Grow Your Art Business By Talking To Your Customers

Artist at Work Sculpture

Josiah Robertson, Artist at Work.

When working with artists I find that most don’t use one of the easiest tools to take a pulse of the market, check up on their competition and grow their business – talking to their customers! Good organizations are in continuous contact with their customers, not just a “Hello or how are you doing?” when they make a purchase.

Whether you have an extensive customer list or are just starting out in your art business, finding out more about your customers is one activity that can make a real difference to your bottom line. If you don’t have any customers yet, then a good strategy is to find a competitor with work similar to yours and find out what their customers are all about.

I like to use the art analogy of “painting a picture” or “sculpting a sculpture” of your customer. What do they look like in terms of art tastes, their likes and dislikes, income levels, demographics, geographic location, lifestyle, traditional and online media habits, and social media preferences? If you can paint a picture of your customer, then reaching out to them and others who are like them is a lot easier and more cost effective.

In order to get to know your customers, you are going to have to make an effort.  Knowing your customers probably won’t come to you in a dream and Googling “Tell me about my customers” will likely be fruitless. What you think about your customers may not match the reality, set aside some time to get started and make talking to your customers a part of your business routine.

David Cregeen Sculpture

David Cregeen sculpting Lady Thatcher.

  1. Choose which customers to survey (talk to)

Try to pick a sample of your customers so you have a cross section that is representative of your business.  Choose customers that are large and small, new and established, those who buy frequently and those who buy not so often – in short a random sample. Be sure to include customers that you know are satisfied, those that you are unsure of and maybe even those you know who are dissatisfied. If you don’t have any customers yet, then try to find who your competitor’s customers are.

It might be useful to segment your customers into similar groups to get a better idea of your whole customer base. You may need to ask different questions to each group or word your questions so that they are appropriate and understood.

Some examples of ways to segment your customers might be:

  • Collectors, galleries, art investors, individuals, businesses, gift givers, retail buyers
  • Age – young, old, middle age…
  • By income levels
  • By the type of art they buy
  • By geographic region or country
  • Where they live such as inner city, suburban, rural etc.
  • Anything else you can think of that will help you group similar customers

Be sure to note on your completed surveys something to identify the customer segments you have chosen.

  1. Choose your survey method

You have a variety of options available to you on how you can conduct your surveys. It could be as simple as taking your customers out to lunch, talking with them on the phone or sending them your survey by email. Don’t forget that social media can be an invaluable way to get feedback from your network.

If you want to do a more formal survey there are several free services on the internet such as Survey Monkey. These are easy to set up and administer, and most provide a basic analysis of the results.  Typically for a few dollars more these services will allow you to expand your survey efforts as well as go beyond a basic data analysis.

  1. Develop your survey questions

Involve others when developing the questions to ask to your customers. This could be your artist friends, others in your organization or business professionals your trust. When it comes to developing surveys a second set of eyes can be most useful. Try to keep your survey simple and short enough to gather the needed information without being too long that your customers lose interest. Here are a few basic areas which you should include:

  • How did you find out about me?
  • What and why do you buy from me?
  • What do you think I do well/poorly?
  • How would you rate my service, pricing, value?
  • How do you go about choosing who to buy art from?
  • Do you know of other artists that are similar to me?
  • What do you like/dislike about these other artists?
  • Is there any additional art or services that you would like me to provide?
  • What do you think of my advertising, marketing and sales efforts?
  • What art publications and websites do you read/visit?
  • What social media sites do you participate in?
  • What ideas or tips could you give me on improving my company and growing my brand?
  • Do you know others who would be interested in my art?
  • Interest in new works or ideas
  1. Conduct your survey

I suggest that you initially start out slow and fine tune your survey so that you are getting the information you need and your questions are understood. Develop a schedule of when and how many customers you survey, keep track of their names and when they responded.

When approaching customers to survey, tell them “I need your help” – most people are willing to help and this will improve your chances of getting more and better responses. Lastly, don’t forget to thank your customers for helping you out!

  1. Analyze and act on the survey results

There are a number of ways to analyze your results from a simple list of comments to using statistical methods. The important thing is that you read the responses, consider your customer’s ideas and take action if needed. Make customer feedback and ideas a regular part of running and marketing your art business!

Survey results sitting in a box or computer are not like wine – they don’t get better with age, quite the contrary they are more like wine turning to vinegar. Act on the feedback you get from your customers and look for new ideas and opportunities on how to grow your brand!

The bottom line(s)…

Talking to your customers and getting feedback is a great way to build a profile of your customers and to find out what really makes them “tick”.  Talking to your customers will also help you solidify existing relationships, find out how you are doing and maybe even get some good ideas, and who knows – even selling more of your art!

By Neil McKenzie

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