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Selling your art? Mike Smith shares his views...

I hope this doesn’t turn out to be hubris, but I’ve had a good week of art sales. It reinforces, once again, that the phenomenon of online sales using social media platforms as connecting and marketing tools, far outweighs the value of the traditional gallery for us artists selling below the R10 000 price point. If you’re in this segment, you really should consider building your presence on FaceBook and on Instagram.

Mike Smith


Mike Smith Charcoal

My other suggestions (remembering that I’m not a guru or a millionaire):

* Decide what ‘having an art career’ looks like for you. Is it one sale a month? Is it linked to an income figure, say R2k or R5k a month? Is it being able to totally live off proceeds of your art?

* Decide on your strategy. You probably need a mix of tactics to make up your strategy. Commissions, normal sales (off-the-easel kind of purchases where people buy what you make as part of your artistic practice), possibly design work (graphic, web, tattoo design) and mural work. Even teaching and offering workshops count imho.

* Think VERY carefully about pricing. You’re not going to reach Koons or Basquiat pricing, probably ever. In fact, here in SA, the five-figure mark (R10k and above) is elusive for many of us. Even gallery pricing can be misleading as a yardstick - remember, galleries are adding between 40 and 50%. Since you don’t need to do that to sell online or through FB, make your prices reasonable. My sense is that art is often an impulse purchase, and even middle-class South Africans only have around R2k-R3k to spend on an impulse purchase, before they start thinking more carefully.

* Price your work to go: meaning, it’s better, from a marketing- AND, crucially, a psychological point of view, to be moving work than to sit with tons of stock. Swallow your pride a little bit and remember you’re making objects to sell (if that’s your focus). Your objects are competing with a deluge of other objects: to participate in that market (again, if that’s your focus), you have to first have your objects floating out of your studio and into that deluge.

* Offer payment terms. With the numerous sales I made this year where I allowed people to pay off their works, only a couple proved to be problematic. Evaluating the risk of this tactic based on figures, I’ve realized it has definitely been more good than bad. Every business has a percentage of bad debt; again, swallow your pride and deal with risk.

* Quietly offer discounts. All the galleries do it. Don’t publicly undermine the value of your work, but if someone is on the fence about acquiring a work, offering them a private discount can be a great psychological sweetener. Remember, a sale is better than no sale.

* Once things are ticking over (and even R500 a month profit means you’re onto a good thing), work out how to grow your business. Consider how to operate more efficiently, upping your output and lowering your costs. But, also, test the waters on how to raise your prices. Dramatic price increases are a terrible idea. 10 - 20% a year is probably a good guide, but also only if your market will tolerate such an increase. Remember, your clients may be nice, and everyone likes to talk about supporting art and artists; but they don’t really care about your cost of living: they care about the cost-to-value ratio as it affects their own pockets. They’ll only pay as much as they believe something is worth to them to have.

These are things that have worked for me. I’d love to hear your suggestions and strategies in the comments.

Thank you

Mike Smith

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