NEWLETTERS 101: #1 Tips and Tricks to Help You Connect

Oops! Forgot to publish this last Tuesday. So now you’ll get TWO articles on writing email newsletters this week! Because tomorrow is my NEXT Fine Art Views post…..

NEWLETTERS 101: #1 Tips and Tricks to Help You Connect

(6 minute read)

Someone wrote back to me today, telling me how much they enjoyed my email newsletter. They said it gave them hope that they could make theirs better. Yippee! I love it when I can encourage people to take one step forward. I know it will lead to many more.

I’m not the perfect newsletter writer. But I’m happy to share more insights on what might work for YOU.

What’s my secret sauce?

  1. Be authentic. I write like I’m talking to a good friend. (You can now skip this entire article if you’re out of time, because that’s the heart of my advice.)

 

  1. Be positive. So, not the friend where I cuss and swear about something frustrating that happened to me at the supermarket. I stick with positive news. No politics. No complaining.

 

  1. Don’t be boring. And not like the letters we had to write for elementary school English class. (As in, “Hello, how are you? I am fine! Today I had a sandwich for lunch. What did YOU have for lunch?”) I share something I’m excited about, something interesting I’m working on.

 

  1. Don’t be pompous. If making people feel smaller works for you, okay, I guess. But I prefer reading about the people who make me feel like I have a voice in the world, too. (Again with the ‘friend’ thing…)

 

  1. Act like you care. I write as if I’m talking with someone I care about. Someone who hasn’t heard from me in a few weeks, someone who really likes me, and who loves my work.

 

  1. Share your news. Then I tell them what’s up. What I’ve done, what I’ll be doing, and oh, you might be interested in this thing I made/wrote. And I ask them to let me know what they think. (More on this in the weeks to come.)

 

  1. Think about what YOU like to hear in emails. I think about what I like when I get other people’s emails. So in the next few weeks, take note of what newsletters YOU get. What do you like about them? Which ones do you stop and read right away? Why?? What’s in them that makes you happy? Inspired? Thoughtful?

 

  1. Don’t make it all about the money. I consider the things I DON’T like to see in other people’s emails. Repetition. Always about sales. Acting like a TV commercial. Creating false urgency. (Even a call to action does not always have to be about buying something.)

 

  1. Remember that when people sign up for our newsletter, it means they WANT to know more. They want to know what makes us tick. How (and why) we do what we do. How we found our way forward, and how they can, too.

 

Otoh, I think about the people who put me on their email list without checking with me first. DON’T DO THIS!

 

  1. Be casual. Perhaps this advice is not ‘professional’. Perhaps people who are famous artists do it differently. After all, they may have a prestigious clientele, people who would willingly pay $25,000-$100,000 or more for their artwork.

 

But that’s not me. So I do it differently.

 

  1. We’re visual artists. Include pictures! This would be so much harder if we were musicians….

 

  1. Remember, all customers are fans, but not all fans are customers. I’m writing to people who may not be able to afford my work. And people who have collected my work for decades. And everyone in between. In my newsletter, everyone is worthy.

 

  1. Let people know who you are. The people I’m writing for are people I saw regularly back in New Hampshire, and people who may have never met me. People who come to every open studio, and people who have never been to my studio. Some of them are on the East Coast, some are on the West Coast, and some are in the middle. So we can’t even talk about the weather! But what they all have in common is wanting to know more about us, about our work, about our journey.

 

  1. There’s too often, and not enough. Too long, and too short. Etc. (You get to choose.)* Because I don’t want to inundate people with my writing, I used to limit my email newsletter to ‘events’, just like I did with my snail mail mailing list. Here’s my booth number at that fair, here are the dates of my open studio, etc.

I subscribe to quite a few blogs and artist newsletters myself. Some write every day. Some write once a week, and some write once a year. Some are so long, I never stop to read them. Some are so interesting, I drop whatever I’m doing to read them.

When I unsubscribe from a newsletter, it’s because a) I’m no longer interested in what they’re sharing with me; b) I’m not buying what they’re selling; c) I never signed up for their newsletter in the first place.

My point here is, there is no single right-or-wrong way to write a newsletter. Except, too boring, too repetitive, and waaaaaay too long. (I’m lookin’ at MYELF here…)

You might be disciplined enough to send one every week, or every month. Or you might be like me, skipping a month or two, then sending three in a week.

If people like what you’re saying, they won’t care. If they don’t, they’ll find any excuse to unsubscribe. And like people that say mean things to us, it’s more about them than it is about us.

  1. Email newsletters are soooo much easier/quicker/cheaper than snail mail mailings to stay in touch with our followers. Back then, it was expensive to mail thousands of people, even just a postcard. So I never sent a newsletter for any other reason.

Now, all I have to do is type, and add some good pictures, and hit ‘send’. Yay! I just saved $600!!

Last, here’s something I’ve learned this year:

  1. Newsletters level the playing field between extroverts and introverts. More on this to come!

 

*Now my caveat: There are people who offer different advice about newsletters. They have more expertise than I do, and perhaps even statistics to back them up. Please, feel free to skip my advice if/when it conflicts with theirs.

But if this appeals to you, stay tuned for more columns ahead, where I’ll share some ideas about things we can write about, and why newsletters can be a powerful tool for introverts.

Share your own stories in the comments! What newsletter did you create that got the best response from your audience, and what do you think was the reason why? Where do you get stuck when creating a newsletter? What’s your greatest fear? (Hint: Getting our work out into the world is a hero’s journey. Newsletters are much less strenuous!)

If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to pass it on to someone else. And if someone sent you this article, and you liked it, too, see more of my articles at FineArtViews.com, other art marketing topics at Fine Art Views art marketing newsletter, and my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

LEARNING TO SEE #11: After the Sale

The ultimate in customer care creates powerful connection—and a great reputation!

(7 minute read)

When we left NH going-on-six-years-ago, I also left behind one of the biggest sources of my art biz income: The League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Craftsmen’s Fair.

It’s a highly-respected show, lasting 9 days in early August. I loved it and dreaded it. Love: Great attendance, returning collectors, meeting up with friends near and far, and solid sales. Dread: It took me three entire days to set up my booth, it could get super hot (yes, it gets hot and HUMID in New England!), and nine days is a looooong fair. Also, storms and high winds can trample attendance. (One tiny gift of the shut-down is that this Fair will be a virtual event this year, and I can participate again. I’m ‘tenured’!)

And the first day usually brought a small wave of items brought to me by collectors, to be repaired.

That can feel daunting!

Over the years, I’ve had to repair a small wall hanging (minor), replace a broken sculpture (major!), and restring/repair/replace broken/damaged/lost jewelry. (Painters are lucky! Do paintings routinely get damaged, and repaired??)

In addition to my embarrassment of having a piece of jewelry breaking in use, some customers (not all!) take on (from experience!) a build-up of indignation. “It just broke!” some would exclaim, even though we all know things don’t just sit there and break.

It’s instinctive to react with indignation. We know we put a lot of work into our…er, work… But let’s not make the situation worse.

Instead, consider WHY they are coming on strong. (This insight was transformative for me!)

It’s because they are afraid you will either a) blame them; b) denigrate them for the damage; c) charge them for repairs; or even d) refuse to deal with them, and tell them to buy another one. (I’ve heard stories of some artists doing all combos of these reactions. I’ve experienced some of this myself, as a collector/buyer. It’s pretty awful.)

So they will build up a head of steam to get through the anticipated push-back.

What does this have to do with marketing our art?

How we handle this will affect our reputation, and possibly our sales, in many ways.

First, if we sell online, there are almost always opportunities to leave reviews on our purchases. An unhappy customer will probably not leave a stellar review. Of course, not all bad reviews are justified, but setting that aside for now as a subject for another day….

Even more importantly, we hope a happy collector will spread the word about our work. But an unhappy customer will definitely spread the word even further. Not just online, but in person, to their friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers, and anyone else who will listen, for years to come. Especially if we react badly right off the bat.

Last, when this happens on opening day at the Fair (or any event), usually a lot of other people are listening. How you handle this speaks volumes to them, literally and figuratively.

Here’s how I got to my happy place with all these encounters:

I realized the main problem with my jewelry (which is what most of these situations involve) happened because people loved my work so much, they never took it off.

Some people wore them in hot tubs, where the chemicals involved actually eat the plastic that polymer clay is made of.

Some people wore them in the shower, which is not good for leather cord.

Some people wore them to bed, where the risk of tangling and ‘catching’ on something could break a chain.

Some people soothed themselves with the artifact pendants—holding, bending, (there’s a bit of flex in thin polymer pieces) until it broke.

Sometimes people’s dogs snagged a chain, or (even as I speak today) new puppy chewed on an artifact.

Sometimes a partner buys a gift that lands wrong for the recipient.

Sometimes a cat knocks over a sculpture that shatters.

But in every case—in every single case—these people loved and cherished these items. And they were, at heart, afraid they would never get them back.

Once I recognized their pain and uncertainty, once I learned to see the anxiety behind their initial presentation, I could call on sympathy, on patience, even on pride that my work was so valued.

Here’s how I manage these incidents:

First, reassuring collectors that you care, can work small miracles right at the start. So I always meet these set-backs with kindness and sympathy. “I’m so sorry! I will fix this for you.”

It takes repeating and staying calm and grounded. But eventually, even the angriest (most defensive, usually) customer will hear me, and relax.

I explain what I may have to do: Repair the item, or replace it, and still find a way to return the original to them, if possible/

Once they realize they were being met with consideration and empathy, even the most assertive collector will relax. They know I will take care of them.

Only when we get here, to this place of safety for them, do I gently question what happened. I frame it as gathering information for me, helping me make my work better.

Then I listen, without judgment, and they open up. (That’s how I learned about the flexing, the hot tub, the broken chain, etc.)

In the case of a thin horse artifact caressed to the breaking point, I realized I had to make my animal artifacts thicker and sturdier. So I thanked the collector for sharing what happened, and for giving me this new insight. (I repaired and remade the “thin” horse into a pin, and made a thicker but almost-identical new horse for their necklace.)

For doggie uh-ohs, I’ll ask if they need a sturdier chain, or a leather cord instead. For the broken sculpture (one of my earliest) pushed over by a cat (DARN YOU, KITTY), I realized I’d used a shorter firing time, which made it more brittle—good information to have! (I told them how to repair it, AND sent a replacement.) Boy, I was grateful to learn that lesson, before I made more!

For a lost earring, I usually replace it at no cost the first time. The second time with the same set, I charge half the original price. (Yup, I had a customer who lost an earring three times! Because…she loved them, and wore them every day.) I also sometimes offer to change out the ear wires for lever backs, which are more secure.

See the gift here?

By reframing their experience, their loss, their (unintentional) damaging habits, their fear of being ‘blamed’, their fear of not having something they love, by seeing it as just this—their dismay at the loss of my work, which they love—I’ve not only kept a loyal collector….

I’ve improved my work.

And I’ve strengthened my reputation as a maker who stands behind my work.

I demonstrate my integrity, not just in the face of the best circumstances, but in the worst—when it really counts.

In this world of multi-billionaires, of the growing class of 1%-ers, of incredibly wealthy companies and people who will do anything to stay wealthy and take care of their own, at the expense of everyone else, integrity can be a rare commodity.

And once lost, it can be really hard to get back.

We can learn to see. To see our collectors as people who have put their faith in our art, who treasure it, who love it, and hate to lose it, even to their own accidental actions.

And we can help them see us as artists whose value and character don’t stop at the purchasing point. They can see us as people whose work is not just ‘worth buying’, but ‘worth having’ in their lives, for as long as possible.

Next week, we’ll talk about return policies, and how they can protect us from those (hopefully very few!) customers who abuse that privilege, in a way that benefits both us and our customer. But for now, if you have a story about how you transformed a difficult customer service issue into a positive (and powerful) one, share in the comments. It helps to know we are not alone when this happens. And it helps to see the long-term benefits of honoring those who collect—and support—the work of our hearts.

If you enjoyed this article, you can read more at Fine Art Views and my blog or email newsletter. If you know someone who enjoyed it, pass it on! And if someone sent this to you, and you enjoyed it, ditto!

Customer Service Still Rules

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. 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….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored 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.

It’s a vital aspect of our art biz we often overlook.

(7 minute read)

Thank you with your patience as I continue to process the more than 100 comments I’ve received (on FAV, on my blog, and in private emails) on my column last week, on why millennials don’t buy our art. There were many thoughtful comments, and some very sad ones, and it will take some time to evaluate them, categorize them, and respond with insights and tips.

A few years ago, I teamed with another artisan for a show. One customer, another artist, bought a pricy piece from my cohort. My own jaw dropped at the price, but it was within reason, considering the time and skill it took to produce.

Less than a month later, the customer contacted them to let them know the jewelry piece broke. They arranged to meet and discuss options.

I happened to meet up with that client before the artisan showed up. The client told me they absolutely loved the piece, and they were heartbroken that it broke. They were desperately hoping it could be repaired. (I thought, “For what you paid for it, I certainly hope so, too!”) After waiting for almost an hour, they had to leave but would be back, and I told them I’d let the artisan know.

When the artist finally showed up, they went berserk. They ranted on about how it wasn’t their (the artisan’s) fault, the customer must have dropped it, there was no way it “just broke”. The artisan was angry and frustrated.

I managed to talk them down before the customer came back, but it was difficult. In the end, I reminded them that the customer had paid a lot of money for that piece, and if the issue weren’t resolved, it could be bad. An unhappy customer can do a lot of damage to our reputation, and the only way to manage it is to deal with it in a way that makes both parties happy.

This month, I made two online purchases from vendors, one for display pieces for my jewelry, the other for some very nice gems for same. Both sent me the wrong items. One was a mistake, the other was due to extremely misleading descriptions and images. And when I alerted each vendor to my situation, I had two completely different responses.

The display vendor totally owned making a mistake. Once they realized what the problem was, they sent me replacements. When I offered to return the original items, they said no worries, they were good, just keep it or pass it on.

The second company denied anything was wrong.

I’d included pictures, I included the description, which clearly showed neither matched the actual product. (I resisted telling them I realized after the fact that they’d actually hijacked the image from another site, it was not their own image.) I said I would like to return the item and get my money back.

The company suggested they’d sent me something better, so why was I complaining. (Um, because it wasn’t what I wanted?) They offered me a 50% refund. I said no, please tell me how to return it.

They refused. I reported the matter to Etsy, and I received a full refund.

Guess which vendor I will buy from again? Yeah.

The first vendor? I left them a glowing review on Etsy. First, I ran the review by them in case it landed wrong with them, but they loved it.

I said it was my second order from them, because I loved the product so much. And when I realized there was a discrepancy, the maker immediately set it right. And that I valued that even more than getting it right the first time. Because, moving forward, I know I can trust that person to do the right thing. I was valued as a customer.

The second vendor? I still have the item, but I still can’t use it. But since I didn’t have to send it back, I am eventually going to leave a very mixed review.

Of course, when we’re dealing with bigger, more expensive investments in art and fine craft, it may require more effort to manage an unhappy customer. But the basics are the same.

Here’s how to meet a customer where they are.

First, understand that in most stores today, we can simply return something, no questions asked. Some businesses don’t even require a sales receipt. Some customers expect the same. So make your return policy crystal clear, and for legal reasons, make it very public, so every purchaser sees it. (Mine says I take returns for exchange towards another purchase only, within 10 days of purchase.)

Second, calm down. Get centered. Don’t make assumptions about what went wrong. Assure them you will listen carefully, and make it right to the best of your ability.

Third, embrace the best reason why an unhappy customer is a blessing:

It’s a chance to discover what went wrong, so we can prevent it from happening again.

The first time I had a return, the customer was upset and defensive. I knew we wouldn’t get anywhere if I went on the defensive, too.

I assured them I could fix it or replace it. Once they were reassured, they calmed down tremendously. They explained they absolutely loved the work, they were just anxious it couldn’t be replaced or restored. Again, once I knew what the problem was, I told them I could fix it.

Once they were truly at peace, then I asked what had happened.

They admitted there was a little “flex” in the little horse pendant. When they were anxious, they would bend it back and forth a little.

And eventually, it broke.

I tried not to laugh. I did tell them it didn’t matter, I would still fix it. But even metal will break if bent in such a way repeatedly. And when I sent the repaired horse (made into a pin, so they could still wear it) and the replacement horse (this is when I learned to make them thicker, with no “flex”, I included a letter explaining why I couldn’t make that horse into a necklace again, how I was able to make another horse that look very much like, and to please refrain from bending it, in a light-hearted manner).

My fellow artisan didn’t do as well.

The customer/artist is someone I know, and the next time I saw them, I asked them how it went with the artisan.

They said it was pretty clear the artisan wasn’t happy. It was awkward, and in the end, the customer had to exchange the piece for something else, something they didn’t love nearly as much.

They also said they would never buy anything from them again. They aren’t vindictive, but they also know a lot of people in our community. A lot of people.

Sometimes we have to learn the lesson the hard way.

I learned that most people bought my work because they loved it. When it didn’t work out, there were specific reasons.

When I worked with them on those, we both found a solution that worked for both of us.

In that first customer who broke the horse, they loved the piece with all their heart. They wore it every day. It gave them serenity when they were anxious. What a tribute to my work, is how I chose to view it.

Yes, there are some difficult people out there who will never be happy. Again, I’ve learned to simply get the work back, refund their money (I can choose to do that, though legally I’m covered by my prominently-displayed return policy) and return them to the river to go mess with someone else.

But there are also people who genuinely love and appreciate us for what we do, who invest their own hard-earned money for the work of our heart. We owe it to them to make sure that wonderful exchange stays positive, and compassionate.

Your homework, should you choose to accept it, is to check out some Yelp reviews. Perhaps your favorite restaurant, or your favorite shop, or any biz you know has a good ethic around its products/services and their customers. There will almost always be a snarky comment. See how the business handles it. (These days, some businesses will simply delete the customer’s remark and block them from the site. But it’s better if they address the concern, either by explaining what really happened, or by sharing what they did to settle the issue, though the buyer wasn’t having it.)

And if you have a great return policy, share it! Explain how it’s worked for you (or not) and how you got there.

As always, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it. And if someone sent you this article and you liked it, you can sign up for more articles at Fine Art Views or more from me at my blog LuannUdell.wordpress.com. 

 

 

THE 3D CONUNDRUM: Decisions about Discounts and Donations, Part 2

This says it all.

This is a continuation from last week’s article, click here if you missed Part 1.

Donating to art auctions is a tricky business. These are not the ones we see in movies, where people get into a bidding war about how many millions they are going to drop on a Van Gogh. People going to art auctions are looking for a deal. Charity auctions can be the best for them, because a non-profit may not offer a minimum bid. I’m only gonna say, I’ve never seen a doctor, lawyer, or dentist offer their services valued at thousands of dollars for free (to the charity.) (Maybe they would, if it’s tax deductible. But we already know that artists’ work is NOT tax deductible at full market value, only the cost of materials.) (I think that’s changing, but not soon enough.)

So my new rules of the game:

1.     I rarely donate my work to any auctions anymore, even if I love the cause. If I do, it’s because a) they will set a minimum bid, equal to what I would have gained from a consigned piece in a gallery; and b) a lower-priced piece, such as a print, a piece of jewelry, etc.

2.     I limit such donations to x number a year, and I decide months ahead which groups I’d be willing to donate to.

3.     If an organization is pressuring me to donate, I tell them #2 above, and tell them I’ve already chosen the ones I’ll donate to this year. If they still want my work, they can ask before next year’s auction. It’s surprising how many don’t follow up with that. (As in, none.)

4.     I have, and will, give my work to someone I sense really really needs it. (I go by intuition, which isn’t solid, but it’s all I got.) Again, usually something small or not too expensive.

5.     But I never give work to people who ask for, or even demand free work. (And yes, that has happened.)

These boundaries were created because this is what happened to me, and how I felt afterwards, and how it feels even in the moment. Your choices, and your results may vary.

But before you donate a major piece, a quality piece, to a fundraiser, and you are not offered at least your wholesale/consignment price, I would urge you to do this:

6.    Do your research! Go to that event first. See who’s there, see who bids, and see how much they bid. If they truly want to support that organization, and they are truly your audience, then, in a perfect world, they should be willing to pay full price. Because then half the money goes to the organization, right? And they have a wonderful piece of artwork at no additional cost to them.

7.     But if they are looking for a bargain, if you see people complaining because they had to bid so high, they only got half-off the price, they are not your audience.

8.     And go ahead, ask a few attendees what they’ve purchased in the past at these events. Ask them if they went on to collect more work by those artists…or not.

9.     Even high-end galleries offer discounts. Sometimes the galleries cover the discount, sometimes the artist shares half the discount, too. But I would argue that discounts should go to loyal customers, ideally people who return regularly to buy either more of your work, but minimally, to regularly buy work from that gallery. Otherwise, it’s like those hugely-annoying discounts to new magazine subscribers, rather than offer a discount to longtime subscribers. Why not reward the people who have committed to us, who support us every year, instead of those who will cancel as soon as the rates return to normal? And if a return customer keeps coming back for more, it’s probably time to raise our prices!

10.    On the other hand, when people ask US for discounts, think about what our representing galleries would think of us if we agree. I’m guessing they would not be happy about us underselling our work when they are asking full price. And we can share that with the discount-seeking customer: “I would jeopardize not only my integrity, but ruin the relationship I have with a gallery that has done right by me for years.”

11.   Finally, there are other ways to reward a loyal customer, or sweeten the pot with a new one. You can offer a giclee print of your work, a package of greeting cards with your art images, or a similar, small item in your inventory. One artist hosts a special “brunch/soft opening” of new work in their home to a small, select group of collectors. You can give them first dibs on new work at an open studio. You can offer to deliver and perhaps even hang the work (if they live nearby). Or you can offer to visit their home and give an artist presentation on your work to friends and family. Have you created other ways to thank your collectors? Please share!

As I said earlier, this is my personal experience, and my personal take. And please feel free to share what worked for you, and even what didn’t work for you. If you’ve found discounts and donations to work for you, please share your story! I am an eternal student of life, and I’m always happy to change my mind if the “other side” is truly compelling to me.

If you got value from this article, please feel free to forward this to someone who could also benefit. And if you’ve received this from someone else, and enjoyed it, you can sign up at  Fine Art Views for a variety of author views on art marketing. Or sign up for more of my articles at: LuannUdell.wordpress.com

THE 3D CONUNDRUM: Decisions about Discounts and Donations, Part 1

Luann Udell discusses discounts and donations on your artwork
Luann Udell discusses discounts and donations on your artwork

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. 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….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored 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.

It’s your choice, there are pros and cons, and it’s okay to do what’s right for YOU!

I have to admit, I’m totally at sea about discounts.

First, I love to get them, but I hate to give them. (Human nature, people, don’t judge!)

Second, my experience with them was problematic at best, and humiliating at worst. And rarely satisfying.

My first art donation was to an art auction in Boston many, many years ago. It was an annual event, and for the life of me, I can’t remember who benefited from it. It started as book illustrators donating work–for which they’d already been paid. This year, they opened it up to other artists and fine craftspeople. I put in one of my early art quilts, hoping for good exposure to a crowd of buyers who presumably appreciated art work.

I drove two hours from Keene, NH to attend the reception. I was surprised but delighted to see many people from the law firm I’d worked at before we left Massachusetts: Lawyers, the firm’s office manager, partners. (Don’t get excited, I was a lowly member of the secretarial pool, sent to new lawyers to the firm to transcribe/type their tape-recorded briefs.)

I chatted with several of them, but quickly realized they were having a hard time switching from seeing me as “lowly office worker” to “artist.” It got worse.

There was a “minimum bid” on the artwork but it was pretty low. Maybe one-fourth of the retail value. One person, viewing a beautiful, handmade child’s bed quilt (and I mean beautiful, quality sewing, pattern, and use of color) fell in love with it. But they said they just didn’t want to pay for even the minimum bid for it. (Trust me, even at full price, it was underpriced.)

This person made a lot of money. A LOT of money. And they were complaining at purchasing this high-quality work for $150.

I was so angry, but I pulled myself together and gave a little presentation on the piece. “This is an amazing work,” I said. I pointed out all the marks of quality, and gave an estimate of how many hours had probably gone into the piece. “It’s worth every penny of the FULL price, and would bring your child many years of enjoyment. But….” I added, “I get that handmade fiber art is not for everyone.”

And then I left.

When I looked back, they were looking at the quilt more carefully. I drove home fuming, but glad I’d said my piece and at least stood up for that artist’s work.

Years later, my first exhibiting at a high-end retail fine craft show, two people came into my booth, and one of them fell in love with two of my fiber works. They wanted a discount if they bought both.

Fortunately, the show had a strict policy about sales, discounts, and seconds. As in, NO. I shared this with them, and again did a brief summary of my process.

And my heart fell as they walked out the door.

I was devastated. But after talking with another artisan, I realized that, hard as it was to lose a sale, any sale, I would not have been happy with taking that offer.

And a few hours later, they both returned, and the person bought both pieces! Full price! Their friend had waited til they left my booth, and cajoled them into coming back. “You love them, they are reasonably priced, and they will look amazing in your home!” Hallelujah!

A few more years later, at the same show, a (problematic) acquaintance came into my booth, looked at all my work, and declared, “I want a piece of your work. But I’m disabled, so I’ll need a discount, or we can trade for my work.” (Actual quote, and no, not all people living with disabilities say stuff like this!)

I said I couldn’t do that, and did a brief recap of everything that goes into my work. I also said I had huge expenses that year, as my child was starting college, and I couldn’t afford to trade. (BTW, you can steal this quote, or your own version of it, if you don’t want to trade with someone!) “But I have some lower priced work over here, that might fit your budget.”

They bought the lower priced work. Hurrah!

A few years later, a couple came into my booth (same show) on opening day. They fell in love with a big work. After much discussion, one of them said, “Will you take $$ for it?” It was amounted to 25% off.

I was desperate for income that year. My fiber work doesn’t sell quickly. So I offered 10% off, and they took it. I wasn’t happy about it, but at least I had a sale!

As I wrapped it up, I mentioned that I don’t offer discounts very often.

“Oh,” said the husband, “I’ve never asked for one before. But I read in the (famous newspaper) last weekend that it never hurts to ask for one, even at stores! So I thought I’d try it, and it worked!”

So the guy was willing to pay full price, decided to try out a discount offer, and I, insecure artist, accepted it.

I did not like the taste in my mouth. Still don’t. (I did not say anything to them along these lines, just smiled, ran their credit card, and thanked them for their purchase.

This last bit hurts so much, it’s hard to write about. Same show, years later. A couple walk by, see my work, and chatter excitedly together. They come in and share their story:

“Did you have a piece at such-and-such a show in Boston blank years ago?”

Yes, I did.

“We bought your piece! We love it!”

My heart started to lift as they raved about it. Maybe they wanted another???

“When it came up for bidding, no one bid on it! Absolutely no one! We couldn’t believe it! We bought it for $25!!” (I’d had it priced around $500, which was still underpriced.)

“We got such a bargain! Well, we just wanted to let you know!”

And they left without even signing up for my mailing list, or taking a damn postcard.

So here we are, between a rock and a hard place.

Tune in next week to read about the boundaries and strategies I turn to when I’m asked for a discount or donation.

STAY IN TOUCH: Newsletter Tips for Artists

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. 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….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored 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

Keep it real, keep it human, and be yourself.

In my last column, It’s the Little Things That Count a reader asked what we should write about in our email newsletters.

Short story: Our email newsletter is how our audience gets to know us.

And long story (which follows): There is no single “right way” to do that.

I have seen beautiful, heartwarming, informative newsletters that I eagerly read as soon as they show up in my inbox.  I have seen pompous, bragging newsletters that make me stop reading after the second paragraph.

I have seen brief notices of an event, and I have seen long, meandering missives that wander here and there and everywhere.

All of the writers have an audience, so just because I like them or don’t like them doesn’t mean they are necessarily “doing it wrong”.

I do see (and you are all going to laugh knowing this comes from ME) that keeping it short and to-the-point makes it more likely people will actually read it!

Here’s the thing to remember: If someone signs up for your newsletter, they already believe you have something of value to share with them.  So really, all you have to do is be the best “you” you can be.

Of course, usually I create a newsletter to inform my audience of an event, whether it’s a show, a meet-the-artist event, or an open studio, or even a sale.

But many artists share tips on how they actually make their work. Or they share WIPs (works in progress), providing a little behind-the-scenes peek into their creative process. Or they share a little life lesson or funny story. (I tend to share this kind of stuff on other social media, but that’s me.)

In short, every single newsletter is a reflection of who that person is. Their newsletter tells us what they want us to know about them, and their work, what they’re up to, where they’re heading.

So think about who you are: Confident? Humble? Cheerful? Grounded? Funny? Very serious? Quiet? Talkative? A sharer/teacher? An eternal student of life?

Show that in your writing!

Be authentic. Write about what matters to you.

Write simply, and get to the point.  Some of the newsletters I get go on and on, as if I’m listening to a stream of consciousness in the author’s head. Not fun on a busy day…

Be funny (if that’s your style.) If not, be serious.

It’s also okay to experiment with different styles and approaches until you find the one you’re the most comfortable with.

Now, for the concrete: I’ve written many blog posts over the years, about what I’ve learned about writing effective press releases to magazines, newspapers, etc. and I consider an email newsletter a personal, mini-press release.

So when you’re setting one up, think about the 5 (or 6) W’s: Who, what, when, where, why, and how (okay that’s not a W, but you get it) if you are including something educational.

  • The “who” is you, of course.
  • The “what” is what you want your audience to know: An event? A class? An honor/award/prestigious show you’ve been accepted into? A new gallery? A new body of work? A sale?
  • The “when” is obvious. Nobody will show up to your event if you don’t let people know what date and time it is.

What is not obvious (and what I struggle with) is, email newsletter experts say you need to let your audience know multiple times about the “when”. That is, if you have an open studio event, you need to not only let people know in multiple arenas (email, Facebook, etc.) but multiple times. Give people plenty of time to plan ahead. But then remind them over and over that it’s coming up.

The “where” is obvious, too. But you’d be surprised how many emailers assume their audience KNOW where the where is. I finally replied to one gallery newsletter last week, asking them what CITY AND STATE they are in. (In fact, I just realized I did not do that in my most recent newsletter. OOPS)

  • The “why” is trickier. But untangle it a bit, and it becomes obvious. For events, the “why” is, “Because I’m hoping you show up and buy something!” For notices of awards and honors, it’s “Because now you can see other people/organizations think my work is pretty cool, too!” For a new body of work, it’s “Because you love my previous work, you might REALLY love my latest body of work!”

The “why” could also include your call-to-action. That is, what do you want people to do with this information? Do you want them to come by? Share/tell their friends, so they can help you grow your audience? Order something online? Be happy for you? How about just to say “thank you”? That works, too!

  • The “how” can be an interesting tip, suggestion, insight into what you do. Some people want to know as much as possible about our process. Others want to take a class, and this can encourage them to do that. Sometimes, they just appreciate the fact that you care enough to share!

The only caveat (beyond the ones I’ve already mentioned) is to tread carefully about the hard parts of your life you’re dealing with. It’s okay to share a setback, or to explain why you’ve been out of touch, or why you had to take time off from your art this year. I would advise you not to overdo it. Here in Santa Rosa, the fires last year devastated a lot of lives, immediately and peripherally. It will take most people years to process their loss, and heal.

But to make every single newsletter/conversation/announcement about that is overwhelming to our audience. After all, we are all struggling with something. We are all broken, someplace in our heart. We are all healing from something.

Asking for a little sympathy and understanding is human nature, and support from others can be a healing factor. But asking someone to listen over and over and over to our sad story is exhausting.

It also doesn’t serve us, in the long run. I’ve had a rotten year myself. I would say “nobody died”, but actually quite a few people died, and quite a few involved let me down horribly. It was hard, and trust me, I’m happy to tell everyone about it.

In the end, though, where the most powerful healing came from was, getting back to my studio and making the work of my heart. It helped restore me to my better self, the person I chose to be.

And that message, a message of healing, and restoration, and solace, and hope, a message of what our art does for us and for other people, is the message we really want our audience to hear.  

As artists, we want our art to inspire, to bring joy, to lift hearts. We want to bring messages of hope, and love, to others. We want to provoke thought about difficult issues, and to share our own personal view of the world and our experiences.

This is our job, as artists. And the people who are attracted to our work, who want to see more, learn more, hear more, are just waiting to get more of that from us.

I hope this encourages you to reach out to your audience, and let them know what’s going on in your world! Clint Watson, founder of FASO, has written great articles about the more practical points of producing an effective email newsletter, and I encourage you to go back and read them.

But I assure you, if you approach this with as much integrity and openness as you approach your art, you really can’t go wrong.

ALMOST FAMOUS

Years ago, I ran into major star at an event. (We were in line for refreshments.) This was someone whose music influenced me deeply ever since my early college years, and I’ve followed them faithfully ever since–20 years at the time, almost 50 now.

I told them that. Even as I struggled to express how much they meant to me, I could see “that face”:

“Yeah, okay. I’m tired. I hear this all the time. I get it. Thank you. But I just want to get my effin’ drink here, in peace!”

They didn’t say that. But the numb expression on their exausted face was clear. I felt awful.

And I felt awful after I did it again recently.

I had an opportunity to meet a star. Another REAL star. A famous person. I got to go backstage, and meet them. And foolishly, instead of just saying “hello” and moving on, I once again tried to tell them how much their work means to me.

And I could tell, once again, how much I bored with my little story.

Again, this person was gracious. I am not complaining. I was embarrassed I’d done it again.

They’d just completed a performance. They get hundreds of those backstage visits a year. They were already exhausted, after working the stage for hours.

And here comes a perfect stranger who hopes to “connect” at the worst possible time. What if every person, the hundreds of thousands of people who love their work, did that? “I know you, you don’t know me, I think you’re wonderful, do you “see” me????”

I have a confession to make…

The older I get, the harder it is to remember, and recognize, my own fans/customers.

This is embarrassing, because…Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? You made the time to visit my studio/website/show, you had the sense of purpose to collect a piece, your purchase helps me stay in business so I can continue making, and our conversation lifted my heart.

So when I see you again, and you have to remind me who you are and what we talked so passionately about, I want to sink into the floor.

Most people are understanding. “Why should you remember me?? I was one of hundreds who visited your studio that day! Don’t worry about it.”

But I always remember that first “star” encounter, and cringe. The second encounter was totally on me.

Where am I going with this?

It’s about a creative person’s “dream”, our desire for fame, the need for proof that the world loves what we do.

I realize I don’t really want to be “famous” anymore. I wouldn’t be good at it.

Trust me, it’s not because I’m “more evolved” than these starry folks. They have talent, they’ve worked hard to get it out into the world, and I celebrate every measure of success they achieve. They work hard to be gracious and appreciative of their audience, even when it means putting on a happy face when they are drained and exhausted.

I just realize I would not be nearly as gracious as they are if I were in their shoes.

Do I love what I do? Yes. Do I want my work out in the world? Yes! Do I want my work to be seen, and admired, and respected, and loved? YES!! Am I grateful for the people who let me know, especially when they love it enough to actually buy it? OH GOD YES.

But I also believe my work has a purpose in the world. I feel compelled to connect with my followers, my visitors, my collectors. I’m honored when my work, our conversations, inspire them, heal them, encourage them on their own creative journies.

I can only do that when the encounters are “small”. Personal. Intimate (spiritually.) Enjoyable. I know I would not handle fame nearly as well.

It’s not a “be careful what you wish for, you might get it” thing.

It’s know what you really want, instead of what our celebrity-driven, limelight-lit world tells us what we should want.

Summed up beautifully, and with humor, in my all-time favorite cartoon  (Sally Forth) by Francesco Marciuliano.

 

 

 

RESPECT YOUR COLLECTORS Part 4: More Papas, Fewer Babies

Don’t let your cheaper work devalue your finest work. More papas, few babies.

Fourth in a series on how to think about your true collectors.

I have a friend who’s been in the fine craft biz for over twenty years. He’s in the very best shows. He’s an astute businessman as well as a talented artist. The first time he came to my open studio, he shared an insight I’d never considered before:

Offering too much lower-priced work to attract a wider audience can actually diminish your value for serious collectors.

Human nature being what it is, people won’t think your cheaper work is “a bargain”. They’ll perceive your higher end work as “overpriced.”

I favor the papa/mama/babies model in my display. I show one high-end piece—my biggest and best work of the year. That’s the ‘papa’ piece. I’ll add in three to five mid-range pieces—things that echo the same spirit and flavor but in the $150-$500 range. These are the ‘mama’ pieces. Then I fill in with a large selection of items under $150, down to $25. These are the ‘babies’.

The theory is that the ‘papa’ piece is the attention-getting show-stopper. It rarely sells, but acts as a major draw. Well-heeled and confident collectors will then readily purchase the ‘mama’ pieces. People with smaller budgets, or who are unsure of their choices, will load up on the smaller ‘baby’ pieces.

It works pretty well in stores and galleries, where stores have to appeal to a wide range of customers and sizes of pocketbooks. But is it the right model for an open studio, or a booth at a show? What are the pros and cons?

My friend believes that mixing our high-end and our low-end work sends a bad message to our serious collectors. It signals confusion on the part of the artist, a lack of focus and intent.

Someone who’s thinking about buying a $5,000 or $10,000 piece from you does not want to see a $50 pair of earrings next to that piece. Their thinking? “Why should I invest five figures in you, when I can have a piece of you for $50?” Or worse….”If this piece is only $50, then that $5,000 piece must be overpriced!”

Eliminate the ‘babies’?? It’s a hard concept to embrace when times are tough. Sometimes those $50 sales were all that kept me afloat. It’s tempting to stay with the safer strategy of ‘something for everyone’.

But building a business model that relies on the sale of lots of $50 has its drawbacks, too.

The biggest drawback? It’s soul-numbing.

This is not conjecture. I’ve been there. You focus totally on what sells. It becomes all about the “small”: Small in price, small in stature, small in risk.

Soon you feel your creative self and artistic vision getting small, too.

I’ve been there–and I never want to go back.

So….How to proceed?

Offer fewer ‘babies’.

In an open studio recently, I simply didn’t have time to set out lots of lower-priced work. The ‘mamas’ took the place of the ‘babies’.

I sold more ‘mamas’ than ever!

So my advice to you: Consider your venues, and these economic times.

In the past, I could easily do the ‘all papa’ strategy at the tried-and-true big shows in my industry. The shows had the great reputation and reliable attendance, and targeted the right demographic, for those big, wonderful works. Money flowed more freely and people loved the attention that came from their spectacular purchases.

Things are different now. Show attendance is down. People hesitate to flaunt their money when their friends are hurting. They’re cautious about what they invest in.

The internet has changed things: Buyers are more comfortable buying on the internet now. It’s secure and the selection is limitless. It’s also more discreet. No need to reveal just how much money they spent on that new piece of art.

When money is tight and sales are slow, maintain your confidence in your work. Focus on keeping your technique sharp. Be patient. You still need face time with collectors to build a relationship. But also give them more opportunities online to buy.

If you love your lower-end pieces, that’s okay. I love mine, too! Instead of mooshing them in with your finer work, try this: Separate the lines and market them differently.

Or try using a different venue for them. I have one line of jewelry that’s decidedly out-of-sync with my “ancient art” aesthetic. I now market that under a totally different business name.

In the end, we all have to ask ourselves: What is the highest and best use of our time and talent?

I still keep a few smaller, less expensive items available. But I’ve slowly raised the bar by raising the prices on them. I’m asking my collectors for a bigger commitment to own one of my pieces. I’d rather sell one $250 item than ten $25 items. I focus on making those more expensive pieces even more special–more one-of-a-kind, more daring, more unusual.

Interestingly, when I look back at my sales over the last 15 years, I’m not selling more items. I’m selling more expensive items. The demand has remained constant but there’s less resistance to my prices. My friends who assist me in my booth say this all the time. I worry about charging too much. “Luann!” they exclaim. “People know your work is worth it!”

The energy is better, too. People don’t buy my work because ‘it’s a deal’. They buy it because they love it and they see it as worthy of owning.

By valuing my time and my skill, I’ve encouraged others to have respect for my work.

Remember: When we have an open studio, or a solo show, or a booth at a fair, our audience is self-selected; that works in our favor!

A store or gallery has to appeal to anyone who walks by. They don’t care which artist’s work sells, as long as the customer buys something.

As an artist, I have a style, an aesthetic and a story that connects people to my work. If the buyer wants to buy my work, I have more leverage.

Is the just papas, a few mamas, no babies approach for everyone? Of course not. Have I embraced it 100%? Nope. But I’m inching my way there.

And let me be clear: This is me in my “business hat” talking.

I’d never disdain someone who loved my work but cannot afford a few thousand, or even a few hundred dollars, to invest. I love my ‘smaller’ collectors. I’m just as grateful for them as I am for my ‘bigger’ collectors.

My prices aren’t arbitrary. I’m confident they reflect the skill, time and passion necessary to create each piece. In fact, many collectors start small and then move on to more expensive pieces.

I would never twist a collector’s arm to buy more than they are comfortable with. I’m honored when someone chooses to spend their hard-earned money on my work. I love it when customers come back the year after they invest in a major piece and tell me how much joy it’s giving them.

Ask your true collectors to step up to the plate and commit to you. The worst they can say is ‘no’.

And it’s simply wonderful when they say ‘yes’.

Respect Your Collectors Part 4
by Luann Udell originally published on the Fine Art Views website on January 10, 2011.)

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….”

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.