Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Keep Your Appointment (and What to Do When They Don't)

 Tattoo Nerd,

 I have been in the business for about 8 years now, and I have this client that got work from me when I was just staring out.  I hear from her once every year or so.  She asks about a tattoo for herself or a friend, and sets an appointment.  We hash out some of the details before I notice that she is getting a little flakey about keeping in contact and confirming her appointment.  This last week, she settled on a day but not a time, told me two days prior that she would get back to me about the design, never confirmed, and did not respond to any of my messages the day of the tattoo.  It is frustrating, and I am thinking that I should just write her off and not deal with her anymore.  I feel bad, because she was one of my first clients, but I think I have hit my limit.

 What do you think?

 First of all, let me say that I just love that people are starting to refer to me as "Tattoo Nerd".  I consider it high praise that I am being recognized for my work.  

 I think we, as tattoo artists, have all had clients like the one you described,  In fact, probably multiple clients.  I am not certain if the problem is a matter of casual disrespect or an exaggerated view of tattoo artists.  On the one hand, it could be that people do not consider being a tattoo artist a "real" profession.  They have no real concept of the time, dedication, and effort that goes into being a tattooer, often because they have not experienced that kind of effort in their own pursuits.  They may also fail to recognize the expense of setting-up for a tattoo or drawing a design in advance, because, hey, that is what we do for fun, right? 

 On the other hand, they may realize we are professionals and have a high degree of respect for what we do.  In their minds, we tattooers are all "cool".  We are causal and laid back.  If they cannot make their appointment, it is okay, because we are hip and understanding.  That is why we are tattooers, because we are cool and talented.  It is no big deal to us.  

 Dear friends and tattoo patrons, neither of these perspectives are correct.  Tattooers are business professionals.  They can be more casual about their approach to business, but when you fail to make your appointment it hurts our bottom-line.  We are not paid an hourly wage, and any time we spend engaged with a client is with the goal of there being a cash-reward for our efforts.  This includes email exchanges, phone calls, drawing, follow-up discussions, confirmation of an appointment, and setting-up for the tattoo.  Those materials on the tattooers table; medical liners, ink caps, needles, tubes, inks, paper towels, ointments, etc, are not cheap, and come out of the tattooer's wallet.  The shop may provide for some of his or her supplies, but even that is with the expectation that a cash-reward will result from their use.  When you skip-out on an appointment, it is costing your artist money.

 As a customer, ask yourself this: you set an appointment with your tattooer and when you arrive at the studio, he or she is not there.  No call, no note, just not there.  How many times would this need to happen before you sought out another tattooer?  If you put up with this twice, you are extremely charitable.  

 It is tempting, as a tattooer, to take this attitude and black-list those clients that consistently skip-out on appointments.  As business-persons, we cannot afford that mentality.  Think of it this way; you own a retail store.  There is a guy who comes in once a week.  He browses your wares, asks you some questions, doesn't cause any problems, and doesn't buy anything,  He just wastes some of your time.  You could tell him to buy something or get out, but that will create an unhappy customer.  He WILL tell everyone he knows that you treated him badly; the fact that he was wasting your time weekly and never made an actual purchase will not be mentioned.  Not only have you made no money, you now have a black-mark against your reputation as a business.  You are better off just dealing with it, and maybe one glorious day that "customer" will actually buy something.

 When a tattooer is just starting out, we feel lucky just to have someone consider us for work.  We listen to every pie-in-the-sky promise to be on-time for an appointment, to bring friends to us, to help get our name out, etc.  It takes a few years to realize that cash is king, and that all the promises in the world are meaningless until the money is in your hand.  It takes a few more years before we are good enough to establish that kind of standard.  An appointment is not an appointment without a deposit.  When I started out, my clients would have balked at the idea that they needed to pay me $50 in advance to keep a slot in my schedule open for them.  Now, it is expected that my time comes at a premium.

 For sentimental reasons, I understand the reservations about changing the way you handle one of your first clients, but after 8 years of experience, you have grown enough to start being taken seriously.  Don't black-list your clients, but do let the know that you have grown as a tattooer and that your time is in demand.  When your client reaches out to you again for a tattoo, let them know that you cannot set an appointment without a deposit.  No drawing anything up, no penciling anyone in.  When they are ready to pay a deposit, they are ready to set an appointment.  They are always welcome to walk-in and see if you are available, but without cash in advance there will be no promises.  Those who appreciate your work and respect the value of your time will have no problem with your policy. 

 Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him an email at tattoonerdz@gmail.com.


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