I was thinking about my earlier post on the subject of ‘What are you selling?’, and chatting with other artists during this year’s Herts Open Studios.
I’ve concluded that a significant part of the job of selling your ‘brand’ as an artist rather than just selling your time and materials can be achieved by showing people what you do – rather than just telling them.
Jenny and I have always sought out opportunities to demonstrate our stained glass processes as a way to draw prospective purchasers in (and a nice way to ensure time spent at craft fairs or exhibitions is more productive).
The number of conversations while working on a piece that have started ‘I used to do a bit of glass work…’ or ‘So tell me – how do you cut curves in glass?’ that result in a class booking for our beginner’s class or a sale then or later tells me the power of demonstration is not to be underestimated.
Does a demonstration have to be structured to be worth doing?
I’m not certain it does. It’s well worth having pieces of art in different stages of completion, if you can – this allows you to explain what you’re doing at the moment in relation to the finished piece.
We usually have some offcuts of glass we can use to show how a modern oil-filled glass cutter works, and even let someone have a go if they like.
Now this is a real ‘closer’!
Many people will be interested in what you do, and may want to try it but are wary of signing up for a class or buying a set of materials until they know they stand a chance of success!
Even if hands-on sessions aren’t practical, being able to talk with people about the techniques, or maybe the evolution of your work with examples of incomplete work to hand gets your conversation with the potential customer on to a much deeper level very quickly.
We also find that a hook to get that conversation started is invaluable.
At our recent Open Studios exhibition we were making stained glass Christmas decorations; we were able to say to people wandering around that we were getting a head-start on orders from the galleries we work with.
This got an initial response in most cases – isn’t a bit early, isn’t it a bit repetitive making the same thing many times, and so on. A bit of banter and a a bit of ‘these are the ones I’ve finished today’ and we’ve got a conversation started.
We also make sure we have all our tools handy, and we find we can get chatting by referring to tools that are the modern equivalent of ones they may have seen on TV or in their Dad’s workshop. From that point it’s easy to develop that thread and find out if they’ve seen something in the exhibition they like.
If we’re not formally preparing to demonstrate, we’ll ensure instead that we have work on the go at different stages so we can point to the tools and techniques used at each stage.
To come back to the concept of selling your brand, I remember working at a large craft fair one August Bank Holiday, with a chap watching me cut glass for about half-an-hour. He just stood there and watched as I cut up all the pieces for a new design I had drawn out.
After 30 minutes, he said ‘I’ve never seen anyone cut so precisely as that, especially with people watching.’
I replied ‘That’s because you’re watching – I was being extra careful!’.
We exchanged greetings, he took a brochure and wandered off.
At the end of the day he returned and bought one of Jenny’s pieces (made at a craft fair the previous month!), telling his wife: ‘Now that I’ve seen it done I want to be able to tell people I know a bit about it.’
That’s the power of the demonstration – it moves you away from being the person selling the work, to being the person creating it using skills acquired and refined over many years.
Just make sure you get their email address so you can add them to your mailing list. And email them a photo of the finished piece you were making when they stopped and chatted!