How to Lose Business

May 1, 2013

I am changing names to protect the innocent – this particular innocent is a very talented, polite and charming person. He wrote to me this week asking me to promote a web hosting service for artists. His proposal impressed me. I liked how his service proposed to present artwork; in his proposal art is presented on a wall like in a gallery and you can zoom in to see every detail. I was moved to write this post for my blog:

Teaching professional development to artists isn’t easy. Artists exist to be creative and innovative, so rules are a foreign concept. Consequently, I provide guidelines and examples of best practices as my methodology.

When it comes to websites, my teaching unit begins with suggestions and proceeds to criticisms of many artists’ websites by design professionals. Finally, I show my class some particularly bad sites. One post on this blog – a rant about a web practice that really irritated me – has more hits than any other post I’ve written.

Over the years, I’ve had lots of website hosting services and designers approach me for some publicity, but I have always declined because it is too hard for me to separate the sincere and legitimate professionals from the scammers.

In spite of my aversion to endorsements, I was prepared to endorse his services – that’s how impressed I was with the design of his online gallery. But before I published my post, I decided to find out more about him, so I went to his own personal website.

He’d given me the link in his email. His artwork quite impressed me so I clicked on “About” to learn more about him and was so appalled by the amount and degree of errors that I have not blogged about his services.

First of all, it seemed very clearly to be written by him, yet it was written in the third person and I find that odd and off-putting. Although it is not an error, his website broke one of my cardinal rules: writing in the third person is affected and insincere; it implies that there is another party speaking, yet there is never a credit to the speaker. I feel strongly that using the first person – saying “I” – builds a bond with the reader and is the only thing to do when you are writing on your own site. Using the first person is more welcoming than self-referencing in the third person. The Queen speaks in the third person and it is weird when she does. If I saw you on the street and we were friends and I waved and said, “Chris says hello,” wouldn’t you want to keep walking?

There were also errors in grammar, incomplete sentences, references (acronyms) that were unknown to me, and probably many other readers, and repetition. It was a disaster.

His errors erased my confidence; “spelling counts,” as my teachers used to say. And grammar counts as well. How you write and speak is a reflection of who you are as both an artist and a person. I would buy art from this person in a heartbeat, but would I hire him to host my site? No. I lost my trust in him so I couldn’t endorse his services on my blog.

My teachers were right to make spelling and grammar count. When I think of all the artistic projects that I have undertaken in my life, I could say that writing was their greatest facilitator. It was the grease that allowed all the gears to work. Good persuasive writing skills provided me with grants, permits, sponsors, media exposure, introductions, customers and audiences.

I don’t own a suit, I haven’t worn a tie since the 1970s, my typical shirt is a t-shirt, and I can’t abide wearing leather shoes. I am an informal guy and I don’t seek to find fault. But when fault is as extensive as it was on his website, it is a deal-breaker. Although I want to be casual and informal in life, I want to present myself to my best possible advantage professionally and I expect that of other professionals. That means making no errors.

As a creative person, I add style to the essential base of good grammar and spelling in order to stand out. You can do wonders for yourself with effective communications, but you have to be as good with words and ideas as you are with pigment and brushes.

To balance the criticism above, I very much liked the website of Anthony Schrag that I recently visited. ( ) I love the nice, simple but colourful opening page that says: “It’s great to see you (again).” What a great beginning.

The first paragraph of his “About” page reads as follows: “Anthony Schrag was born in Zimbabwe and grew up in the Middle East, the UK and Canada. Originally, he obtained a degree in Creative Writing in Vancouver, as well as Photography and Sculpture at Emily Carr, and completed the mfa course at the Glasgow School of Art in 2005. He is (mostly) based in Scotland, and does not like to write in the third person.”

I liked that last line–he gets it both ways! His site is simple, compelling, warm and slightly humorous. And I didn’t notice any errors.

Chris Tyrell Loranger is the author of Artist Survival Skills and Making It!, an arts writer and educator. His popular opinion pieces have appeared in our newsletter since its first issue in 1986. Visit his website, or his art marketing blog, to learn more.