The Artists Guide to Business - An Artist on the Edge

Merry Christmas

Well Christmas is almost here and I thought I would publish one more update before the big day! Well, actually I thought I would recover some of my older posts because when you are an artist, selling your art can be tough. So this is my year in review and hopefully if you missed these posts the first time around you will be able to pick up a few handy tips about selling your artwork.

Merry Christmas Beechhouse Media
Merry Christmas from Beechhouse Media

 

There is an art to selling art, but artists are generally not art brokers, neither are they generally great at placing a value on their own work. In fact I admit to being totally useless at valuing my own work, but give me a Renoir, Lowry, or even a Banksy, and I will give you the exact estimate of the current sale price.

As a special Christmas bonus I have also written an insight to my life. Ok, it's an insight in to using PowerPoint in business, and I may digress a little because I have had a year of business buzz words and they're now starting to. Really wind me up. It's Christmas, I'm not usually quite as much on the edge as I appear in the second part of this post, but someone mentioned "reaching out" and we'll, I kind of flipped. On the upside, this is my biggest blog post ever, just to keep you going over the festive period.

I must warn you that the use of dodgy clip art throughout this post is intentional. You have been warned.

THE ART OF SELLING ART

At some point in our artistic life we have all been in a place where we wonder just what it takes to sell our artwork. We have all had that dream of one day being found as an artist, usually followed by the reality that it really isn’t easy. In fact, if you are just in it for the money, you might as well give up. At least in the early days, you will be finding your niche for a few years, and you will be working hard. Very hard.

I have been selling my art on mainstream print on demand sites for a while, and I can say that unless you have a large portfolio of work, print on demand can be a very long haul. I have sold much of my art in the past, though usually to friends of friends of friends. Hardly a way to get rich quick. If you are just starting out, then you will realise that it can be an expensive game to enter. If like me you are a digital artist, you will spend hundreds of dollars/pounds on software, and you will spend so much time learning to master the software that if you were paid an hourly rate, you would be able to retire immediately.

If you are a traditional artist, you will be buying sketch books and pencils, brushes, paint and canvas. When I create a rare non-digital piece, the cost of producing it even before I add in time and effort is not for the faint of heart. In fact my last canvas work cost me over £200 in materials, in part because I always have a tendency to buy the best canvas and paint, and over 70-hours of time.

Would it matter if I actually spent less? Probably not. My daughter has just won a major art award for her work and she is just 13-years old. The total cost of her creation came to a grand total of £20, she wanted to keep within a very small budget, and I have to say that in terms of the quality of the materials, there really wasn’t a huge difference. In fact, using cheaper acrylics actually produced brighter colours on this particular piece. And that is what got me wondering, are there many misconceptions in the art world of what you actually need to get ahead?

There are many things we think we need before we start to sell our art, but over the many years I have been selling my work, I find that what I thought was important to have at the time, is less so. I have found that many of the things I thought needed to be in place are actually just barriers, and I spent so much time learning this that I produced art less frequently. To put this into context, in 2011 I produced around five pieces of art per year. In 2014, I took a step back and re-evaluated my approach, I dropped some of the things I used to think were important, and produced one hundred and fifty pieces of art. In 2015 and up until this week, over the last year I have produced nearly 160-pieces of art. Some small, some big, and I managed to do this on top of having a full-time job.

Mainly working at weekends and at night, it has been a struggle but I have increased my portfolio, so now I can take some time to work on the work that I skipped.

There are things that you will need, and things that you don’t. There are also things that come bundled together with a preconception about what their purpose is, lets take the business card for example.

THE BUSINESS CARD

I have seen so many business cards but the problem is that they either all look the same or they look far too out of the box. I have seen some that have been cut out with a pair of scissors, some that are so complex in design that it takes forever to find the key information, and some that are so minimal that there is no impact at all. I have seen a few that are similar to reading an entire volume of Harry Potter. What you need to focus on is simplicity, and getting the message across that focuses the recipient of your card on your art.

Of course you need to find the people who like your art, that’s not as easy as you think, but when you do, you will need to leave them with a great impression.

I used to spend lots of money on having beautifully produced business cards, using premium card stock, but the reality is that it would often be politely put into a pocket, and only found prior to a trip to the dry-cleaners.

I gave up on the idea of business cards for a while, then I figured out that I was giving them to family and friends who all expected a discount and knew of my art anyway. Now I give those who show a real interest in my art a small piece of my art, and I sign it for them.

My business card has also grown in size. It is now printed on a 6x4 inch glossy photo card, with one of five pieces of art that I produced especially for my business cards on the front, nothing else. On the back is my name, contact number, email, and a link to both my blog and my artist website. It can be a little more expensive, but the cards make an impact. I carry one of each artwork card with me, and ask the recipient to pick their favourite. This also provides me with some feedback as to which artistic style that particular person likes. I have one customer who is currently proposing to collect the set, and he has offered to pay for the two he hasn’t yet got! I have been kind and sent him the two missing cards. Apparently they are all in small frames on his office wall and visible to my clients customers as well.

THE ART AGENT

I thought for the first few years that an art agent would be the answer. Someone who could field calls while I created my art on a beach in the Bahamas from the profits I gained through the agents work selling my art.

It was at the time of starting out on this long and often tedious path of art sales when I approached an agent. It was the wrong time. One day I will get to the point where I need an agent to look out for me, day one of the journey was far too soon to be handing over 50% of the sale.

I took from this that I needed to have a much larger portfolio, where increased sales could come from a wider range of products and the commission would then be less of a problem. There is a place for art agents, but in all honesty, It is nowhere near day one, unless you are already famous or can afford to give away 50% of your take

THE PIECE THAT WILL HANG FOREVER IN A GALLERY

Self-doubt is one of the greatest challenges of any artist. Even some years on, I experiment with new styles and am surprised when they sell. Over the last couple of years I have been experimenting and trying out new things, I know what I sell, but I also know what I like to create. Often they are two very different things.

My “Resting Tiger” was described recently as a masterpiece, I must admit it is one of my favourites, but it certainly wasn’t my usual style. It took me weeks to complete, and it was only towards the end when I started to really get into experimenting with adding in some blues, and making the orange and red more vibrant that I got really excited. I pushed myself, and I learned a lot from creating this piece.

But there is a market for every type of art. All you need to do is focus on finding the customers who like your art. I often get asked what sells best. What should I paint? And the answer is always the same, it doesn’t really matter. Art installations that feature dead cows sell, landscapes sell, and there is even a market for sketches of your cousins, cousin’s friend. It depends on who sees your work, if it makes the buyer feel good, they will buy it. I like a genuine Mondrian, my wife thinks his works look like someone coloured in an Excel spreadsheet. My wife likes Kinkaid, I think it is too commercial. It is all about individual taste.

I have found out over the years that it is all about the story behind the art. Is it something that someone somewhere can relate too? People buy art for many reasons, either it looks good, or they feel a connection to the work, it matches the drapes, but mostly because it makes the buyer feel good.

You can excuse the pun, brush up on technique, but if you practice telling a story through your art, your technique will improve, and the buyers will buy. What is often ignored is that even the most famous artists never had any attention paid to them in their early days either, they were just like you and me. When you start out, you need to tell a story that people want to share.

CHASING THE LIKE

Oh boy is this one of the worst things ever, yet we probably all do it. I know I still do, but it is less of a thing now I have learned that not everyone likes everything I do. Chasing the like as I call it is a path to lowering your confidence.

Once you get some kind of approval or nod that someone likes your work, you start treading the road towards the rainbow. The rainbow is always going to be out of range, but you persist in seeking approval for your work. When someone doesn’t like it, you keep trying to seek more approval. You are usually seeking approval from someone who doesn’t like that particular style. Every step down that road you take, only takes you further in the search for approval, and it takes away the time you need to focus on what you love. The only way I can describe it, is that it must be like a crack addict chasing meth. It is addictive, and it really isn’t a great place for your artistic side to be.

By the time someone tells you that you are good enough, you are not as good as you think. You are already good enough when you are in a place where you start on this very long road.

Take a look at some of the Maters works, tell me that they are any different too much of the art you will see in any gallery or online market place today. The real difference is their provenance, their age, and the artist. Remember that most of the well-known Masters didn’t sell much at all. In fact it took a few hundred years before some pieces sold. Don’t let that put you off. Think of the works that do not sell straight away as your legacy. Who knows? A Joe Blogs circa 2015, might be worth millions in 2115. Someone will be happy.

AN ARTISTIC EDUCATION

You are an artist, not an appraiser. I followed a self-taught art education, it took many years, but I didn’t feel it was necessary to spend three years of my life in a dorm. Instead I got a job, did artistic things in between shifts, and studied art in between studying science, and picking up a teaching qualification, although I had no intention of becoming a teacher. I treated art as a hobby, it kept me interested and never turned into a chore.

Would it have really helped me today? I don’t know. What I do know is what I studied at the time learned me a lot, but three years would never have been enough. All these years later I soak up new thinking, learn new techniques, and as my art is primarily digital, the skill set is different. Studying for an art degree certainly wouldn’t have helped me rebuild a Windows PC, or how to choose a stylus for my iPad.

Experience for me is the key. Stay on top of new techniques, practice, and then practice some more. Experiment and one day you will learn a technique all of your own. That is what will make you stand out.

If you really want to commit a few years of your life to an education in the arts, then it might help with being able to convey a story, plus I know that student parties are pretty good. If your desire is to go into appraisals and auctions, then it is a must.

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO DO

The most important thing to do is actually something that you have already done. You have started on the path. Anything you do, even if it is the wrong decision is the right thing to do. Your failures will teach you how not to do things, your successes will teach you how to do things. But sometimes what once failed might now be the right way. Never forget your failures. Doing anything is going in the right direction, doing nothing isn’t going to get you anywhere.

FRAMING YOUR ART

If you are serious about art, you will know that a great painting can be downgraded to merely a good painting. Not because of its condition, and not because of its content, but sometimes what makes a painting truly great, is the frame that surrounds it. Choosing a frame just isn’t about style, it is about having a sensitivity to the artwork it contains.

A frame servers many purposes, it can present a work more effectively, but it can also protect the work for many years to come. When you are choosing a frame, it is easy to be tempted by the current trends, but what you really want is something that lasts longer than a current fashion trend, you want something that will suit the way you intend to display your art.

One of the factors I always consider is where the work will be displayed. I also consider how the art will be transported and how often, and all of these things combined should be the first step in deciding how to frame a piece of art.

When I sell my work directly, I never roll it up. I always supply the work in what I like to call a transit frame. This frame doesn’t have to be expensive, it just needs to be robust enough to get the artwork from A to B. I’ve lost count of the times when people have contacted me to say there has been a mistake, the work was offered without a frame, and it turned up in a frame! They perfectly understand when I tell them that it is only for protection. Some it seems rather like the cheap frame, and they tell me that they have decided to keep the artwork in it!

That’s not a great idea, especially as some cheap frames that include glass offer little to no long-term protection from different styles of lighting. The last thing you want is to find that the colours have faded in a very short time. Particularly when it is a digital print on photo paper.

Many of my art pieces and especially when purchased from Fine Art America, are printed on only the finest papers and canvases. The medium you print on also has to be considered when you chose a frame.

SENSITIVITY

When you frame any art work you need to be sensitive to its previous history. Always take some time to research how a particular piece or style has been framed in the past. I was recently asked to appraise a piece from a local artist who stopped painting many years ago. There was little in the way of reference, but I could tell immediately that the frame the client had chosen wasn’t of the right time period for the art.

Occasionally you might pick up a piece of artwork that needs to remain in the original frame to retain its value, and its provenance. If the frame is damaged in any way, you might want to think about getting it restored, but never over restore a frame. In some cases, the frame can be as valuable as the art itself.

You will also want to make sure the environment you hang the art is suitable. Damp rooms are always going to be a disaster. But for the most part, people who want to hang paintings and other art work in their homes, probably wouldn’t think it worthwhile to get an expert to come in and carry out a full UV test, and look at the humidity levels. But, if the art is valuable, you will want some assurance that where you hang it isn’t going to eventually destroy it.

A good frame can often regulate the humidity of a room, and counter any other factors such as light. Particularly where the light is bright and has high UV levels. Making sure that any glass that is used is suitable can certainly pay off in the long run. If you are truly serious about your artwork, then you can ask a specialist to produce a bespoke sealed enclosure.

The other question to ask is if the artwork actually needs a frame in the first place. A good stretched canvas can be more visually appealing without a frame, and especially when the artwork extends around the edges. I have seen people who have spent lots of money on a beautiful frame, and then found out that actually the piece looks much better without a frame at all.

But most importantly, always remember that a good frame can completely change a piece of art. It can take it from good to great. What a frame should never do is detract from the artwork contained inside it. It’s all about the harmony, and it is all about the art. No matter how that art was produced, at some point it will need protection.

THE ART OF EMAIL

Email
Why not try email free days!

 

When I send emails to customers who buy my artwork, I like to present them as professional, rather than something such as "Sent from my iPad", or "Sent from my iPhone". Equally, I don’t want to give them chapter and verse, and although I have a couple of official letters after my name, they’re not relevant to art, so I leave them off. This is a contentious point, some people prefer to show the alphabet after their name, but I don’t personally feel it’s relevant if they’re not related to the subject I am writing about.

As a digital artist, I want people to know I am experienced, and that I take my work seriously. Too formal, and it appears stuffy, too casual, and it looks like you’re not very serious or passionate. But there is a fine line between both. It is this fine line that you need to portray.

But, it’s not just the email signature you need to carefully craft, an understanding of the email itself is something that is often overlooked. Honestly, I have received emails where the signature is awesome, but the email itself, or rather the text within the email, tells me that the sender is either on the edge, or losing their grip on reality.

Of course, not everyone is as anal as me, I write literally hundreds of the things each week in my day job. Over many years I know who I have a jovial relationship with, and who I need to be more formal with, and also when I need to be more formal to someone who I am usually jovial with. These are what are termed in my world as emails that hit you on the chin form far left of field. So many times I have had the conversation, business is business. People who know me, also know that my business is serious, and sometimes even too serious to be serious. But this comes from forging relationships over years.

Now let’s also get one thing straight. I really do not like emails. By which, I mean I detest emails, but if you’re going to have to write to a potential customer who wants to make an investment in your art (other industries are available), then you at least need to do it right.

Social Media by comparison feels almost throw away. The fact that you can gather tweets from 10-years ago, scroll back on your Facebook timeline, they are actually just as permanent as email, and you need to remember with social media, you cannot always edit, and potentially hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people will read your musings. Who is to say that someone isn’t cyber-stalking you and creating a digital scrapbook of your tweets?

However, social media is not the essence of today’s topic. Today we are talking about artists communicating through email. Today we need to learn how to email like a boss. Email has a level of permanence, whether or not social media platforms lead us to believe in that they are seen as temporary, with email it is expected when conducting any business, that you do so in a professional way that gives confidence to your customers, clients and leads.

Before you start typing your email, you need to firstly stop and think what you want out of the email. If you are trying to make a sale, give a call to action, or to get information, you need to make it clear. Emails that digress, are those quickly forgotten. These are the ones that don’t result in the clicks that generate the income.

THE SUBJECT LINE

The subject line is the advertising pitch. Adverts are subject lines. Short, and to the point. They don’t have time to capture your attention, and the same is true of the email header. I cannot recount how many times I scour my 1000+ emails a day, looking for the ones that stand out as needing my attention, from those that are just asking a question that they already have the answer too.

Scanning subject lines, saves time in the long run. Out of my 1000+ emails a day, 300 or so might be related, and are replicating the original email chain with a new post at the top. Always look for the most recent top two versions of the same subject line. Two? Yes, someone will want to discuss something with only you, but they will keep the content of the subject line the same. In the technical world, this is called "lazy".

Also, avoid something that isn’t short and punchy. I have seen subject lines longer than the enclosed email. It’s not SMS, and it’s annoying to get a response in a subject line to open up the email and find, "K". Seriously, unless you are saying yes to buy a piece of my art, do not under any circumstances make the subject line longer than the email.

Brevity is the key to the subject line, brevity is also the key to the email. If I am reading so many on a screen all day, I want to get straight to the point, not be told about little Johnny having the measles, unless you can’t come into work, and I certainly do not want to know what you are discussing behind my back, if the intention was to take my name out of the email chain before you sent it. Again, technically this is also known as "lazy". To avoid any doubt about my compassion, I will ask how little Johnny is when I see you in the flesh.

TIME TO SEND AN EMAIL

What is the best time to send me an email? Well, unless you are getting in touch to buy my work, I have limits and times when I look at the inbox. In my day job, I am constantly bombarded with emails, but equally, you might as well not bother when there is nothing I can do to help when no one else is around. 16:50pm emails are useless if you log off at 17:00, unless I ask for a response by close of play. I might still then not touch it until I have some time on the next working day.

People also forget that I am not a secretary or P.A. I don’t actually have one, so at some point over and above the emails, I have the day job to do as well. In other words, when you send emails, ask yourself, would I disturb someone to take a look at this now, or can it wait? In fact, if you don’t need something in writing, you can also use that age old technique of telling the person face to face, or even over the phone, and then follow up with an email if required.

The best time might be different depending on who you are communicating with. Most of my artist work comes from the USA, so I need to be flexible. I set up automated posts for Twitter and Facebook wherever I can to cover the hours when I am trying to get to sleep, but I know that if someone wants to reach out to me at their close of play, I need to afford some flexibility. I took a commission at 3am just the other week, but it was prearranged. Working from the UK does mean you are in the middle of time zones, and as my work is mainly U.S driven, I know that late nights are inevitable.

In a work environment most people check their emails early on in the work day. If it is a private customer, and especially in the art world, they might check a little more often. I’ve seen pieces lost at auction because someone didn’t respond to the email setting out lots and times.

Small and actionable items might be best to be sent in the mornings before people set themselves up for the day. You can with some email clients, schedule an email to be sent at a specific time. Use this feature wherever you can, but avoid sending 50 emails all at once to the same person. This is known technically as "spam". Anything more than two or three at the same time, also looks like you have scheduled them, or that you forgot to say something in the first four, five, or six emails. You also have to base the timings on your relationship with the recipient, and consider how many people might also be doing the same thing at the same time.

If you need to send something longer, there is evidence to suggest that they are most likely to be dealt with later in the afternoon. Although this only covers Monday to Friday, and less so on a Friday afternoon. Weekends are different. The pickup rates are lower on a Saturday and Sunday, even in the always connected world.

Your subject line worked, and people are now reading your email. Well done. The body text of the email should be simple and succinct as possible. This my friends is the best way of getting something out of an email.

Time to decide when writing the body of the email, are you asking a question, or requesting an action. Always remember that this is a key point, anyone skimming their emails might be distracted, so the key is make your requirement stand out. Plainly stating your case is much better than waffling on for three pages before you get to the point, or you embed the point slap bang in the middle. There are nice ways of writing I want you to send me a cheque, but if that is what you want from the email, however you wrap it up, you need to be clear this is what you want.

Also at this point, when you are making it clear, use some reinforcing words. Please pay by cheque within 14-days is specific, whereas only writing please pay be cheque is too open ended. You can always use positives such as, by doing so you will receive you’re artwork within 2-3 days of payment. But keep these positive lines brief.

THE ATTACHMENT

Oh please! Do not send me 300Mb of attachments that are irrelevant! Even with today’s broadband speeds being much better than they were in dial-up days, unless of course you are on AOL, attachments can still clog up your inbox, take an eternity to download, get blocked by a company firewall, and frankly, it’s not always necessary.

If someone is relying on mobile technology, then the situation is even worse. Many mobile networks have more stringent quality of service restrictions than the traditional home/business restrictions set by internet service providers (ISP). Even if the recipient has unlimited data, sometimes the network will slow down the connections of heavy users to make way to those who are not being bothered with downloading war and peace.

Some email configurations have limits to the size of data that they can receive. My ISP at home, even though I have a huge connection, sets a limit on their email system at around 30Mb. To do anything with digital art, makes this limit a real problem. Most of my files can be anywhere between, 15Mb, rising to in excess of 300Mb, depending on the resolution and actual size of the file. For these, I have my own email exchange set up with a secure cloud environment. For just a few pounds per user per month, I can send and receive Terabyte files if I need too. Not everyone has that luxury so you will need to consider other methods of transportation.

It could be that your clients are using a high speed fibre optic connection, or a flaky mobile connection that then costs them for every kilobyte received. I have one client who still actually uses dial-up. For the record, yes the year is 2015, but dial-up is still out there. Unfortunately that client has np intention of moving to a faster and cheaper connection, they don’t like change, and it only gets used for the odd five minutes. That particular client also has a fax machine, and my money is on that the client also has a pager. I know for sure that the client’s phone is not a mobile. Having seen it, it still has a rotary dial. I do not believe the client is Amish, especially having seen the new Bentley parked outside.

There are options, unless it is my above client. Dropbox is a useful tool which can be used for sharing, and there are a few ways to increase your total allowance on the free plan. If you are serious, and you need to send a lot of files through a Dropbox type facility, other services can be a little cheaper, and if you have certain broadband packages, even some of the ISP’s will allow you access to their own versions often for free, but limited to around 10Gb, or 50Gb.

Anything more than this, you will most likely have to pay for a decent secure service, or you open a number of free accounts. I have pretty much unlimited space, some I pay for, some as part of a broadband deal, and others such as Amazon Prime, offer me unlimited photo storage as part of my Prime subscription. The only problem with multiple accounts is keeping track of what’s where. I split my accounts up into personal, and business, and I also have one for the family, and I also have a private cloud with added security.

RECIPIENT LISTS

Here is one of the most overused features of email. You definitely need to know how to use and handle a recipient list. The amount of times I have been included in the "To:" list, when the fact is I need to have actually been included in the "CC:" list is uncountable. I will also give you a tip. If you are in the CC list, sometimes people completely ignore the email. If you are in the "To:" list and have no action, people actually ignore the email. No research needed for this one folks, this is exactly what I do if I am really stretched. Be honest, you do this as well.

My friend who is a control freak and a CEO, also does this. It took three years for him to admit it, and he only opened up when I sent him an email that called him a name, and he didn’t even send the read receipt. The read receipt. That’s a whole new post, but just because I clicked on send the receipt, doesn’t actually mean I read it.

So, understand the differences between "To:", "CC:", and "BCC:" TO: means exactly the same as it does on an envelope with one of those things we used to call letters. More commonly known as bills. TO: means that you want that person to take an action.

"CC" means carbon copy. It is intended for secondary recipients who have a need to know, but not a need to act. This rule goes out of the window when you have a manager who micro-manages everything and wants to be seen to be in control at all times. This is technically speaking "control freak" and I don’t mind admitting it, the world needs to hear what I have to say, even if it’s wrong. Of course, not all managers are like that at all. Just some. You will have met them.

RECALL or OK, I was slightly drunk!

Some email systems do offer a recall feature. Some people should really have to carry out complex multiplications before they hit send. Some people do however, legitimately have a need to recall a message. But this feature is not a failsafe. This feature will not withdraw you hastily written notice to quit, if the recipients email system is not the same as yours. The feature requires that both ends have the same client and server environment. Typically, Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft Outlook.

If you are using Gmail, and your client is running Outlook, too bad, at this point all a recall will do is highlight that you made a mistake. Better to beg forgiveness and all that.

One trick you can deploy, although you need a full featured email client, is to set up rules which delay sending any email for 10-minutes or so, after hitting the send key. At least this buys you some time before it’s on its way through the cloud and onto the recipient’s device.

There is of course another problem with using "CC:" That is because when you are sending an email to a large group, either putting an individual’s address into "To:" or "CC:" exposes the email address to everyone, and as soon as someone replies to all, everyone gets sent the new message.

I have seen emails where two people decide to have a bun fight. It really isn’t all that entertaining, except maybe the first couple of times. After that, it’s wasting everyone’s time, and it can sway opinion.

You should only use the reply to all feature when you are certain you want to reply to all. If that’s not the case, use reply only, or delete the addresses you don’t want to use.

The BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) field allows you to add addresses that you want to loop into a thread, but there is a key difference. BCC keeps the recipients details hidden to only the sender. Also known, as the "I can drop you in it" field.

If you want to send out a mail to lots of people, they might not be too happy to see that Little Johnny, can see little Mary’s email address. Fine, to get around this, just send the email to yourself in the "To:" field, and then BCC everyone else in. That way if a recipient hits reply to all, the message only comes back to you, and no one see’s any other email address that yours. This is particularly useful for email campaigns to subscribers. I handle mine either via Fine Art America, but more so through another external service. The only time I see a recipients email address is when they reply. I do get some geographical analytics data, but it is a trade off in terms of keeping customer data secure. If I was a big organisation, or did my artwork on a full time basis, I would certainly field out this work, and I would collect some more data so that I could target specific clients.

THE SIGNATURE

As I have said before, brevity is key. Think of your email signature as a final bid to create a professional online presence. As I also said, "Sent from my iPhone" really isn’t that great. (Unless you already have an iPhone 7 ahead of release, then you’ll either want to tell the world, or keep it quiet).

A sloppy email signature is technically known as "I don’t give a hoot". Boy, have I seen sloppy. Some signatures I have seen have included: Joe Blogs PhD, MSC, CCNA, PGCE, OBE, MBE, and father of four. Now this particular email indicated a doctorate, the sender actually had a doctorate in engineering, but despite being a doctor, he can’t treat a cold. This is why you need to make it relative to your audience. Yes, you’ll look super intelligent, or you’ll be intimidating. Use the titles with care. Use the titles in a relative context. The email I viewed was informal, I knew he had a doctorate, I didn’t need a reminder. But given that he was asking me for some help with something very simple that he had no answer to, it all felt a little bit odd.

It is fine to add some personality into your email footer, but it is a fine line between too informal, and downright casual. The standard "Regards" might be a little too stiff at times, but it safe enough for any type of email. Catch you laters… not so well received in the office, unless you work for Google.

Next you need to decide on what you want to convey about yourself. Your full name is a given. Any company or business name is also fine, but only if it is a business email that you are sending. Now add in some methods of communication, but remember that less is more. I actually target my methods depending if I want to speak to the person, receive an email, or connect on social media. Rarely do I add all of my contact details. Yes, you may have to do what is technically known as "adapt". You can set up multiple signatures in most email clients and that should make life a little easier if you need a few different types of signature.

What you don’t want to do, is unnecessarily overload the recipient with options which might not be relevant. Do you really want a brief email to be overshadowed by a 10-line signature which holds more text than the email? There is a chance the email won’t get read.

You should put a telephone number in the email, and your full or business name, but for the life of me, why do you also need to include the email address that was used to send them the message? I guess it might be useful for a communications point in the future, but other than that, do you need extra clutter? In my experience, it makes it easier for others to cut and paste into contact lists, so the question is, do you need more emails from this person in the future?

Remember we spoke of mobile clients? Well, the same applies here. Using fancy logos can cost your client money in data charges. Image signatures give you complete control over how your signature looks, but sometimes to consider the client as well.

If you do use an image for a signature, make sure that you also have "ALT text" to convey the same information so that you cover all bases. Keep it less than a tweet. 80 characters is usually the optimum for any email signature. But more than anything else, make sure you never, ever spam your clients.

THE ART OF SOCIAL MEDIA

The art of social media will be an upcoming blog in early 2016, hopefully I will be able to give you some pointers in how to sell your art through the social media monsters. In the meantime, here are a couple of snippets that might just get you thinking that your social media strategy needs a refresh!

1. When posting to social media, remember that you are generally posting to your own timeline. If the people that follow or like you on Facebook are the only people that see your timeline, then that is going to be possibly your biggest customer base.

Make sure you post in groups, and make sure you like and share other people’s artwork. This is a critical move because in turn there is a chance that others will then share your work in return. This is a particular strategy on Facebook. Their algorithm likes, likes and shares. In turn this increases the organic reach of posts.

2. Don’t spam! It took me a while to work this one out. Continuously self-promoting is essential, especially when you are selling your work through print on demand services such as Fine Art America. There is a balance though.

So many times I have looked at groups on Facebook and seen twenty or so consecutive posts from the same person, posted in the same group page. The group page then becomes that person’s page, or at least that is the perception of people who visit the group page for the first time. The problem her is if new viewers do not like your last twenty pieces of art, they will quickly move to another group. That essentially means that they will probably never discover your art that they do like. The answer, don’t be aggressive, take your time. Leave some gaps on the timeline for others to post.

3. Set up a Facebook business page. Doing so is free, and it allows you to keep your personal page personal, and your artist page will be the default page for buyers to like and follow you.

4. Make sure you leave comments on other people’s artwork. Positive comments work best. We artists can be sensitive souls, although constructive and fair critique is worth posting if the artist asks for critique. If not, it can sway a potential customer’s opinion and turn a customer away. Comment volume is also a key to overcome Facebook's algorithm.

5. Join groups for artists. My Facebook group The Artist Exchange is a great little community of artists supporting artists. Sharing each other’s work exposes the original artists work to more timelines, more potential customers, and besides all that, the group is made up of many great members from all over the world. That means that your reach extends in to new territories.

The Artists Exchange
The Artists Exchange

You can join The Artists Exchange here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/940723089340284/

I AM OFFICIALLY ‘ON THE EDGE’

I have made keynote speeches for years in my work outside of BeechHouse Media. I have also sat in on keynotes and been subjected to their horrors from the other side. It’s not pretty, anyone who has had to endure a PowerPoint presentation will have encountered boredom, frustration, technical hiccups, and anger that they just spent a couple of hours of their lives that they will never get back. It can be cyber-torture and honestly, it needs to stop. A visit to a conference can make you feel like you have been placed in some kind of buzz-word induced coma complete with inappropriate use, of the comma. Yes, I have been on the other side.

Why is it that in this day and age, we still attend conferences that would have had just as much of an impact delivered over Skype? My plea to business in 2016 is to please for the love of Microsoft, stop using the dodgy ill-designed PowerPoint. You need to up the game friends.

Projector
You know the IT will give up

 

Behind the scenes at conferences people are in turmoil, will the IT work? Will I crumble in front of important people? Will I ever get through the day? In summary, the IT generally has a moment, well-rehearsed presentations go out of the window the minute someone in the audience coughs, and everyone will feel like they have been taken back to the days of dial-up internet, because frankly, PowerPoint when used incorrectly feels like something that came bundled on an AOL trial CD ROM. We have seen the clip-art before, we are around five minutes in front of your presentation because we can read what you are about to say next, and we can read it without the additional waffle.

I might appear to be on the edge, and I suppose I am. I had to sit in a keynote for two hours a couple of weeks ago. Two hours to say something that could have been said in five minutes, two hours of not being sat in front of a TV with a remote that enables me to skip the dross, and two hours where the coffee was lukewarm to start with, and it appeared to be instant coffee. Really bad instant coffee. Add to that the fact it took me some seven hours of travelling to attend this epic event and you will get an insight as to why I am a little angst.

I am reasonably sure people who come to see me give a keynote get angry too. Although I make it easier for them, I have a rider that insists on giving attendees, good hot coffee, a Danish pastry, and usually a pen with a few pages that form a makeshift notebook. They will need to take notes because I will not repeat it, I will need my breath when I am 70. I have been known to send out people to fetch 100 cups of Starbucks when the coffee has been sub-par. I also never ever use PowerPoint, well except from the bit where I need to show a photo or some artwork, usually neither are related to what I am saying.

It appears that I bumble through, I gave up using a script a long-time ago, and I gave up rehearsing a long-time before that. In feedback after the last two keynotes, 90% of attendees rated my bit as good or excellent, the other 10% were clearly out of the room enjoying what was left of the Danish pastries, although I am not sure what happened to Jack and Sarah, they were nowhere to be seen. I think they may have had a conference crush. I have seen it all from my plinth as I stand before you.

I get around twenty requests per month to talk about cyber-security and risk management, or my art, or someone else’s art. I actually only do around two keynotes per year. That is another little tip, if I am attending conferences I don’t want to be subjected to the same speaker saying the same thing, often on consecutive days. This kind of repetition becomes tedious when you are sitting on a hard chair all day.

Sitting on a hard chair
Really, hard chairs are so bad for you back

 

What else is tedious you ask, are conferences really that bad? Business speak is bad. As someone who has managed to reach a small “pinnacle” in my career, having to work hard to achieve anything, and being totally honest, I find business speak in conferences just fuels ego’s and makes the speaker sound like David Brent. If they say on the fringes of the conference that they will make a window to meet me, seriously at that point all I really want to do is throw them through a window. It doesn’t matter who it is.

I rarely watch The Apprentice, I get angry when they say they have been on a journey. We have all been on a journey, six hours stuck in traffic to come and hear you speak. I am seriously not in to the buzzwords, all they say to me is that you read the book. I read a few books too over the years, and the buzzwords reappear approximately every seven years then they are replaced with new buzzwords, if you time the cycle incorrectly you will sound out of date, or just like David Brent, or that you appear to have a tic. They become holding patterns until you can think of something sensible to say.

The term “influencer” for a start. There is a word that means not a totally crazy person who can hold down a job. In marketing terms however, it is used to describe someone who has a lot of pull within a specific community. But this doesn’t compare to the word I heard at the latest conference, “Omni-Channel”, seriously they might as well have been speaking in Klingon.

“Omni-channel” is allegedly about delivering a consistent yet seamless experience across various “touch-points”. The reality is that we just want something to work across everything. If I do online banking on my iPad, I want to be able to do online banking on my iPhone, without the two looking entirely different. It is not “Omni-Channel”, this is simply an expectation.

Leverage winds me up too. It sounds like someone has something over you. Please stop using this word.

I also heard the word “Branter”. Please respect our language, Branter is not a word. Essentially it means two brands tweeting each other in order for one to get the advantage over the other in the comedy stakes whilst we all laugh. I prefer the word banter. I rarely laugh.

Thick data is something else that is heading our way. I first heard the word in a conference in 2014, and honestly I thought it meant dumb data. Data that has no purpose. But no, apparently big data is so last year.

Synergy, well it seems to have been around for a while. It is a little bit like a verruca, you can treat it with a plaster but eventually it comes back. Synergy is the marriage of two things, a symbiotic relationship, sure synergy is two letters less than symbiotic, but I am just tired of hearing “we have synergy”.

Outside the box. I am not even going to write any more on this phrase because it just doesn’t deserved to be used. It is up there with “we had a come to Jesus moment”, “Low hanging fruit”, and “Mission Critical”. The last phrase should only be used if you are in the military or work for the security services. You most likely don’t.

Face Time has been stolen from Apple’s messaging service, except in buzz speak it means “let’s grab a five minute window in my enormously busy schedule where we can talk F2F (Face to Face)”. If you are that busy, hire a lad.

Pain Point. Even Wikipedia couldn’t shed any light on this little chap. So I have nothing to say except I will tell you that a pain point is the area in the region of the two prolapsed discs in my spine caused by sitting on hard chairs for two hours at a time listening to drivel, and 14-hours sat in traffic.

Upwording is not in my Microsoft Office dictionary. Apparently it means the joining up of two words such as Branter, also not in my Microsoft Office Word dictionary.

Those dreaded words in a meeting when someone says “let’s talk about this offline”. I honestly thought that we were offline. I am not plugged in to broadband, and I have a feeling you are in the same position. The term is often used to avoid a potentially difficult situation in front of other colleagues.

SoLoMo. I really had to add this one to my Microsoft Office Word dictionary. I was getting the annoying red line underneath the text, and on trying it out on my Apple device, autocorrect just laughed. Allegedly it is the social interaction between commercial entities and consumers through mobile. In summary, customers engaging by using their phone.

Lessons learned, generally means that multiple people have made a cock-up that we will all forget. At this point I would like to point out that we all “collectively” have a duty to rescue the corporate world from the tyranny of linguistic mediocrity.

Half-pregnant. Now this took me some research and trawling through many disturbing images of women giving birth. The best that Google came up with was that it was about sitting on the fence. I have no idea really, but never use the term when you say “I interfaced with Joe at the office party”, or with the term “shave the baby” which apparently means to streamline.

Proof of Concept as a service (POCaaS) was also something new that I was introduced to in 2015. It joins the ranks of SaaS (Software as a Service) and PaaS (Platform as a Service), all we need now is SaaS (Service as a Service) and we will have a complete literal collection (as a Service).

Blended Family Business was also something I hadn’t come across before. Well I had, but it was put in a way that actually meant that members of a second family had joined the family business. I think this was a model that Rupert Murdoch used at News Corporation and clearly that went well.

I spend a lot of time in hotels. Staff at my regular Covent Garden hotel know me by name, check me in before I actually arrive, and just hand me my key card when I step through the door. Service I would expect from a five-star hotel, except this is a Travelodge, and one of the cheapest hotels in London. But many hotels are now creating “collections”, bringing existing hotels together to expand their loyalty programs. Honestly, I do not really care for collections as long as the place has a clean bed, and it is a bonus when they make my towels in to a swan.

In these days of austerity we all hear the phrase “do more with less”. What I really want to know when someone says this rather flippant statement, is “do more with less of what?”

Business buzz words
Buzz words. Even business people have no idea what most of them mean.

 

Thanks for reaching out, I am currently out of pocket. I kid you not, this was an auto-reply for an out of office reply I received just this morning. Firstly I didn’t reach out, I simply sent you an email that entailed me moving a couple of fingers on a keyboard. If you are “out of pocket” you need to take that up with your boss.

In another email I received last week I was asked if I had any bandwidth. Yes, I have a really fast fibre connection was the reply I gave, apparently the sender was asking if I had any time available. The sender also asked if I had any “skin in the game”, seriously I need the same drugs that the sender is on because this was getting just plain weird.

Overtracking. This is something that my dear wife is guilty of. I now know that I have consumed nine cups of coffee whilst writing this blog. Apparently if it isn’t tracked by some app or “wearable” it didn’t happen. I can however tell you that I require enough energy to walk a total of 18-steps to the coffee machine and 19 if I have to step over the cat. That is each way I might add.

There are also a few other things that really grind me down when I hear or read them. Someone saying that they are giving the project 110% gives me a reason to suggest that they are truly excellent at common core math. If they are capable of blue sky thinking, well that’s a bonus. If they use the phrase “oh, I am so hashtag epic”, it is usually followed by a size nine to the rear.

Apparently I have also “moved the needle” on a number of occasions. I am not certain exactly what that means, but I did manage to “grab a sandwich” meaning that I literally stopped by at a Greggs and picked up a ham and cheese, and sat on a bench in the financial district in London prior to my “2 ‘o’ clock”. What I noticed whilst taking five, was the number of cheap suits were outnumbered by the number of Hugo Boss suits, and that everyone was speaking in a completely different language. It is no wonder we have seen a financial crisis around the world.

I digress, this was supposed to be a post about using PowerPoint in business presentations so I will now continue.

I wanted to avoid the use of bullet points. Bullet points are reflective of every PowerPoint presentation I have ever had the misfortune to sit through. If Microsoft do not remove them in the next version, I may have to take action.

But clip-art too is a problem. I cannot recall a technical presentation that has ever not featured a cog. I know the IT is sometimes slow, but why does everyone insist on using a cog unless they are a Swedish watch maker?

Clip art
Does this mean shared toilets?

 

People holding hands around a globe. Now that represents world harmony and peace, but take a look in the office down the corridor and you will see that even in your own company, Jack and Sarah have now forgotten that they had a crush at the annual sales conference and are constantly bickering, people holding hands around a globe is not something they can assimilate to.

In fact, I would just forget using hands at all. A quick search through my clip art library using the search term “hands” simply throws up beautifully manicured hands or a cartoon picture of a hand. Great for washing up liquid commercials, or even selling nail polish, but not really appropriate when you are trying to sell nuts.

The thumbs up image has been done already by Facebook. Accept the fact that any image in Microsoft’s clip-art library has not been produced with the intention of being used as a subliminal way for someone to accept you.

Archery targets either come with an optional arrow, or they are presented minus the arrow. Right about the time you click on the next page and this image opens up, I am sat there thinking you are the target. Maybe there is some subliminal thought in the Microsoft Clip-Art collection after all.

Stacked pebbles. I have a feeling they are used to induce a Zen moment. My OCD at that moment is making me nervous that the rocks will fall.

Jigsaw puzzle pieces. I haven’t assembled a jig saw since my daughter was two. Again my OCD kicks in and I sit there wondering where the rest of the pieces are.

You will have all seen the businessman or businesswoman poised at the start line of a race. I have a feeling it is used to put across a sense of urgency, or the image is used as a motivator. I cannot decide which.

Too me it does not infuse a deep sense of urgency, what I get from the image is the sense that I need to go out and by an Armani suit, and sign up for the London marathon. In terms of motivation, I would much rather see an image of a bacon sandwich. Now that is something I might break in to a small jog for.

Handshakes are a nightmare and play havoc with my OCD as I sit there wondering if they used anti-bacterial soap immediately before and after the handshake.

Rosettes. This has a link back to the suit wearing business person, I do not come to work to collect good behaviour stars, and it takes me back to the time of school sports day. That is a time that I want to completely get out of my head. I never won a rosette and feel as if my life is not complete.

When groups of business people are intently looking at a monitor screen, in all my years I have never seen this except in films.

Usually someone might walk across and say “are you finished yet”, but the only image that appears to me is the image that was taken of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watching a North Korean soldier sitting in front of a computer. You know, the one where the soldier is clearly ordering pizza and is wondering if Kim asked for deep pan or double crust, with Kim and co watching over him. In fact, that is the image to use if you want to give a subliminal message, I might add that to my next keynote.

People who use “decks” a term for a set of PowerPoint or similar slides really do need to think about the use of images. Rarely do they communicate the actual content, they merely set the tone for what the presenter is saying.

The other thing that people frequently get wrong is the use and merit of having a consistent approach. Slide transitions from a blue background to a background of red with an image of a talking dog are rarely considered to be consistent. Essentially you will be noted as someone chaotic.

If you cannot achieve consistency then you really need to consider not using slides at all, and never use bullet points. Keep the text, use a simple “appear” animation, but importantly do not give anyone a reason to become overcome with motion sickness.

Successful PowerPoints, and there are a few, generally use the slides to portray a story. They also have a very clear and focused message that you need to audience to retain. Most of all though, NEVER EVER USE COMIC SANS as a font. Yes, comic sans is still kicking around the keynote circuit since its introduction in to Microsoft Windows 95, and that was released in 1994. If you write an email to me in Comic-Sans I will refuse to respond and it doesn’t matter who you are. OK, maybe Jennifer Garner or Maggie Q could get away with it, but even that would be pushing the limits of my tolerance.

So there you have it. You can now look forward to owning “business critical” meetings in 2016 “like a boss”.

That's all for today and I hope you have picked up a few tips for selling your art. Of course there are so many strategies that can help, but I will cover a few more in my Art of Social Media feature in an upcoming blog.

For those who want to take a look at my collection of artwork for sale on Fine Art America, head over to my artist site at http://10-Mark-Taylor.artistwebsites.com

In the meantime I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year and hope that 2016 is a year of artistic discovery and many more sales.

 

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