Thursday, October 20, 2011

When Times Are Tough

Consumers seek price reductions when times are tough, but savvy manufacturers are careful to provide discounts rather than price reductions. Price reductions are “invisible” unless they are advertised with original pricing and it is hard to put prices back up. Discounts, however, can be time-limited, qualified and do not require a change in pricing. This is something artists should consider—discounts provide a far greater psychological incentive for customers than do price reductions when it comes to selling art. And make your discounts event- or time-specific.

Another change in professional practice that is a good idea is to create work that takes less time to make, or to do some multiples—doing either can produce inventory at lower prices thereby protecting the prices of existing work. Or selling on installment with consumers you know and trust is another effective idea to consider in lean times. Monthly or bi-weekly payments can be easier for some customers and have little negative impact on you. Or you can rent your work out.

And you can use your artwork like money. Barter with it. One of the more active barterers I have ever known was Toni Onley who was certainly anything but “starving.” It was just something he learned to do early in his career and he never stopped, even when he was far more successful. Another artist I met began bartering when she was faced with a bill for veterinary services she could not afford. Necessity pushed her to try bartering for part of the fee, and her veterinarian was receptive.

When the global economy was shaken up in the 70s, one enterprising artist took everything—I mean everything—off her walls and totally de-cluttered the main floor of her home and turned the walls into her art gallery. She labeled and priced everything as though she was running a professional space and just continued on with her life. There was a quick and dramatic effect and, as she increased her entertaining, she increased her sales. It was subtle and effective; she did not push sales, her work sold itself to her friends. All she had to do was get them in the door.

The point is, the larger the role that sales plays in your artistic career, the more you must consider change if the economy does what it is predicted to do. You can’t carry on as we did during this millennium’s first decade and expect the same outcomes. Sometimes, a bold strategy in tough times is to find new markets or to create new products.

Here are some strategies for the bold and confident artist:

  •        Move “up market.’ This is a great strategy if you have a methodology for reaching people or professionals who still have a lot of disposable income.
  •         Leave your gallery and being represented in order to sell directly to clients and avoid paying a commission. During recessionary times, galleries often suffer. Assess your future with your gallery with an open mind—especially if you have a large network and roster of past customers.
  •       Consult. One of the greater problems artists face is that they must be good at so many things. You need writing expertise, financial skills, advanced computer skills, communication and publicity skills and sales and marketing expertise—you need the full palette of skills all self-employed entrepreneurs need to succeed, but rarely do the artists I know excel in all these fields yet learning from other professionals is not part of their practice. Some investment in learning about sales and marketing is very wise in economic climates such as these.

To end on a positive note, an interesting website called Howie’s Brainfood ( posted about taking a positive approach to recessions because they:

  •       Provoke creativity.
  •       Force you to make tough decisions.
  •       Thin out the competition.
  •       Make you remember not to take anything for granted.
  •       Remind you that real wealth is not what you own.
  •       Make it easier to abandon “business-as-usual.”
  •       Bring you back to basics.
  •       Promote efficiency.

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