When and How to Negotiate During a Sale: A Guide for Artists

By Aletta de Wal in Art Business Advice > A-Z Art Marketing Guide

Welcome back to “The ABC’s of Art Marketing”—an alphabet guide to marketing your art, from A to Z. In today’s article, I’ll be focusing on the letter “N” for Negotiating.

How often have you flinched when someone says: “That’s a really nice painting but it’s more than I can afford. Can you sell it to me for less?”

Trust me, this happens to every artist sooner or later. . . and the way that you handle a question like that can be the difference between making a sale or losing a customer. So, you’d best be ready to negotiate.

Negotiating is simply a stream of back and forth communication between people about the value of what they will exchange. In your case, you want to exchange a piece of art that you have created for a buyer’s money.

But is that really all that is being exchanged?

You, the artist, have invested years in honing your art skills, paid for materials to create the piece, have overhead in your art business, costs to market, etc. The buyer has usually worked hard to learn to earn the money, paid for transportation to get the show, has basic living expenses and only so much left over, etc.

Obviously for the artist and the buyer these items only scratch the surface. But the point I’m trying to make here is that negotiation is about far more than just price.

Let’s take a look at some ways to make the negotiation process work for you:

1. Avoid it whenever possible

The simplest way to avoid negotiating altogether is to have such a loyal following that every piece you make has a buyer before it’s out of your studio. That usually means doing commissions or that you’ve hit the sweet spot where your art has found it’s audience.

Unfortunately, very few artists can live off of commissions or have buyers for every piece they create, so there will be times when you want to make a sale and the only way to do so is to negotiate. But don’t wait until the discussion turns to price. In my book, that’s haggling.

If you’ve done a good job pricing your art, then my recommendation is not to budge on your price. That still leaves plenty of room on both sides of the discussion.

2. Negotiate perks not price

Here are just a few examples of what you can negotiate so you can hold firm on price:

Negotiate size or scope. Offer a smaller piece that fits the buyer’s budget or sell the piece unframed. For commissions, reduce the amount of detail, or size.

Negotiate time or timing. For plein air pieces purchased in situ, offer pieces done more quickly. In the case of a commission, extend the time period for completion so that you can accept other commissions in that time frame as well.

Negotiate your services. Offer to deliver and install the piece in the buyer’s home at no extra charge.

Negotiate a payment plan. Layaway plans don’t cost you anything extra and you can keep marketing with each thank you note you send for a progress payment.

Negotiate for next time, not now. Offer a “Preferred Patron Price” for the purchase of two or more pieces within the next year and deduct (for example) 10% off the price of the final piece.

3. If you MUST negotiate on price. . .

Some artists simply don’t agree with my firm stand on negotiating price. Since it’s their art business, it’s not my place to argue. But in such cases, please be prudent in how you go about it.

I would suggest first asking the buyer if they have any goods or services for barter. If you go this route you must be able to make comparable valuation and file the appropriate paper work with the IRS, since income is involved.

If bartering is out, ask the buyer to make a “reasonable offer” and have her explain why they feel this is fair to both of you. If that offer doesn’t feel right to you, say so and why. Then wait for the buyer to respond. This process may bring the price closer to where it should be.

Once you’ve settled on the price, ask for payment in full, preferably in cash, and wait until the payment clears before going any further. Only deliver the artwork after you know that the check hasn’t bounced or the credit card payment went through.

4. And here’s one final bit of advice

Never negotiate in front of other people. The last thing you want is to embarrass the buyer, yourself or other viewers who may start to squirm even if they were not planning to ask for a discount. After all, everyone wants to save face.

As uncomfortable as negotiating is, I do have some good news—if you’ve been marketing your art well, and your work is in demand, most buyers won’t have a problem paying what you ask.

Follow the links below to read more articles in “The ABC’s of Art Marketing”—an alphabet guide to marketing your art, from A to Z:

A – Appreciating your Audience

B – Building your Business Base

C – Communicating Clearly, Consistently and Cleverly

D – Diversifying Your Delivery

E – Educate, Entertain, Engage, Enrich, and Evolve

F – Fostering Friendly Familiarity

G – Give to Gain

H – Hiring Help

I – The 5 “I’s” of Art Marketing

J – Joining Juried Shows

K – Creating Good Karma

L – Listening and Learning

M – Mastering your Marketing Messages

N – Negotiating 101 (current article)

O – Turning Obstacles into Opportunities

P – Procrastination & Perfection

Q – Quality & Quantity: Creating Art that Sells

R – 8 Rules to Improve Your Artist/Collector Relationships

S – S is for Sales

T – 30 Ways to Say “Thank You”

U – Switching from “I” to “Us”

V – Volunteering in the Art World

W – Write, Write, Write!

Y – Just Say Yes

Z – Zen, Zoom, ZigZag & Zowie


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