Be Smart About Art

Rolling the dice? Nah. How to say 'yes' and work out the 'how'

written by: Susan Mumford March 4, 2018 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan's weekly blog post 795 views

Rolling the dice? Nah. How to say 'yes' and work out the 'how'

I was recently joking to someone that I’ll end up setting up a speakers’ bureau for the art world… There was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a grain of truth in the remark. This got me thinking about how saying ‘yes’ and then working out the ‘how’ can be used to nurture professional relationships and even win more business in the long-term.

The recent scenario that brought this to mind was being invited to moderate a panel discussion for International Women’s Day at a London-based art fair. As I’ll be in New York at the time, I won’t be available. Instead of replying, “Sorry, I’m not available,” I instead said, “I’ll be away at the time and will gladly find a speaker to take my place.” This was accompanied by explaining that my replacement will speak on behalf of my associated brand, while also having their own hard-earned profile highlighted.

The response from the event organizer was a grateful one, as I’d effectively taken an item off her to-do list and had solved a problem for her. What I knew was that the skill set sought isn’t commonplace (it required someone with great knowledge of the industry who is also a professional moderator – which is different to speaking on a panel, and is familiar with the topic of gender in the industry). And I, like most professionals, have a peer network with the exact skill set required.

The offer was, all the same, a calculated risk on my part. When I set out to find someone, an unexpected challenge presented itself: the event falls on Mother’s Day in England (noting that the date is an entire two months’ different from the USA’s holiday). This resulted in the task taking longer than anticipated, however in the end, a wonderful replacement was found.

Not only will my brand still be associated with the event, I’ve given a paid opportunity to a colleague, who wants to repay the favour. His response brings to mind the old adage, “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” Moreover, the quest to find a substitute resulted in an unexpected introduction to another art world moderator, meaning that I’ve inadvertently expanded my network in the process. And better yet, the event organizer is keen to bring me in for a different event later in the year.

In what situations can you make the most of your network to say ‘yes’ when you’d otherwise have to say ‘no’?

It might be that you sometimes have too much work to accept all leads, and develop a referral network in which you pass on business to trusted colleagues. For this, you could agree reciprocal commission percentages or, as in my situation, hand over the business, end-of. Or a client might go to you for something that isn’t your own specialism. Instead of accepting the work and struggling, or saying no, you could introduce someone who does that exact thing. Once more, you have an option to put in place a commission arrangement or simply pass business back and forth with that colleague.

How can this apply in your world? The next time you’re about to reply with a simple no, reconsider your options. What else could you do to solve problems, help others, win future business and more?


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Posted by : Gilly Wraight 04/03/2018 20:02

Hi Susan,
I’ve just read this edition of your blog and I’m promoted to send you a Thank You. I met you at the 2016 West Dean College day: 'How to make a living from you Art' (or something like that title.) I had booked myself in for a one to one session at the end of the day.
You gave me plenty to think about but I write particularly to thank you for telling me about the Professional Speakers Association. You encouraged me having heard me, very briefly, 'speak' out loud to your room full of audience. I forget just how it came about but you called for someone from your audience to participate, since I knew that was what I wanted to do...... stand up & talk about textiles etc rather than sell my own work which is always too personal to want to part with. My hand shot up and ......
I joined the PSA in Spring 2017 and have found it a fascinating experience..... firstly the generosity of PSA members in advice, encouragement and a welcome to a novice Speaker, & secondly just how much I enjoy the experience of standing on my feet speaking to an audience.
So with best wishes to you for all your enterprises, again Thank You.