When we’re just starting out, we often feel like the most heartfelt gift we can give is a piece of our art. And maybe this even persists after we’ve become successful. We want our friends and family and potential customers to feel the gratitude we have for their support. So we hand them a print for free, or sometimes even an original. And eventually we find that we’re giving our art away all the time, and hardly ever selling any of it.
It’s not that it’s wrong to give things, by any means. It’s more that giving holds a lot more meaning and emotion when you run a business.
Growing up, my parents owned a packing and shipping store. My uncle had a construction and repairs business. My uncle needed to ship some packages and my parents gave a discount because they thought it was the right thing to do. And when the door broke at my parents’ store, they called my uncle. But he charged them full price. They were hurt that they had given him a deal but he hadn’t returned the favor.
The truth was, money was tight for both businesses. My uncle didn’t feel like he could afford to give them a discount. And my parents shouldn’t have given my uncle a discount either. Too many emotions wrap themselves up and things get complicated. You often end up feeling resentful, like my parents did, of the person you gifted to.
But on top of the obvious emotions, you also start to lose the value of your own work.
I see it a lot. Artists who are struggling are almost always the same ones who are giving away their work all the time. By giving it away, you are telling yourself (and the giftee) that it isn’t worth money. Even though you don’t logically believe that, it sits in your subconscious and builds with every gift you give.
Eventually you doubt the quality of your work and you doubt that people actually like it. You start to give it away in hopes of receiving validation from the giftee, “Oh I can’t believe you’d give something this beautiful to me. I can’t wait to hang it in my livingroom.” The praise becomes coveted and you lose your intrinsic confidence.
Not having confidence in the quality of your work hurts your ability to properly present your art, market it, and talk to potential buyers in a way that encourages them to buy. You start to feel desperate and it shows. It just becomes a big mess that results in a circle of no sales, less confidence, no sales, less confidence… and often the artist ends up giving up and stops trying to sell their art.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
If you use the gifting process as a very special, very rare tool at your disposal, then it tamps down the emotional charges surrounding the gift, just like when you give something you didn’t make yourself – the giftee is always very happy and sometimes surprised and you feel great too.
So how do you make your gifts feel special?
Limit them. No more than 3 gifts of your art a year. That means you have to really make it count when you do gift. If you’re going to give a piece of your art, you are going to really take time to make sure it’s right for the person you’re giving it to. You’re not going to just give to everyone you run across. You’ll feel forced to be choosey, which automatically makes it feel more special.
What about contests?
It’s pretty common to give things away as a promotional tool in your business. And I’m not going to knock the idea. I’ve done it myself and it’s a very helpful strategy. I highly recommend giving away a piece of your art in a promotion, BUT it must be a publicized event. It doesn’t work if you just pick a random follower on your Facebook page and private message them that they’re the winner.
To make a giveaway work, you have to limit them too, no more than twice a year or your fans won’t buy because they’re hoping they’ll win in your next contest. You also want to only give away prints if you offer prints, or your smallest originals if you do not offer prints. This helps to keep the value of your originals apparent.
Before you run off to create a contest, there’s one more piece of the puzzle. You have to get as many people to see it as possible or you’re just giving things away again, not implementing a marketing strategy. We want this to feel like marketing so we don’t get all tied up with emotions again, right?
The easiest way to do this is to give people an extra entry for sharing (their first entry should almost always be signing up for your email list). You can track shares on social media with apps like Rafflecopter, which can be embedded in a Facebook page or on your blog. This encourages people to share the giveaway with friends, resulting in lots of new eyeballs (typically people similar to your current fans) on your art.
What if someone asks me to give them a piece of my art for free?
First off, this hardly ever happens. People aren’t that brazen. So it’s possible this is a very unrealistic fear you’re having. But you’ll feel better if you’re armed with the right words. If you want to say no when someone asks just say, “I wish I could do that, but I have a small gift budget and my business afford to give this piece to you [or give you a discount] at the moment.” Then count to ten. They’ll probably respond right away, but this sentence might feel awkward and you’ll want to cut the tension by saying more. Saying more will be less effective. Let them speak next. So count to ten or until they say something. Most likely, you’ll never have to use this script because people want to be supportive and understand that you’re trying to run a business.
Now what might happen a lot is someone you don’t know asking for a discount.
When you don’t want to give one say, “I wish I could offer you a discount, but that’s just not my budget right now.” They will almost certainly walk away, but you are sticking to your guns and strengthening the value of your art. It’s a good thing even when they don’t buy.