Make Your Art Business Referral-Friendly

by Carolyn Edlund

Close more art sales by cultivating referrals. Here’s how.


A personal network consists of many people you ca influence


Sales can be hard. Locating new prospects who are interested in your work and converting them into customers takes time and lots of work. Gaining referrals makes this easier. When existing customers or fans tell others about you, thereby making a referral, you have a chance to build a relationship with a warm prospect who is already interested and more likely to close.

Business referrals are incredibly valuable to have, and there is a great advantage to getting a steady stream of them. Begin your own referral strategy to solicit, accept and reward those who recommend and refer you to other clients. 

Be Open to Receiving

Part of growing a business built on referrals is understanding that they can come from anyone at any time. Be prepared for this by deciding how you will contact these prospects, and how you will respond to the referring party as well.

As your work is seen in the marketplace and you make sales of your art, you will get to know your audience and your collectors. They have influence with other people through word of mouth, which is one of the most powerful marketing tools. Word of mouth beats advertising hands down. The more expensive the item, the more word of mouth matters when making buying decisions. If your art carries a price tag that not everyone can afford, seeking referrals should be an important part of your marketing plan. 

Tailor Your Business for Referrals

Mention referrals in your marketing materials and on your website to set the stage. Let people know that as an artist, you rely on referrals by satisfied clients.

After making a sale, follow up to thank your collector and make sure they are satisfied. If they are pleased with your work, you are in a position to ask if they would provide a testimonial to use on your website or in your marketing. You can also let them know you would appreciate referrals to other people they know who might appreciate your work. 

Cultivate Referral Partners

Customers aren’t the only ones who can send you referral business. Entire networking groups (such as BNI) are built on the concept of connecting with other businesspeople for the purpose of mutual referrals. You might want to join a group like this in your own city. Any group member who enjoys and appreciates your art would be happy to share your name with their contacts and friends. In return, you can refer them or other members to people in your own circle.

As your network expands, you will be in the position of giving and receiving referrals on a regular basis. Some entrepreneurs have developed this to a high level so that their sales are primarily driven by referrals rather than advertising or prospecting. It can be a great way to build a small business.

Expect Some Rejection

There are two people involved in a referral request: you and the person you are asking. You have control only over what you do and how you react. When you ask clearly and respectfully, you are likely to hear back from them. If the other party doesn’t feel comfortable, thank them for their consideration and take them off your list. If they refuse to engage or don’t respond, referrals are unlikely to happen, and you can move on to another person.

It’s likely that some people who are happy with their purchase are willing to tell others, under some circumstances. If you don’t ask, it’s rare that referrals will happen spontaneously. Since you will be polite and friendly, and speaking with a collector or fan that you know, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by gently suggesting that they tell others about your work. Respect your potential referral sources, and gauge whether you are in the right situation to ask for their assistance in giving recommendations. Then, trust your gut as to how to handle individual conversations.

When a Referral is Made

If a client or customer refers you to someone else, make sure to thank them promptly. And, thank them again if a sale is made due to their referral. Sometimes, a gift or reward is offered or given for successful referrals. Consider what is appropriate for your own business. You might send a gift card, or present them with a small piece of your work if they are a collector. 

If a business referral partner sends you a lead, be sure to thank them as well. Do your part by continuing to give referrals as you can. People who are known as connectors and who pay it forward to their network are likely to be recognized and receive referrals and recommendations from others.

Most referrals are made by people who are fans and truly appreciate you as an artist. They are some of the best assets your business can have. Referrers are usually thrilled to recommend you, and are happy to see others collect your art. Show them gratitude as well by staying connected on a regular basis with honest, heartfelt communication.


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