Art Business – Increase Your Sales with Testimonials and Referrals

Selling art isn’t that easy-as with selling most things! In today’s challenging economic environment it is imperative that you leave no stone unturned in your marketing and sales efforts. A couple of tools that people often overlook are testimonials and referrals. These are powerful tools so give them serious consideration.


A testimonial is either a written, verbal or video statement from somebody about the virtues of you and/or your art. Testimonials are much more powerful than an advertisement because of the fact that they are not paid for which distinguishes them from a paid endorsement.

Many years ago when I was starting out as a management consultant I had the pleasure to meet one of the top management consultants in the nation. He was kind enough to share with me some of the secrets he used to get new clients.

He said to me, “Here is the best tool I have for getting new clients” as he produced a 3” thick three ring binder. Inside the binder were dozens and dozens of testimonial letters from his past clients saying how much he helped them out, his level of expertise and their willingness to recommend his services.

I asked the consultant how he got all of these letters. His answer was simple. “I asked for them!, before I accept a consulting engagement I tell the client that if I do a good job and provide the agreed upon services that I expect a letter of recommendation at the end of the project”

When the consultant would meet with a prospect and it was determined that there was a fit, he would bring out the binder with the letters and show them to the prospect – more often than not he would make a sale and eventually add another page to the book.

You can use this technique for your art business! Ask your satisfied clients or others in your industry who know you well to write a testimonial about you and your work. Don’t be surprised if some agree but will ask you to write the testimonial which they will produce on their letterhead and then sign – go ahead and do it! Once you have your testimonial letters be sure to incorporate them into you sales presentations.

If you keep doing this, soon you will have your own binder with letters of recommendation to use in your next sales presentation.


It is important that you understand the different between a referral and a lead. A referral is someone who is expecting your call and they have been briefed on what you offer and there is a potential to do business. A lead is merely a mention of somebody who “might” be interested in your art. Clearly a referral is much more powerful than a lead.

You should make referrals an integral part of your overall sales and marketing strategy. Many successful businesses and salespeople develop the bulk of their new business from referrals and you can too. Building a successful referral network will require continued effort on your part and will not happen overnight; although there are several things you can do to speed this process up.

Here are some tips on how to generate referrals for your art business:

  • According to Bob Burg, author of Endless Referrals “all things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like and trust.” The key idea here is to get to “know” people. You don’t get to know people by pitching them on you and your art. You get to know people by listening and finding out “their” story.
  • Use you in person and social networks to let people know what you are up to and take an interest in what they are doing.
  • Follow up with your contacts and customers and ask them for a referral – don’t be shy.
  • It’s a two way street, ask others what you can do to help them and how you can refer business to them.
  • Tell others what you are looking for and make it easy for them to refer people to you. If they can’t figure out what you do then how can they tell someone else?
  • Follow through on referrals and be sure to thank the person who gave you the referral.
  • Position yourself as an expert or the “only solution” to a problem or need.
  • After making a sale ask for a referral, “Do you know of others who would appreciate the kind of art I produce?

Final Thoughts

Testimonials and referrals can make a big impact on your business. They will help you generate more prospects and close more sales, so make these tools a part of your marketing and sales efforts. One of the more intangible aspects of these tools is that they will let you know you are on the right track with your art and people appreciate your work. In some respects the fact that people like what you do may be more valuable than the money you take to the bank. Here is a recent email I received about this blog Creatives and Business.

“As a budding creative entrepreneur, I have found this site extremely helpful as I am currently on a mission to help fellow artisans not to be afraid of the business portion of Art. Unfortunately business classes were not and still to this day, a required subject to take in Art school so when you completed your studies, you’re dumped into a business related sea of sharks where you either can sink and starve or learn the business part and continue to swim your way to a successful art career. I am thankful that I did take some business classes on my own during my art studies, and I continue to educate myself on a daily basis about the business side as I knew one day, they’d come in handy. I urge every artist to go and take some type of business class to help them on their way.  And thank you for this awesome site.”  – Stephanie Hill-Ross

Thanks Stephanie!

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About Neil McKenzie

Neil McKenzie is an author, educator and consultant to artists and arts organizations. He is the author of The Artist’s Business and Marketing ToolBox – How to Start, Run and Market a Successful Arts or Creative Business available in softcover from Barnes & Noble and Amazon and as an eBook from iTunes, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. He has developed and teaches the course “Artrepreneurship” at the Center for Innovation at Metropolitan State University of Denver, and is also a visiting professor at University College at the University of Denver. Neil has over 30 years’ experience as a management consultant and marketing executive, working with some of the world’s top brands. Neil is a frequent lecturer to artists and arts organizations, a guest columnist for Colorado Biz Magazine, where he covers the creative sector of the economy, and the author of several articles for Americans for the Arts, a national arts organization. Follow Neil on Twitter: @neilmckenzphoto