"What is your budget?"
from our Sunday reading series - a weekly blog post (subscribe here)
At a recent Be Smart About Art event in London, I was part of a conversation about the significance of these four magical words. It immediately shot me back to an experience I once had as a gallery owner...
Recognising the importance of building a network, I had developed a database of decision-makers, such as owners of real estate agencies, hotel managers, owners of insurance brokerages, CEOs, restauranteurs and many others. And admittedly, painful experience had taught me that enthusiastic team members, who might be future decision-makers, aren't the ultimate target*.
One afternoon I received an excited call from a chef-turned-restauranteur, a celebrity type that you see on TV programmes. We'd become buddies following an introduction received at a networking event several years prior. He'd renovated the private dining area to be used by restaurant guests for parties and special occasions. He immediately thought of myself after basic redecorating had been completed, showing off the glistening white bare walls.
Shortly into the telephone conversation, I asked:
"What is your budget?"
After a long pause, he asked:
It seemed that the notion of paying for art had not even crossed his mind.
If I hadn't asked the question, I would've wasted half a day in travelling to/from the restaurant, doing a site visit and sitting down for a meeting to finally ask the same question. Instead, I immediately understood that the restauranteur lacked appreciation as to the value of original art and, despite having an upmarket restaurant with a private dining room, thought he could skimp on the decor. It simply wouldn't have been suitable to have had wall labels with asking prices, either. Considering the art behind every starter, main and dessert, it was important that the quality was reiterated in every detail, including pictures that adorned the walls.
The budget question evokes a variety of replies, including this example, specific answers, price ranges and occasionally, invitations to make a proposal and see if it's along the right lines. While the final option seems maddening, it suggests that a budget is at least available. And in my experience, presenting three options at varying price levels can do the trick.
When you're next enthusiastically contacted by someone like my chef-turned-restauranteur friend with such an 'opportunity', have the courage to ask those four simple words: "What is your budget?" It works wonders.
* Present-day team members can, however, be excellent introducers. You just need to remember that their gusto and enthusiasm won't necessarily sway final decisions.
Don't get the reference in this blog post to the UK tradition of presenting the budget in a red box? Check out an explanation at greatbritishmag.co.uk.
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