As artists we are told that our in-house mailing list is our greatest business asset...

yet I've found this to be one of my most difficult things to accomplish. I've shown my art three years now, looking at a fourth season of juried art fairs just around the corner...and again I'm faced with the same question; am I going to be able to get those names and addresses!

The first year that I showed my drawings, I was so darn happy to have a tent and some art to put in it that I didn't even think about a mailing list. Knowing this was important, the second year I had a Guest Book for people to sign. It didn't take long to realize that few people were willing to fill out the information and most of those who did...well, I'll just say this, cat scratches would be complimentary. If you can't read their information, you can't use it.

I finished my '05 season in the fall and set up my website that winter...now I really wanted that mailing list because I had something to tell people about. I started publishing my Email Newsletter with only 58 people on my mailing list and I'm embarrassed to say most of those were friends and relatives!! However, it was a start.

In the spring of '06 I went after this illusive mailing list with new gusto. When my art fairs began, I had a plan....simple as it was, it worked. And it had been in front of me all the time.

Since most people paid with check or charge card, it was only logical that I ask for their contact information. I bought a sales book larger than I needed so the top portion had plenty of space to write. If things were slow, I filled in their information myself while we talked... asking permission to add them to my mailing list. If I had other people waiting, I ask them to do it...while I wrapped their purchase. I then compared what they had written with their drivers license, correcting anything I couldn't read, and wrote down their email address. At the end of the season I had a long list of firm, readable, contacts...and the best part, they already owned at least one piece of my art. I was ecstatic!

The downside to this method is the time it took me to enter them into my data base, and copy their information onto a 4x6 note card for the hard file that I keep on each customer...and I have to admit that sometimes when things were really hectic, even my handwriting was difficult to read. And I would occasionally forget to ask for their email address. All in all, I was still miles ahead of where I was the year before.

My last effort was to increase direct sign-ups on my website and blog. This area had been growing...but virtually at a snails pace! I began to think about the guest book I used that second year. Looking through it again, I realized that those who were interested in my drawing classes wrote down their contact information very carefully....you see, they knew if I couldn't read what they had written, they wouldn't receive my fall class schedule. I had possessed something of value that they wanted!!

My question was this...Could I recreate this situation and this time use it to my advantage? I decided to offer a free "mini print" to everyone who signed up for my email news letter. Yet I really struggled with the word Free and ask myself...Can Free have value? After considerable thought I decided the answer was yes, if presented correctly. Here's how I approached it.

What did I do here? First of all, they aren't just signing up for a newsletter but joining a Newsletter Group that has benefits. The links on my Home Page and Blog create curiosity. The "New Membership Gift" announcement explains what they have to do to get their free print, how often the newsletter is sent, what information will be in it...and finally, I let them know that "I will never share their personal information".

The results after less than two months...close to 30 new "members" have joined my Newsletter Group, and I have both their "snail mail" and email address!

So...Can Free have value? I say, absolutely!

Let me know what you think. What comes to mind when you here the words free print or free original? Is it compromising your standards? Does it lower the perceived value of your art? Does it generate business? What's your opinion...Can Free have value?

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