Lemonade and art fairs, fallen leaves and commissions

January 23, 2021
by Susan J Mumford

Anyone who knows me understands that I love both art and business. As I have said many times, having both in my life provides a fantastic balance. And two stories from childhood can be  likened to selling activities in the art world…

During the summer when I was a kid, I  would set up a lemonade stand down the road (noting that I don’t even like the drink) and make special offers – 2 lemonades for 20 cents! The neighbourhood kids, my first team you might call them, would help run the stand and we would sell a variety of flavours in paper cups to the local residents, who would pull up in their cars to support the endeavour. I didn’t calculate the profit, and certainly never  considered depreciation on the investors (my parents) plastic jugs, let alone consider reimbursing their contributions of cups, napkins and other materials. The venture took  time to prepare and run, required various supplies and used perishable materials.

One autumn day after helping my dad rake leaves to earn some cash to put towards Christmas presents, I came  up with a business idea. My tree-lined neighbourhood was covered in  leaves. I could offer a service to rake and bag leaves. Having successfully talked another kid into the concept, the two of us walked the streets and succeeded; a man down the road had a massive back garden covered in leaves and was delighted to have a solution delivered to his door. We agreed a fee of $40, and over the next two days listened to the soundtrack to Cocktail on my little battery-operated cassette player and raked and bagged leaves. On finishing the job, we were paid in full.

And here are the  links between those endeavours and the art world:

I now liken the lemonade stand to exhibitions and art fairs, and the leaf raking to bespoke or custom commissions. Exhibitions and fairs are speculative and require a substantial amount of investment in both finance and time. Bespoke commissions, on the other hand, are guaranteed jobs with the risk being minimal – and better yet, if I were to travel back in time, I would take a 50% non-refundable deposit to commence leaf-raking work with the  remainder due upon completion. Such payment terms require confidence that my 12 year-old self did not possess. The deposit provides the  supplier confidence that the client is serious about the purchase, and  by only taking the last 50% upon completion, the client likewise has the confidence that the supplier will complete the job.

It’s excellent to  have a combination of guaranteed and speculative income, with the latter offering a decent profit margin if successful. Examples of guaranteed work include custom commissions, teaching or private tutorials, rental of art, framing as a service and so on.

What makes sense for YOU, when it comes to  having your own equivalent to the lemonade stand and leaf raking  service?

Personal note: 

I would like to give a special thanks to my initial investors, my parents. You were never reimbursed for the lemonade packets, sugar, cups, printer paper, marker pens, leaf bags or  batteries to name but a few items. I hope you agree that your support of those early ventures was vital in providing experience that would pay dividends later in your daughter’s adventures as an entrepreneur in the art world.

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Susan J Mumford

SUSAN J MUMFORD is a serial entrepreneur in the art market. She ran a gallery in Soho, London, from 2006-11, which was followed by the creation of the Association of Women Art Dealers (AWAD) in 2009, an international network with multiple chapters. In 2012 she launched Be Smart About Art, an online-accessible professional development platform. Then in 2018, she embarked upon her latest enterprise, ArtAML, which unites technology and art market know-how to help dealers keep dealing and buyers keep buying in the face of anti-money laundering legislation that hit the art market in 2020.

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