This post is by Clint Watson, former art gallery owner/director/salesperson and founder of FineArtViews. You should follow Clint on Twitter here or sign up for his newsletter here.
In tech companies, one of the metrics we track is the concept of "customer lifetime value." (Usually abbreviated LTV). The idea is that if you charge $10 per month, and the average customer stays with you for 60 months, then the average LTV would be $600 ($10 x 60).
In a way, in terms of your art career, each person you know and meet has a "lifetime value." In this case the "LTV" is most certainly not so easy to calculate and often not immediately apparent. That doesn't mean it's not important. In fact, it's extremely important. Just as $1 in the bank will grow enormously over time through the "miracle" of compound interest, so will the benefits you receive from people if you treat each person with respect and dignity. Keep your dealings honest and approach them with an attitude of how you can mutually help each other (not just what you can "get" from the other person).
I'll illustrate the point with a story and let you decide the lifetime value of a single contact. (The actual names in this story have been obscured or changed).
Years ago, when I operated an art gallery, a salesperson came in representing a local publication for tourists. We generally didn't advertise in such publications, but somehow, he convinced me to place a quarter page advertisement for $300. The ad ran and, to my knowledge, we garnered not a single customer. However, a young artist, "M", from a nearby city, saw the ad and visited the gallery to show us his work. His breathtaking work captured our hearts and we began to represent "M" (and sold quite a lot of his work). So in the end, the $300 ad had been worth it.
But wait. There's more...much more.
About a year later, my business partners decided to visit Santa Fe, New Mexcio to do some prospecting for new artists. When the artist from the ad, M, heard about this, he suggested that they visit a particular gallery in Santa Fe that also represented him, J's gallery.
Arriving in Santa Fe, my partners began perusing J's gallery and, while they were there, another artists that J represented, K, walked in. My partners struck up a conversation with K. As the conversation progressed, K suggested they continue talking at his studio in Taos. After a short (OK not so short) drive to Taos, my partners enjoyed the privilege of hand-picking paintings in K's studio to show in our gallery.
Now, K turned out to be quite a discovery. Our customers loved his artwork and proved it with their pocketbooks. K worked diligently and sent new works often and within a few years we even hosted a sell-out one man show (and several more in later years). So, the $300 ad and the contact with M had now paid off handsomely.
But wait . . . . There’s still more.
In the intervening years, K had become involved in a national painting group, we'll just call the group NPG. NPG, although very young, appeared to be on the rise, garnering media attention and developing a good reputation. K let us know that the venue for their next national show had not yet been decided. We asked K for his contact info and, with K's introduction, were able to speak directly with the president of the organization. Long story short - less than a year later we were hosting NPG's national painting exhibition - over 200 fantastic paintings by artists from all over the United States and Canada. In fact, during that show, we discovered "S", one of the finest painters we had ever seen. (S is one of my favorite painters to this day). S won the show and within a month we were representing S as his only United States gallery. I won't go into details but the number of paintings we sold for "S" are staggeringly large. In addition, we garnered many other fine artists from the NPG show and even hosted the show a second time. S and K have since both become two of the most well-known and well-respected painters in the world and have both had more than several museum exhibitions and sell-out shows.
This story could and did continue with one contact leading to another one. The "compound interest" continued to get bigger and bigger, but after the point of the NPG show, I kinda lost track of the "trail" of connections. Things just started happening too fast as the gallery rose to national prominence.
So back to the original point. What's the lifetime value of a single contact?
What's the lifetime value of that ad salesperson to the gallery?
What about M? K? NPG? S?
As you can plainly see the lifetime value of each contact is enormous. Almost incalculable.
So let's talk about you.
A few weeks ago, I've often suggested that artists start their marketing plans by simply making a list of everyone they know and then following a systematic plan to communicate with those people and garner their support and help. You have to start somewhere.
I'm sure that there are people that artists are tempted to "skip" for one reason or another. If that's you, go back and add that person to your list and get him or her into your plan. Or perhaps you just have a quick list, but haven't been thorough in compiling all those business cards and scribbled names you've saved up. Set aside the time to compile them, organize them and get them into your system. The pay off might not be immediate but as my story illustrates, the pay off just might be enormous.
BoldBrush/FASO Founder & Art Fanatic
PS - "S" is the artist in the photo with me, Mian Situ.
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