Art of business; business of art


The Okotoks Arts Council and Studio Me are working together to put on an Artrepreneurial Camp next week.  It runs from Monday to Friday at Studio Me on Elizabeth Street in Okotoks.  Students ages 13 to 17 who have an interest in art as a potential part of their revenue stream should sign up.  Lead by art teacher Michelle Smyth, the experience will also be enriched by four different guest artists.

I've been thinking about what my nuggets of wisdom would be for a budding artist interested in using their passion, skills and artistry to build a business.  Heather and I have successfully (and somewhat inexplicably) made it happen over the last seven years.   What are some fundamental lessons learned along the way?


It is tempting to spend a lot of money to bring in tons of art cards, canvas prints, or other merchandise.  However, over extending yourself is not a good business decision.  A different route to go is to only do pre-orders in the early stages of your art business.  Customers who love your work will happily pay in advance for a print and wait a couple of weeks for it to arrive.  

The other important thing about having an inventory is that you need a place to store it.  In most instances, artists just starting out have a lack of space. 


Customers are not going to drop out of the sky.  You need to develop them over the long haul.  And an interested clientele grows one person at a time.  Celebrate the early wins, cherish your early adopters and find ways to stay engaged with your customer base on a regular basis.  Social media is a great tool for growing your art business.  While this is not an exact number, I would guess that 95-percent of our sales have happened through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  


When you have bills to pay, it is easy to get lost in the guaranteed paid work of running an art business (guaranteed paid work being workshops, commissions, etc.). However, it is equally important to invest time for yourself.  Choose to explore ideas and respond to inspirations that have nothing directly to do with earning money.  That is how we grow and evolve as artists.


It takes time to build up a critical mass of work and clients.  Use your other skills, connections and experiences to earn money through other means while growing your art business.  Having alternate streams of revenue will give you the breathing room to live, work and create.  Deciding to jump right into an art business without leaving time for growth is chancy at best, perilous at worst. 


Believing in your worth as an artist is so important.  Having some confidence will give you the frame of mind to sell yourself in person and online. You have to get over the discomfort of tooting your own horn, sharing your art, and sharing your story.  I came into the art business after several decades in the marketing and communication world.  In other words, my marketing toolbox was well equipped.  I am probably more the exception than the rule. Anything you can do to strengthen your marketing and communication toolbox is time well spent. 


Running a successful art business includes a lot of important activities that have nothing to do with creation.  There are many "process" things you need to pay attention to including packaging, invoicing, procurement (buying the materials you need), merchandising, marketing, communication, cash flow, etc.  Heather and I conveniently split these duties which increases our efficiency as a team.  She handles the lion's share of the financial details.  If Heather is away climbing a mountain and you're a client waiting for an invoice, you will be waiting until she gets home.  Translation: I don't know how to create an invoice without screwing everything up.

All the "other stuff" keeps me sane and gives me welcomed breaks from painting.  I love building shipping boxes, managing inventory and manning the studio when guests arrive.  The times away from the easel help me maintain a healthy balance in my working/creative life.


...are sown in soil rich with failure.  We've made our fair share of mistakes along the way.  Those mistakes are blessings in disguise because they served to make us better, more efficient, and ultimately, more profitable.  Don't fear the failures; embrace them and learn from them.  


What is it that sets you apart from other artists?  Find your thing, that unique way of visual expression, and pursue it with your whole heart.  If you do a good job building your business, people who are interested in "your thing" will self declare themselves and follow everything that you do.  

These are some top level thoughts that bubbled to the surface this morning.  I'm sure there are many more, but this is a good start. 


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