Go Ahead, Bug Them!

True story:Go Ahead Bug Them

Artist Nancy (not her real name) casually told me in a coaching session that one of her collectors had mentioned buying more art for her vacation home.

“When did she tell you this?” I asked.

ummm… about six months ago,” Artist Nancy responded.

“And what have you done to follow up on her comment?”

“Why, nothing,” she said.

“Because…?” I asked.

“Good heavens,” my client said…“I don’t want her to think I’m bugging her!”

It’s a good thing we’re on the phone or my client might have seen me roll my eyes.  Not at my client, mind you, but at the consistency of this response – one that I get 99% of the time when I question why an artist hasn’t followed up on a lead for a sale.

The key here, at its core, is a state of mind. Because, unless you get that right, no amount of information will be able to make the difference between a sale and no-sale.

Of course, this is all based on the assumption that you do want your art to sell.

First step? Mindset

The collective understanding of selling has come to imply manipulation and psychological coercion that only benefits the seller – the buyer be damned.

And we have decades of research and calculated advertising to back this up, where billions are spent on focus groups to get inside our heads to find out what will cause us to buy, buy, buy.

In this flurry of arm-twisting commerce, we have forgotten a key factor: genuine desire, real need.

Commerce, at its core, is simply the exchange of one benefit for another. I do need a used car. I do want my daily life enriched by what’s around me.

And my exchange for having these needs met is money.  Clean. Direct. Simple.

Of course, we all have our money stories, a combination of how we were raised and how we’ve conditioned ourselves to experience making, saving, and spending money. Plus we have all these industries built upon the premise that buying is a mind-set that can be manipulated and controlled.

So we have muddied the waters surrounding the core principle of authentic value.

Yes, value is subjective and, yes, you have responsibility for determining value for yourself, and becoming aware of what value means for your buyers and collectors (or your gallery dealers).

If you truly believe in your vision, in what your art has to offer our collective human experience, then how on Earth can someone be on the receiving end if you are not on the offering end?

In short, how can someone buy if you are not selling?

P.S. The “you” in this case may be singular (yourself) or collective (all the venues where your art can be found). 

Selling art is not like selling a used car (icky sales archetypes not withstanding!).
Selling art is how you offer someone a window into the soul of creativity.

Second step: Engage 

Each buyer, each collector, each gallery dealer is first and foremost a person.

And like you, they respond to feeling acknowledged and seen.

The easiest way to a buyer’s heart, after they have purchased a piece of your work, is a simple, hand written, Thank You note.

The same is true for a gallery you are pursuing. Even if you haven’t broached the subject of representation, sending a hand written, Thank You note immediately after any interaction (talking informally while visiting a gallery, attending an event/opening, etc.) is a thoughtful and kind way to keep you and your art in front of interested parties.

Of course, you have a ready supply of envelops and note cards—with an image of your work on the front (titled + email & phone no.), blank space for writing inside, then a thumbnail of a different piece on the back along with all your contact information.

However, once is not enough. You don’t want too much time to pass before making contact again because, when you touch base a second time, you begin the process that is at the heart of all advertising: repetition.

Turns out it’s not just children who need to hear or see a consistent pattern multiple times- it’s all of us. The broken record syndrome may be intellectually annoying, but it’s psychologically effective.

For your second contact, use email so you can invite the person to click on a link that will take them to your most recent work. Or take them to a page where they can sign up for your list. Or a page where your most current exhibition is still up.

The key here is to personalize the email by noting some aspect of your new work, or another page you are directing them to, that is aligned with what you know about them.

For your buyer, this might be an alternative place in their home where they would have put their purchased piece, except for reasons they have told you, that first piece wasn’t exactly right—and now you have a piece of work that is right.

For the gallery dealer, this might be as simple as drawing some parallel between your work (the boldness of color, or the nuance of perspective, etc.) and the work of an artist the gallery already represents.

This starts them associating you with an artist they represent. For this, it’s imperative that you are accurate, thoughtful, and engaging when you draw a parallel between your work and one of their artists. One way to do this is inviting them to reflect back to you if they also see this connection.

Of course, you have a website. Of course you have a database that keeps your email contacts organized and spam free. And of course you update the work on your website every single month – taking off old work that no longer represents the best of what you are doing now.

Third Step:  Commitment to Connection

The mindset here is unswerving belief in your work. The practical key here is consistent repetition.

Here’s a story from a US gallery dealer in the southwest:

A Canadian artist stopped to visit, portfolio in hand, and asked for representation on the spot. The dealer, however, had a full stable, so he declined, but did indicate he liked her work.

Once the artist returned home, she sent him an email with a link to one of her newest pieces.

He clicked on the link, again liked the work, and emailed back a polite note.

The next week, the artist sent a new link to new work (being prolific helps!). Again he clicked on the link, looked at the work, did not email her back.

The next week, here came another email from the artist. This time the dealer did not click on the link and did not respond to her email.

She emailed him a new piece of work every week for an entire year. And for an entire year all the dealer did was delete her emails.

Then, something happened. The dealer lost one of his artists. He had an opening… and who did he think of first (repetition!). And who did he invite for representation?

Yup, that artist who didn’t for one minute worrying about bugging the dealer.

Note: her emails were short, consistent, and always friendly. And, I’m sure, if he’d asked her to stop sending emails, she would have.

The point is not to duplicate this artist’s story (though, in some cases, it might be a perfect strategy), the point is understand that value is a two-way street.

You must believe in the value of your work, and develop follow-up strategies consistent with this belief.

Three Ways To Start Now

It’s never too late. Even if you have not written a single thank you note before, you can start now.

  1. Set aside one afternoon and write all the thank you notes you’ve neglected up to now in one sitting. Even if some times has passed, the person will be delighted anyway.
  2. Wait no longer than 3 weeks, then send out an email to the same people you sent the notes to, mentioning that you hope they’ve received their thank you note and asking them to click on a link in your email to your current work – again, be personal so they don’t feel you are “streamlining” this—even if you are.
  3. Pay attention to where your mindset is tripping you up.

Of course, taking these action steps means you have kept all the contact information for your buyers, collectors, and potential (or current) dealers–and you’ve set up a third party, online software company to keep it organized for you.

As for bugging someone… here’s the rest of Artist Nancy’s story:

After Artist Nancy confessed to me that she didn’t want to bug her former collector, I suggested that Nancy write a simple email, referencing their conversation, and saying that she had some new work, which might be perfect for her former collector’s vacation home and would she like to look at it?

Turned out that the collector was thrilled to hear from Artist Nancy (please, make note of this word “thrilled” because I do not use it lightly!), asked to see the new work and immediately purchased two more pieces for her vacation home.


Do not over estimated, nor under estimated the art of bugging.


So, when has bugging netted you exactly what you wanted?


btw – check out the new smARTist Store where you’ll find the most popular presentations from six years of my annual, professional development, art career conference, the smARTist Telesummit.

The artists who came had a lot to say about the individual presentations featured in our Store, like this one …

Once again, you pulled together a fabulous group of speakers – diverse and brilliant.  Listening to the presentations and panel discussions was wonderfully informative and inspiring.  LOVE that Eden Maxwell!!!

As I sift through my notes today, I am finding that my ideas about my art and myself as an artist are crystallizing into a clear, authentic me.  I’m excited to continue on this journey – renewed and reinvigorated by your marvelous conference.” ~ Donna Blair

For all the details, click here before- the 35% – 68% Grand Opening Sale is over on Feb 26, 2013 -> smARTist Store




10 Responses to “Go Ahead, Bug Them!”

  1. Maria Brophy says:

    Ariane, this is one of the best posts I’ve read in a long time!

    It’s so important to be persistent. To not give up. We tried getting a greeting card line with Leanin’ Tree over 6 years ago. We got rejected. Then we we tried again a year later, got a rejection letter.

    Finally, after many tries, we got the deal!

    Often, when a company or gallery says “no” it doesn’t mean NO, it just means “no for now.”

    I’m going to share this post with everyone I know!

    • I know, rejection is so hard to not create a story around, like “my work’s not good enough…”

      However, that story is simply one of many we can choose to create – so why not create another, like…”oh, my, they just aren’t ready for me yet… I’ll try again…”

      And thanks for passing along…

  2. Sam Bernal says:

    Awesome post! I saw this after Maria shared it on facebook. I can definitely relate to Nancy’s story. I have had potential buyers request to buy but have never followed up. Great time to start changing my ways! Buying some new greeting cards with my surf art on them now!

  3. Kay Stratman says:

    In my family we have a term for this idea – “politely persistent”. My father was a salesman that everybody loved, (he was a food service equipment manufacturers rep) and it was because he was “politely persistent”. I always keep this in mind :) Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Oh, I like that because it totally dismantles the notion that persistence is “not nice.”

    I recently experienced being confronted, actually “called on the carpet,” and instead of reacting at all, I just listened in order to hear how what I’d said had not been heard and to find another way around – come in the back door.

    I’m happy to say, it worked! I was polite and I was persistent with what I was laying on the table.

  5. Mark Tereau says:

    This is full of good tips and lots of things we will need help with that sounds like advertising (third party, online software company, website, printed cards, etc).

    I wonder if you were really tired when you wrote this. There are several errors, but still plenty readable. Good stuff.

    • Ah, Mark, you caught me. Yes, I was on the downhill of the night when I wrote this.

      And yes, you may always choose to use a word, like “advertising,” for the different ways an artist can set up support systems that make all those admin details outside of the studio less vexing — or, you can choose words like: support systems for admin tasks :-)

  6. Great career advice Arianne. Persistence has been key with my fine art clients over the years. Always keep an email folder of potential clients to follow up with after an appropriate amount of silence. Key for me has been my monthly email newsletter, keeping new work in front of folks, people that have ASKED me to market to them, all the time… at some point you intersect with people that are in the right frame of mind, or circumstances, to make an acquisition. This also requires keeping the your website fresh, and changing… especially the home page.

    Persistence has also been very key to getting sponsors for my projects, such as Into The Arctic (http://www.intothearctic.com). As a multi-year painting/filming project, I’ve had sponsors say no in year one, but come on board the next year, after I’ve proven myself. Or, staff turns over and I get to start fresh again!

    And you artist out there that would are leary about embracing business side… it’s the key to artistic freedom!

    Happy creating,


    • Love the CBC North News interview
      http://www.trepanieroriginals.com/profile_bio.html as a window into your extreme art.

      I also love how your work is aligned with a thoughtful message that is directly from your soul, and a message you are comfortable and natural communicating with the media.

      And this remark of yours can’t be stressed enough (sorry, couldn’t keep my editing hands off :-):

      “And you artists out there who would be leary about embracing business side… it’s the key to artistic freedom!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *