Musings from the Moonroom

Thoughts on Art, Inspiration, Creativity and Spirit


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Expectations

It is bound to happen in every artist’s life that you experience a customer who is, well, difficult. Now you can define “difficult” any way you want. In my case, it means when a customer places an order but then cannot meet your expectations of payment for said order.

I’ve been extremely fortunate in my art business that I have never had to deal with such a situation until now. The closest I’ve come to playing “collections officer” is requesting past due payment on a couple Net 30 orders. And that situation was resolved without difficulty.  Perhaps it is part and parcel with the economic times. Earlier this year one of my wholesale customers closed the doors to her store. It was sad to hear that she had to close her business.

This situation, however, was a challenge for me because I don’t like confrontation. In fact, I don’t really like the word “confrontation.” (The word just conjures up images of anger and frustration.) But anyways, I truly dreaded dealing with this issue. When you’ve lived a good part of your life as a people-pleasing-I-don’t-want-you-to-be-angry-with-me human being…let’s just say it takes a while to prime the engine, swallow your weeniness, and make that call. No one likes to be a hardass.

But this is a business and in business expectations are set. When you receive an order, you expect that payment will be received under whatever arrangement you and the customer have agreed upon. In turn, the customer expects that you, artist, will deliver your product in a timely manner or under whatever schedule you have agreed upon.

Sounds pretty straightforward and not complicated, right?

Sigh.

To prepare for this situation, I set an intention for the conversation. I used my tingshas to help clear the stuckness I was feeling. And then I made the call. In a nutshell, I set a final, firm due date for payment or I cancel the order.

No one wants to do this. You really do want the customer to get their order. You really don’t want to lose the money. But you also need to stay true to your expectations.  At some point you can only be so accommodating. I keep reminding myself that this is part of business; the good and the not-so-good. But it still sucks.

Here are a few things I’ve learned from this situation:

  1. Set your expectation up front and early. I relied on a previously agreed upon payment plan that worked well the first time and not so well this time.
  2. Follow-up. Don’t let too much time pass between conversations. The “out of sight, out of mind” motto rings true in these situations too.
  3. Rehearse what you’ll say, set an intention, and don’t get angry. Money is an emotional trigger. Don’t feed into your frustration or the other person’s frustration.
  4. Don’t take what they might say personally. Don’t react to their words; just be neutral. Sometimes it is better to say nothing.
  5. Accept that the outcome may not be what you hope for. Not every situation has a happy ending. Don’t dwell on it. Learn from it and move forward.

Though I’m not sure what the final outcome of this situation will be (cue the voice-over: “Will the money be received? Will the order be canceled? Will someone tell me why I’m talking this way :-)”) I feel better knowing that I handled it professionally and with confidence.

What has been your experience in dealing with these situations?


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Tuesday’s Business-Know Your Customers/Collectors

Thus far in our discussion on writing a business plan, we’ve talked about several components: writing goals, defining your art, and knowing who your competition is. This week the focus is on describing and knowing who your customers and collectors are.

As you put together your business plan, you need to think about who is buying your art and who will buy your art. Knowing who your customers and collectors are currently and who you’d like as future customers and collectors also helps you define your goals and refine your marketing.

Why am I writing this as customer/collector? Because in the ideal situation all artists hope to have collectors; those people who buy our art, who keep buying from us, and start a collection of our work. When you start to think of the person buying your art as a collector, the mood changes. It feels more professional.

Demographics

The easiest way to describe your customers and collectors is with demographics. This includes sex (M/F), age, income, education level, and occupation. In addition to these standard demographics, you can expand further to include where your customers/collectors live (urban, suburban, rural) and how they pay for their purchases (cash, check, credit card, installments). You may even begin to think about the type of home they live in and the cars they drive.

Here is an example of how I’ve defined my customers in the recent past:

Urban and suburban women in their late 20’s to early 70’s who are predominantly college educated in professional careers that pay for their purchases with credit cards, cash, and occasionally by check.

If you aren’t sure who your customers/collectors are, write down who your ideal customer/collector would be. And if you already have an idea of who is buying your art and if you’d like to focus on another market, write down who those people would be too. In both cases you’ll develop a better idea of your customer/collector and can begin to think about how to find them and how to market to them.

Another aspect to consider when defining your customer/collector is why these people buy from you. Is it for personal or sentimental reasons? Does your art work fill a blank spot in their home? Are you providing a piece of art that happens to be in the right color? Is your work a functional object?

And if you have repeat customers/collectors, can you determine how often they buy from you? Some people talk about the 80/20 rule. This theory says 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers. If this is true, are you keeping in touch with your current customers?

Which leads us to…

Keeping Track of Customers/Collectors

How many of you have a customer mailing list? When you sell at an art/craft show, do you have a clipboard, notebook, or journal to collect contact information on your customers? If so, is it out and visible to people as they enter your booth?

I know that we all feel like we get too much information already via snail mail and email. However, when you start selling a product, you need to start building a mailing list in order to, hopefully, grow your business.

When someone expresses interest in your work and doesn’t make a purchase, encourage them to leave their contact information so you can update them on future shows and/or new art work. They may make a purchase in the future. They may share information on your art with a friend or family member who in turn may make a purchase. Without their contact information, a potential opportunity is lost.

In the last few years, my mailing list has grown to almost 300 customers/collectors. This list includes friends, neighbors, people in different organizations I belong to, former co-workers, Eric’s co-workers, and many people I meet at art/craft shows.

If you haven’t started a customer mailing list and you’re saying to yourself “I don’t know who to put on my list” think about people you know who have expressed an interest in your work or who have made casual purchases. Start with your neighbors or co-workers. I bet you can easily come up with 5-10 people to start your list.

Niche Markets

One last area to consider when it comes to customers/collectors is the niche market. A niche market is a specialized market. Does the art you make fit into a niche market? Do you specialize in specific theme(s) with your art? Look at your art and think about whether you could create for a niche market. When your work fits a niche market, you have a better idea of who to target with your marketing. You have an easier time finding an audience because it is “built in.”

Next week: Sales Opportunities