It’s happening. After careful consideration and soul-searching, you are ready to take the leap. You have made the decision to follow your passion and become a professional artist.
Despite the excitement, your head’s not in the clouds. You understand the road ahead. Establishing yourself in the artist community and making a living from your work is not going to happen overnight.
But by no means is it impossible. It will take planning, time, effort, dedication, and a devotion to lifelong learning.
Now that you’ve chosen to take the leap, figuring out what to do next can be the trickiest part. You can picture success in your mind, but the space between that and your current situation looks a little blank at the moment. So, where exactly do you begin? Great question. See, you’re already thinking like an entrepreneur!
Follow these eight steps when starting an art business to set yourself up for success:
Plan it all out. And, we mean everything!
When many people decide to become professional artists, they don’t often realize that they are actually starting their own art business. But it’s true! You’re selling a product (artwork) to people (collectors) who find value in it.
And, like any business starting out, a business plan can help you map out all the basics.
It sounds formal, we know, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating. Grab your laptop or a notepad and start jotting down the plans you have for this new, creative career. You can even use this handy outline we made just for artists.
Start by defining your art practice.
What is your mission? How will you define success? What short- and long-term goals will help you achieve these?
Be specific, and stay true to what you want out of an art career. Every artist will have a different answer, and that’s okay!
Defining and visualizing your art career in this way will help you see the natural progression of steps to take to grow your art business, not to mention alleviate the “deer in headlights” feeling that comes with taking on a big endeavor.
“YOU BELIEVE IN YOURSELF AND YOUR ABILITIES, AND THAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT AND IMPACTFUL FIRST STEP.”
These answers will also help you craft an artist statement later down the line, which you’ll need for everything from show applications to the About section on your profiles.
Identify your target customer.
This is a marketing term you’ll hear time and time again, but that’s only because it’s so important! When you figure out what your ideal client is like (the one most likely to buy your artwork), you’ll start to understand how you can promote your pieces more effectively, so you actually make some money.
Ask yourself these nine questions to narrow down who your buyers are and how to win them over, like what income levels can afford your work and where do these clients tend to shop for art?
Don’t be careless! Your entire marketing strategy will piggyback off these answers—from how you reach buyers to the tone of voice you use to communicate.
There a ton of different ways to market your art—email newsletters, art fairs, social media, galleries, blogging—but not all of them might be where your customers are looking. Based on the profile of your ideal buyer, settle on a marketing strategy that complements your art business and list these outlets in your business plan.
Get a handle of the finances
Talking about finances can put anyone on edge, but it’s an unavoidable step in a viable business plan and a pretty major one, too!
“By brushing off the financial side of a career in the arts, artists are practically ensuring that they will be unfulfilled personally, professionally, and financially,” explains artist and financial advisor Elaine Grogan Luttrull.
When you take the guesswork out of your financial situation, you can plan ahead for how you are going to sustain your livelihood. Plus, you’ll be able to set concrete goals for exactly how much you need to earn and save to cover your expenses.
In this section of your plan, write down the costs of everything you can think of when it comes to running your art business, from supplies to renting studio space. Then make a separate list for your personal expenses— everything from house payments and groceries to date nights. You can always come back and add more as your business plan grows.
Once you’ve created your itemized list, you will need to formulate a plan for how you are going to pay for everything while your business is still taking off. It could be savings, joint income, an artist grant, crowdfunding, selling a certain number of pieces, a part-time job, etc.
Remember, planning for financial success is the best way to make it happen.
Get a solid pricing strategy down.
Pricing can be one of the hardest things for artists to figure out. Figuring out how to make a profit can be even harder. But that’s the goal of being a professional artist, right? Making a living from your art?
There’s a stubborn myth that artists have to be “starving.” That’s simply not true. Your success all falls back on your art business strategy and a great deal can be attributed to how you price your work. While we follow these seven rules for pricing your art, a few stand out in our minds.
Here’s what you need to know: First, know your costs and make sure they are covered in the price of your artwork. Costs you should remember to include (or you will have to pay for it yourself later) are your time, materials, shipping, and even framing when necessary.
Think of it like this: you have a unique skill set that people value and are willing to give you compensation in exchange for your services. Remember, you are providing a service along with a final product. Decide on a reasonable hourly wage that you would feel comfortable with and work backward. The US Department of Labor lists the average hourly wage for a fine artist as $24.58. Use this number to help you estimate.
Then, price consistently. Long story short, it will help you maintain a more positive relationship with galleries and collectors when no one feels undercut.
Finally, consider offering artwork at multiple price points. Not all fans of your work will be able to afford a $3000 piece. Smaller, less expensive pieces are more attainable for buyers who can’t afford more costly works, and in the end, you’ll be able to cast a wider net on your sea of buyers. Every sale counts!
You will also want to make your business legal, develop a way to track your artwork —all of which we will cover in the following chapters.