As a young boy, one of my first summer jobs was being a delivery boy for a small local meat market. The meat market was located in Bay Head, a summer resort on the New Jersey shore. My job was seasonal as it ran from Memorial Day to Labor Day weekend and to me it was the most important job that there was, since it was my first real job!
What I learned about business from that small little job is important as it became the basis for how I conducted myself successfully in the art business for the rest of my life.
Whether you like it or not, being a successful artist is running a small business. In order to be successful, an artist needs to think, act and conduct their “art business” in a professional and business like manner. Here are some valuable lessons that any artist can benefit from my experience as a delivery boy:
1. Show Up – The meat market needed me there for morning deliveries and afternoon deliveries. There were to be no excuses, like it was a nice beach day or that I had something else to do. They needed me and expected me to be there and on time, to make my deliveries. Why is that? It is because their customers expected their meat and groceries to be delivered at certain times and with no excuses.
As an artist, when you are told that you are needed at a certain time, a piece of art needs to be delivered by a certain date or that an appointment will be at “such and such” time, you need to be there, with no excuses. Sometimes artists seem to be in their own world and some artists are inclined to be on their own time, as if nothing else exists. This is not a good trait to have. Return that telephone call when you promised that you would do. Show up at that appointment on time. Be available and on time when you said that you would. It is a common courtesy and the other person’s time is valuable to them. Respect the other person.
2. Shut Up – When you do show up or call, shut up. No one wants to hear of your problems, challenges and issues. They have a business or a job to perform and they do not want to get dragged into your drama and problems.
At the meat market the owners had about 3 months in which to make their money for the year. Because of this, they needed to be focused, as they had a business to run and were dealing with their own problems with suppliers, fulfilling orders and keeping customers happy. Anything or anyone that would take them away from their mission was just not valuable to them.
As an artist, the potential buyer, gallery owner or art rep really do not have the time or the wherewithal to be dealing with your issues too. Keep it professional and impersonal. Remember, you really are working for them, not the other way around!
3. Help Out – I learned quickly that it s not good to stand around and do nothing. Wile I was waiting for the deliveries to be fulfilled and boxed, I learned to do a “little more” than what the job called for. By helping out and doing this, I was much more valuable to the owners.
Sometimes as an artist we are asked to do more than what our pricing calls for or what our time may allow. That is just part of the business and we should always to try to give good value for our time and efforts. Why? Over time, it will breed loyalty with your customers and with your clients. As a delivery boy, by doing this, I was helping to insure that the owners would ask me to come back and work there again for the next summer.
4. Be Flexible – I learned that sometimes you just had to be flexible with people. Sometimes, a customer wanted a special delivery or that they forgot something in their order and they absolutely had to have it for a dinner party that evening (which meant a special trip). The meat market was located next door to a super market and many times you were asked to go over there and pick something up and include it in the order. Was that part of what a meat market should do? Yes, if at all possible and why not? The customer could rely on us and we were helping them out with higher than expected service.
As an artist, sometimes we are asked to do something that is considered to be an extra. Do you disagree, argue and shut down because of a request for extra service? If it is a reasonable request, why not do it? By doing this, it helps to build goodwill and repeat business.
5. Be Visible – I found out after my first summer that it is good to be seen by the client. Since the business was located in a wealthy resort town, most of the meat market’s customers employed maids, cooks and other service personnel. When making a delivery I would be required to go to the “service entrance” or what is known as the back door. I did not meet too many customers or owners at the back door. At the end of the summer, when “end of season tips” were being handed out, I found out quickly that the service personnel do not give tips and that I should have gotten to know the customers better.
Be visible to the right people, whether it is a gallery owner, art buyers or art reps. Be out there, engaging and be someone that has a memorable personality. Do not be a “faceless” artist. This also holds true when networking and other personal appearances too. On the internet, in print and other promotions, be visible. This should be true in all of the marketing of your art that you do!
6. Be Thankful – At the end of the summer I learned that I was lucky to have the job and I was paid very well for the time that I actually spent delivering meat. I learned to be thankful as I was able to afford to do things with the money that I earned, while my friends could not and for that, I was very grateful!
As an artist, we should be thankful that we are able to do something that we love doing, that we can make money doing it and that we have the skill and creativity that most people want, but cannot have. We are all blessed and we should be thankful to be artists. Being a delivery boy taught me a lot about being an artist.