If you’re an art entrepreneur that’s chosen to devote yourself to the creative industries, then you’ve probably heard the old maxims time and time again. “You’ll never make any money,” your mother might say, or “It’ll be next to impossible to establish yourself as one of the leaders in your field,” a teacher might add. These kinds of epithets aren’t necessarily meant to deter the art entrepreneur; they’re meant to ground your decision to pursue a career in art in reality.
Though the creative realm is evolving, thanks to the rise of the gig economy, and making it much easier for a freelancer or art entrepreneur to thrive off their artistic practice, there are plenty of challenges that continue to face the industry today. The fact is, artists today do face money problems, and some have a tough time finding and landing new gigs and determining what to charge when those opportunities come around.
Starting an art business, and building a successful one, is much easier when you’ve developed the tools to keep your business continuously operating so that you can focus on making art. For most artists and creatives, that means finding and establishing your brand, learning how to market yourself, and protecting yourself from any issues that can arise. Below, we’ve rounded up five challenges the artist and art entrepreneur face today, and offer some advice for navigating through the maze.
Get your budgeting down to a science
The most obvious issue facing artists today is where their next paycheck will come from, and how to keep their last one from running out too quickly. Determining the cost of conducting your art business is an essential tool to ensure that you’re staying on budget and on track.
The first step to getting your budget down is to determine the actual cost of art-making. Do you keep a studio? Do you keep track of any materials you buy and consume? How often do you use them? Do you have a lot of waste? Being an artist entrepreneur means you should know exactly how much you spend to make and manage your artwork. It’s a pivotal factor in making sure you have enough money to run your operation for months to come. Understanding these costs will also allow you to take a more educated approach to pricing your services (more on that later.)
As an art entrepreneur that’s chosen to shun a typical 9-5 office job in favor of a more entrepreneurial type of business, you’ll be smart to treat every paycheck like it was your last. It may sound dramatic, but how many times have you heard of a star athlete or musician who blew their life’s earnings in the blink of an eye? We may not be talking millions here, but quickly burning through a big paycheck will get you in the same trouble. The key to maintaining a successful art business will rely on your ability to understand that this month you may make $6,000, but next month you may only rake in $1,000. You have to budget your life accordingly – get a good estimate on what you spend for living and entertainment, and make sure you don’t go splurging on any big items until you have a better hold on your finances. In addition, consider whether it makes financial sense to incorporate your art business.
Market your art business effectively and strategically
Perhaps the biggest challenge for an artist today is figuring out who they want to be. What do you want to make? Do you have a niche? What sells best? Elizabeth Dee, a gallerist in New York, told Artrepreneur at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2015 that “An artist should never be thinking about what sells; that’s the gallery’s job. An artist should be focused on making art.”
That said, refining and understanding your practice, building engagement on a social media platform, and knowing how to market yourself will lead to the kind of representation that lets an artist or art entrepreneur truly take a backseat to their sales efforts. Taking the time to build an online portfolio and using and engaging with social media platforms are two extremely cost-effective tools for using marketing to your advantage. Hosting platforms like Wix, Weebly and Squarespace are often free to use and offer a variety of templates to meet your needs. Other platforms, like Orangenius, offer a variety of unique functionalities to showcase your work, including the ability to make customized portfolios for different clients [Full disclosure: Artrepreneur is owned and operated by Orangenius]. A clean, simple design that serves as a space to host your latest work will be easy to achieve for a minimal amount of work.
Once you have a portfolio in place, you can use it synthesize your brand across the board: add your website to business cards and email signatures; link to your work across your social media platforms, and direct anyone you meet to your body of work. By staying active on social media, you can also deftly enhance your marketing. In fact, several gallerists have pointed out that they first found their next young artist through their social media platform, when they’re work started trending.
Gaining and keeping followers on social media can be an arduous, time-consuming task, but it’s not impossible. Start by developing a schedule for posting – once a day is usually the sweet spot. Find your content niche – perhaps you want to focus on presenting dark, aimless images that best represent your work; or maybe you want to allow your followers to see your daily thoughts and inspirations. Test a few of these posts out and determine which ones tend to yield the most ‘likes’ and engagement. Always be sure to interact with your followers and their comments, and don’t be shy about taking a look at their own pages and following them in reply. Finally, use hashtags to draw even more views to your posts. The rules for social media are constantly evolving, so we recommend checking out best practices in this handy guide.
Step away from the studio to land gigs
Getting your work noticed and getting in touch with potential clients can often be one of the more difficult tasks for artists. How do you find and keep a book of consistent art business if you’re shy or constantly stuck in the studio? Forget the traditional modes of networking and be more proactive. Engage with followers on social media, participate in local arts organizations, and do some research on your favorite arts institutions and collectives to determine whether its possible to send them some samples of your work. Scour the web or your local scene for your favorite artists and designers and reach out to them for mentorship advice. You’d be surprised how willing people are to offer advice or lend a hand to an aspiring artist!
One of the common missteps in maintaining a successful art business is an unwillingness to take any creative jobs that might fall outside your usual creative realm. Just because you take on a project that doesn’t necessarily align with your brand or message as an artist doesn’t mean that you have to promote it. Many artists often take commissions for works they may not necessarily want to add to their portfolio. The art entrepreneur understands that diversifying a business is the single most impactful tool you can use to ensure your financial viability.
Which is exactly why it’s so important to be able to create custom portfolios for certain clients. Consider the photographer who dreams of being a fine artist but works weddings in between big sales. That photographer may not wish to broadcast his wedding photography portfolio, but it sure comes in handy to have one to show his prospective clients.
Price your work fairly
Having a clear idea of how much it costs you to make art is a good first start in order to determine how to price your services. If you spend a certain amount on materials, then make sure you factor those figures into your pricing scheme. Do some research to determine what an hourly rate might be in your creative field, and determine whether you are on the novice or experienced side of that figure. Finally, consider how much back and forth this client may require, and consider upping your rate in order to respond to that client’s demands.
When you’re first starting out, you’re hesitant to charge what you think your services are worth because you’re concerned that a potential client might say no. But not understanding and recognizing your worth can have a lot of drawbacks in the long run.
Take into account the legal issues that could arise
Have you taken the time to consider that you may be allowing others to profit from your creative work? If you’re consistently creating art and not taking the time to register your works with the Copyright Office, then you might be exposing yourself to theft. In today’s highly digital, internet savvy world, more and more artists are finding themselves the victims of copyright infringement. If your artwork is registered with the Copyright Office, then you can recover for your damages.
Registering your work with the Copyright Office is formulaic and fairly inexpensive; you just have to take the time to do it. Start by compiling your work and deciding whether you want to copyright multiple pieces or one single work. Set up a system that asks you to consider whether you have any new, copyrightable works on a monthly or weekly basis. For further guidance, you can check it out this guide.
Are you an art entrepreneur? What do you find most challenging about running an art business? Let us know in the comments below!