Transcription of conversation with Ann Rea, Artist and Mentor and Margi Greene, Artist, Loveland, Colorado.
A Plan To Sell Your Art, Without A Plan, Is A Plan To Sell No Art
– I’d like to dispel another notion about business plans. I think there’s an imaginary, there’s an idea, a false idea that you write this plan, and then that’s it.
– Yeah, that seemed to be.
– It’s ridiculous. All the plan is, it’s the plan that I teach you guys, is this is a living and breathing document. So, the plan is just a, there we go! She’s got hers.
– My one page.
– Yes, it’s one page, only one page.
– And this is the one I wrote for my class. Look at that.
– Oh God, that’s awful!
– Yes, compare those two. This one makes sense.
– Right. You don’t look through this binder, you know, like to find the answers. The one page should just be a reflection of what you know, and it also helps you get clear about what you don’t yet know. And that’s okay. So it’s okay.
– So it’s okay, and the way that we lay out the plan, and I laid it out
– I love it.
– very deliberate. So you start with your why. And look it, if you can’t, you’ve gotta get that first or none of the outline below will make any damn sense.
– But I feel like now, I have direction that I never had before, ever, ever, ever.
How does the word “business” make you feel?
– Sometimes, if we even say the word business to artists, they go, “Oo.” They cringe.
– Say the word feeling or emotion to a traditional business person, they cringe, like “Oo, we’re not gonna “hear about that. “We wanna do financial projections and look at “market share,” right?
– Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
– How when I say the word business to you now, how does it feel to you?
– Well, it feels less complicated and less like a tangled ball of string. It feels now I can untangle that ball of string.
Traditional business do not work for artists.
In researching my quote, unquote market, it was all this stuff about what other artists were doing and that I should follow what other artists were doing, rather than looking into, “Gosh, what is Margi good at? “What can I do?” What is my, how can I share the world with my particular gift, whatever it is? And I felt that was a missing piece. It was like, well just go do your stuff and show it to people and, you know, the gallery shtick. And I just like, I’ve done the gallery shtick. I didn’t like it. It was not me.
– It was not, right so. I found it–
– And it’s not, it’s not where you’re going to find success. It’s a very broken model and why it’s coming apart at the seams.
– Uh huh, yeah, and I see it as very broken because I just, I find I’m not good at quote, unquote playing the game. I’m who I am, and I walk my talk. And I felt like folks who were at the gallery thing were trying to turn me into something that I, put me in a different suit that I wasn’t comfortable with.
– Right, and which is absurd because your strength lies in being your authentic self. That’s how you’re genuinely going to and authentically going to connect with your collectors, not by pretending you are somebody you’re not. Your art comes from your heart and from your soul. So you to come out and pretend you’re something other than that is ridiculous. It’s just.. Why?
– Doesn’t work.
– Who wants to do that? It’s exhausting.
Does an artist need to sell themselves?
This whole idea that you have to sell yourself is false. No one’s actually buying you. Sit and think about this, when you say out loud, “I have to sell myself.” No, you do not. No one’s buying you, okay?
– I love that.
– If you’ve been frustrated with business plans and marketing plans, there’s a reason. It’s because they’re not built for an artist’s business. It’s not your fault. It’s just that you don’t have a plan that’s actually going to help your specific circumstances. That’s all.
– It’s almost like the individuality of who, what I offered, was being ignored.
– Which is the opposite of what you want to do.
– Yeah, it was like, “This makes no sense.”
It’s about planning, not the plan.
– Here’s something that’s an iterative process, means you write it, you graph it, you do the best you can. You take a little baby step forward, baby step forward. You go back, and you revisit your plan. You see if you have new insights or intelligence or ideas. You take some baby steps. It’s a process. It’s never, it’s not. It really should be called a business process tool, not a plan ’cause a plan implies that it’s done. And, it’s never done. And that is, you don’t want it to be done because that means that you’re not making progress. You’re not thinking; you’re not creating.
– And really, a business, I think one of my favorite quotes comes from my friend, Dr. E, which is, “Every artist is an entrepreneur, “and every entrepreneur is an artist.” Look back in your art history books, everybody. John Singer Sargent, incredible entrepreneur.
– Oh gosh, yes.
– Andy Warhol loved, loved, loved business. And he was spectacular at it. Look back through the Renaissance. So, you know, we’re not somehow incapable. This is a new notion that we’re somehow incapable. Every other artist, back before, sold their art, had relationships with their patrons, connected with their patrons, asked for referrals, which can generate from 65 to 85% of new business, just based on the people who you already know.
– And that’s something, too. It’s like in the quote, unquote old days, were there galleries?
Can’t I just work with an art gallery?
– If you decide that you want to work with a gallery, here’s the problem. Your success will always be limited because you don’t own your own business and because you’re relying on them for sales. Number one, they’re gonna take half the money, probably more than half the money. But number two, which is even more significant, is when you, as a small micro business, 65 to 85% of your sales come to you by way of referrals. When you work with an art gallery, they are never gonna let you have the collector’s contact information so that you can gain referrals. So that’s all that money and all that opportunity you’ve just lost. You’ve just left it on the table. That’s the big, big difference. And that’s why you have to embrace that this is a business.
– But then, I would have people who said, “Well, I don’t “wanna go through the gallery thing. “I wanna deal with you, directly.”
– They do; they do want to. They want a relationship with you.
– Yeah, and as long, but it was like. I would talk to the gallery person and, “Oh no, “we can’t do that. “They have to come through us.” And it was like, “No.” I’m not comfortable with that.
What have you learned?
That it’s okay to be authentic. That was a big one for me. And it’s okay to figure out your own path, and it’s okay to ask people questions that will help you. And it will help them. Those are, like it’s okay to ask questions. It’s okay to, in some sense, be vulnerable.
How about donating my art to gain exposure?
– Giving things away for free is not a sales strategy. That’s what I’m tryin’ to say.
– Well, it’s also a real emotional downer, I found, because it’s like I had all these promises. “Oh, you’ll get so much exposure. “You’ll meet all these great people, “and you’ll do all this cool stuff.” I went to the places; I met all the great people. I passed out business cards. “Oh, we love your work.” And then, it’s like, bottom line, zilch. It’s like, okay, thanks but no thanks. I can’t do this.
– Right, and you shouldn’t do it. You really shouldn’t do it. No, it’s not a reasonable way to run a business. And, that’s the thing. You don’t need people, you don’t wanna operate on hope. You wanna operate on planned action.
– You don’t need exposure. You need sales.
How about donating my art to gain exposure?
– It’s about what I wanna be when I grow up, not about what other people tell me I’m supposed to be as an artist.
– So people are telling you what type of artist you should be, what kind of art you should do or that you shouldn’t do art at all. They’re not livin’ your life, you know?
– This isn’t a dress rehearsal. If it’s what you wanna do, then do it. I’m not suggesting,
– Uh huh.
– by the way, I’m not suggesting that people do what I did, which was quit my job and move to San Francisco and decide to be a full-time artist and never having run a business full-time, having absolutely no connections here in San Francisco. I don’t recommend that at all.
– But you were up for it, though. But you were up for it. You were ready.
– I was ready for it. I was very motivated, and I was very focused. You know what it started with? A one page plan, that’s how.
– That is so perfect. You’re a good teacher, and I have enjoyed learning from you. And I like, usually if there’s an issue and I’m struggling, you do the nail on the head thing, like that.