Be Smart About Art

The small business mindset

written by: Susan Mumford May 5, 2013 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan's weekly blog post 3736 views

The small business mindset

from our Leisurely Sunday reading series - a weekly blog post (subscribe here)

I was so excited. I had just sold a large framed work of art to a new client who was a budding art collector. She had relocated from London to the countryside and asked about transportation of the piece.

Pause, and think about the mindsets of buyer and seller. From the client’s perspective, she was prepared to pay for a professional courier to ensure the safe delivery of her new treasured item. From my perspective, I wanted to arrange delivery in whatever way would incur the smallest additional expense for the client. I was in the penny-pinching small business mindset – not just for myself, but on behalf of everyone else too.

My lasting memories are two-fold: my assistant and I walking down the streets of Soho with this large, heavy work of art, and then standing in Marylebone, my favourite London train station, taking turns popping to the ladies whilst the other precariously kept hold of the glazed, framed original. Getting through the turnstiles and onto the train was likewise challenging.

Luckily for us, the client’s home was only short distance from her local station, and thank goodness we didn’t scrape or drop the piece at any point. Shortly after delivering and installing the work, my assistant returned to London and I stayed to chat with the delighted collector. She wrote a cheque for the delivery service, for which I had prepared an invoice based on ticket costs. On the one hand, thinking back, I am relieved that I at least had the sense to charge something. But on the other, what about valuing my time? And what about… dare I say it… making some profit?

I talk a lot these days with artists and art dealers about offering value-added services to their clients. What if a client wants a new frame, installation, delivery or insurance? A frame is so obvious to an artist, yet buyers often don’t have the foggiest idea about style, or of important archival considerations. Likewise, placement of a piece can be done in a curator’s or artist’s sleep. Yet many collectors don’t know the best height for hanging, nor what kind of hook to use. Pictures often end up stacked against a wall where they gather dust and get knocked about. By offering expert services to buyers, you introduce new income streams. Further, a bit of margin on top to pay for their expertise is a no-brainer and makes sound business sense too.

So, what if I were to travel back in time to the moment when the client asked about transportation? If delivering the work personally I would have sent a quote itemizing train tickets and the costs for time (my assistant’s and mine).  Better yet, I would have hired a van. If I were to arrange for an art handling courier to do the job, I would bill the client for the courier’s cost to my business plus a margin on top (stated as a single cost).  

It is essential to value your own expertise as well as your access to and knowledge of specialists in the field. Your confidence in such suppliers is invaluable to clients who don’t know where to start nor the time to find out on their own. Accordingly, think about specialist suppliers who you trust to do work for clients, and introduce new value-added services that equate to additional income streams for your business.


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Photographs © Chris King.

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Very useful advice.