During the consults with my artist clients I often hear that they sold a painting for a ridiculously low sum because the collector negotiated them down. They agreed with the price because they were afraid to lose the sale. Negotiating is hard, particularly when you are just at the start of your career or if you are starting a new business relationship. Where do you assert and where do you acquiesce? Is negotiating a matter of principal or pragmatism? Here is what you need to know. Negotiating comes down to three things: leverage, type of negotiator and walk-away point.
You need to understand the power dynamic of the relationship between you and the party you are negotiating with. If you are an emerging artist, for example, at the beginning of your career, and you have never had a gallery show, you don’t really have any leverage to speak of. Which means that when discussing a contract, you’ll have to be a lot more flexible than, say, David Hockney, who can pretty much dictate his terms to galleries.
There are different types of negotiators. Most people are fair negotiators who understand the value of compromising, even if they are tough and even when they have all the power in the relationship. They understand that the best deals are reached when every party leaves the table happy. Other negotiators take a more mercurial approach and will try to get everything they can from you without giving anything in return. My approach to the latter is to be as inflexible as they are, which sometimes will get you results and other times not.
Therefore, you have to decide when it is in your best interest to walk away from a deal. Perhaps you are asked to sell your painting for 50% of its wholesale price, which would devalue all your work. Perhaps a gallery contract being presented to you is so onerous that you would really damage your opportunities if you signed up with them. These are difficult decisions to make but if something feels wrong, it may be better to walk away - even it if hits your bottom line.
Luckily, negotiating is a skill that can be learned. Here are some tips that will improve your chances of achieving a great result. Firstly, never go into a negotiation unprepared. When negotiating a painting sale, have your price list handy, including the maximum discount that you are prepared to give. For a gallery contract, review your friends’ contracts and prepare a detailed list of questions. Make sure that everything is explained to you: before signing anything you need to understand it. Secondly, never let yourself be forced into making a decision during a meeting or call. You are perfectly within your rights to take time to consider the terms of a potential agreement or run it past your advisors.
If you want to get into shape for your next painting sale or contract meeting, book a coaching session with me and we’ll sharpen up your negotiating skills!