NEWSLETTERS 101 #11: Share Your Skills and Knowledge!
Social media can help boost our confidence and marketing skills.
(8 minute read)
A few weeks ago, in my Fine Art Views column, I mentioned in passing the power of hiring a “sales agent” when we give presentations and/or demonstrations. A commenter on my blog (where I republish my Fine Art Views articles) leaped at this. Although they have actually worked as a salesperson for a company, they found themselves unable to use the same skills with their own art biz. They asked for advice in ‘hiring’ such an assistant to represent them
I promised them I would talk about this, so this one’s for you, Wendy!
Again, selling and marketing our own work can feel like bragging. This repels many artists from talking with customers. A lot of people are introverts, which compounds the problem. (I’m half-and-half, according to the now-disproven Briggs-Meyers assessment, and in this shut-down, I’ve reverted to full-time introvert!)
There are three important ideas to help us get out of this self-made prison:
When others sing your praises, it can be seen as validation by your potential new customers.
Sharing your process isn’t bragging, and neither is telling your story.
Social media is the perfect antidote for introverted/shy people.
I hired friends to “sell” for me when I took on a ‘demo booth’ at my biggest show in New Hampshire, the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. That was because a consultant explained why the transition of ‘demonstrator/teacher’ to ‘salesperson’ was such a deal-breaker, as we segue from “maker” to “seller”.
Most of my friends were not experienced with selling. At first, they asked me what I wanted them to tell my customers and potential new clients. But aside from lending them my Bruce Baker’s CD on selling, I asked them to simply share what they loved about my work. And because they weren’t working from a ‘script’, and they apparently had no ‘game’ with my sales, their comments were seen as an authentic validation of my work.
That’s why a sales assistant at shows and open studios can be so helpful and empowering. Not because they will have better sales skills, but because they are seen as a sort of validation for us, and our work: We really are who we say we are.
But that’s not actionable nor practical for all sales/open studio/art reception events. So let’s look at the second point.
Most of us are comfortable sharing our process: What media we use, how we use it, what’s special about the way we use it. We can share what we’re trying to capture in our work, and what our work shows.
If we simply add the ‘why’ to all this, that is part of telling our story.
As artists, we aren’t usually trained or taught this part. And yet it is at the heart of everything we do, and why we do it that way.
Some people work quickly. So acrylics may work best for them, since the paint sets so fast. Some people work more slowly, or work their colors more. Oils suit them. Some want to shape with their hands, not a tool. Clay speaks to them. One colored pencil artist chose their medium because it allowed them to work at their kitchen table while their kids napped. It allowed them to pick up right where they left off the day before. Me? I struggled with carving my little artifacts, until I realized my hands wanted to shape, not ‘take away’. (I suck at trimming my bangs, too, because I don’t know when to stop!)
“I love color” is not a ‘why’, because everyone loves color. But why we choose a warm palette, or why we use bold or subtle color, is. If we truly understand the ‘why’ behind our subject matter, that is a powerful story! “I paint winter scenes. I like to find the subtle beauty in this sometimes-dreary season. Because winter holds the often-ignored beginnings of the hope we expect to find when spring follows.”) (For more on how to find your story, check out these blog posts.)
Most of my conversations with visitors, potential customers, and long-time customers are inspired by these very stories. I have signage throughout my studio and booth-space at shows. They cover all the questions I get, from why I work with polymer clay, how I got started with my art, what the common thread is through my entire body of work, and why the Lascaux Cave inspired me from the very beginning. I have signs about the boxes I use in my assemblage work, where I find my unusual fabrics, and why my fiber work is so layered, uneven, and detailed. (It reflects values I found in ancient Japanese scroll paintings, and Amish quilters.) I have a sign about where I get my beaver-chewed sticks, and why I love to use them with my wall hangings.
A few visitors jump right in with questions. But oddly, most people truly browse quietly at first. There’s a lot to look at in my displays! Signs answer most of their questions, and allow them to ‘go deeper’ even before I talk to them. In fact, when they ask me a question, it’s an unconscious signal on their part that they are ready for me to talk to them!
And when I do respond to a visitor’s questions, everyone else in my space stops to listen. Because that same phenomenon is taking place: Listening to me answer someone else’s question feels more authentic! (Weird, but true.)
Last, what everyone is overlooking is how much easier it is to introduce, share, and market our work on social media.
First, we take a picture of our work and upload it to our website. That’s great, for people who already know us and our work. And if you have a FASO site, your audience will receive an automatic announcement that you’ve added now work to your site.
But the point of social media is to help us grow our market by connecting with even more people. And because social media is a solo activity (kinda like working in our studio!), we don’t have to engage in person with people.
We get to be alone with ourselves. Not worrying about what to say. Not worrying about how to handle a comment that puts us on the spot. Not feeling like we have to fill that awkward silence. Not actually “talking” at all!
So here we go!
First, we simply take a pretty good pic of our work. (Some people even post work-in-process images, which almost always catches people’s interest.)
Our next step is to upload our image to social media. I take it everywhere: Instagram can be set to repost to Facebook, Facebook can be set to repost on Twitter, etc. But you can choose to start slowly if that helps you get started. Instagram is perfect for visual artists, because it’s all about images. (Short videos can be used, too.) Conversations don’t usually go on and on, either. People either like it or they pass it by.
But don’t let it just sit there! Share something about the piece: What the subject is about, what’s different or intriguing to YOU about it, where you made it, where it’s going (a show? Your website? Your Etsy shop? A custom piece?) You can share what media you used, and why you choose it for that particular piece. You can share the title and dimensions, too. If I’ve also added it to my shop, I add a link to it there.
Remember: For mostly-introverted/shy/retiring/not into sales-talk folks, we are not actually ‘talking’ to anyone, not in person, anyway. And I’m guessing most people would be more interested in seeing your work than in what you had for lunch at that local restaurant!
You are just ‘talking to the void’ at this point. You are not bragging. You are not being pushy. You are simply sharing.
Although, yes, we are actually also promoting our work, we are not acting like those online “influencers” who are always selling themselves (and the products they are comped for promoting.) What we do on social media is more authentic. People see that. We’re not ‘twisting their arm’ to buy it. In fact, saying they can’t have it because it’s a custom work can actually boost the appeal!
If someone asks a question we can’t (or don’t want) to answer (yet), we don’t have to respond to a comment in the moment. We can hold off until we know what we want to say. (You can read more about this strategy in my blog series, “Questions You Don’t Have to Answer”.)
And if we run into that totally obnoxious human being who feels compelled to explain why they DON’T like it (who asked you??), or if they try to piggyback on your post to divert readers to their own site, you can simply delete their comment. (Another superpower of social media!)
In short, marketing on social media means you are not dealing with people in person, which is where most of our reserve/shyness/awkwardness hamstrings us. You are alone, at your desk/phone, simply sharing something that has brought you joy, with others, so they can have some of that joy, too. (Okay, if that includes a pic of the entrée you had for dinner at that fancy restaurant, I won’t complain.)
This is why social media is the best way for shy people to get up and do what needs to be done. (Apologies to Garrison Keillor of the radio show, ‘Prairie Home Companion.’)
And trust me, like everything in life, things get better with practice. Once you start sharing your work, it gets easier. Your fans will be there, cheering you on. You can ask them to pass it on to someone else who might love it, too. The praise will give you a lift, and also more confidence.
And soon that big ol’ rock is just rolling down the hill all by itself.
Try it. Keep at it. Get better at it. Do it more often. Share it. Sound familiar? It’s the exact same advice we took to become artists.
If this article helps you with your social media marketing, let me know! If you have your own success story/strategy, share that in the comments.
As always, if you enjoyed this article, let me or my editor know! If you’d like to read more, you can either read more of my articles on Fine Art Views or subscribe to my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com. You can visit my older articles in the wayback machine at Radio Userland. (They are harder to search for, but they are also shorter!)
If you think someone else would like it, please forward it to them. And if someone sent you this, and you liked it, ditto!
SHOW YOUR WORK #2: What Is Your Process?
I’d never done a trunk show before. You know me–that was all the excuse I needed to over-think and over-prepare!
But I think it was a successful event. You can see the photos of my set-up here.
Here are some of the things I considered as I pulled my display together:
1) A trunk show means you bring EVERYTHING.
But it can’t look like everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink, either. I still wanted a cohesive display. So I set out several “series” of jewelry and grouped them accordingly. I had plenty more samples in reserve.
2) It should look different than a craft show booth.
My artist-of-the-month display looks a lot like my fine craft booth. It’s a formal display, an in-depth look at my work in a museum-like setting.
But I wanted my trunk show to look like just that–like I’d traveled to the show, bringing a personal collection of items for my customers’ enjoyment. I even asked for a few chairs, so that people could sit and talk as I worked.
3) It should still be obvious what you’re selling.
One of the drawbacks of a totally creative display is, sometimes you can’t tell what people are selling. How many times have you walked by a booth at a show filled with wonderful props and eclectic display–only to wonder what the heck they’re selling??!! (Hint: If people keep trying to buy your display pieces, those display pieces are TOO interesting!)
I got around this by sticking to the vintage suitcases as my only “prop”. The rest of the display featured traditional black steel jewelry display pieces–earring holders, necklace holders, etc.
I also confined my larger, bolder, more elaborate pieces to the suitcase display. The smaller, simpler pieces went on the traditional display fixtures, where they were able to be seen more easily.
People did ask about the suitcases, but they also stuck around longer to enjoy the entire show. Because the pieces were simply “laid out”–not elaborately draped and swagged–the message was still clear: “It’s okay to touch!”
4) Give people a reason to hang out.
At a craft show, there may be thousands of people coming with the intent to see as much as they can. If they like my work and my booth, they enter. Then they are in “my world”.
It can be harder when you’re simply a display in a store. Right next to your table are examples of a dozen other artists’ work!
I decided to do make up some simple necklaces featuring my artifacts and torch work with sterling silver wire. This gave even casual observers an excuse to hang out, watch and ask questions.
5) It’s only your time. Have fun!
To quote Greg Brown, “Time ain’t money when all ya got is time.” (From “Just a Bum”
Yes, my time is valuable, but it wasn’t like I was paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars to be there at the gallery that day. It was a nice, relaxed opportunity to introduce new people to my work.
So by keeping my expectations low, my presentation skills high, by keeping myself busy even during slow times (but totally available during busy times) I ended up having a great time, acceptable sales and met some amazing new collectors of my work!
I’ll be at the Sharon Arts Center in downtown Peterborough today, for my very first trunk show.
All my stuff is packed in….suitcases! I don’t have any real trunks, but I have a wonderful collection of small vintage suitcases. I don’t know why I like them so much. Maybe I want to be able to leave in a hurry.
I think I’m done packing and I think I’ll be there around 11 to set up. For Mother’s Day, I’ll be demonstrating simple wire-working techniques–balling up sterling silver wire to make head pins, wrapping pearls and semi-precious stones, etc. to make simple necklaces for Mom (and nicely priced at under $25 too!)
I’ll also have samples of my artifacts and tons of my animal jewelry. Artfully arranged in….trunks! Er…small suitcases. And examples of books and magazines my work has appeared in.
No, I am not bringing Bunster. Something tells me she would wreak havoc in Peterborough…..
Today I’ll share some of the perils of selling and demonstrating in the same booth. The subtitle refers to that old adage, “Why pay for the cow when the milk is free?” My titles are getting convoluted, aren’t they?
Our state craft guild has a special kind of booth situation available to exhibitors at our annual craft fair. It is a combination sales and demonstration booth, and it’s HUGE–20’x30′. It’s unusual because usually demonstration booths (which have a greatly reduced booth fee or even pay the craftsperson to demo) are not allowed to actually sell product. In this booth option, we pay a greatly reduced fee, but we are allowed to demo and sell our work.
Traditionally, sales suffer greatly in this hybrid mode. Bruce Baker talks about this in his booth design CD. Once you start demonstrating, people expect to be entertained and educated–edutainment. It can be hard to turn that passive “amuse me” energy around back into active shopping. It can be done, but it’s hard.
Whenever Bruce says this, or when I mention it to other craftspeople, there are always some who protest that they are highly successful demonstrating and selling their work at the same time. But to me, it sounds like the people who claim they sell well enough without taking credit cards. Ask them again a month after they have a merchant service account. They grab your arm and gasp, “I had no idea…!!”
In other words, you may be doing well enough, but you could be doing even better. (For those of you who are not selling your work, it’s like someone who buys their first microwave after never having had one before…. Sure, you can get along without one, but you just don’t know what you’re missing.)
To support this observation, traditionally our fair committee had to beg people to do the sales-demo tents. No one wanted to do it because sales were so poor in those tents (even though they are on the “main drag” of the fair.”
It got so bad, some people were allowed to do the same demonstration two years, three, even four years running–and more. (It’s supposed to one-to-two-year-max, temptingly large space at an unusually low price, to offset poor sales.) Often our pool of applicants was new exhibitors who simply couldn’t afford a full booth fee.
One or two applicants might be more established exhibitors who figured they could take a hit for one year, in order to boost their visibility and reputation for years to come. When I interviewed these past participants in the program, they always said they did not do well sales-wise, but it was worth it for the increased sales in later years.
The year I decided to do a sales-demo tent, I actually made an appointment for a consult with Bruce. He gave me some valuable insights in addition to those I’d absorbed from his CDs on selling and booth display.
My sales-demo booth provided record sales for me at that show two years in a row. In fact, I was doing so well that we now have a huge pool of applicants every year for those tents.
What other exhibitors saw those two years was a constant crowd of visitors–and buyers. They saw people actively shopping almost every time they went by the booth.
Unfortunately, though I made it look “easy”, a lot of work and thought went into that design process.
The biggest design problem was how to handle a space that was as big as SIX regular booths. I followed most of the guidelines in the other essays in this series. Here are a few issues specific to sales-demo booths.
DON’T LEAVE ME!!
Most people have the right idea of separating the sales process from the demonstrating process. But many exhibitors carry that to an extreme. The booth ends up looking like the brains of those unfortunate people who have continuous seizures, where the surgeons actually disconnect the two halves of the patient’s brain.
The exhibitor splits the booth right down the middle. On one side is the craftsperson, making his stuff. On the other side is a little store where you can buy the stuff he’s making.
Unfortunately, there isn’t any intuitive flow between the two. You have to leave one world and enter the other. The most extreme case I saw, the divide was so physically complete, you had to actually leave the booth on the demonstration side, and re-enter it on the little store side.
Please do not make people leave your booth and come back again in order to buy something from you. Can you see this in a regular store?
Customer: “Oh, look, I just love this! I’m going to get it! Do you take Visa?”
Sales clerk: “Why, yes, we do! Now, you just run across the street with this to the other store, and they’ll ring it up for you.”
I know it’s “only a few feet” in a tent, but it is halfway around the world psychologically.
How did I bridge the gap between these two worlds?
With traffic flow, signage and display.
TELL, TELL, TELL
As I talked during my demonstration, people listened. In fact, we soon found there were two kinds of people to be found in my tent: Those who came in only to watch and listen–and a totally different group who came in to listen as they shopped.
Oh, and I didn’t have to speak loudly, either, as some exhibitors do during a show. Research shows we are hard-wired genetically to hear the human voice–which is one of the reasons you can hear a single opera singer over an entire orchestra. (Isn’t that COOL??!) So please only raise your normal speaking voice a notch or two, even in this very large space, okay?
I had my demo area right up near the front of the booth. Bruce suggested this, so people didn’t have to commit to even coming far into the booth to see if what I was doing would interest them. They could hang out for a few seconds, then choose if I were engaging enough to stick around.
If they chose to stay, they had several options.
They could sit and watch and listen. But immediately off to one side, there were a series of display areas. These were filled with interesting supplies–piles of fabrics, strands of trade beads, baskets of buttons. A stash of beaver-chewed sticks and antlers. Books showing examples of cave art.
It was visually dense and appealing–like my work! Appealing, colorful, touchable, FUN.
I had signs. Everywhere! Signs explaining what everything was and how I used it in my art. It had the feel of a museum display, except people could actually touch the fabrics and play with the beads.
As people followed this “trail of interest” around the perimeter of the tent, they came to a few environmental settings of my art–a large wall hanging on a “wall”, with a beautiful table underneath, flanked by vases of flowers and my sculptures. “This is what I look like in your home” was the message.
Finally, the whole thing segued into a true shopping experience. The rest of the booth looked like a gallery, with islands of shelving filled with jewelry and sculpture, and more wall hangings on the walls. Lots of lights kept the space bright and easily viewed.
For those more eager to get to the shopping part, the center and front of the booth, right next to the demo area, was set up for sales, too.
People could also come into the booth at multiple points. But once inside, everything was different enough that they wanted to see the entire booth before they left.
BE THE ARTIST
This is one of the few opportunities for you, the artist, to totally immerse yourself in that role. Yes! Your dream, to simply sit and create, and let someone else sell for you!
When I am in my regular booth, it’s simple to talk about the work, how I make it, why I make it, and sell it to people who connect with that. When I am demonstrating, the move to selling mode is a total “spiritual disconnect” with most people.
This phenomenon was so visibly profound, my sales team finally told me to stay in my chair when people were in the booth. The mere act of me rising from my demonstration station was enough to send people running from the booth. (Okay, I heard that in the back row!) My sales team even brought potential customers over to my demo table with questions, rather than call me over to them.
It was a subtle but powerful thing: Here is the artist at work. We will have an audience with the artist. We will approach with respect, catch her at a good point, and ask her about this wonderful piece she made.
I’m not saying I sat in my chair hoity-toity with an attitude. If you’ve ever been in my booth, you know me better than that! I’m just saying there was a palpable difference in artists between actually making art and actually selling art–and customers were sensitive to that difference.
In fact, I think when some artists say they hate the selling or business side of their art, they are having a hard time transitioning to that aspect. When we can embrace the creative aspect of selling–as the end result of making stuff–we can perhaps feel more comfortable with it.
Because selling is really just getting our precious work into the hands of people who love it but can’t make it themselves–and so they are willing to trade their time (in the form of money they’ve earned) for our time (the time we spent making it.) Pricing is just establishing the ratio whose time is worth what.
The change in energy from showing/sharing to selling was palpable, even if I knew I was just getting up to offer assistance or answer a question.
So hire–and TRAIN–a sales force. I hired a team of five people to split shifts and work the entire fair for me. That sounds like a lot, but it’s a nine-day show. Every day, I had at least two other people working that booth with me.
First, I picked people who were….I was going to say “people people”, but that just sounds silly. People who were good with other people. This is not a job for terminally shy people! They don’t have to be extroverts, but they have to comfortable in their own skin so they don’t make your customers feel awkward. (You know the kind of person I mean.)
If they’ve had any sales or marketing experience, that helps. And if you ask around, you’ll be surprised how many people do.
Be careful about picking spouses or family members. Best case, they love you so much, they may hound people to buy your work. Not good. Worst case, they don’t really want to do it but can’t say no.
Be careful about picking friends who are also artists. They must be able to set their own art aside and sell yours! You’d be amazed how hard this can be for people. Don’t hold it against them–but if they can’t do it, don’t ask them to! This is YOUR time and YOUR real estate–not theirs. They must not lead conversations around to THEIR work or use precious selling time to market THEIR art. (Hint: If they wear THEIR jewelry or clothing while selling in your booth, big red warning light there.)
I invited them over for dinner before the show. I gave each person a packet of information about me and my work, prices, magazine articles, etc. The purpose was not for them to memorize everything, but to familiarize them with my work and story.
I gave them talking points and selling points. But in the end I told them, “Tell customers why YOU like my work. If what you say is true for you, they will sense that. And that will be more powerful than any prepared sales spiel I could give you.”
So they shared with each other what they loved about my work. BTW, I learned a lot from this, too! They told me great things about my work I’d never thought of.
Then I gave each of them Bruce Baker’s CD on selling craft. I suggested they simply listen to it as they did dishes or on a long drive. If they had time to listen a few times, that would be great. And I included this “listening time” in the number of hours I was paying them for. Though Bruce is so easy to listen to, some of them said they listened for fun.
My investment in this sales team resulted in doubling my sales at this show.
The first year I did this, I couldn’t afford to pay my team what they were worth in cash. So I offered minimum wage and a generous trade option. They could chose the money and $x in goods, or $3x in straight goods. Or if they found another artist’s work at the show they loved, I would offer to trade my work with that artist.
The first year, everyone chose the trading for my work, and one person took me up on trading with another artist. The second year, everyone simply wanted my work. That worked out well for me! But do give people the money option, because some people simply need the cash.
I also bought everyone’s food at the show, and had them over again for dinner after the show. This “wrap-up” dinner was great! Once again, they shared observations about my work, and customer dynamics, that were extremely helpful.
Once again, I hope some of my personal experiences help you rethink what’s not working for you now.
And as always, if what you’re doing is working for you, don’t change it–unless you think it could be better.