Self Employment for Artists
Being a business takes a lot of hard work, to put it mildly, for the artist who has experience in creating beauty, but is less than knowledgeable in the world of business and self-employment. In my experience, after twentysomething years of working on marketing and promotion of my enterprise, life is pretty good. Still hectic, but that goes with having your own business. It pays to work hard, to avoid that horrible starving artist cliche. Who needs to starve? By spending a lot of time building a reputation and trust in clients, the business will grow all by itself. The trick is to think like a savvy businessperson, not a fine artist.
First of all, advertising is very important. Without it, nobody knows who you are and what you have to sell. Learn how to sell, read, and absorb as much marketing knowledge as possible. The internet is a wealth of information. Focus your study on basic business building and marketing concepts, and then grow that knowledge by adding more study on it, later.
Join many clubs and organizations. Think like a business not a hobby. Don’t go crazy with fees and big titles. Just get your name out there, and do it as cheaply as possible. Word travels fast if you’re good and have products that people like.
Be realistic. Don’t expect to take over the marketing world overnight. Build on your knowledge. It may take years but that’s ok, it’s to be expected unless you have an unlimited marketing budget or an MBA to move ahead quicker. I had a BFA and no marketing experience, had to learn it all via my father and trial by error.
Be professional. Copyright everything. Keep up with the legal side of everything. It pays to be professional and expect nothing but professionalism back from others you deal with. Customers will try to get something for nothing. Don’t take it personally but don’t cave in, be firm with what you think your items are worth, document everything and believe in yourself. Don’t let others control your business decisions unless you hire them to do so.
Put out a quality product. That goes without saying. Lousy product, no repeat customers, and your reputation suffers. Craftsmanship and professionalism. Don’t be late in delivering items, dress appropriately when meeting clients and be businesslike. Sloppy presentations will put you at a disadvantage. To stand out you must be a class act and so must your products.
Network, network, network. Attend functions, luncheons, fairs, whatever fits your niche in the world. Get to know others. Big executives do their networking on golf courses. You can network yourself anywhere. Keep business cards on hand and pass them out, don’t be shy.
Be picky about assignments. Don’t accept anything that comes along. This keeps your standard of work high and uncompromised. I stopped doing freebie projects for those who don’t want to pay years ago. If you don’t, you’ll be inundated with those who will tell you “I don’t have any money, but I can give you exposure if you just do ___ for me”. Nope. Get exposure on your own. You can bog yourself down with these kinds of projects and make nothing from it. If I want to donate work I will do it to charities or organizations, not fly-by-night book publishers who have no money. Be picky.
Have a budget and stick to it. Don’t get extravagant with spending or you’ll end up broke. The income of a freelance artist can be a windfall of cash one minute, and absolutely nothing, the next. Work towards more steady income without wild peaks and valleys. It pays to be sensible with money. Save a little money whenever possible, to be used for strictly business purposes in the future. It takes practise, I made many money mistakes in my past but the school of hard knocks taught me to be better with money in the end. Now I am not struggling because I do not buy things I don’t need.
Paying for a separate studio is great if you’re independently wealthy, if you aren’t, having one room of your living space for your art is best. For many years, my living room was my office, now the whole place is. Now, though, I live on a lake, in better surroundings. I take work seriously and so it is incorporated into my life as tastefully as possible. It pays off not to have an extra rent to pay for. It’s all about the profit at the end of each month.
Promote others, and they will in turn promote you. Spread the word about yourself and others, and it’s amazing how fast good news travels.
If you aren’t fully self-supporting, get a side job. It’s part of paying your dues. Learn from any part-time job you have, try to get something that will teach you something about marketing, art or whatever your business is about.
If I had to do it over again, I would’ve double majored in college in not only illustration, but marketing. But, I have managed to make a good living for myself even without this degree. The key is persistence and never to stop learning. If you’re an artist, it’s fun to do art you like doing, but also keep in mind, if you plan to sell what you do, you must appeal to your audience. Who is your audience? Target your work to them. You can still be yourself, you still call the shots. In art, whatever you do is your right. Artistic license. To be successful it is important to balance your uniqueness with being appealing to your customers. Make it work for you.