Cedar Lee June 20th, 2015
“I offer interest free payment plans!”
These 6 words are responsible for getting many of my paintings into the hands of excited art buyers–people who, without the option of a payment plan, would’ve passed the artwork by because of the upfront cost of buying it, no matter how much they fell in love with it.
If you’re an artist trying to sell your valuable originals, and you don’t state clearly and often that you offer payment plans, you are most certainly missing out on sales. A payment plan might allow someone to purchase your art, when they otherwise wouldn’t be able to because of cash flow problems. And, it’s something that does not occur to most people to ask about, unless you present it as an option.
Art By Cedar purchased in the past with a payment plan: Sapphire Eclipse. 20″ x 60″, Oil on Canvas (3 panels), © 2011 Cedar Lee
You might see keeping it interest-free as a hit to your income, but it’s not–especially if that income wouldn’t exist at all without offering this perk. Look at the long-term.
Here are some tips for offering payment plan options to your clients, even if you, like me, are a one-person small operation without a real “billing department.”
Have a policy in place that clearly states the limits of how many months you are willing to drag out payments. In general, for paintings $300 and under, I’ll offer “up to 3 months” and for paintings over $300, it’s “up to 6 months.” You can find your own comfort level. For me, I prefer not to have an open payment plan going for more than 6 months, and for it to be worth my time to manage the account, payments of at least $100/month make it feel worth the time and the extra work of collecting multiple payments. I make exceptions to these general rules sometimes, especially for friends.
Art By Cedar purchased in the past with a payment plan: Twin Trees and the Milky Way. 36″ x 36″, Oil on Wood, © Cedar Lee 2013
If you don’t already, you need to have a good invoicing system in place. It doesn’t have to be fancy to be effective. I have a blank invoice document that I fill in for each sale. I keep all my invoices sorted by year in an “Invoices” folder. Pretty straightforward. I collect the buyer’s email address, phone number, and mailing address. I itemize the invoice to show the subtotal, sales tax and shipping charges (if applicable) added up to a “grand total.”
The grand total is the number I divide to make up a payment plan. Here’s an example:
Say for the sake of easy math that the grand total is $1,000. You can tell the person, “I can offer you either a 4-month or 6-month payment plan. The 4 month plan would be paid off in October, and the payments would be $250/month. The 6-month plan wouldn’t be paid off until December, but the payments would be only $167/month.” They can then choose the option they prefer.
Art By Cedar purchased in the past with a payment plan: Awakened Hope. 36″ x 36″, Oil on Wood, © 2015 Cedar Lee
Make it extra clear that the artwork does not ship out until it is paid-in-full. I sometimes will transfer the artwork to its new owner sooner, if the buyer is someone I know personally and trust. If you don’t trust the person implicitly, it’s better to play it safe and hang onto your artwork until the last of the funds have cleared.
When it’s getting towards the end of the payment plan, I will always let them know that their artwork has already been carefully packed and will ship to them immediately when I receive the last payment. The anticipation of finally getting their new art sometimes prompts people to pay off their balance early!
Art By Cedar purchased in the past with a payment plan: Tranquil Moonlight. 24″ x 30″, Oil on Canvas. © Cedar Lee 2013
So, once you and the client agree on a payment timeline, make sure to note that in detail at the bottom of their invoice.
4-month payment plan:
Due June 20: $250
Due July 20: $250
Due August 20: $250
Due September 20: $250
As soon as I receive the first payment, I tell them that the painting is then marked as “Sold” and reserved for them. I’ve never had a person fail to pay their balance–but if you’re worried about that possibility, you could state that the payments are non-refundable, or only partially refundable, depending on your comfort level.
Art By Cedar purchased in the past with a payment plan: Filtered Light. 20″ x 20″, Oil on Canvas, © 2012 Cedar Lee
So you’ve gotten the first payment as a deposit and the person is stoked about being able to own the artwork 4 months from now! How do you collect the rest of the payments?
Personally, I am a fan of Google calendar, which I can set to send me notifications through email as well as my phone. The very instant that a client agrees to a payment plan, I sit down and take a moment to program reminders to myself a couple days before each due date in my calendar. On those days, when my calendar reminds me, I send the person a PayPal request. Most people pay promptly, but occasionally a reminder a week or two later is needed.
Art By Cedar purchased in the past with a payment plan: Portal. 24″ x 20, Oil on Canvas, © 2013 Cedar Lee
Whenever I receive a payment, I go back to the invoice and update it to reflect how many payments have been paid, and what the remaining balance is, and I email the updated invoice to the client with a cheerful thanks.
3 months in, the note at the bottom of the invoice has been changed to say:
4-month payment plan:
PAID June 20: $250
PAID July 20: $250
PAID August 20: $250
Due September 20: $250
And in the email to my client, I say, “Hi [Client], I received your payment #3 of 4 for [Artwork]! Your updated invoice is attached. Only one more payment and your painting will be on its way to you. Thanks!”
When they make the final payment, make sure you are on the ball to make good on your promise and get the work to them immediately. Send them a little note to say, “Congratulations on your beautiful new artwork!”
This system so far has never failed me–even when I’m managing several payment plans at once. Stay organized, keep your files updated, and follow the plan on the calendar.
Art By Cedar purchased in the past with a payment plan: Eclipse II. 20″ x 20, Oil on Canvas, © 2011 Cedar Lee
You will gain and keep new fans of your work by making it accessible to more people. On top of that, it’s simply thrilling to share in the excitement of an art lover who is able to own a large and powerful art piece that they adore, because you’ve been willing to work with them on the payment.