Ask a Gallery Owner | Follow up with a Client Who Has Failed to Make Payments

remind clients about payments

I received the following email from an artist who was in the awkward situation of having sold a piece to a collector and agreeing to a payment plan, only to have the client fail to follow through on the plan. In this delicate situation, tact is going to be the key, but at the same time you don’t want to beat around the bush. Read the artist’s experience along with my suggested approach to resolving the situation below.

Good Morning Jason,

Thanks again for another excellent presentation. I like your systematic approach to things. Small bites. Persistence.

If I were twenty years younger, I would go back into the business. I’m not too old, I’m too focused in my own art career to have the time to devote to the promotion of others in a gallery setting (and, I hated the cash flow!).

When I signed on for this webinar, I didn’t look closely at the description (from past experience, I knew it would be good info). I thought you were going to talk about follow-up after the successful sale, massaging the clients for future patronage. I was so intent on listening that I didn’t think to ask the question until the time was up.

My other conundrum is embarrassing and probably not unique. During our studio tour last October, a friend and regional art patron was interested in two pieces. Eager to make the sale, I offered to deliver them for approval. He couldn’t make up his mind. After a few days he told me he’d like both, but the cost… I said, sure, make payments, and gave him a discount for the pair. (What a dope, but artists are needy.) Total cost, only $400. He made me the initial $100 payment.

That’s all I have received to date, even though I have sent professional statements and we see each other at regional arts events. He still has the paintings hanging in his town house.

I’m not really expecting you to give me answers for either of these circumstances, just thoughts for future presentations.

Thanks again, Jason. I really enjoy our professional friendship. Wish I lived closer to Scottsdale.  We’d come to your openings.

Best regards,

D. Smith

NY

My response:

The situation is a bit uncomfortable and I would play off of the awkwardness. Send the client a note along these lines:

Dear __________

This is a bit awkward, but as you’ll remember, last October you purchased two pieces from me after our open studio tour, ______ and _________. At the time we agreed to a price of $400 and you made a deposit of $100. I had expected to receive the balance over the following months, but as of yet haven’t received any additional payments. I am sure it is just an oversight or mix-up and would like to make arrangements for the remaining balance.

Please call me at your convenience, or, if you wish, you may simply send the payment to me at the address below.

Thanks so much! Your continued patronage means the world to me.

D. Smith

If the note doesn’t work, give him a call and say the exact same thing. I am sure he isn’t trying to take advantage of the situation and that there truly was simply mix-up or he forgot. I suggest you send a note right away. The longer it goes on, the more awkward it becomes.

Let me know the result!

Jason

Have You Ever Been in This Situation?

Have you ever had a client not follow through with a payment plan? How did you handle the situation? Do you have any advice for artists facing this issue? Leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

39 Comments

  1. I actually thought it would be humorous to show up at his domicile wearing a tool belt with a claw hammer, needle nose pliars, asking if now would be a good time to retrieve said art work.

  2. Credit card only for payment plans, agreeing with buyer on the dates they will be charged using the credit card info you have collected. Or, in the event a buyer has no credit card (unlikely), s/he should supply dated installment checks to cover the full amount at the time of purchase, which you can cash on the installment dates.

  3. My experience with this situation is rare. The 2 times I did get left holding the bag, was where my clients were ‘friends’. One never paid, and the other finally paid a discounted rate. I used to see these people on a regular basis, and, if we talked, I would mention the debt. The person who has never paid, now avoids me. As a note of interest, this person who never paid, owes almost everybody in town!
    But, only 2 bad apples out of thousands! Not bad!

  4. This is exactly while I offer layaway instead of financing. The collector is free to take as long as they like to pay off their purchase, but I never send out the painting until paid in full. I just can’t afford to lose the money. I’ve never had complaints.

    1. This is along what I was thinking.. is it standard to offer a ‘payment plan’ and give the work to the buyer immediately without having received full payment? This doesn’t make sense to me! ‘Layaway’ seems like a better option for artists to offer.

  5. In the end we are artist and not “tax collectors.” I think it’s a personal business decision to accept/reject payment plans. For artist’s who accept payment plans you are responsible for collecting what you are owed. No different than selling anything else on terms.

  6. This brings up a conversation with a fellow dealer who was friends with a mother daughter team of art marketers. They were absolutely fierce and would if necessary travel across the country to repossess artworks if required. no nonsense business people. Having met them later on i could then believe that the story was true. There are times when push comes to shove and you must defend your position.

  7. This is another example of why working with a gallery is more ideal for the artist. My gallery offers a “lay -a-way plan” to the buyer with the agreement that they have a specific amount of time to pay for the artwork. This is all put in a legal document which protects the gallery and artist. Their deposit is non refundable should they back out before the final payment. The artwork does not leave the gallery until the piece has been paid in full. If a client has to purchase a work as low as $400. (as with yourself) over time, then there is a good probability that there could be a problem. I realize that any artist is eager to sell a painting, however use wise judgement. Never release a painting before the work is paid in full. If someone truly wants a painting, and has the funds to purchase it, they will put a deposit down, and find the money to purchase it within the given period. It does not matter if you are selling blue chip art or mid tier art, or festival art, the same rules should apply.

  8. Timely, as I just offered a payment plan to someone who has been eyeballing a piece for over a year. She really wants it, but says finances are truly constrained (in these times whose aren’t?) I offered a payment plan. Reading this reminds me I will need an agreement with it. Thanks, good timing!

  9. I am presently in this situation. My client has actually given me two payments and I still have the painting. My unease comes from a feeling she has changed her mind. I did contact her over Christmas and wished her well with a request to deliver the painting and receive the balance which was our agreement. No response. I think Covid is playing a part in this. Could be anything. I’ll give her another email shortly and ask her if there is anything wrong. Love your common sense approach Jason. Thank you for your moral support. It is invaluable.

    1. I offer lay-away only. This motivates them to get it paid so they can enjoy the art. Meanwhile their name is on the art. The only way I would let the art go to their home before payment is if i and they use a third party payment collector. Here in Canada we have a company called artleasecanada.ca. The buyer applies for fina8 through them using a simple questionnaire and if they qualify, then we go ahead. That company takes a small fee, but they pay the artist in full, then will follow up if collection is necessary. But it’s then between them and the client

  10. All good info/ideas. It happened to me twice. One couple thought the other person had taken care of it and paid right away. The other was moving and forgot but paid when reminded also.

  11. You guys gotta’ be kidding. You’d let someone walk away with a work of art and not pay for it? And on the verbal word that they will, “Get back with you?” Good luck with that. That’s how to turn good friends into foes.
    I think it is fine to negotiate a final price, or give a “Good Guy deal to anyone I deem is deserving, just as long as it is a cash sale all at once right then. Sure, there are always going to be exceptions, but by and large, if someone really wants something bad enough, they will find a respectful, diplomatic way to satisfy the artist’s asking price of the artwork. Help them do that with a Lay Away contract.
    I agree with Mr. Ray Wiggs Gallery. Develop a “Lay Away” plan, in writing. There is no excuse for not having this agreement (that is a Contract, a legal document) on paper with accounting on a ledger and in your biz computer. Taking artworks to show to people in their homes is fine, so if they say they want it, having sales paperwork to hand is essential. But if they can’t afford the whole price at once, even though they want to “Pay it out,” that art goes back to the gallery with the artist. The collector/customer either signs on to a Lay Away payment plan schedule where they get the art only after the payment plan is satisfied, or they didn’t want the art bad enough to make it happen.
    There is one other thing about the contractual wording of the Lay Away payment document that needs to be taken into consideration. If the customer/collector does not hold up their end of the contract (that was agreed to by signing) and they fail to make timely payments and won’t respond to Jason’s suggested Letter of Awkwardness, the wording in the contract puts a time limit on that failure and gives the artist the right to void the contract and keep the moneys paid. Yes that is harsh. If the customer won’t respond, the choice for the artist is partly already decided because the sale is most likely already lost. Notify the customer of the contract wording, give them a grace period, then keep their money or a significant portion of it or send it all back.
    When you are selling your art, wear your Business Hat, not the Good Guy artist hat. BTW, this applies to artist/gallery contracts as well. If it ain’t written, it ain’t true. Take nothing for granted.

  12. We HAD a layaway plan at our gallery. It stated clearly the % expected down- payment, payment due dates, and final payment date. The initial down payment was non-refundable if the buyer failed to follow through. The artwork did not leave the gallery until the receipt of final payment. The first person who used the layaway never returned to make their subsequent payments.
    From the downpayment that the gallery did not refund (we kept up our end of the contract) we held our commission fee and gave the rest to the artist. That particular piece was a favorite and, because it was on layaway, we lost potential actual sales, twice. (We should have taken contact info.)
    We got rid of our layaway plan. That’s what credit cards are for.

    1. Thank you for offering this perspective!

      Maybe some additional verbiage that could be added to a lay-away contract could state that if another party wishes to purchase the reserved art, the gallery will notify the person who has the work on lay-away, and if they do not respond to the notification or provide the remainder of the amount owed within 24 hours of the notification, the work will be sold to the interested party. With the prior-paid amount returned to the lay-away-er within 30 days of the date of the sale. Or something along those lines. This probably doesn’t make everyone happy, BUT it does emphasize that the gallery is a business that expects to be paid in a timely fashion.

      Truly, after reading everyone’s comments and experiences, just NOT offering lay-away OR payment plans seems to be the most straightforward route to avoid having to track down non-paying buyers.

    2. Excellent. Jason’s response was also very well presented.
      I avoid these situations by holding the painting until paid. Yes, I will take paintings to homes for viewing and even leave those that are hopefuls on the condition it is only for one week when I return for pickup or payment. So far, no issues.

  13. My husband’s cousin had a framing shop/gallery and sold very well for me but didn’t pay for about 4 years, despite many conversations, letters, reminders, phone calls, plans. She got very rude and defensive, as if I was way out of bounds by requesting my money. One day my husband walked in and said to the husband, “YOUR WIFE NEEDS TO PAY MY WIFE!” The husband said, “Sure, she’s over in the office so let’s go get a check right now.” That was that. And that was the end of any semblance of a relationship too.

    In another recent experience, I simply sent an email that said, “oops, did I forget to send you an invoice?” The response was, “No, I forgot to pay!”

  14. I’ve only had one delayed payer. But they had already paid all but $500. on their $2,200 bill and and kept in contact. Late in 2020 I sent a block mailing to all my clients with a Thank You, a small original print and a request for updated contact information.
    They mailed final check without my asking as they thanked me for the lovely piece I had sent them.
    I have never let a first time buyer have my work without paying 1/2 up front. Actually the same expectation they would have with many other businesses and services.
    When they are collectors I do relax this a little. I’m about to mail a piece with the bill in the package, but this is a trusted collector.

  15. In the early part of my art career I foolishly “fronted” commissioned paintings to customers, and they {hopefully} sent payment. This went fine, then I had a real slow payer, who finally sent the work back. Then I sent off a big $1500 painting. He stalled me on repeated phone calls, then his phone was disconnected. NINE years later he called, said he was in a debilitating auto accident and after apologizing, sent me the $1500! Lucky me. However, I established a strict policy. On commissioned work, half up front. That way, they have “skin in the game” and worst-case, the commission is half-paid for. I execute the work, and e-mail a photo, and do any desired changes. Upon acceptance of the revised work, the balance of payment has to be sent to me before shipping. Nothing leaves the studio without full payment. Yes, it cost me a couple of important customers, including one whose public complaints dinged my reputation temporarily. Layaway is also simple. Only 4 payments max. Getting a few dollars a month is like not getting paid at all. The tradeoff is peace of mind regarding payment.

  16. Layaway is my go-to payment choice for anyone who needs to be budget-sensitive. I set up automatic invoices in Square according to our agreement, and the art stays with me until it’s paid in full. I think this gives a little extra incentive for the client to fulfill on the obligation they’ve committed to.

    1. Didn’t know you could do that with Square-what a great idea! Thanks for mentioning that.

      I’ve had a few buyers take months to come pick up a piece, but they’ve sent the full payment via check so I hold it for them. It makes me a bit nervous in case the painting somehow gets damaged before they come pick it up, so I start politely hounding them after about 6 months & that usually gets them to come retrieve their art.

    2. I noticed recently when using “PayPal business” to accept money when my square wasn’t working, that they offer the buyer a payment plan option – has anyone tried or suggested this yet?

  17. I love this idea! I wonder if we have anything like this in the US. I will have to look into this.
    I currently have on person who is going to make payments and another who wants the artwork and said would pay for it last February. she has texted me since to apologize for the delay but no payment yet (it’s now May). I am going to text her again today.
    PS I never let them have the artwork until paid in full. Last year I waited an entire year for payment but my client came thru at Christmas time and bought another one at the same time!

  18. I’ve had occasion to offer a sale in 4 payments. I hold the art with the understanding that they will keep their end of the bargain. I’ve allowed people nearby to take home art to see how it works in their space but only if I feel they are credible ( purchased before or know someone I know) and I have their address. I expect it returned within 24 hours. So far no problem. I would not allow someone to permanently hang my art without full payment. It’s human nature to keep going after something you want but don’t have. Not so much when you already have or maybe even got used to and aren’t excited about anymore. If someone else was offering me $ on the spot for that work I’d feel like I had already promised it to someone. I might contact the original buyer and make sure they were committed to completing the purchase. I’d hold on to the contact info of the second offer but also try to move them in the direction of something similar.
    I think if a gallery offers a payment plan, that should be discussed with the artist as to timeline for payment.

  19. Interesting to read everyone’s response. I feel fortunate that I can afford to be in a different position. I came to art late in life – age 70. I have had better success than ever expected. I do sell, about equally, at local galleries and out of my downtown studio/gallery. My smallest paintings go for $100 and my largest, so far, goes for $1000. I don’t need the money and do this for my own well being. After a couple of years I realized that I have all the power. I stopped discussing discounts and payment plans. You want it – you buy it – full price – up front. That may seem harsh but it works for me and takes a lot of stress out of my life. I’m sure it would be different if I was not “retired” with an independent secure income.

  20. This has happened to me only twice–both times in the 70s when I was still quite young, working in fiber, and when I very much needed every single penny. In one case I took the piece back from the collector. In the other case, it was a well known and highly respected craft gallery in Buffalo. I had a number of pieces there on consignment. I ended up going to the gallery, collecting the remaining pieces, and taking the money owed in merchandise that was not there on consignment.

    At this point in my career, I get paid first, although I have offered local buyers with connections the chance to see how the piece fits in their homes, with the idea it be returned immediately if it doesn’t work. I did recently ship a piece to NY on approval so a potential collector could see it in person. But I let the gallery it showed with originally handle the sale. The gallery owner did the leg work so it could be seen in person and the collector loved it. Done deal. I was more than happy to let the gallery take a commission. But at my current price points I would not otherwise agree to a “payment to follow” arrangement.

  21. Hi Jason
    I recently drafted up a contract (I’m a fairly new artist). I request 50% none refundable upfront. So at least if I don’t get the remainder I’ll get half the money and I’ll keep the painting. I state in the contract that the final amount owing is due on receipt of the painting and I provide a date that the painting will be sent, or delivered. Hope this is helpful.

  22. I have extended credit a few times, and the ONLY times I got stiffed, was from “friends”. Happened twice, but never again! I used to see them at times and they would avoid me……not surprising. One time I cornered one individual and he gave me an installment of $100. Total loss equals $600!

  23. Yes, this happened to me. A friend had me make several commissions and had always paid me straight away. She commissioned me to do a large painting for only $300. She got a deal because we go WAY back- over 40 years as friends. She is a truck driver, so I left it at her mom’s house (over 600 miles away – where I grew up) . I know that CoVid caused lots of financial problems for her, but she still has not paid me almost 3 years later. I realize I’ll probably never see that money, but it irks me! Needless to say, we are no longer friends.

  24. I have a question.
    To what extent does a “deal gone bad”, (art work possessed and not paid for) affect the artist’s reputation?

    I’m thinking on the other side of the deal just now. The “thief” bragging to others about how they got your art work for free (or severe discount), and all the attendant attributes like no business sense they could pile on you.

    Jason is dogged in getting us artists “business smart”. Time to bury the myth that artists are uninformed, hungry, and waiting to be fleeced.

    How many bad experiences does it take before one gets tired of coming round on the same wheel again, before they look for another way to market their hard-won works?

  25. I sold 3 pieces to a buyer who took the 1st one by paying nearly its total value agreed upon for the set of 3. I held the other 2 and waited the 30 days for the promised next payment (#2 of 3 payments total). No payment came. After another 30 days, I e-mailed a gentle reminder that the second payment AND the third payment were both now due. Now, 60 days into our agreement with no further payment, I messaged the buyer again, gently recommending they bring me SOME amount in order to hold up our agreed upon bargain. No results! After 2 more attempts to acquire ANY amount, and the passage of 8+ months, I sent a photocopy of the buyer’s first check with a thank you card and a letter relinquishing the first painting for the amount paid to date and cancelling our agreement. The buyer became very upset and promptly messaged my phone saying they wanted all 3 pieces and they’d come by to pay the full amount and pick up the art in 3 days. . . And it happened.

    Anymore, I keep the art until the last payment is made. I also have gleaned from this thread, that a timeline should be set, and non-refundable deposits are also a good idea.

    I think patience, a business-like, slightly aloof demeanor and civility were the keys to assuring the sale remained intact and the full amount got collected.

    This thread has been invaluable. Thanks to all for your notes.

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