Partnerships are a great way to broaden your horizons and grow your art business. I spent years managing partnerships for a major art museum, so I thought I'd share my experience and lessons on this topic. Here are my tips for building successful partnerships to sell your art.
Focus on local businesses
For the most part, large, national businesses are hard to create partnerships with because the local employees don’t have any authority to create partnerships. And they have no flexibility in their marketing or communications—it's all dictated by their corporate office. Listen to hear about two corporations that may surprise you, though!
Connect with local artists, museums, and cultural organizations
Other artists in your community can be great partners. If you can find someone else with a similar (but not duplicate) style and create a partnership, you can double your audience (and they can do the same) while creating something that could bring you media attention. I give an example of two artists in Denver who created a portrait painting partnership (say that three times fast!) and got some great results.
Use your network
The best way to get connected to potential partners is through your network. Reach out to people you know and ask them if they can connect you to a specific partnership opportunity or even connect you to someone else who could. This isn’t “networking” in the usual sense, but really building a network of people who can help you sell your work.
—Tips for building your network
- Whenever possible, meet in person
- Approach with a “servant’s heart,” that is, offer to help your contact before asking them for anything
- Follow through with whatever you promised to do for them
- Arrive at the meeting with a specific request in mind — who you would like to be introduced to, or what kind of business you’d like to be put in contact with. Think it through before the meeting so that you’re not hitting your contacts with a vague request to “help with my art business.”
Approach partnerships as a business venture
Finally, and this is a big one for artists, make sure that there is value for you in the partnership. We all want to be kind, friendly, and creative, but a partnership that asks a ton from you but doesn’t pay you back in return shouldn’t receive a yes. There should be real value on both sides, not just a vague promise of “visibility.”
Track your results and debrief
Ideally, with your partner you’ll plan what metrics you’re going to track so that you can both see whether you met your goals and how you can improve next time. When you debrief, ask: What benefits did you receive from the partnership? Were there expected or unexpected results? What was your final value at the end? Would you do a partnership like this again? And if so, what would you do differently? Keep working at partnerships and improving as you go.
Your action step
Make yourself a list of three to five businesses or categories of businesses to reach out to, and start the process. Do the outreach and start having those conversations. It takes time to build this kind of a partnership, but once you get something going, you could really see the benefits in the long term.
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