I wish I there was a “communications for artists” class when I went to college. There were a handful of instances over the last six months where I was in a pickle on how to draft an email or how to translate what my clients wanted. This was all in addition to balancing whether I should use a professional or casual tone. I like to approach communication as a vital part of being an artist and come right off the bat as approachable and friendly. Communication is a skill of its own – here are eight of my “communication commandments” that I’ve made for myself. Feel free to use them in your own practice!
1. Never, ever assume
If you’re ever in the position where you haven’t clarified something with your client, don’t assume the answer. Just ask. Openly communicating helps establish trust between you and your customers and shows that you’re detail oriented.
2. Pictures are worth a lot of words (and can save a lot of time)
Realize that when the majority of communication is done via emails, it can be difficult for your client to understand what you’re thinking. A quick 5-minute sketch or mock-up in photoshop can save you a dozen back and forth emails.
3. Be confident in yourself
You’re the artist! And that means you’re the expert in the medium that you work in. A key part of being in your position is that you have knowledge of what will best work for the project that you’re undertaking. Although you may run across an occasional customer who is very set on specific details, many people are open to changes. The most important thing I find when communicating, is to explain the choice you feel is best and the reason why.
4. If you want to be treated as a professional, you have to act like it
Respond within a reasonable amount of time to inquiries. Read over your emails and proofread for typos. One of the sage pieces of advice I’ve heard from one of my favorite artists Bobby Chiu is that you become a professional when you decide that you’re professional. It’s a mental shift where your attitude will reflect how others see you.
5. Always respect deadlines
This is a continuation of being a professional. Make sure you can reasonably achieve your deadlines. If you catch the flu on Monday and you have a deadline on Friday. Send an email immediately about your situation and the potential impact on the deadline. It is far better to tell someone ahead of time that you’ll be late, instead of the date that it’s due.
6. Take positive control of how you present yourself
I think this is one of the best things about the internet. You directly curate the image you present to the world. You choose the best pictures of your artwork to share, the photos of yourself, the format of your website. You have 100% control of the first impression that you make on a person who runs across your name. There are thousands, if not millions, of artists online and it’s just as important to present yourself in a positive light so that people gravitate towards choosing you instead of someone else.
7. Balance options
Just like how it can be overwhelming to buy something at a huge mall, there’s a fine balance between too many options and not enough options. When I have a client that doesn’t have a specific vision of what they want, I use my second tip and give between two to four options. To make the decision process easier, I will often have the options laid out side by side in the same image so my client can see at a glance which one they prefer more.
8. Say thank you
Thank your client for choosing you at the end of the project. I personally write a small thank you note that I send with each portrait. You want to let them know that you appreciate them and enjoyed the process of working with them. Think about the last time someone sent you a thank you letter – not often, right? Thank you notes are a great way to leave a lasting positive impression and it only takes a few minutes of your time.
Do you have a “communication commandment” of your own that I haven’t mentioned? I would love to hear them!