Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Drawing the Line

For the last several months I've been dealing with a really tough question: Where do you draw the line with customers?  When does a customer become more than a customer, or, when does it become dangerous?

I've been really blessed that, since I started working full-time in 2011, my business has grown exponentially and I've met a lot of wonderful people that wanted to buy my artwork.  It still blows my mind that people want to buy my artwork, or shake my hand and meet me.  In my mind, I am still the awkward teenager doodling in her tree house, and I forget sometimes that other people have never known me that way and think I am famous because they know who I am.

It's all very strange and foreign to me.  And I am still figuring out where to draw the line when I am giving too much of my time and myself to people that I don't really know.  Recently, I had to learn quickly and the hard way.  I am generally not very assertive, I'd rather not fight with people or clash with anybody in any way.  I'd rather if everybody just got along, but that rarely ever happens, so at some point I had to put on my big girl panties, delegate e-mail to my husband, and figure out how to stick up for myself without feeling like I was a total monster.

I still feel like I am a total monster, but I am a total monster* with fewer things to worry about, so all told I feel less stressed.  I would like it if I could give everybody everything they wanted, but I'd probably never have time for painting or helping anybody else with their art business, so that's not realistic.

Here are some things that I have realized, though, and I wanted to share them in case someone else might benefit:

  • If you have a policy of not holding orders for people who haven't paid for them, don't hold orders for anybody.  People will abuse this policy if you let them.  I used to offer to hold things for people, but even at shows people would forget and never come back to pick it up, and every time I have held an order for a new customer online, it has ended with me frustrated.
  • Some people will use a held order as a reason to keep communicating with you, and won't pay for it until you threaten to or actually terminate communication with them.  These people aren't really here for the art, they just want your attention and time, and getting it makes them feel special.  They are "energy vampires" if you will, and having your attention makes them feel good.
  • The nicer you are with these people, the further they will take the abuse.  In the last few months I've had people like this lie to their credit card company to get their money back, write me vitriolic e-mails after I tried to cater to their every unreasonable whim and failed, hack my e-mail and personal Facebook account, impersonate me, steal personal pictures, threaten me, call me names, write long diatribes about what a horrible person I am on my fan page, etc.  If I had made it obvious in the beginning that I'm available as a professional and nothing more, and that I provide a service like anybody else, and that this is a business for me and every transaction will be treated that way, these people might not have felt they had the right to do these things to me.  They may have felt that way anyway, because some people are plainly cruel and insane.  Which brings me to...
  • If someone starts begging you to keep in contact with them, because their life is miserable, they want to be like you or be friends with you, and they have no one to talk to, GET OUT.  Do not respond to their e-mails, even if they owe you money.  If they try to place new orders, refund the money and refuse them service.  You are (presumably) not a therapist, and it's not your responsibility to help these people talk through their problems and find a reason to live.  You don't want to be their reason to live.

I am sure that as time goes on I'll have more to say on the subject.  This is something that no one ever told me until it was a problem, and I kind of wish that when I was 19 or 20 someone had taken me aside and said, "So, you want to be an artist.  This is what you really need to know..."

I owe a lot to many of my friends who have helped me keep my sanity, have listened to my frustrations, have offered advice and wisdom gathered from having been there, and have understood the unique mental anguish a situation like this inflicts on a person.  Protecting myself from people is something that I have never been very good at, but it is time I figure it out.

*My friends assure me I am not a total monster.  Maybe just a tiny monster when I'm poked.

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