One of the most important tools in the artist’s business tool kit is the Guest Book. Along with a portfolio of your work, business cards and a receipt book, your guest book should be with you any time you are exhibiting your work.
What is a guest book? The Guest Book is your tool to collect contact information from future clients and collectors. As such, at art festivals and shows, it could well be considered the most important resource tool in your display. It is a major source for your mailing list. Without a mailing list, your email newsletters would go nowhere. Announcements of upcoming shows and newly created artwork would be useless.
The critical point to remember is that the people who sign your guest book are interested enough in your work and trust you enough to give you their information. They have seen your work or either talked to you or saw you talking with other people. They have given you permission to contact them again. The marketing truths are, despite handing out business cards and even chatting with a prospect, it is very likely, in this age of too much information, that you and your art product will be quickly lost in their minds (refer to my other article about business cards!)
You can be forgotten unless you have the means to contact these people and jog their memories!
There are a few helpful rules I have regarding the Guest Book and how to use it. Though I have called it a guest book in this article and refer to it as a guest book when speaking with future collectors and clients, it is not the usual little book you see at weddings and such. Consider it a collection of information. My art Guest Book is a leather bound three ring binder with brass corners. The image below is the top half of a regular sheet of paper. I have edited it for size.
The pages have ample space for my guests to fill in the already printed lines and ask for:
* full name
* complete mailing address including zip code
* telephone (many give cell numbers)
* email address
* notes and comments
If you don’t ask for and have a space for a phone number, or email or anything else, no one will write it down. If they don’t want to give it to you, they won’t, so don’t worry that you are invading their privacy. The notes and comments section is very important. Ask the prospect to make a note about what you have talked about, or make it yourself immediately after they leave. When you get home and look at thirty or so names, you won’t have a clue who is who unless you jotted down something about your conversation. I also make sure that I can read what they are writing. Blame the computer, but handwriting isn’t what it used to be. A little research can find the right street number or zip code, but when it comes to email addresses you have no second chance.
My guest book also has plenty of space for people to write. There is room for information for two people per page as well as the same information on the reverse side of each sheet.
I let people know that we will be emailing periodic newsletters with updates about our work and schedules. I also absolutely do not share their information with anyone. Period. If I am having an exhibition at a gallery or at a show, I will forward the Gallery’s email announcements with my newsletters to the prospects (and I let the Gallery know that is what I am doing), but will not share a prospect’s private information with another organization. It is common practice for a Gallery or Organization to ask for your entire mailing list in order to promote “your” show. Although it seems a reasonable request, once your mailing list is in the hands of another, your opportunity to develop an exclusive relationship with those prospects is lost to you! When your show ends, so does the exclusive you had on those clients. The other party will be adding your contacts to their overall list. We have over 1000 people to whom we send out newsletters. No matter how many names are on your Newsletter list, each is a potential client! Your list is a substantial tool in the advancement of your art career and represents many hours of hard work that it took you to collect the names on that list. Do not randomly toss it away!
At the other end of the spectrum from the leather bound book with brass corners, my artist husband, Steve Filarsky carries a small moleskin notebook he keeps in his pocket for notes. He carries it all the time and it is especially handy when he is painting outdoors. If someone expresses interest in his work, he will ask for their contact information or have them note it down in his book. I have used legal tablets to collect information at a show when the Guest Book was inadvertently left behind!. Anything is better than nothing.
What does it mean to your Art Business to collect a prospect’s contact information? We have a friend who does beautiful custom leather work. Her lowest priced items are $200 and most items are in the $600. – $800. range. They are not an impulse item. But I can’t impress upon her the need to get a guest book. I often wonder how much money and work she has lost over time because she does not think it is necessary to remind people about her work. It is so easy for an artist to become complacent and think that they will be easily remembered! Opportunities lost become even more critical when the artist told me recently that she was moving out of state because of her husband’s job. How are those past clients to know? Certainly her non clients won’t know and she is now aware of this!
It is, unfortunately, far too easy to fall into the thinking of “I’ve gotten this far without one.” We see it all the time with artists. And when the economy takes a tumble and gentle reminders to your prospects are in order and even necessary, these artists have nowhere to turn! I have met artsts who tell me that they have never had to market their art. They say that their clients all came to them through word of mouth only. Those same artists are not saying that now. For those artists who have always known the work that it takes to market their art, today’s economic woes are just another bump in the road!
We have learned that the symbolism represented with handing out your business card and or asking someone to sign your guest book can be considered permission for them to leave! Obviously, we would prefer an immediate sale to just collecting information, so don’t jump the gun with your guest book or business card. I usually wait until they are ready to leave before I ask them to sign our guest book.
Always ask your prospect to sign your Guest Book. Most will. A few will not. They would rather just take your card. That is fine too. Never insist that they give you their contact information.
Your guest book is a powerful tool. It will enable you to renew connections with people who are interested in your work. When someone leaves a show after having talked to a dozen of more artists, loses your business card and just gets absorbed back into day to day life, you can still put your art in front of them. Make every dollar that you invested in your art, in traveling, in show expenses and advertisements work for you by installing and maintaining a Guest Book in your Art Business today! All it takes is paper and pen and the willingness to ask interested prospects for their contact information!