I knew what to expect as soon as the professor told me none of his students take business classes. These were jewelry students, but it applies to a large percentage of every profession: Many practitioners, whether they are artists or lawyers, whether they work with their hands or provide services, resist the idea that they are in business. It’s not enough to just do what you are great at; you have to create a business if you expect to pay your bills.
My latest reminder came in Spain, which I visited with a group called the Art Jewelry Forum. One tour was of Escola Massana, a well-respected design school in Barcelona. A professor of 30 years, a well-known artisan, was the one who told me the students learn much about design and craftsmanship, but nothing about marketing or any other kind of business training. When we went to our next stop, it was evident that many of the artisans selling their wares, as well as the venue showcasing their talent, had not studied business strategy and tactics either.
JOYA Barcelona Art Jewelry Fair bills itself as the main event of contemporary and art jewelry in Spain. The work I found there was beautiful, exciting and fun, and the fair attracted visitors from around the world. The jewelers, who are called “makers” within the profession, also had in many cases traveled thousands of miles to display and sell their work. And almost none engaged in even the simplest marketing. They didn’t collect business cards or ask visitors to their booths to provide emails so that they could continue to communicate with them when the artist returned home. Perhaps they think they will communicate via social media or websites. That’s great! Many people will find them that way when they google the correct phrase. But imagine how much stronger the makers’ marketing would be if they could talk directly with consumers who already expressed an interest in their work.
My message to these artisans striving to become known: Sending an email or occasional newsletter lets people know who you are and reminds them that you are still working, making products they probably will value. It gives you the ability to communicate your information out to potential buyers who have opted to hear from you.
Again at JOYA I observed another situation that perhaps had even worse consequences for near-term sales: There were no credit card facilities in the place. Instead of selling an item on the spot, many of the makers said they would send a piece as soon as the buyer wired the purchase price. It’s never a good idea to let a buyer walk away. Perhaps the excitement will fade over the course of a day or something else might catch their eye in the meantime. And the fix is easy to make. At the annual Boston conference of the Society of North American Goldsmiths, visitors register a credit card at a front table before entering the trunk show. If they see something they want to buy, the transaction is quick and easy – and no sales are lost.
No one had taught these mostly young makers at JOYA how to market themselves. Perhaps business is more embedded in Americans, but it was striking to witness, in this modern era, opportunities missed for lack of an entrepreneurial approach. Today, no one in any type of business should be making that mistake.