Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How do you it? How Long Did it Take?

I got one of these questions through an Instagram comment today.  Actually I get them all the time. However this time, it reminded me of a documentary I watched a few years ago about artists interviews and one of the questions was:

How long it takes to make one of these?

The worst part was how she answered:  “It takes me about 4 hours to make one”

I silently cringed

Here’s what potential customers will do.  They take your sell price, let’s say $800. And it took you 4 hours.  People will immediately think you charge $200 / hour.   

People don’t realize that doesn’t include material costs, prepping, finishing or the time visiting clients or shows.  That doesn’t include the time you spent on education and perfecting your craft.  It doesn’t include the multiple hats you have to were as a CEO, Accounting, Sales Representative and Janitor, most of us do in one standard day.  I haven’t done gallery shows myself, but I heard it can cost up to half the selling price!
What people conclude:  “You make $83,200 a year!”

Your potential customers are not considering that most artists don’t work then the standard 8 hours day.  In my case, if I could, I’d work 16 hours a day if my body allowed it

So, how should you respond? The question doesn’t mean what you and the customer think it means

You get a phone call, you get an email or you get a in person visit to your studio asking about your work.  Of course you respond in a professional courteous manner. 

Here’s what I found happens, at least for me.  Your potential customer:
  • will decide that your work doesn’t fit their needs and they’ll say “thank you”
  • will give you permission to talk to them about your work.
Many times, the first thing that comes is in fact one or maybe both that are ‘dumb questions’
  • How long did it take you to make that?
  • How do you it?
In the beginning, these questions to me is like someone running their fingernails along a chalkboard.  Responding with sarcasm or even a well-mannered joke will shut down the potential sale.

My daytime career is in supply chain in a high tech contract manufacturing firm.  I've worked with customers that range from easy going and reasonable to the other extreme of complex and demanding.  This experence has taught me:   

You are not obligated to answer.

Even though you don’t answer, doesn’t mean standing there with judging eyes and annoyed silence.   They gave you permission talk about what you do, it gives you the opportunity to engage them.   You can explain the process without actually providing a step by step instructions it takes to make your art.

“That’s a great question!  It’s not an easy answer, would you allow me to explain?” 
This is the opportunity to focus on what you consider the focal point of your work.   

If it really takes a long time to make, then use that to your advantage.   Once I tried making my own ceramic bowl.   You’d think (okay I thought, I’m sure you know better) it’s just getting clay and shaping it on the spinning wheel.  My teacher actually educated on how many steps to prepare that clay and finding the right source, storing it correctly.  Then she described and showed me the process, the hand pressure, the spinning speed.  Then drying it, then the process for glazing, then kilning it, then cleaning it.    

Notice not once the time of each step was not mentioned? 

If I was a professional potter, at this point, time is not going to be a factor in your price.  People now know the details and imagine how long it takes, how hard it is to start without giving any generic answer of the time it took to make one. 

That bowl never turned out right.  But I got that, that’s great for a first timer!

If your customer is engaged, take it up a notch.  Tell people why you do what you do.  Share a story that will connect your audience emotionally and spiritually about your work.  When I used to sell origami, it was never about making money.  It was always about my father who I rarely saw when I was young.  He always did double shifts to support us.  He took the time to teach me my first paper crane.  He started my passion with folding works of art and I wanted to share it with the world.

Now, there’s always going to be the 1% who really just cares to get the lowest price and will try to validate every point to get you to agree.  The 1% who persist of knowing where you buy your supplies, the temperature you bake your clay or the secret recipe to your sauce.  I work and talk to this group everyday in my daytime career.  They will never be satisfied and will probably pick on the work even after they make the purchase.  However, If the price they want is below what you value your work, you wouldn’t want to do business with them anyway.
Lastly, don’t exaggerate. 
If you imply it takes weeks or months to make a $50 item, the perception is you are crazy or financially well off (meaning taking advantage of your or push for a unreasonable discount).   If you are asked how you keep costs down, use the analogy of baking cookies.  You’d make a few dozen at a time to take advantage of the oven, not one at a time.  However, unlike mass production you check each one to make sure each meet your standards rather take a sampling of one to represent the whole. 

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