Friday, March 1, 2013

Keeping Records Part II

As promised, database details to make you dizzy:

Database vs. Spreadsheet

The advantage of a database over a spreadsheet, as I said last time, is the "relational" feature that links all your data and the eternal flexibility for manipulating data. The software packages that I pointed out last time are really databases that have been fancied up to make data entry and retrieval easy for everyone.

But if you don't want to fork out any bucks, have a little time on your hands and like doing your own thing, a database is really simple to set up. Most of them come with templates that can be tweaked to taste for art record keeping.

The main advantage of doing your own thing is that it suits you perfectly and you can change things over the years as you evolve or devolve or whatever.

What can you do for me?

One example of features you gain by creating a database is the ability to "query" or ask it questions like:
-How many works did I sell to NEW customers on last year's Flagstaff Festival? (should I mail postcards or are my customers mostly tourists coming to the show for the first time?)
-Who has all my "Mountain Sunrise" prints and where have they been exhibited? (provenance)
-How many contacts did I gain on my Museum Show in 2004? How many are still receiving my emails and how many have bought something since then? (is it worth doing the show again?)
-Who of my Arizona customers has not bought anything in the last 5 years? (I can clean up my database that way)

You get the picture. Invaluable information if you are in the business of selling or exhibiting artworks.

Spreadsheet data, if you recall, is flat (see the link to a sample spreadsheet last post), although for just keeping artwork records making up a simple spreadsheet is exactly what I would do.

Guts of a database (or software) 

Database data is based on table-like-spreadsheets BUT the tables are "linked" or related to each other by one of the variables. Here is what my old database looks like:

I have three main tables: WORKS, CONTACTS, and SHOWS
There are other tables in there but they are auto-generated by the BIG 3 for various reports

Notice all those joining lines that go from one table to another, they link together works through the ID field with customers through the ID field. So at any point I can get a full report of where ALL my prints are, everyone of them, sold, given away, shown in a gallery, whatever. Also, when I enter a new customer, I just have a pull-down field with all my works so I don't have to write the print's name. And when I enter that work, the database automatically subtracts one print from my "prints on hand" field. Nifty huh? A lot of tricks like that are possible that make keeping track of everything and everyone related to the art business a snap.

The main way to input and keep data in a database is through tables, although with one click you can create a fancy input form to make the task more bearable:
Here you can see an entire record for a work called 1000 Years including where it was exhibited, how big the frame should be and whether I've taken slides (how OLD is this thing?) and uploaded to my website

The other two main features of a database is the ability to query (ask complex questions) as I mentioned before and the ability to export reports, fancy or not, to other programs like Microsoft Word (to send a mailing), spreadsheet (like an inventory of prints on hand) or your favorite mail program (to send an email to your customers) or to make a print info sheet or web page, pictures and all.

Anyhow, one point of this post is that, whatever method of keeping track of works, sales and contacts one chooses, the important thing is to put in good information so that good information can be reported. Accurate data entry is crucial, whether a ready-made software program, a simple spreadsheet or any other fancy way to keep records.

I happen to like tweaking my database endlessly, I have reports, resumes, lists of galleries, who sold what to whom in what event and so on. I enjoy the brain work of querying, making my database spit out fancy reports and formatted letters and so on. And I have now tailored my database to fit my business model perfectly.

This all sounds complicated when writing it down but really databases are just like the software described in the previous post. The advantage, to me, is that I can change things as I see fit.

Any questions? quiz at 11:00!