Artist Entrepreneur: T for Testimonials— The Artist’s Alphabet Guide to Writing About Your Art by Aletta de Wal

Welcome to the Artist Entrepreneur Column, an occasional series where we talk about the fun, wild and scary ride of succeeding as an artist entrepreneur of all stripes and types and mediums.

Welcome back guest columnist, Aletta de Wal.  She specializes in helping visual artists succeed in their fine art careers. She posts regularly on “The Artist’s Alphabet Guide to Writing About Your Art” and other success tips for fine artists on the topic of writing. Today it’s T for Testimonials. Enjoy!

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I remember when I applied for employment right after college. I sent my resume to thirty-eight companies. I had only part-time work experience but I proved that I was able and willing to learn and finally got a job as a management trainee. When it was time to move on and find the next level job I had to supply references before I could get an appointment for an interview. References were seen as a way of verifying how well I did what I listed on my resume.

As an artist-entrepreneur, every viewing of your web site and hard copy portfolio is like a job application, only the prize is your art instead of employment. In place of references, testimonials are an essential tool to building your credibility, visibility and desirability as an artist.

A testimonial is a written, formal statement describing the positive aspects of your character, qualifications and achievements that serves as a recommendation about your career accomplishments, the value of your art, the experience of viewers and buyers.

Other people can say great things about you and your work that you can’t say about yourself – or at least I was brought up with the admonishment that it was unseemly to brag about yourself. (Social media has obviously bypassed this belief since having messages go viral is a badge of honor in social media metrics.)

While it’s your job to market your art business, others can only do word-of-mouth marketing. Testimonials are a great way to get the tongue rolling. I often get spontaneous testimonials but you don’t have to wait – you can ask.

Ask for Feedback

I ask my clients to tell me what works and what could work better so I can continue to improve my services, and to collect testimonials to attract other artists.

I found that asking people to answer in person or by telephone did not always work well.  Most need time to think and I didn’t want to put them on the spot. Asking them to write something produced vague answers that did not speak to others or provide me with actionable feedback, so I created guidelines, questions and samples.

Each person comes to work with me for different reasons, and that information is important context about my services, so that was my first question. I followed up with asking what they got and how that made a difference to them. Finally, I asked what they would tell a friend, because that would indicate the level of trust in working with me. If you teach art, this type of approach might be useful. Here’s a sample set of questions and response:

1. When you began the program, what did you hope to achieve?

I was interested in understanding the ins and outs of art marketing and in learning how the kind of art I made might fit into the mix. 

2.     What have you achieved through this program?

Considering that I had virtually no business or marketing training when I began working with Aletta, I learned a huge amount through her full course of programs! Aletta provided a strong context and a safe audience for developing the essential support materials every artist must have if they are to present themselves professionally.  The Art Business Mastermind iChat class brought all that together in a wonderful format that allowed for real-time, face-to-face interaction with other motivated artists. I loved those sessions because we were all problem-solving and providing real-life support even though we were thousands of miles apart! 

3.     How has this changed your art business life?

One word: Confidence.  I now have much deeper insights into what collectors and other fine art professionals want and expect from me. I am able to evaluate opportunities and situations as they arise and make well-grounded decisions that are appropriate for me and my work. 

4.     What would you say to a friend who was considering this program?

I would encourage a friend serious about getting ahead to give this program a try. Though I feel it could be wonderful for any artist looking to move forward, it is especially outstanding for more isolated artists or those who find themselves in a non-supportive community. 

Ask for a Recommendation

If you ever write a proposal for an exhibit or submit an application for a grant, you will likely be asked to provide testimonials from past experiences to show that you would be a good investment.

At the end of my presentations to arts organizations, participants often complete feedback forms. Sometimes I get a copy of the tallied results, but not always, so now I make it a point to ask each sponsor to provide feedback right after the event. I tailor the questions to the most common ones asked by people who hire me so that I am ready for the next request.

Here is an example of the questions and answers about a presentation I did this spring that might help you:

1. What specific art marketing/ art business content knowledge did the presenter reveal?

Aletta knows the art market — from the producer to the buyer — and most importantly, she makes the connection between the two with specific tips and proven expertise.

2. What specific presentation skills did the presenter demonstrate?

Aletta comes ready to teach — her content is relative, well organized and timed perfectly.  Her slides are attractive, and she truly connects with her audience.”

3. How did the presenter relate to the audience before, during and after the presentation?

Sometimes I gauge a presenter’s effectiveness by the line of attendees AFTER the seminar.  Aletta had a gaggle of artists waiting to talk to her individually.  She took her time will all of them and was very giving of her time and expertise.

4. How did the presenter handle questions from the audience during and after the presentation?

Great conversations were started during the seminar, and somehow, she still stayed on topic and on time.

5. Would you rehire the presenter? Why? 

I would not only hire her back, I highly recommend her to others.  She was easy to communicate with, pleasant, professional and well prepared.

Not only was I able to send this along with a proposal for an arts group that wants to hire me for an upcoming program, I can use it on my web site.

Make Testimonials Easy

Not everyone is a natural writer, and many won’t work at it, so it helps to offer a few written guidelines, questions and samples.

Sample guidelines:

  • Let people know that you would like their help, but that you understand if they are not able to write a testimonial.
  • Give them a time frame for responding.
  • Ask for their permission to use all or part of the testimonial and spell out when and where you will do so.
  • Ask if they would like you to use their name, initials or post the testimonial anonymously.
  • Ask if they will give you permission to add a link to their web site or include their e-mail so others can contact them.
  • When you post the testimonial, forward a link or the document in which they are mentioned. (Aside from this being a courtesy, This makes it easy for them to spread the word on your behalf, and they may do so simply because you mention them.)

Sample questions:

  • What do you see in my art? How does that make you feel?
  • What memories does my work call up?
  • Does my work make you think of other artists?
  • What makes my art stand out?
  • What did you like best about the exhibit/ web site/ my booth?
  • How well did I meet your expectations in handling the purchase, shipping, insurance, etc.?
  • What would you say to people considering buying my work?

Sample testimonial:

  • Patrice Federspiel is an artist from the inside out. Her work is exquisite and she really does breathe the spirit of aloha into it.
  • Patrice goes well beyond the usual palm fronds you typically see in Hawaiian art, adding distinct character to her florals. Her newer work is very exciting with figures emerging from the character.
  • Aside from that, Patrice is a gifted teacher. I know that anyone who comes in contact with Patrice will benefit from her grace and talent and enjoy her art and her presence.

Aletta de Wal, Artist Advisor and Art Marketing Strategist. http://www.artistcareertraining.com

I believe in the principle of giving first when it comes to networking. When you come across someone who really pulls out all the stops, you can write a testimonial on many of the social media sites. You make the person you are writing about more visible and credible, and if you include a link in the post, they may come see about you too. Everyone wins.

Next time, U for Unity

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About the Author: Aletta de Wal, Artist Career Training
Aletta de Wal inspires fine artists to make a better living making art in any economy.

Aletta works with part-time, emerging and full-time artists who are serious about a career in fine arts. Aletta makes make art marketing easier and the business of art simpler.

More information at: http://www.artistcareertraining.com/artmatters-newsletter/

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