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Selling your work involves a subtle touch

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We have all experienced a classroom setting with an instructor that does not know when to shut up. Although most speakers are well-intentioned, without a sense of audience reception information can be quickly lost.

Classes or seminars often start out exciting because you’re not exactly sure what lies ahead. However, as the information starts to swell, if you have not been entertained you’ll quickly lose interest. Even when it’s a topic you’re captivated by, too much information can be stifling. And when that information being shared comes from the craftsperson selling their work, turning off the listener hurts the bottom line.

Teaching the client

Like it or not, every craftsperson or artist who sells their talent has to be a salesperson. It’s part of the process, regardless of how loathsome it might be. Most craftspeople I know prefer doing the work, not selling it. But since you cannot sustain yourself without selling what you do, you better learn how to do it. Selling is merely a teaching opportunity that exercises the sweet spot of talking about what you do. And learning how to wield this weapon of presentation is crucial to the success of what you’re promoting.

Every time you meet with a potential client, you’ll be teaching them something. It could be technical information or simply your interpretation of clothing fashion based on what is worn to the interview. Teaching goes much further than simply the words that come out of your mouth. It includes body language/appearance and perception/analysis of the situation. Teaching is a true art. It’s not just being prepared in what you say, but how you say it.

Technical droning

Although this is probably the most important thing in a presentation, it can also be the most boring. People want to learn and they can only learn with good information. However, too much of a good thing instantly becomes not-so-good. I can’t overemphasize the importance of thorough preparation. If you’re stumbling and bumbling through the placement of information on your client’s plate, you’ll lose the deal every time. People that are ready to spend their hard-earned money want to work with someone they perceive to be competent. If you don’t know how to convey information or just simply don’t know what you’re talking about, they’ll snub the notion of eating at your table and find someone who prepares a better meal.

We live in a gluttonous society. Supersize this, jumbo-size that and give me a Venti Coffee to caffeine-up my system for the day. More is not always more. Proper use of drugs can heal, but too much intake can cause addiction or death. Information is much the same. Less is more. People can only take in so much technical babble before they shut down. I don’t care how intelligent someone is, the brain can only take in so much information before it gets distracted and chooses to move on to something more entertaining. Presentations need to be informative and concise. And, by all means, talk about things other than work. You don’t have to become everybody’s best friend, but you’ve got to demonstrate you are human, not just a working, money-making drone. People like to work with people, not a disconnected salesperson lost in their own make-believe world that what they’re saying is more important than life itself.

The visual language

When talking about your craft, the potential client takes in much more than your vast knowledge on the subject you’re presenting to them. They will remember how you greeted them at the door, how hard you shook their hand, what you smelled like, if your glasses were dirty, if you had a beard, if you ignored their dog and so forth. People study other people and constantly draw comparisons. It really doesn’t matter if those comparisons are accurate or not, they will still be drawn.

For instance, if someone had a bearded father who mistreated them, your beard might put you at a disadvantage right from the get-go. It’s not fair, makes no sense, but it happens. It’s impossible to prepare for every contingency and therefore you shouldn’t even try. The most important thing is to stay true to yourself. You can dress up for a meeting to elevate your appearance or simply wear what you work in. That in itself is really not the issue. The issue is to not contradict your personality. Let me give you another example. When I was in my early 20s, I had the opportunity to meet with several businessmen from other professions in order to elevate my game. Acting on my impulse of creating a major game-changer, I put on the only good clothes I had: a three-piece suit worn only once to my dad’s wedding. I climbed into my 1953 Chevy pickup that was adorned with wooden sideboards advertising my small company. When I arrived at the white-collar meeting, I not only noticed how overdressed I was, but how ridiculous it was to represent myself in attire worn only to formal occasions, thus misrepresenting who I really was. If you’ve seen the movie “Step Brothers,” you’ll understand how important it is not to wear a tux to a job interview.

What I’d really like you to remember about visual language is to never underestimate its power. It’s a proven fact most people remember what they see more than what they hear. Photographs and videos are powerful mediums for presenting information. Like the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” your visual presence will be taken under review. Again I need to stress I’m not simply talking about personal hygiene or dress. Body language like poor eye contact or disinterested posture, speaks volumes of information. And once a client makes a judgment based on what they see, you’ll have a hard time bringing them back to your side with flowery words.

Perception with eyes wide open

I like saving the best for last. There is something sweet about putting your nose to the grindstone first and then rewarding yourself with a perk. Now that we’ve discussed the sweaty details of presentation, it’s time to discuss the reflection of your labor. Talking with people about something they do or do not want is an art. Fortunately, most of us selling our wares are dealing with potential clients who initiated contact and want our services. The Arts and Crafts world rarely deals in hard selling and cold calls. We’re in a good place; people want what we do. Therefore, we start out with a captive audience. It’s not exactly like preaching to the choir because you’re often dealing with competing shops, but the people needing your services have already unlocked the vault to drop money on the project. Therefore, review these facts in your head every time you meet with a potential client:

Remember, they need what you provide: Even if they tell you, “I’d do it myself, but blah, blah, blah,” you wouldn’t be standing there if they did not need you.

Keep your eyes wide open: Don’t fall in the trap of thinking you alone are being interviewed. Of equal importance is the necessity of you interviewing the client. Observe what they say, what their body language is, how they present themselves and what they perceive of your craft and talent. This is a two-way street. Like I said before, people want to work with people, not drones. Don’t you want to work with people who respect your gifts rather than those that try to take advantage of those “underneath” them?

Keep your ears open: One of the best things you can do in any form of conversation or communication is to listen. It doesn’t do you any good if you do all the talking. How will you ever figure out what someone wants when you’re constantly flapping your gums? Remember, God gave you two ears and only one mouth. Pay attention to the obvious and start using your senses appropriately.

Reflecting on the hundreds of people I’ve talked to in the years of supporting myself through the craft of woodworking, I can honestly say it feels as though I know less than when I started out. This is because I’ve learned that negotiating a sale is not selfish. When I was I young, my ambitious energy convinced me I could achieve what I wanted if I tried hard enough. “Book it and they’ll come” was the mantra I worked by. What I didn’t realize is that you can’t make people do what you want them to. And why should we? It’s not our place to decide for someone else what’s best for them. Instead, the goal in presenting our craft to the marketplace should be educating the consumer on our merits and utilizing enough confidence along with the right kind of arrogance to construct their dreams. And hone the art of listening. If you truly know how to “hear” what is being conveyed, you’ll reduce conflict, avoid those who are a poor fit and create better well-received work. 

David Getts is a certified kitchen designer and owner of David Getts Designer Builder Inc. in Seattle.

This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue.

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