’t remember me. I didn’t expect her to—I knew she’d talked to hundreds, if not thousands of people in the past year. But she wasn’t apologetic (as in,“I’m sorry I don’t remember you, I meet so many people–but please refresh my memory…”) Her attitude was, “Why should I remember you?! You didn’t buy anything!”

She was scornful about her former work. “Yeah, I’m way past that stage now. I marked it down and got rid of it. I’m into this work now.” Her tone almost seemed to say, “Get over it!” She didn’t care to explain it, either. You either got it—and bought it—or she didn’t have time for you.

I inquired about smaller works. She practically sniffed. She said she couldn’t be bothered with making small pieces anymore. It was much more lucrative to make bigger pieces, and charge more.

Someone else entered the booth, someone who could obviously be taken more seriously as a prospective buyer. She turned her whole attention to them. I left her booth, crestfallen.

I kept my postcard of that artist for many years. I kept track of her progress as best I could (pre-internet days.) I’m not sure why. Maybe I was hoping for a glimpse of that sweet, more accessible, more grateful young woman I’d admired so much before. Artists change, their art changes—I got that. Maybe I was just hoping her next sea-change would be for the better.

In time, though, the memories of that last day I saw her, overshadowed the first. I tossed the card. I’ve all but forgotten her name.

At the time, I was bewildered. Now that I’m an artist, too, I can sympathize…a little.

I’m not always crazy about my older work. But I respect the fact that I loved it when I was making it, and that people that bought it, liked it, too.

I know there is more money to be made with the wall-sized fiber work. I know that I couldn’t afford my work! But I know there is worth in my smaller work, too.

I know I can’t support myself just on sales of $25 necklaces. But sometimes, when things were really tight, it was those same inexpensive items that kept the cash flow going.

I know many of those people purchased work back then for less than my wholesale prices now. Still, it was their hard-earned money, and they chose to spend it on my work.

As far as my collectors go, I appreciate what they ALL did. They all loved the work. They all believed in me. They all wanted to support my efforts. They bought something because they loved it, and they wanted it, and they felt it was worth it.

I may forget their names, but I am astonished and delighted that they have not forgotten mine. When they share a story about their piece, or even bring some of those ‘ancient works’ back in for repair or a redesign, I make a point of thanking them for collecting me from the beginning.

They are the people who helped me get where I am today. And I will never forget them for that.

Perhaps we all have days we dream of being so financially successful, so famous and respected, that we don’t have to worry about the tedious little things in life anymore.

But people who love our work, people who support us in so many ways—by purchasing it, by recommending it to their friends, by telling us what it means to them—these people are not the “tedious little things in life. They are part of the “big thing”. They are what got us to this wonderful place, a place where we can make the work we love and share it with the world.

Remember that, and you will always respect your collectors, large and small.

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Filed under art, business, collectors, craft, craft shows, customer care, Fine Art Views, marketing, Respect Your Collectors, selling, shows

SAY THE RIGHT THING

When is a stupid question from a customer not a stupid question? You can read my latest column at the Fine Art Views website here.

A great tip on customer care just in time for your summer shows!

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Filed under art, booth behavior, craft, craft shows, customer care, marketing, selling, shows

NEW TO SHOWS, WHERE DO I START??

I’m going to be very lazy today, and share a post I made recently on a crafts forum.

A craftsperson posted that they were thinking about doing some shows. She was at a loss on where to begin designing a booth. Was there such a thing as a “booth designer” she could hire?

Someone responded that there are companies who design major exhibits for corporations and such, and perhaps one would be willing to freelance.

But probably not. I wish there were such services available to folks in our budget range. There’s a magazine devoted to the trade show industry called Exhibitor Magazine. Unfortunately, it’s geared to companies whose trade show budgets begin at “up to $50,000″ up to “over $1,000,000″.

The exhibit industry is geared toward displays manned by a team of people, setting up in huge indoor convention halls, and reconfiguring the entire display every couple years.

Consequently, anyone involved in that industry will probably not understand that most of us start out budgeting perhaps a tenth of that figure, maybe even less. They may not understand why your set-up has to be windproof, or how it will fit into your station wagon. They may be aware of poster services and display that start at hundreds and thousands of dollars. But they won’t be able to tell you why velcro ties are more cost-effective than zip ties.

But the magazine is still kinda fun to look through, it’s free, and some of the articles are good reads. A few months ago, it featured one of the best articles on fire safety/fire retardant booth materials I’ve ever read.

And it’s nice to know that sometimes even folks with exhibit budgets of tens and hundreds of thousand dollars still get to a show and realize their booth is too tall for the venue….

Other forumites mentioned Bruce Baker’s CD on Booth Display and Merchandising and I also highly recommend his CD. If, after listening to his CD and rolling through my Good Booths Gone Bad design series, you still have questions, you could ask Bruce for consult. And no, it’s not free, but it will be great advice.

The problem is, we can all tell you what to do and what not to do. It will still feel like (as I always say) someone handed you a pamphlet on driving laws, four tires and a seat belt and told you to design your car.

Ultimately, only you know all your needs and all your trade-offs, what you are willing to scrimp on and what you are willing to throw money at, what you are willing to put up with, what you won’t.

I feel your pain if you carry multiple lines. I have to have solid wall space for wall hangings, some sort of shelves for small sculptures, and cases for jewelry. No simple solutions there!

My best advice is to echo what another poster said, and start looking at other booths with a critical eye. Look at what people use for lighting, what tent they use, etc.

If vendors are not busy, most will be happy to offer you a suggestion or give you a source for their displays. But please–try not to treat them as a walking resource center, though. One of my (many) pet peeves is the people who try to “pick my brain” about everything in my booth. Especially in front of customers. I’ve paid good money to be at that show, and my primary focus is making enough money so I can keep doing my artwork. Be considerate of the artists’ time, unless they actually say they don’t mind talking with you.

Once you have a general idea of what might work for you, you can either search other online forums, and ask people’s opinions about things like tent choices, etc. Or you can ask to be directed to specific sites and displays for your product. For example, jewelry artist Rena Klingenberg has created an amazing website with tons of good information and advice about photographing, displaying and selling jewelry.

When you’ve narrowed your choices down, you can even look for artists who are selling off parts of their booth and display. I’ve bought lots of stuff at very reasonable prices from folks who were updating their booth or getting out of the business. For example, ProPanels has a section on their forums for artists selling or renting their ProPanel walls.

And last, don’t be afraid to make mistakes! Trying to get it “perfect” the first time will frustrate and exhaust you. (I know, because that’s what I do!) Try to just do “good enough”, then see what works and what doesn’t. You can always sell the ideas that don’t work to another new exhibitor. And new booth/tent/display stuff is coming out all the time, too.

I would come up with a snappy ending to this post, but Bunster is chewing through my jeans hem. Her latest way of letting me know she wants to be petted. I would teach her to use email, but then I’d have to give her access to my computer. And we all know where that would lead: Mystery boxes of jelly beans, purchased on Ebay, arriving at my doorstep daily.

P.S. In response to Rena Klingenberg’s wonderful suggestions in the comments section, here’s an article I wrote for the April issue of The Crafts Report on how I learned the hard way I was never going to win a Best Booth award.

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Filed under art, booth design, booth display, booth walls, business, craft, craft shows, display, Good booths gone bad, jewelry display, ProPanel, resources, selling, shows

WHY YOU SHOULDN’T DITCH YOUR SLOWEST SELLER

How your “slowest” seller could actually be your best marketing.

There are two tenets in business that everyone accepts as true:

1. You should figure out what your most popular product is, and sell the heck out of it.

2. You should figure out what your least popular product is, and get rid of it.

In fact, I read it again just a few minutes ago.

Here’s a little story about why you should reconsider step 2.

I’ve been a long-time CVS fan. While waiting for prescriptions to be filled, I would wander the aisles shopping. (In fact, once our insurance company switched to Medco’s online pharmacy, our “miscellaneous” expenditures dropped enormously.)

CVS is losing me as a customer to Walgreen’s. Why?

They no longer carry three products that I love:

a) They no longer carry Physician’s Formula make-up remover lotion
(I LOVE this stuff because it isn’t runny and doesn’t drip like oil versions);

b) Dr. Scholl’s pedicure file (probably because their store brand is cheaper, though not nearly as good);

c) and they don’t carry dental wax (which I want to use to position jewelry for photography.)

Probably because they were slow sellers. Or they had a store brand they wanted to push. I dunno.

But guess where I’m finding these products now?

Yep. Walgreen’s.

Okay, to be perfectly fair, the makeup remover is getting harder to find anywhere. I suspect the product is going through a makeover.

But my point is, wherever these products are, that’s where I’m going to go to get them.

Our local grocery store does the same thing. It introduces new products which I love, and discontinues them when they aren’t big movers.

Other grocery stores pick them up–and that’s where I go to get them. One carries my all-time favorite fruit-infused vinegars. (People, these are amazing to use in homemade salad dressings.) I go to another for my Ghiradelli hot cocoa.

So every month or so, Hanniford’s does not get my $200-$300 grocery bill.

So sometimes your slowest seller can be a draw to very passionate users/buyers. People who will look elsewhere if you drop it, like my favorite pear infused vinegar.

Sometimes an item sells slow because it’s really expensive, or very unusual. It can still be a huge draw to your other work. And it can make the rest of your work seem more affordable. I don’t sell too many $5,000 wall hangings. But when I do a) it’s the equivalent of selling a hundred $50 items, and b) it does a bang-up job of publicity.

My Big $5,000 Wall Hanging (from Niche Magazine, April 2006)

Sometimes a “slow” product will come back around. I hadn’t sold much fish jewelry in years. Maybe their time was over? When I put my “business hat” on, I considered dropping it. When I put my “artist hat” on, I realized it still had a story to tell. And guess what? I’m now selling more fish.

Fish necklace, back in demand!

Or perhaps it just hasn’t had time to catch on yet. I hardly sold any sculptures when I first started out. Just when I was about to lose hope, sales took off. Plus, turns out they fill a major niche as a gift for guys. I would have lost that marketing opportunity if I’d given up too soon.

Maybe your slow seller is something that sets off the rest of your products. Years ago, a friend had a yarn store. She didn’t carry any yellow yarn, because “it didn’t sell.” I showed her an article by a color designer for a local yarn mill. The designer said every line should have a yellow “because it fills out the color wheel, and makes other colors sing.” The store owner added yellow, and her sales rose.

Maybe your slowest seller is a dog* because of very good reasons. It’s out of fashion, you make a better one now, or you can’t even get the supplies to make it anymore.

But unless you’re sure it no longer serves any purpose, consider it a small price to pay for a few very special, very passionate customers.

Because any customer who is passionate about your art is sharing that passion with a lot of other people.

And that’s a good thing.

P.S. I apologize for calling any part of my/your art “a dog”. Just trying to give some good business advice here, as well as good artistic advice.

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Filed under art, body of work, business, craft, marketing, selling

TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #13: One Big Break is All You Need

Myth: If only I could get into X Gallery/get Famous Person Y to see my work/get a website, I would be successful!

Reality: No one person, event or venue will make or break your vision.

When I first started showing and selling my art, I read these very wise words somewhere:

Every day you will find an opportunity to move your art/biz forward. Every day you will overlook an opportunity to move your art/biz forward.

I quote them now because a reader posted this comment on my blog recently, and with her permission, I reprint it here:

Hello, again! I get what you’re saying, Luann, I really do. But right now I’m really in a down space.

Filled with excitement, I opened up a space in Etsy back in September thinking that *there* I would find people who would see value in handspun hand-dyed yarn. They do, apparently–there are lots of other spinners on Etsy–but evidently they don’t see any value in mine.

Lots of looks, a few hearts, no sales.

One part of me is bugging me to get busy and make more yarn, but the other part of me is saying, “Why make MORE beautiful yarn that no one will want to buy? What’s the point of doing that, when no one wants what I’ve already made?”

I’m sorry for dumping on you my own pity-party, but I need someone who is an artist and “gets it” to vent to. ..

Maybe the Lord is trying to tell me to give up and become a boring housewife who grades papers and washes dishes and remembers when she used to make beautiful stuff. I don’t know.

Dear Reader, I give you permission to wallow for awhile. Things do get hard, and we all get discouraged. (See Myth #14 about this.) (Not yet, I haven’t written it yet!!)

But I can assure you wholeheartedly that the Lord is not telling you to stay small and regret your lost dreams. :-)

Sometimes we take that leap and many things fall into place. Sometimes we take that leap–and things stay hard.

In fact, that is the major purpose of my blog: To chronicle my journey pursuing my art, with honestly and self-examination. And hopefully, a huge helping of inspiration.

Because, as my husband pointed out to me a short while ago, we always hear about the instant overnight successes. (What I call the Cinderella stories.) And we also hear about the not-so-overnight success stories, where the hero struggles and perseveres, and finally gets a lucky break.

The point is, we already know how those stories end. We know the goal was achieved, because the tales are always told afterwards–not while the ball is actually in play.

My blog is all about the ball being in play. And sharing that process with you.

So here are some possible scenarios regarding this handspun yarn biz, but don’t take the “you” thing personally. These are just some things to think about:

1. When we stand at the beginning of our stories, we cannot see the end.

Sometimes, we can’t even see what our ultimate goal will be. Longtime readers may remember my sad little story about wishing my handknit toy sheep idea taking off.

And when they finally did, how I discovered how much I hated knitting toy sheep.

If your handspun biz where to be an instant hit, you could be locked into a business that takes too much time away from your other pursuits right now. Or you might find spinning is fun for a few hours a day, but not so much fun doing it all day. Maybe you’ll realize you like writing about the process, or teaching the process, more than making yarn to sell. (Although that piece of it will give you the insights you need to do the other stuff–writing, teaching, demonstrating, etc.) Maybe you’ll end up developing a therapy program with your skills. Who knows what the possibilities are?

So maybe right now you think your dream is to sell handspun yarn. But maybe even bigger things are in store for you.

2. We cannot tell what strategy will work, and which ones will peter out.

Etsy looks like a “sure thing” from the outside, but having an Etsy shop does not guarantee success.

We dream of getting into “that great gallery”, sure we will be successful if they would only represent our work. We dream of finding “the perfect show” where we will find all the buying customers we need. We know if only we had a great website, we would be flooded with orders.

In reality, there is no “perfect venue” or “perfect strategy”. There is simply another opportunity to try.

Maybe e-commerce will work for you. Or maybe your yarns would sell better “in person”–at small local shows, or certain events. (We have a big “Wool Tour” here in New Hampshire on Columbus Day weekend. People come from hundreds of miles to tour small farms, see llamas and sheep and angora goats and bunnies, and buy fleece, roving and finished yarns.) Maybe people need to touch your yarn to fully appreciate it first, and then you turn those customers into online customers with reorders.

Maybe a “new product release” about your yarns to a knitting or spinning magazine would bring interested buyers to your Etsy store.

3. We may be trying to sell to the wrong people.

Etsy is the biggest and best-known venue for handcraft. But it’s also a huge venue for vintage goods and craft supplies. And it’s a big shopping venue for other artists. So you may be inadvertently trying to sell to people who can make it themselves.

At a friend’s suggestion, I used Etsy as a way to sell to my current customers. I didn’t actually think I could join an already established, close-knit online community (no pun intended) and create a strong presence there.

Even so, I didn’t have a single sale on Etsy. I’m exploring other ways to sell online, and will use Etsy to offload my old supplies.

4. It just may take more time than you think.

Another reader posted a reply to the original comment, and it’s a good one. (In fact, I just realized I’ve repeated a lot of what Kerin said!! oops…)

And see item #1 above, where things taking time can be a good thing.

5. And sometimes it’s just hard.

It’s true–it’s just hard sometimes. There are days when we just feel like the universe is saying “no”.

But what does your heart say?

Because if you give up, there is only one thing that can happen: Nothing!

If you persevere, anything can happen. Including failure, but failure is not necessarily a bad thing. (Go back to the knitted sheep thing.)

#5: What is “success”, anyway? What does it mean to Y*O*U?

Right now you haven’t had any sales. Is that your only measure of success?

Have you learned how to spin and dye beautiful yarn? You’ve successfully developed a product.

Have you learned how to photograph it? Have you successfully uploaded images to a website? You’ve successfully done something millions of people have no idea how to do. (Since I lost my photographer, I’ve had to work on developing a whole nother skill set, and that learning curve is steep!)

Have you learned how to talk about it, write about it? You’ve learned how to pitch your product.

And have you learned how to create a unique product? Which leads us to….

#6. Are you telling your real story?

Sometimes, especially when we first start out making stuff and getting it out into the world, we focus on the surface of the process. When you hear artists say, “I just love color!” or “I just love knitting!”, we are listening to someone who has either a) not bothered to dig deeper; b) doesn’t know how to dig deeper; or c) or is afraid to dig deeper.

What is it about hand-spinning and dyeing that excites you? What does it mean to you? Don’t say, “Oh, it’s fun” or “Oh, it’s relaxing.”

Tell us why.

Here’s a perfect little example that Bruce Baker tells in his seminars.

A potter makes tiny little pots with lids, very charming. But so what?

She explains that her life is so hectic, so harried, that when she takes time to make these tiny wonders, she envisions she is creating a little moment of serenity, of quiet. “And then she draws up the tops, and makes a little lid, and there is a little moment of time preserved….”

Doesn’t that make you want to own one of her little pots? And when you are harried and frazzled, you can lift the tiny lid….and there is your own little moment of quiet and peace.

She told us the “why”. And when you purchase her product, you can have a little of the “why”, too.

7. If it brings you joy, you should not–cannot–stop doing it.

It’s hard when it feels like the world does not want our beautiful work. But remember when I said, “I have to do it anyway, or I’ll die?” That’s what got me through.

Yeah, I know I wouldn’t drop dead if I never made another little horse. But I know something inside me would wither away. And the world, whether it knew about the loss or not, would simply be a sadder place for it.

I want to believe in my heart that somehow, in ways I may not see or could even possibly imagine, that the world is a better place for me making my work. For me being in the world. I have to believe that. Because to believe otherwise is to give in to self-doubt, and eventually, despair.

And whatever we believe in, whatever our religion or creed or ethics, if we are creative people, then we have to believe that creativity makes the world a better place. That anything we make–a lovely skein of yarn, a useful pot, an inspiration movie, a beautiful song, a warm and loving home for those we care about–the world is a better place for that.

Or what are we here for?

So keep making your yarn, because it makes you happy. Don’t give up, but be open to where it leads you (because it may not take you where you think you’re going!) Take the opportunities you find. Let go of the ones you miss, and move on. Think about the deep “why?”, and don’t be afraid to share it.

And know that whatever happens, it’s all good.

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Filed under art, business, choices, craft, creativity, depression, inspiration, life, living with intention, mental attitude, myths about artists, selling, selling online, telling your story, world peace

TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS#10: You Have to Go to Art School to Be a Real Artist

MYTH: You need an MFA to be a real artist!
REALITY: The real proof is in the work.

I couldn’t get into the art school at the university of my choice (The University of Michigan.) So maybe my attitude about art school is pure sour grapes.

On the other hand, the reasons I chose U of M seem pretty silly in 40 years in hindsight. My best friend, my first boy friend and my first crush all went there, and they said it was the best school in the world.

So I wanted to go there, too. I gave up going to other schools with art programs that had accepted me, just to be with the boy who dumped me four months later.

I hope I’m a little more sophisticated about my choices now. (But I’m probably not.)

I’ve come to believe it’s a good thing I didn’t go to art school there (or anywhere.) I may have been an artist sooner.

But I would not be the artist I am today.

Getting a degree from an art school has its advantages.

Credentials, for one. A degree says you completed a course of study. It says somebody deemed you good enough to complete it successfully.

Art school gives you other precious gifts: Time, tools and resources to actually make art. You have many opportunities to experiment with different media and different techniques. Many students develop important relationships with teachers who become mentors, and with other talented students.

Art school also allows you to immerse yourself in a community that supports art. If you come from a family or environment that’s baffled (or even threatened) by your artistic attempts, this immersion can be powerful stuff. You may feel like you’ve finally found “your people”.

And of course, there is the confidence and validation you gain from holding a degree that proclaims you an artist.

But there is a downside to art school.

You spend a huge amount of time making work that fits someone else’s agenda and criteria, not your own.

You may find it hard to develop your own style. You are surrounded by the vision of other teachers and other students, and it can be hard to figure out what your particular vision is.

Or conversely, it’s all too easy to be influenced by the vision of others.

Or your vision doesn’t get the “strokes” from the group you desire, so you unconsciously begin to modify it so it does.

Or you don’t modify your style, and suffer the consequences We’ve all heard the appalling stories of vicious group “critiques” and the lasting emotional damage they can cause. We’ve all heard of the nasty teacher who never missed an opportunity to denigrate someone’s work.

You may fall for the tendency to make high-falutin’, theoretical, worldly/academic “statements” with your art. Read almost any art statement, preferably one you barely understand, and you’ll know what I mean. The actual approach to your art may be taught as a purely intellectual or academic exercise. There is value to understanding and practicing art this way, of course. But I personally feel something is lost when art is made only to provoke, or satirize, or insult, with no real emotional connection, personal experience, or “heart” in the effort. IMHO, of course.

And the biggest drawback–you may not ever actually encounter any working artists.

I once spent a day giving five high-school art classes a presentation of the business of art. I opened the first class with this question: “How many of you believe it is impossible to make a living by selling your art?”

The teacher raised her hand.

Some people who teach art do so because they don’t believe they can be successful selling it. (Though many teach so they can have the freedom to create the art they want, without worrying about having selling it.)

You can often tell which teachers are working artists and which ones aren’t. The working ones are making their art, at some level–entering exhibitions with new work, selling, taking commissions, whatever. The ones who gave up are telling you why it’s impossible to sell your work. These are the ones who make terrible role models.

Almost as bad are the teachers who convince their students that the art world is out there just waiting for them to graduate. Instant success is within their grasp. Famous galleries in New York City are eager for their work, and the party starts as soon as you walk out the door. Then, when it doesn’t happen in six months, or a year, or three, the new grad begins to think she doesn’t have what it takes–and gives up.

Some art schools now incorporate business skills for artists in their curriculum. Yay!

Either way, the art school experience can make the issue black-and-white. There are “artists” and there are “non-artists”. There are “rich/famous/successful” artists, and there are “failed artists”. No gray. No spectrum. No range.

Know that there are many “levels” of keeping art in our lives.

There are as many ways of making that work as there are artists.

Some will make good money with their pursuits. Others will cobble together different ventures and venues that makes them happy. Some will go into fine art. Some will go into design, or graphic arts. Some may teach. Some may do the show circuit. Some may find gallery representation. Others may find ways of using the internet to market directly to customers.

Some may find other work that is rewarding and makes them happy, and keep their art practice solely for their own enjoyment. And some will run up against life’s hard walls all too soon, and have to carve out tiny chunks of time to keep their vision alive.

Maybe we can’t all be rich and famous. But there are many ways to create a life that includes art as a daily practice. And there many ways of sharing our vision with others.

So go to art school, if that is your dream. Squeeze every drop of experience and knowledge you can from it. Revel in your freedom to immerse yourself in an art community. Learn to protect yourself against the nay-sayers.

But if you didn’t go to art school, know that you simply found your life’s work by another path. It may have wound around in the woods for awhile, it may have taken you longer to get here….

But you simply had a different experience. That’s all.

And those unique experiences are what made you the artist you are today.

UPDATE: See what Canadian painter Robert Genn says about artist credentials in his well-known Painters Keys newsletter.

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Filed under art, business, career, choices, craft, life, myths about artists, networking, selling, shadow artist

BANNER BUY

I subscribe to a newsletter from Rena Klingenberg called Home Jewelry Business Success Tips. I always learn something new.

Last week, I read this article on web banners.

I’d been struggling with making my own banner. I love the one my beloved friend and photographer Jeff Baird had made for me. Unfortunately, I was having trouble formatting it to different applications, and there was no text in it. I always had to add that, sometimes with lamentable results.

I thought I’d play around making my own, but the learning curve was too steep. I just didn’t want to spend the next three weeks on this when I have so many other, more pressing things to take care of.

So I bought a banner from this guy for $30. I’ve never bought graphic services online before and I was a little nervous.

Even though I ordered the banner at the height of Labor Day weekend, Neil got back to me within a day or two. He sent a little survey, so he could get what colors I like, my style, what applications I needed it for, etc.

I’m pleased with the results. (You can see the new banner above.)

I’m pleased that Neil asked detailed questions about how I saw my art, my business, my brand. The results look similar to what I had, just a little fresher. I like that my signature is in there.

Most of all, I like that Neil picked up on something I hadn’t even articulated to him–that I lean towards a “museum-like” aesthetic in my work, in my display, and in my presentation. He liked the gray background Jeff had used in most of my images, and incorporated that into the banner as well.

Neil also featured the horse images prominently. Yes, I do other animals, even non-figural artifacts, and I’m feeling the urge to create some people artifacts now, too. But even when people fall in love with my bears, my otters, my birds, my pods and stones and shells, they still refer to me as “that woman who does the horses.” For better or worse, my horse has become my brand. And I’m secretly glad, because they are the heart stone, the first source, where all my work comes from.

My old banner will be at my website for a short while, if you’d like to compare the two.

And as always, lemme know what you think, okay?

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TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #5: My Art Speaks for Itself

Myth: My art speaks for itself. I don’t have to explain anything!”
Reality: Your art will sell better if you can tell your story, create an emotional connection with your audience, and inspire a desire for your work.

We all know the scene:

Artist’s work on display, artist standing off to the side, aloof and austere, sniffing at any plebeian who dares ask a stupid question like “What is your work about?” or “So why do you like to paint green people so much?”

If we can’t tell what the work is about, it’s clear we shouldn’t expose our ignorance by asking.

Here’s my own personal observation:

Artists who won’t talk about their art, often can’t talk about their art. That is, they don’t know how.

Knowing how to talk about your work will also help you write a stronger artist statement. A strong artist statement is important because it is often the first way many people will “hear” you tell your story about your art.

There are as many ways to approach making art as there are artists, and as many reasons to buy art as there are customers.

Here are some ways not to talk about your art:

PROCESS If we talk about our work at all, we often fall into the easy trap of talking about process.

Process is important, to a degree, but there’s gotta be more. I’m not going to pay you by the hour to mow my lawn with a pair of manicure scissors unless you have a really compelling reason.

Yes, some people want to know how we make our stuff, where we learned our craft, where we get our materials. But in my humble experience, many people who care only about my process, want to make something like my work, not buy it.

Here’s a good example. For years, if the first question people would ask me was, “What are these artifacts made of?”, I’d answer, “Polymer clay”.

And once I said that, rarely did the person actually buy something. Often, their first reaction was to actually put down the object they were holding.

Even talking to them at this point, telling them why, had little effect. The spell was broken, and their interest was lost.

I finally wised up. Now I say, “I use polymer clay, and if you look over here, there is a wonderful little piece I wrote on why I chose to use it as my medium.”

Now people are engaged again, reading a short but powerful sign with beautiful examples of all the artifacts I make. And this has ended in more sales. (Hint: The key to why this works is in this paragraph…)

ACADEMIC when I read an artist statement filled with academese or art speak, I sense someone who is afraid to get up close and personal about their work. That, or my eyes roll up into my head, my toes curl and I fall over from total boredom. But then, maybe that’s just me.

RESUME At most shows, when you read the accompanying artist statements, artists carefully list their education, the classes of other, more famous artists they’ve studied under, and the awards they’ve won. Most sound like they were written to impress other artists, perhaps a worthy goal, but I’m guessing most of us would rather impress our customers. They may not realize their statements sound like every other artist in the show. Or they think that’s the way it “should be done.” At the very least, they sure don’t know how to make theirs stand out.

FUN Frankly, I don’t care when an artist tells me they had “such fun” making their latest design. Because why should I care if they’re having fun?? I want to know why I should be compelled to part with my hard-earned money, and make space in my already-crowded home for something new. I can tell you it won’t be because the artist giggles while she works.

I’ve taught many artists about how to write a compelling artist statements, how to write a strong press releases, how to give a powerful interview for the media. It’s very simple, really.

All we really have to do is think about a little three-letter word….

Why?

I tell them why….this cave. Why…this point in my life. Why…I use polymer clay. Why…I use these fabrics, those markings, this presentation. I even have a story about the beaver-chewed sticks, and how they contribute to the story.

So why do you do what you do? Why do you choose to do it this way, with these materials?

Most importantly… Why should your audience care??

I believe the work I make sells to people who a) are blown away by the work itself, and b) feel a powerful connection to the stories I tell about the work.

When we talk in a deeply meaningful way about what our work means to us, other people listen. They will feel the truth of what you say. Remember all the times my customers say, “When you said that, a shiver went down my spine”…? Or, “Look, my hair is standing up!” (Yes, these are actual customer quotes.)

They are hearing the power of what my work means to me, and they are responding to it with something going on in their own lives.

That is connection. Human to human connection. Empathy, resonance, heart to heart. Inspiration. The recognition that we as human beings have these things in common: A need to love, and be loved. A desire to belong, and be an individual. A need to protect, and be protected. A desire to remember, and be remembered.

Don’t be ashamed or self-conscious about admitting your humanity. It is to be embraced and celebrated. Hey, we’re all in this together, and nobody gets out alive.

And when you do that, with honesty and integrity, you will find other people will respond.

How do you know if you’ve done a great job either talking or writing about your art? Basket artist Joanne Russo passed on a terrific tip she heard: An artist statement should make you want to go back and look at the work again.

If you still don’t know what to say about your work, then invest in Bruce Baker’s CD on “Dynamic Sales and Customer Service Techniques”. It will be the best $20 investment you ever make in your art biz.

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Filed under art, artist statement, booth behavior, craft, customer care, marketing, mental attitude, myths about artists, press release, self promotion, selling, telling your story

TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #4: Artists Are Not Business People

Myth: Artists are not business people.
Reality: Successful artists have good business skills, or they marry*/partner with/hire people who do.

(This marriage tip courtesy of Wendy Rosen of The Rosen Group in Baltimore MD.)

A common myth about artists is that they are not good at the business end of making and selling art. The reality is, the better you are at the business skills necessary to promote and market your art, the better chance you have at being a successful artist.

I have a theory about artists and their lack of business skills. I think we tend to not like skills like math (balancing checkbooks, statistics, recording expenses). When it came to math, I liked story problems–if Bill and Jane decide to buy a house, and their options for borrowing money are a loan with an interest rate of 9.8% and no points, or a loan with an interest rate of 7.2% and 3 points, which is better? Because I liked to think, “Well, how much money does Bill make, and what if Jane has gone back to school to get a teaching certificate? And what if Bill gets a better job offer–is there a chance they might have to move in two years, and sell their house in a buyer’s market? Do they also like expensive cars, or do they shop at Salvation Army? Do they fight about how much to tip the waitress at a posh restaurant? Are these two even compatible enough to make a marriage work??” (You see the story potential here?)

Artists think they won’t need to take typing classes because they’re not going to be a secretary when they grow up. (We could not foresee the Internet and the importance of keyboard skills in 1968.) Talking about net profit and gross profit seemed, well, gross.

So we decided we would be artists. Famous artists. Successful artists! So successful that galleries would take care of all that bookkeeping stuff and marketing stuff for us. We would simply show up at the opening receptions in our cool black clothing, sip white wine and schmooze with our collectors.

That worked well enough for a fortunate few, for a few good decades. And then times changed. We grew up and realized we needed to pay mortgages, have health insurance, put kids through college. The artists who stuck it out had to learn how to sell, how to market, how to maintain positive cash flow.

And many of us found that these weren’t such awful skills to learn, and acquire, after all.

The same way artists are made, not born, business skills can be LEARNED and the incentive is huge. The more you understand the consequences of your business decisions, the better your decisions get.

Days of galleries “handling” all your business matters are gone, and as the Bernie Madoffs of the world should have taught us, good riddance. We’ve learned the hard way that galleries can go out of business (taking your art with them). We’ve learned that locking totally into wholesale strategies can also lock down your artistic aspirations, when galleries only want the work that sells. Even if we did embrace the business side of our art, strategies that worked beautifully in the 80’s and 90’s don’t work so well in the post 9/11 economy.

It’s always good to to know your bottom line. We need to know how to sell work, if only to understand why people buy it in the first place, and what they need to know in order to buy it. (More about that in Myth #5)

Marketing, promotion, sales, research and product development, teaching, writing–these are all business of art/craft skills that are good tools for a successful artist to keep in her toolbox.

Why was Picasso famous? Most people assume it’s because he was such a great artist. Well, yes, he was. But there were other artists of his time who were better at drawing. Other artists who were more skilled with color. Other artists who were better at all kinds of artistic things.

But Picasso was a master business person. Because he was a master at self-promotion and publicity, he was able to translate his name into the name everyone comes up with when asked to name an artist.

I read a story years ago about Picasso owing his tailor a large sum of money. He wrote the man a check. Then suggested the tailor not cash it because someday his (Picasso’s) signature would be worth more than the check was written for.

Not all of us will end up that famous (or with that much chutzpah. But learning appropriate business skills to get your art out into the world goes a long way to ensuring your efforts will come to fruition.

In fact, I’ve found I enjoy many of the business aspects of my art biz more than I thought. Because they are a labor of love. I choose, knowing the consequences, good and bad, of each informed decision. Gambling on formerly “sure thing” avenues is no longer part of my marketing strategy. I constantly forced to think hard about who my target audience is, and why they buy my art.

And I think I’m a better artist for it.

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Filed under art, business, career, choices, craft, marketing, mental attitude, myths about artists, self promotion, selling

TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #3: Artists Starve in Garrets

MYTH: “There’s no money in art, you’ll starve!”
Fact: There are ways to supplement your income or even support a family making art.

Here’s the third myth from my series called, “TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS (That Will Keep You From Being A SUCCESSFUL Artist”. “Artists Starve in Garrets.” (What IS a garret??) Corollary: “Real artists don’t care about money” and “You have to sell out in order to sell your art”.

Yes, real artists DO care about money. They have to eat and pay taxes and live somewhere just like us. They may even want to eat out or see a movie from time to time, or go on a vacation. Or have nice clothes. They may even (horrors!) want to send their kids to college, or go to France. And see the works of artists there who may or may not have starved in garrets.

There is nothing wrong with wanting compensation for your skill and hard work, whether your work is laying bricks, raising potatoes, putting together a corporate merger, or creating a beautiful pot or painting. We do many things out of love and skill, but we don’t tell our dentist, “I know how much you love your work, so you don’t expect to be PAID for removing that impacted molar, do you?”

There’s also nothing wrong with people wanting to pay you for your art. Just as we long to have a nice lawn, pretty flowers in our garden, matching towels in our bathrooms and a really really big flat screen TV, many of us long to have attractive and/or meaningful things in our homes.

Hence, many people who cannot make the art you make, will want to pay you so they can own some of yours.

It’s a thrill when someone else loves your work so much, they are willing to part with their own hard-earned money for it. It is the ultimate compliment. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

You can make a living with art. You can make a living selling the art you want to make—IF you take the time to find your audience. It helps to recognize that the business of art is just that–a business. You are creating a product just as if you were in the business of writing a white paper for a venture capital company, or raising corn, or making and selling food at a restaurant. We’ll look again at ways to look at art-making as a business, but for now, try to lose the idea that making art to sell is somehow WRONG.

And re: “selling out”…making modifications (temporary or otherwise) in order to make your art more marketable is good business sense. NOT selling out.

There is no right or wrong way to approach the business of selling your art. There are CONSEQUENCES that result from your choices, however. Be aware and prepared for those consequences.

For example, some people want to make something that sells easily and quickly. They study the market to see what’s hot or trendy and what’s selling. That gives them a good shot to get their business up and running fast.

There are consequences for choosing this business model. First, fads come and go seemingly overnight. They are bell-curved in nature—a very few people buy the idea at first, followed by a small but growing swell of followers. Then the boom hits and EVERYBODY wants one. Soon, though, the boom ebbs, and you are left with stock that’s out of date. By the time you get through a season, it’s time to completely redesign your work.

Also, do you think you’re the only person who noticed what was selling? Your competition is right at your heels, sometimes in the booth next to you. It’s hard to create a look that’s significantly different from hundreds of other artists working in the same fad.

Plus you are not really creating something that comes from your heart, from where YOU stand in the world. You are constantly looking out into the world and following someone else’s lead.

On the other hand, some people are determined to only create work that totally pleases them. They are the people who are determined to crochet granny square vests in neon acrylic yarn. Since this look is actually coming back, I’ll just go on to say this proves my next point: You CAN sell crocheted vests made of granny squares in synthetic neon-colored yarn if you can wait long enough to grow an audience for it.

The advantage is you will be working very close to your “greatest vision” for your art. It will be highly individual in nature and a unique expression of your vision. It will be difficult for anyone else to copy or follow in your footsteps.

The consequence here is it can take time, a long, long time, to develop a following for something. If you don’t care about getting cash flow going, or are extremely patient and unconcerned with the opinion of others, then you can afford to work this way.

But as in real life, you don’t have just two choices. Just like most decisions in life, you can construct something that lies somewhere in the middle.

Somewhere in the middle could look like this: You spend the time developing a highly personal body of work, work that has your distinctive and individual mark in it.

You invest the necessary time developing that style. At the same time, you find ways to connect it to a larger audience than your current audience of one (you.) You either offer less-involved versions that appeal to more people. Or you find ways to tweak it in small ways that don’t dilute the artwork’s vision itself, that makes it more marketable.

You still have the strength and power of a unique body of work, sacrificing more time and effort to develop your ultimate audience. But you also have something that’s somewhat marketable in the meantime, and bringing in cash flow so you can continue to grow.

Another approach could be to start smaller. You make something that IS trendy, or simple, or just fun to make. It’s not super-special, you just like doing it.

You sell some here, you sell some there, and over time, your audience grows. The fad goes away, but your work has evolved past that. As you go, you constantly tweak it here and there, adding touches that are unique to YOU.

Your interest pulls you to explore farther and farther. Your work becomes even more an extension of you. Your audience comes along gradually, growing larger and more appreciative.

One day, you realize your work has slowly evolved into something that is still recognizable but so distinctively YOU that anyone could look at it and say, “That’s a Joanna Smith!” On your journey, along the way, you made a million little choices by following your heart, resulting in a body of work only YOU could have made.

The point is you don’t have to choose between selling out and not selling at all. Life is rarely about black-and-white choices. It’s about finding the way BETWEEN you can live with. Sometimes through compromise and negotiation. Sometimes through small, unconscious changes. But always in balance.

P.S. A garret comes from an old French word, refers to the space inside/under the roof a building, and is simply a very classy way of saying “attic”….

Caveat: A friend who’s a lot of research about “successful” artists found that many don’t really make a living from their work. Some of the names would surprise you. Some are supported by spouses or trust funds. Some rely on academic careers for their bread-and-butter. On the other hand, I DO know people who support families while making work they love. Yet some people wouldn’t call them “artists”.

The moral of the story here: Don’t let anyone else define “success” for you! It will be different for each of us. And there is room in the world for all of our versions.

For a pithier (and funnier) version of this philosophy, see this post at the IttyBiz blog.

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Filed under art, body of work, business, choices, craft, myths about artists, selling

CUSTOMER CARE: Feel the Love

Never forget the love you have for what you do. Remember the blessing of being able to make what you make.

Here’s something to consider the next time you feel a sharp retort rising to your lips when someone in your booth asks a “stupid question”. (Which, in case you don’t already know, isn’t so stupid after all.

The times I find it hardest to deal with problem customers, is when I am not in a good space myself.

There will be times in your life when things get hard. When nothing seems to go right. When you body simply can’t do what you ask of it, not the simplest task. When worries about money seem to overwhelm everything else. When your spirit is exhausted.

There will be people in your life who make things difficult. People who are impossible to please. People who are threatened by what you do. People who are envious of what you have.

There will be stages in your life when you question everything about your work. Is it good enough? Is it still my best work? Does the world even want it? Do I still believe in it?

And just like the times when a difficult child needs your love all the more, this is the time to remember the love you have for your art.

Here’s how that happens for me:

I’ve been head-high in frenzied preparations for my upcoming League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Fair. On one hand, it’s my tenth year at the Fair, and I pretty much know what to do. On the other hand, every year there’s something major I forget/mess up/leave to the last minute. Every year there’s a big scramble to deal with it, with frantic phone calls, late nights and the inevitable last-minute make-do. (Which almost always seems to work out better than my original intention.)

This year is no exception. But I have some secret weapons.

The first is modern medicine. After waiting years for the brain buzz of menopause to wear off, I realized it wasn’t going away and it wasn’t even getting better. I realized I’ve always had it–it was just getting worse with age. I sought professional help. I’m now seeing an excellent therapist who specializes in working with creative people. And I’m on a very low dosage of anti-anxiety medication. (Don’t worry, not the addictive stuff!)

For the first time in years, I am sometimes sleeping through the night. I don’t wake up in a panic with my heart racing. Get this–my blood pressure (which used to be low normal but has inched upwards for five years) dropped almost 25 points–in a month! My doc isn’t sure why, but she says we’ll take it. (She thinks it may be the relief from constant worrying.)

I feel more at peace with myself. All the issues I knew intellectually how to manage, but couldn’t emotionally let go of, are softening. I know enlightenment can’t be found in a pill bottle, but it sure makes it easier to actually listen to my heart.

The second secret weapon is my work. The Fair is a concrete “deadline” which helps generate creative energy. Simply immersing myself in making new artifacts always centers me. Okay, partly I bury myself in making bears and otters and horses because it’s much more fun than figuring out how to make new covers for my jewelry case pedestals. Procrastination is a powerful tool in my life for getting something else done.

The third secret weapon is the Fair itself. Despite all the hard work getting ready for, and just being at the Fair (3 days of set-up, 9 days of show), there is a lot of good energy at the Fair.

My daughter, to date, has always found time to come and work with me again, even if only for that first, very busy opening weekend. She’s worked in my booth at both retail and wholesale shows for over eight years now. She’s not only very good at it, she’s simply a joy to be with.

There are old friends to catch up with, new exhibitors to meet, wonderful work to see (and buy!), music, wine and the incredible beauty of Mount Sunapee itself.

And my customers are a big secret weapon, too.

Opening day at the Fair is tough. It takes me awhile to get my “sea legs”. (Would that be “Fair legs”??) To get into the rhythm of being “on stage” instead of “in my studio”.

But when I catch the rhythm, I can dance all day. All week!

People who have bought from me for years, come to see what’s new. People who bought something for the first time last year, come back to tell me how much they love it. People bring their friends to introduce them the artist. (Moi. Maybe in my normal hours I look like a dumpy middle-aged woman, but at a show I am an artiste.) People who lost an earring or broke a necklace rush in to see if I can make their favorite piece wonderful and wearable again. People who I encouraged to pursue their own creative destiny stop by to share their own lovely work.

Even years when the Fair is slow, the energy from seeing my old collectors and meeting new ones, is a spiritual high.

In the midst of all this wonderful, powerful energy, I would be a small person to let an off comment or odd interaction here and there, to bring me down.

But I would be human, too. Because that’s what we do–we hang on to the one hurtful comment or ignorant act.

Remember–as artists, we can choose:

We can wallow in indignation and anger.

Or we can remember that the work we do is blessed work. Not only for us, but for the world.

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Filed under art, business, craft, craft shows, customer care, mental attitude, selling

CUSTOMER CARE: Repair the Goods, Repair the Relationship

What you do for customer care AFTER the sale is important, too!

A question came up in an online forum the other day. People shared their business policy for repairs.

Nobody likes to hear their work didn’t hold up. My heart always sinks when I get a request from a store or customer to repair a piece. I feel slightly guilty. I take pride in my work and always stress the fact that my work is well-made. In fact, my original studio name was Durable Goods. A broken piece feels like I’ve misled the customer.

It doesn’t help that sometimes the customer is already upset and defensive. “It just broke!” is what I usually hear. Who wants to hear that about our product?? Not me.

It helps to take a deep breath and listen with your heart.

I’ve come to realize a few things about the repair process. First, even expensive, commercially-made jewelry isn’t necessarily impervious to harm. A fine gold chain breaks when a jumping dog snags it, diamonds fall out of their settings and rings drop down the garbage disposal. My jewelry is as well-made as I can make it, but things do wear out, get lost, break down. I don’t need to get defensive if one of my pieces gets broken.

I’ve also come to realize that customers often start out on the offensive because they expect to be given a hard time.

Isn’t that awful?? They love my work, they paid their hard-earned money for it, they wore it every day, it broke, they want to get it fixed so they can wear it some more.

And they think I’m going to be snotty about it. Because that’s what they’ve come to expect from other small businesses and vendors when they have issues with a purchase.

The solution is to immediately reassure them that they will be taken care of. And to offer exquisite customer care.

My first response is, “I’m so sorry that happened! Tell me what’s wrong. Let me make it right for you so you can wear it again.”

As soon as they realize I will listen, and sympathize, and then resolve the issue, they calm down. They are relieved and grateful they will be taken care of.

As they describe or show the damage (depending on whether they’ve called or come to my booth at a show), I assess what has to be done. I offer options–repair, replace, restring, etc.

After I’ve assured them the piece can be repaired, then it’s time to gently find out how the damage occurred.

This will give valuable information about whether the damage is their “fault” or mine. This is not to assess blame. It’s to determine whether I need to make changes in my process, or if this is a “teachable moment” for the customer.

Here’s how I think about it:

If I had TONS of repairs, then it might be MY problem.

A lot of repairs indicates I have to review my product and perhaps make adjustments. Maybe I need to look at my construction techniques and ask myself why I was getting so many returns. Is the stringing material durable enough? Was the glue old? (Even epoxies have a shelf life.) When I was just starting out selling jewelry, I thought I could save money by using cheap spring clasps for my necklaces. The clasps didn’t hold up. That, unfortunately, resulted in a lot of returns for repairs. That was a valuable lesson. I now only work with high-quality components.

If I DON’T have a lot of repairs, then providing free (or at least cheerful) repairs is the best customer service I can give.

Either the customer loved the item enough to wear it often and is disappointed she can’t anymore or she paid a lot for item and didn’t get the usage out of it she expected.

Either way, she has paid me a very high compliment–loving my work, and investing in my work.

Either way, a repair will make her very, very happy, and willing to buy from me again.

A refusal will upset her and you can bet she will let everybody know about it.

So what do I mean by a “teachable moment”?

If I’ve put the customer at ease by reassuring her I will take care of her, and it turns out the damage is not my fault, then there’s an opportunity to educate, to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

A customer indignantly said the artifact on her necklace “just broke.” I immediately told her I was sorry. I asked her to send it to me immediately, and I would either repair or replace it. I apologized for the inconvenience, and she grew calmer. We talked more. She told me she desperately hoped I could fix it, because she loved the artifact (a horse.) Under gentle questioning, she admitted that when she was nervous, she liked to “flex” a flat artifact pendant I’d made. That “flexing” eventually caused the artifact to break.

Her initial defensive attitude was because she thought I would not help her if she admitted she’d broken it, and she was distraught because she loved it so much.

I made her a new, thicker pendant, jokingly telling her “no more flexing!” Because she loved the original artifact so much, I glued it back together, put a backing layer of polymer on it to strengthen it, and made it into a pin.

When I’m feeling defensive, this is important to keep in mind: An item that breaks with overuse means the item was being worn, and worn a lot. One woman told me she never took off the silk cord necklace she’d bought from me. She even wore it swimming, and showered in it.

It took some doing to convince her that silk cord won’t hold up under that kind of usage. But that was just proof of how much she loved it. And I still restrung her necklace. Free.

Last, when you have wholesale customers and get a customer repair request, remember you are actually dealing with two customers–their customer, and the store owner/buyer/manager. When you show your willingness to stand behind your work, you make it easier for the store to do their work–selling your stuff.

Just my humble opinion, and experience. And of course, there are exceptions.

We’ve all had the occasional customer who simply can’t be satisfied. It happens rarely in face-to-face encounters. It’s more common with online sales if you don’t already have a relationship with the customer. When you feel you’ve gone above and beyond, and the customer is still not happy, it may be worth your while to simply take the item back and refund their money.

And if your materials are very expensive, then of course you may have to charge a reasonable fee for repairs regardless of why they are needed.

But even if you must charge for repairs, these are still ways you can make your customer feel treasured. Listening and taking care of your customers after the sale–offering support and non-judgmental service–is excellent customer service indeed.

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Filed under art, business, craft, customer care, jewelry, listening, mental attitude, selling

CUSTOMER CARE: It’s Not Just WHAT You Do, It’s HOW.

Expecting customers to already know how to do business with you, is not good customer care.

I had an interesting–no, make that incredibly frustrating–exchange with the post office awhile ago. It got me thinking about customer care.

We may have different ideas of what giving good customer care is, but we all recognize when we’re not getting it.

If you want to read the conversation, I put it at the end of the article. If you’re in a hurry, here’s my point:

Nobody knows your business like you do. Nobody knows better than you how you prefer people to order, pay or ask for more information. Nobody knows better than you what your return policy is.

Yep, nobody knows better than you–not even your customers.

Nor should you expect them to.

Expecting people to know the ins, outs and idiosyncracies of your biz, and treating them like they’re stupid when they don’t, is not good customer care.

We all have unique ways of running our business. We have our policies and procedures for handling orders, mistakes, returns, questions and repairs. We know our hours of operation, our location, our inventory. After all, we deal with our business every day.

But our customers don’t.

We should keep in mind that our customers deal with many, many other businesses, every day–not just ours.

They deal with schools, banks, insurance companies, hospitals, shoe stores, hair salons, pharmacies, baby sitters, auto dealers, telephone companies, banks and post offices. They order online from Amazon, Blockbuster, Borders, eBay and Medco.

Each of these businesses does things a little bit differently. Each asks its customers to interact with them slightly differently. Each one has their own hours of operation, procedures, policies, forms, payment methods.

As wonderful and distinctive as I’d like to think my biz is, to my customers–even my loyal, loving, regular customers–it’s just one more operation with its own hours, procedures, policies, etc., etc.

Very few people want to expend a lot of brain cells memorizing all the nuances of each business, especially if their interaction is infrequent. After all, how many insurance claims have you filed in your life? Should you be expected to know the name of the form, the supporting documents you need, and the deadline for filing it? Especially if the procedure was updated since you filed your last claim eight years ago?

Even “standard procedures”–say, writing a check for cash at the bank–is tricky if we only do it once every few years. Do you make it out to yourself, or to the bank or for “cash”? Which method do you have to endorse? Which method does the bank prefer??

If we work at a bank, it’s obvious. However, if we rarely even visit the inside of a bank anymore, it’s not so obvious.

Remember–We are just one more business our customers deal with. There’s nothing “more special” about us that would lead us to expect they should memorize how we want things done.

We may think our website is easy to navigate. We may think our return policy is hard to miss. We may think it’s obvious how to use our product. But maybe it’s not. Or maybe it just gets lost in the shuffle.

It’s even worse when policies are non-standard or downright odd. I bet we all know businesses that are closed Sundays and Mondays. Or Mondays and Tuesdays. Some are only open 4-7 on Tuesday, 12-3 on Mondays and Wednesdays, closed Thursdays, and open Friday 10-3. Saturdays and Sundays by appointment only (but no phone number is given and they never answer the store phone.)

Am I really expected to remember that? Maybe for one biz. But for two? Six? Twenty???

Even something as supposedly stable as location can get dicey. Some businesses around here have moved three, four, even five times in the 20 years we’ve been here. Once I sent my husband on an errand I usually take care of. He called me fifteen minutes later–no store. Where the heck were they?, he wanted to know. He’d gone to their address from five years ago. It was already two addresses old.

It’s bad enough to assume people will remember all our quirky hours, or that we tend to move every three years. It’s bad enough to assume they know all the proper terminology, or are familiar with all the forms they need to do business with us

But it’s even worse to treat your customers like they’re stupid when they don’t know. (Hence my post office story.)

We can tell them, we can show them. Signage in your booth helps. (“We accept all major credit cards.”) But you’re still going to get asked, “Do you take credit cards?” After the fiftieth time you’re asked that, saying, “Read the sign!” is not good customer care. (Unless, of course, it’s the same customer asking fifty times. If that’s the case, I give you permission to say, “Hey, no, I don’t, but that artist (insert the name of your least favorite artist) over there takes credit cards.”) Saying cheerfully, “Yes, we do!” is smart.

Clear, accessible policies on your website helps. (“Custom orders are not returnable.”) Telling them helps. (“If this doesn’t work out for you, you can return this pin for exchange or credit towards another piece within 10 days.”) Putting it in writing helps. (“Items can be returned for exchange or credit ONLY with 10 days of purchase.” on your invoices.) Usually, terms such as your return policy must be posted visibly in your store/booth or printed on the receipt.

Clarity helps. Ensure your website is ridiculously easy to navigate. Redundancy helps. Make vital information incredibly easy to find, posting it in several places if necessary.

But most people (me included) simply let all your information leak into “overflow parking.” It’s human nature: Too. Much. Information. Making them feel stupid when they realize the bracelet is too hard to put on by themselves will put the kabosh on future sales. Offering them a different clasp when they complain, or offering the option of an exchange, will help.

Patience will go a long way when hiccups occur. Yes, some customers ramble and have to be gently reined in. But good listening skills, asking good questions, and simply being professional, courteous–and kind–will help you target what your customer needs from you.

And your customers will appreciate it.

THE CONVERSATION

In this case, I was out of the country for over a week, and it took me a couple of days to get through my mail. So almost 10 days had gone by before I found the a form notice that my mail carrier had attempted delivery of a registered item that needed my signature. It said the item was being held for me at the post office.

I know that some kinds of mail get returned if not claimed within a certain time, but I wasn’t sure if this would happen with my item.

Form in hand, I called the phone number for the post office on the form and spoke to an employee there.

The ensuing conversation read like Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine.

PO: “Post Office.”

Me: “Hi, I’ve been on vacation for a week, and I got a notice that my carrier had tried to deliver registered package, but no one had been home to sign for it. It’s dated over a week ago, almost 10 days. Is it still at the Post Office, or had it been sent back to the sender?”

PO: “What’s the address?” (Spoiler: She probably should have asked if I had the form.)

I give it to her, she disappears, comes back on line.

PO: “There’s nothing there for that address. What’s your name?”

I tell her my name. (Spoiler: She probably should have said, “What’s the name of the addressee on your form?”) I start to ask if providing a tracking number would help, as there are a couple of numbers on the form, but she puts me on hold again before I can say anything more.

PO: “There’s nothing here under that name.” (silence)

Me: “Oh. Was it sent back already? Is there any way to track it? I have some…” (I was going to say “…numbers on this form” again but she says, “Hang on” and dashes off again.)

PO: “I’ve looked at all the packages and boxes, I looked in x, y, z places and it isn’t here.”

Me: “Oh, sorry, it says here that it’s a ‘large envelope, catalog or…”

PO (very exasperated): “Why didn’t you say so?? Hang on.” (Puts me on hold again, returns.) “Nope, nothing.”

Me: “Is there any way to track it? If I give you the number on the form…”

PO (interrupts): “You have a form?? Why didn’t you tell me that?!”

Me: “Well, I thought I did. Let me read you….”

PO (interrupting again): “Give me the number.”

Me: “Okay, there are several numbers on here, which one…”

PO (interrupting again, speaking louder and faster): “The (indistinct) number.”

Me: “The ‘what’ number?”

PO (angrily): “The (indistinct) number! On the back!”

Me: “Look, I can here you say ‘something number’ but I can’t hear what the ‘something’ is.” (silence)

Me (trying again): “I can’t tell which side of the form is the back or front, there are two numbers, one starts with…”

PO (interrupts again): “The (indistinct) number! On the BACK of the form!”

pause…. (I’m trying to stay patient.)

Me: “I can hear you say it’s a number and that it’s on the back. My confusion is it’s not very clear which is the front and which is the back of the form, and there are several strings of numbers. Is it the number starting with RF…”

PO (interrupts again): “No, no the number on the BACK!”

Me (cautiously): “Is it the bar code number?”

PO: “That’s not it! The BACK of the form!”

My tongue is now bloody from biting it so hard. I read her one of the other numbers, which thankfully is the right one. She puts me on hold again, and comes back.

PO: “Are you by any chance also known as ‘Durable Goods’?”

Me: “Yes, I….”

PO (interrupting): “Why didn’t you say so?? It’s right here. You can pick it up anytime.” (I refrain from telling her I answered every question she asked me, but she hasn’t answered any of mine yet.)

Me: “Well, actually, I’d like to have it….”

PO: “YOU CAN PICK IT UP ANYTIME!”

Me: “I’d rather….”

PO: “What else do you need??”

Me: “I’d like to have it delivered.”

PO: “You have to sign the form to have it delivered.”

Me: “Yes, I understand, I can sign the form, I just didn’t know if it were still at the post office…”

PO (interrupting, angrily): “Yes, I SAID it’s RIGHT HERE, you can pick it up anytime. If you sign it, you won’t get it til Friday.”

Me: “Friday is fine…Look, I…”

PO: “We’re busy, is that all?”

At this point I asked to speak to her supervisor.

PO: “Why? She’s not going to get that package to you any faster.”

Me: “Look, this is getting out of hand, I…” and she puts me on hold again.

Supervisor: “Your package is right here, you can pick it up anytime.”

Me: “I know that, I want to let you know how rude….”

Supervisor: “Hold on, the other phone’s ringing.” (puts me on hold) “Look, we’re pretty busy, you’re package is here and you can pick it up anytime.”

Me: “I know that, I’ve been treated very rudely by your employee. Don’t you care about that?”

Supervisor: “Well, I can’t help you with that. Goodbye.”(hangs up)

Now, I usually don’t engage in Post Office bashing. I think they move an incredible amount of mail at reasonable rates. And usually I am treated with courtesy in my interactions with them. Although I noticed the last time I was there that all the nice people have retired….

But if there were another option for mail service, I would have seriously considered it after this little incident.

All this, just because this person assumed I should know their procedures for registered mail. Which I get about once a year. And let me know how dumb she thought I was because I didn’t know.

If all queries are handled like mine was, I have my suspicions about why they’re so busy.

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Filed under art, booth signs, business, craft, craft shows, customer care, selling, selling online

KNOW YOUR PAYPAL

Using PayPal for online sales can be great, but know the drawbacks of PayPal before you get burned.

I found out the hard way that online shopping can be a dangerous thing.

I’ve shopped on Ebay for years, back in the day when its url was actually eBay with a jillion letters and stuff, and many vendors didn’t even post pics of their products. And I was an early user of PayPal, too. It guaranteed your money was safe with Ebay transactions, and it made everything soooooo easy.

As PayPal expanded its services to other online venues, I continued to use it in good faith. I heard rumors of “issues”, but figured it was mostly the kinds of transactions I didn’t indulge in–gold coins, international purchases, deals that were somewhat shady to begin with, etc.

So when I found an ad with a great deal for custom-printed T-shirts on Facebook last month, I didn’t think twice about ordering a bunch for our family. (“I’d Rather Be Watching FIREFLY”, in case you’re wondering.) I paid with my Paypal account, which actually had a balance for a change.

Weeks went by. No T-shirts. I checked back at the website to email the company.

When I clicked on the “contact us” tab, a funny message appeared. And not “funny ha ha”, either.

It said the company was experiencing “problems” processing orders. And it said to be patient and wait “a few more weeks”, as orders would be processed in the order they were received.

Warning bells started ringing. For one thing, the vendor hadn’t been proactive and contacted me. I’d had to track them down. And “a few more weeks” would put me outside the 45-day safety period where I could still file a claim with PayPal.

I immediately filed a claim with PayPal, thinking of their buyer protection guarantee. But that turned out to be a little more difficult–and ultimately problematic–than I’d anticipated.

First the process and the form to fill out was a little confusing. I was asked over and over to contact the seller myself to resolve issues. Been there, done that, did NOT get the T-shirt. Duh!

Then I was asked to submit “documents”. What documents are there in an online transaction?? I left that blank. For the rest of the process, a stern and rueful “You did not submit documents!” glared at me from my report.

Then I was told I had to escalate the claim before any action could be taken. But if I waited too long, the claim would automatically be dropped.

I waited a few days, then escalated.

I waited a week for a report on my claim. And the results shocked me.

PayPal had indeed determined that I had paid for goods I had not received. They had determined the seller was not responded to emails. And then they determined the seller had no money in her account. Hence, no money could be refunded to me.

So the case was CLOSED. Thank you for using PayPal, the safe way to shop online.

I could not believe it. I called PayPal, and got the same answer.

Short story: PayPal guarantees buyer protection only for transactions made through Ebay. No other transactions are guaranteed.

I think of the hundreds of transactions I’ve made over the years buying books, craft supplies, all the shopping I’ve done on Etsy and other vendors over the years, and I’m floored.

I asked what happened to the vendor who’d disappeared with my money. “Oh, we’ll watch and make sure they don’t open another PayPal account!” Huh? How are they going to do that?? They don’t have any way of contacting this vendor other than an email address, and yet they were sure they could “identify” this person if they ever open up another PayPal account…..??!! Yeah, we all know how hard it is to get a new email account.

I feel fortunate. I am sadder, $36 poorer and wiser. But all I lost was less than $50 and a few hours of my time. It could have been worse, much worse.

And I’ve learned my lesson. I now make sure that when I pay with PayPal, I select the “other funding options” which puts the money on my credit card instead. I may pay extra fees, but if I have a dispute, my credit card company will do battle instead. And I believe they will take better care of me than PayPal did.

So be forewarned. Read the fine print. If “guaranteed buyer protection” means “We kinda tried to get your money back but we didn’t have much luck”, then that’s a guarantee I can do without, thank you very much.

Hellooooooo Visa!

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