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Artists as business people

We have known for a long time: Artists are usually also entrepreneurs. However, the business side of our profession usually doesn’t fly to us as much as the creative side. Many find it particularly difficult when it comes to pricing or negotiating exhibition conditions. We often make compromises that we are not happy with in the end. Our hope is that we can negotiate a more advantageous deal next time, so that the lazy compromise can be balanced out again. Today we’re spinning over the shoulders of marketing and negotiation professionals again and see how the Harvard concept can help us here.

It is important that you have a clear and comprehensible strategy overall if you want to assert yourself in the art market in the long term. Nothing is more hostile to careers than a “hot today and hot tomorrow”. You then quickly give the impression that your prices and conditions are arbitrary, perhaps based on the customer’s nose, and that you can also be easily negotiated down.

The Harvard Concept

But how can you represent your interests in such a way that they are also respected on the other side? It is often worthwhile to deal with (negotiation) strategies from other fields. Because they are often designed in a general way and you can easily transfer them to your personal situation. Today I will introduce you to the Harvard concept (see Wikipedia ) and explain it using the example of the pricing of a commissioned work.

The Harvard concept excludes (lazy) compromises. Instead, the aim is to achieve a win-win situation that leaves both sides much more satisfied, as one does not have the feeling of having given in. How does it work?

1st guideline: Treat people and interests or problem separately

You have a person in front of you and it’s about one thing. This already describes what is meant. Avoid lumping the two together. Because just because something is complicated doesn’t mean the whole person is the same. Be factual about the problem! And be empathetic with your counterpart!

Example of commissioned work: For his birthday, Ms. Müller would like to give her husband a realistically painted portrait with a mat and frame of him. It should be a surprise. The birthday is in four weeks. Ms. Müller brings a photo print in the format 13 x 18 cm. It’s a snapshot from vacation. Mr Müller looks very funny on it, but the quality is generally rather poor. You can now just think: “Oh, no, how is that supposed to work? The woman may have strange ideas! ”You try not to appear annoyed, but say straight out loud and clear that this is not possible. The order does not materialize. Or maybe you get involved, although you know that you will most certainly not be able to deliver your usual quality. So from the start you go very far with the price. Do you think that you will be happy in either scenario? Will Mrs. Müller be happy?

In line with the Harvard concept, you can also react very leniently to Ms. Müller, because she has probably never worked with an artist and just doesn’t know what you need for your work. Show her examples of previous commissioned work, explain how you work, and promise that you might be able to find another solution.

2. Guideline: Focus on interests rather than positions

A position is a non-negotiable opinion or view. It can also be referred to as a wall: if you press against it, it not only costs you a lot of strength, but it also probably won’t really move. So find out WHY a certain opinion exists. Only then can you find out the real motivations behind the opinion and then find appropriate alternatives.

Our example, the commissioned work by Ms. Müller: Do you ask what quality of portrait work you actually want? Why did she come up to you exactly? Does she like your other pictures? And why is it so important to her that the work is finished by her birthday? Don’t ask her directly how much she is willing to spend. Wait until the last step 4 with pricing.

3. Develop several options

Once you have clarified your interlocutor’s interests, new opportunities are likely to open up. It is not about immediately developing ready-made solution models. Instead, you should let your thoughts run free and be open to the ideas of the other. You certainly have to keep an eye on your personal (factual and emotional) possibilities. But don’t say no right away if you don’t like something.

In general, however, you as a contractor can list many more options than your potential client. Because you are usually much better prepared for such a conversation than your counterpart due to your knowledge of the subject. Therefore, you should have prepared a sample offer that is perfect for you in advance. Always keep these in focus in the course of the negotiations. Don’t hold onto it as hard as a bone. Stay open to new suggestions. But also recognize when the negotiation is moving too far away from it and then draw a line. It is generally cheaper for you if you politely decline the order than if the customer leaves the customer with a feeling like: “I never need to try again with him!”

Further options for commissioned work by Ms. Müller could be: First of all, there are various painting media that you could use for the portrait. There are also different painting grounds, different frames, different sizes. With reference to the specifications given at the beginning, you can perhaps offer her that Mr.Müller can choose a nice photo himself or have a new one taken, which you can then work with better. But maybe your personal style is not that important to her and she thought of a quick sketch of how it is drawn on the holiday beach. In this case, Ms. Müller will definitely not be your customer. But maybe you can even recommend a colleague to her.

4. Establish objective and fair criteria

It goes without saying that for most people a price has to be understandable. It depends less on the amount expected in advance or the maximum limit set. For most customers, it is much more important that they do not want to feel like they are being ripped off. Especially people who generally do not have much to do with art often do not understand why a picture costs hundreds or even thousands of euros. Therefore, explain your prices as transparently as possible. Apart from material costs and working time (attention: office time counts!), Experience, quality, originality and, to a certain extent, comparability and industry standards also play a role in art.

With this guideline, it does not matter whether you are negotiating with Ms. Müller or with someone else, as in our example. It is always the same: prepare yourself well and draw up a general price list for commissioned work. Explain clearly which conditions this price list is based on. A note: It is not absolutely necessary to present this price list at the negotiation meeting. But you should essentially have them in your head. Also, visit and talk to other artists’ exhibitions regularly to keep track of the art market. In the end, you can answer all questions well and react confidently to all eventualities.

Nina Davis

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