A Guide to Crafting an Impressive Artist Business Plan

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The model of an artist’s career is longer that of a solitary genius waiting to be discovered. A professional artist in the digital age is a creative entrepreneur or “artrepreneur“; a self-employed business owner who wants to make an impact with her work and make a decent living. That’s why having a well-thought-out artist business plan can be the difference between success and struggle, control and uncertainty, succumbing to circumstances, and being in charge of your own destiny.

Learning how to put together a business plan for artists is an essential tool and road map for becoming an ‘artrepreneur.’ A report from the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) found that:

“only one out of four arts alumni report that their postsecondary institution helped them develop those skills, but about three out of four arts alumni indicate that these skills are ​very” or ​somewhat” important to their work life.”

It all starts with your artist business plan.

What is an Artist Business Plan?

An Artist Business Plan (whether it’s for a fine artist, photographer, interior designer, freelance videographer, etc.) is a document that sets out your future objectives and strategies for achieving them, usually within 1-5 years. Here’s where you lay out your mission, vision, and goals, how you will achieve them, what resources you will need, and how you’ll know you’ve succeeded. A solid artist business plan provides an accurate assessment of your creative product (your artwork) and market research to show the demand for your services or artwork. The plan should also address your financial requirements, identifying various forms of revenue, anticipated expenses, and ways you can secure money upfront if needed. Finally, an artist business plan will detail actionable strategies and metrics for growing and sustaining your business in the short and long term.

Each step in the planning process should be well-thought-out and carefully considered. The plan should guide you on properly setting up your business, marketing it to the right people, and being as profitable as possible. It should be as thorough as possible. Your plan should be updated regularly with new information about your finances, competition, and marketing efforts, or any other relevant information about your business and industry. After all, a business plan is designed to help you understand every aspect of your business so you have the greatest opportunity for success.

Your plan is an ongoing, living document. It should be a guide to running your business. As many aspects of your business and the industry can change over time, those changes should be updated in your plan regularly, so you understand they might affect your business in the future. The more effort you put into your plan, the better the outcome. 

Steps for Crafting Your Plan

Define Your Vision, Mission, and Overall Objectives

The first step to crafting an artist business plan requires that you do some introspection about what you want and what success means to you. Before you dive into the specifics, you want to have a clear vision of who you are as an artist,  what you want to contribute, and where you stand within the local, national and international art world or creative landscape. You should be able to answer:

  • What type of work are you creating, or what type of service are you providing?
  • What are you trying to communicate to your customers?
  • What are the likely uses for your work or service?
  • Who would buy your artwork or use your service? I.e., Does your work belong in a gallery, or is it better placed in a commercial space like a hotel or office?
  • Define your success. Is success living off of your work or getting a few gigs, or selling a few pieces each month?
  • Where do you want your business to be in two, three, or five years?

Once you know what you want your business to achieve, you can work out the specific tactics and strategies to get you there. 

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Crafting a Successful Virtual Art Exhibition to Enhance Your Profile

Create a Marketing Strategy

First, you need to know who your potential customers are, how you will reach them, and what to say to convince them that they should buy your art or hire you for a gig. 

Not everyone will be interested in your artwork or service. Targeting everyone possible only means that your efforts will be wasted on people that will never use your product or service. So the first step in your marketing strategy should be to isolate the types of customers that are most likely to buy. For example, if you are a wedding photographer, it would be most effective to target people under 30. While older people do get married, it happens far less than younger people so and would not get you the most bang from your marketing efforts. You could even further break down the target audience to people that live within 50 miles or whatever distance you might be willing to travel for the gig. 

artist business plan
An example of a wedding photographer pricing guide used as part of a marketing and branding strategy.

Once you decide who your most likely customers will be, you’ll need to develop your ‘brand.’ Your brand is how you consistently present yourself to your potential customers. Branding includes your marketing message visual style that is consistent across all of your marketing channels and materials. Your marketing message should explain why should the people in your targeted audience hire you and not someone else.  What makes you the best fit for them?

Your brand should showcase the look and feel of your work. Say you’ve determined that light-filled, matte-finish photos that inspire a whimsical aesthetic appeal are some of your strongest work. You would ‘brand’ your work by only showcasing photos that demonstrate that same look and feel through your marketing. Your artist bio, portfolio, and social media channels would only include work that represents this brand of photography.

You should create a website with relevant portfolio samples and craft an artist bio that outlines your vision as an artist. Reach out to previous clients and ask them to contribute testimonials. Find new clients by attending networking events and encouraging word-of-mouth referrals by staying in touch with past clients and industry colleagues. Vow to upload a certain number of photos to your social media channels and use hashtags that will get you noticed among other users. 

In our wedding photographer scenario, the photographer could partner with a wedding planner or a venue that provides wedding space. The photographer could build a social media following on Instagram or Tik Tok, place postcards or flyers at businesses frequented by the younger crowd, or even pay for ads on social media platforms targeted to your audience in your geographic location.

Be sure that you set specific goals to achieve your marketing strategy, as well as fulfill your vision and mission, Your goals should be:

  • Specific – What do you want to accomplish? When do you want to do this? Where do you want to do this? Who needs to be included? Which resources will you need? Why is this goal important?
  • Measurable – What measurement will you use to determine if you’ve met your goal?
  • Achievable – Do you have or can you get access to the knowledge and skills you need to achieve this goal?
  • Relevant – Does this goal help you meet your final objective?
  • Time-bound – When must you accomplish the goal?  What is the deadline?

Over time, you should be able to find commonalities in the people that respond to your marketing efforts.  Then you can refine your artist business plan to reflect a more targeted audience that is most likely to buy your artwork or use your services. Then update your goals to reflect the changes.

Financial Planning

Until you start reviewing the financial requirements necessary to develop your business,  your plan is all conceptual. Your vision and marketing strategy may be interesting to read, but it doesn’t mean a thing if you can’t afford to implement them. Your artist business plan should include your financial forecasts and statements. The financial section of a business plan is one of the most essential components of the plan, as it will help to make sure that you aren’t spending more than you are taking in.  Plus, you will need it if you have any hope of winning over investors or obtaining a bank loan. Even if you don’t need financing, you should compile a financial forecast in order to simply be successful in steering your business. The financials should be updated regularly so you know where you are, what efforts are most successful, and where you can reduce expenses,  if necessary. 

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How to Create the Perfect Pitch Deck

The financial section of your plan should include:

  • Sales Forecast. Set up a spreadsheet projecting your sales over three years with columns for every month for the first year and either on a monthly or quarterly basis for the second and third years. Look at similar businesses, past sales history, or any other relevant data to build a reasonable projection of your potential sales over time. 
  • Expense Budget. You’re going to need to understand how much it’s going to cost you to make the sales you have forecasted. Expenses should include equipment purchases, office expenses, and marketing costs, such as paid advertising, website hosting, or other regular expenditures. 
  • Cash-flow statement. This is the statement that shows how much money is moving in and out of your business each month. The cash flow statement will show you how much cash you will have on hand each month so you won’t get caught without enough cash to pay your bills. You base this partly on your sales forecasts, balance sheet items, and other forecasting assumptions and then update it regularly as you generate more historical data and can better forecast your income and expenses. 
  • Profit and loss statement. This statement shows the health of your business at a particular moment in time. In its simplest form, it is a forecast of income from sales minus all expenditures. You should use the numbers that you put in your sales forecast, expense budget, and cash flow statement.
  • Projected balance sheet. A balance sheet project the net worth of your business at the end of the fiscal year. It should include actual and estimated assets you have, accounts receivable (money owed to you), any inventory you have on hand, and hard assets like land, buildings, and equipment. Then figure out your liabilities or debts. That’s money you owe, such as unpaid bills or debts you have because of outstanding loans.

Implement Your Plan

The hardest part of creating an effective artist business plan is implementing what you have planned and taking the time to revisit the plan regularly to revise your marketing strategies and financial potential.  The business plan will guide your actions so you can achieve your goals. You’ve put the work in to create a path to become a successful artrepreneur, and now that plan needs to take center stage. Visit it frequently, re-work it when necessary, and make sure you’re sticking to the monthly action items you’ve listed in your plan. Most importantly, remember that a successful art entrepreneur is one who makes room for creative thought, and your artist business plan should drive and support your most important work.

There are a variety of business plan templates. Find a format that works for you. Here are some examples of artist business plans. Pick what works best for you, and dream big!

Do you know of other resources that can help artists build a business plan? have you had success or failures with your artist business plan? Let us know in the comments!


About the author

Steve Schlackman

As a photographer and Patent Attorney with a background in marketing, Steve has a unique perspective on art, law, and business. He is currently serving as the Chief Product Officer at Artrepreneur. You can find his photography at artrepreneur.com or through Fremin Gallery in NYC.


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