After many hours creating in the studio, and marketing your work at art fairs and online, it can feel like selling a piece is the culmination of a long and difficult journey. Rather than an end point in itself, however, it’s wise to view your first sale to a new client as an opportunity to build a relationship with them, as collectors love to purchase works from artists whom they know, and with whom they feel a personal connection. So, what steps can you take to turn clients into patrons, and to ensure repeat sales in future?
The archetype of the troubled artist is all-pervasive in contemporary culture, and eccentricities may almost be expected of artists, but when dealing with clients it’s important to be professional. It may seem obvious, but you should aim to make the whole process of buying a work from you an enjoyable experience that they won’t hesitate to repeat in future, from your first point of contact to the delivery of sold works. When interacting with visitors at shows, art fairs, and in open studios, treat everyone taking an interest in your work as you would a possible client, as appearances can be deceptive, and you don’t want to risk dismissing or offending a potential customer. Wherever you meet clients, try to answer any questions that they have politely (and within a reasonable time frame, if sent via email or direct message), bearing in mind that their background knowledge of art history or media and techniques may be very different from your own.
When trying to close a sale it can feel tempting to over-promise, be it how quickly you can finish a commissioned painting, or how much you predict its shipping costs will be. Rather than disappointing a client in their first interaction with you, try to do everything that you can to manage and exceed their expectations — the mantra ‘under-promise, over-deliver’ is key!
Take every opportunity to get to know your clients
If geography and practicalities permit it, offering to deliver an artwork to a client in person can be highly appreciated. It might also give you the opportunity to get to know them better over coffee in their home, to discover any other artworks that they might own, and learn more about their interests and tastes; all important elements in building your relationship with them.
Develop your own mailing list
When making a sale, ensure that you take as many contact details for your customer as you can, including their email address, phone number, and postal address, if possible. Even if a sale has been conducted over Instagram, it’s crucial that you have alternative ways of keeping in touch with collectors in future, as the popularity of social media platforms ebb and flow over time, and having your own records is an important insurance policy against you or your customers losing access to your accounts, or migrating to another platform.
Taking contact details also allows you to keep in touch regularly with clients, for example by sending a monthly newsletter explaining what you have been doing in the studio, or inspiring museum shows that you have visited, and also to personalise the way in which you contact them, rather than relying on your public Instagram feed. Taking clients’ postal addresses will enable you to send clients copies of any exhibition catalogues or publications you produce in future, important press coverage, or perhaps even a Christmas card!
Keeping in regular contact, rather than simply reaching out to clients when you have a new exhibition, allows clients to get to know you and your work better, and to feel invested in your artistic journey, meaning that they might feel more inspired to purchase your work when it does become available.
Make clients feel like VIPs
The majority of public museums, galleries, and theatres, as well as commercial art fairs, run official patron programmes, offering members or important collectors perks such as exclusive events and viewings, or priority booking for shows in exchange for their support. In a less formal way you can acknowledge the role that clients have played in your career, and encourage their continued custom, by offering them early access to new works, visits to your studio, or perhaps even a discount on repeat purchases.
While some collectors regularly buy artworks, others may purchase far less frequently, have smaller budgets, or might buy a piece for a specific space or interiors project. While a client might not personally buy more of your work, they might still act as advocates for it, meaning that it is worthwhile to keep in contact, and to send them updates on your practice. You might also find that previous customers, or their friends and family, approach you in future to purchase or commission works as gifts for major birthdays or life milestones, meaning that if you do accept commissions it is a good idea to indicate this on your website. Try to view your relationship with clients as a long game, which might unfold over many years.