When you’re a self-employed artist or running your own business, paperwork often falls on you. Between the arduous task of finding and keeping your clients, producing work and having a life, administrative tasks often fall to the wayside. However, failing to do these tasks can be detrimental to your art business. Creating and maintaining proper business records is essential to protect you and your enterprise. Here’s an overview of the various types of documentation you’ll need to operate your business, along with helpful downloads of templates so you can get started on creating your own personalized set to use again and again.

Templates to Sell Your Art

For most art entrepreneurs, the most critical component of your art business will be making sales. After all, creating costs money, and you’ll need a cash flow for both running your art business and your personal finances and expenses.

At the outset of that business transaction, an estimate or proposal often comes into play. Independent artists and creatives like photographers, graphic designers, videographers, makeup artists, web designers, interior designers, and more will often rely on this type of paperwork to articulate their rate, what’s included with the service, and what would happen in the event of a mishap or unforeseen circumstance. Artists who are commissioned for specific projects will likely also want to include an estimate or artist proposal for the work.

Cover Page and Cover Letter

Considering that your art business provides visually-oriented services, you’ll want to create an artist proposal that matches the caliber of your work. Your proposal cover should put forth your brand, and include your logo and sample images, along with the name of your business. It should state that the client name that the artist proposal is being prepared for, and should include their contact information.

In addition, you should include a cover letter that details what the client will find within your artist proposal – your cover letter should be tailored to your client, but you can use standard language to describe the proposal’s intention.

Company Summary, Team, and Portfolio

The next few pages should be devoted to an overview of your art business and the services you provide – you will want to include your company profile, along with information on the key team members working on the proposal, an overview of the types of services you provide, and plenty of images to showcase your work. Don’t be afraid to tailor the portfolio images you include to your specific client’s overall goals in hiring you.

Project Details

Your artist proposal should then get to the actual project at hand – give a detailed overview of what the client is looking for, making sure to be specific with any and all details revealed during your initial meeting. Include images to past work that align with what the client is looking for, and source new images that showcase your inspiration and goal for the project at hand. Give a complete and accurate assessment of what the project entails – for example, an interior designer might mention which furniture will stay, which will go, and what other specific pieces will be brought in for the project; a photographer might include how many hours are reserved for shooting, how many hours are reserved for editing, and how many subjects or models will be shot.

Rate Estimates

Finally, your artist proposal should provide a detailed, line-item estimate of the cost of your services. Breaking down your costs line-by-line allows your potential client to get a good sense of how much your services cost, and exactly what they’ll be paying for if they decide to work with you. Transparency is key to trust, so be sure you include each and every expense – and include some language expressing that rates are subject to change based on availability or change in scope of the project, so that your client understands that a change in plans may result in increased costs.

Terms and Acceptance

Once you’ve included an itemized list of your costs, you will want to include language that describes what’s included in your services, how payment should be made, and your policy regarding non- or late payments. It’s important to be as thorough as possible in your proposal because you’ll want to be sure that your client fully understands how your art business operates, and what you expect from their end of the bargain. For example, you will want to outline a payment schedule: Will the client pay a deposit? Will they be billed in installments? Are certain costs due up front?

Similarly, you’ll want to provide for extra fees in case your client pays late. Many art business owners like to tack on a percentage fee for late payments – for example, you may require the client to pay an additional three percent of the total project cost if payment isn’t made in full by a specified date. Additionally, include some language that describes the resolution process in the event of non-payment: Will the parties go to court? Settle in arbitration? While it’s certainly helpful to have a lawyer review your artist proposal template, most boiler-plate legal terms will provide enough guidance for both a client and a court.

Finally, make sure your artist proposal can be accepted by creating areas where you and your client can sign and date the proposal.

Is All This Work Really Necessary?

You may be wondering why so much work has to go into an artist proposal when it’s not even a guarantee that the client you’re pitching will contract you for services. Think of it this way: Your artist proposal is a sales tool, just like any other in your art business arsenal. A well-crafted proposal that leaves no stone unturned instills confidence in your client, who is probably preparing to turn over quite a bit of money to you and wants to be sure you’re the right choice. Including visually arresting images and examples of your past work is, in effect, another opportunity to market and brand yourself. So, while it may seem extremely time-consuming at the outset, crafting an artist proposal template that you can use again and again will easily be one of the best investments you can make for your art business.

Keep in mind that your proposal is your first pass at getting a client to sign on to work with you – most art business owners like to send the artist proposal and get some feedback from the client before they offer to negotiate their rates. Send your proposal and let the potential client know you are available to answer any questions they might have, and if you don’t receive a response after a week or so, open the floor for negotiation.

Where to Find Artist Proposal Templates

Artist proposal templates are inherently personal, and there are a variety of routes you can take in designing yours. It’s always helpful to view some examples of proposal templates when designing your own, and there are a variety of services available for downloading a proposal template, sending your proposals or even just copying them for your own benefit. Proposify, a service that allows you to create, customize, archive and send your proposals, is a good place to start for an art business – you can either sign up for the service and turn it into your one-stop shop, or use the templates to mimic your own proposal design. PandaDoc is another great service for proposal templates, which also allows you to create and personalize your portfolios for different clients, and then send them through their system.

Invoices to Get Your Art Business Paid

One of the most common mistakes art business owners make is failing to understand the importance of an invoice. An invoice is a document that bills your client for the services rendered; it should include information on how you’d like to be paid, where payment can be made, and the due date for services.

Invoices are generally uniform documents that include your contact information, the date, an invoice number, the title of the project, an itemized description of the various services rendered, and the total payment that needs to be made.

Your invoice should be numbered so that you and your client can easily keep track of the bills you’ve sent and what payments still need to be made. While you can manually create these invoice numbers by keeping track of them yourself, there are a variety of services that allow you send invoices through their system, thereby eliminating the need to keep track of your invoice numbers. For example, PayPal allows users to create and send invoices to their clients, and the payments are made directly to your PayPal account. However, it’s important to note that using the service does mean PayPal will take a 2.9 percent cut each time you’re paid.

Instead, most art business owners prefer to send their own invoices in an effort to keep their costs low. Create a template that you can send to clients, and include all of the relevant information. Then, all you have to do is make sure you’re updating the invoice number each time you send the same client a new invoice. While this approach requires slightly more effort, it eliminates the need for invoice software like Quickbooks or PayPal which can be an important cost-savings when you’re getting an art business off the ground.

Nailing down your artist proposal template and invoicing system is just the first step to getting your art business off the ground. In our next installment, we’ll review certificates of authenticity, confirmation memos, waiver requirements and release forms, and more.

Are you an art business owner? How do you craft your artist proposal?

Nicole Martinez
Nicole Martinez

Nicole is a veteran arts and culture journalist. Her work has appeared in Reuters, VICE, Hyperallergic, Univision, and more.

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