A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about how common it is now for artists to express that they aren’t afraid of starting their businesses or taking the actions necessary to grow and develop real income.
This used to be a pervasive feeling amongst the art community, even when I first started teaching business to artists circa 2010.
TODAY, I WANTED TO WRITE A FOLLOWUP ABOUT WHAT SO MANY ARTISTS ARE FEELING INSTEAD: CONFUSED.
They lack real direction because there is SO much information out there and so many examples of people succeeding in their own businesses, including artists.
I have a client right now whose first inclination when unsure of a business decision is to research how the well-known & successful artists in her area have dealt with the decision.
Not a bad way to start, but there are dangers there – which could encompass an entire article on their own, maybe even an entire course.
We’re often reaching outward to find the answer.
OUR INTERNAL COMPASS IS BROKEN.
Or at least we’re ignoring it.
The first step to recovering from your overwhelmed, confused state and actually making forward progress in the career you want is simply to feel confident that you are capable of making good decisions, leading your business in the right direction, and pivoting easily if something isn’t working.
Confidence in your own abilities & intelligence is completely necessary because it’s the only way you can filter out the excessive noise you see on the internet and the copious examples you have in front of you of directions you could take your business.
You do not want to listen to all of it.
THE RESULT WOULD ACTUALLY BE A MUDDLED MESS OF AN ART BUSINESS THAT DOESN’T WORK WELL BECAUSE NONE OF THE PUZZLE PIECES ARE MEANT TO WORK TOGETHER.
You were just picking pieces from all sorts of puzzles and trying to make it work.
That’s pretty crafty of you! New, fun puzzle trend!
But also, it’s totally not going to work in your business.
Harnessing that confidence is essential; but once you’ve done that, the steps become more concrete.
The first thing to do, if you haven’t already, is get your online presence up. Start a website – simple is fine, but make sure it has at least 3 pieces of artwork that reflect the current style you’re working in.
If you’re working in multiple styles, have at least 3 in a single style and you can either just put up the three or you can add three in your second style, three in your third style, etc. You never want two or fewer pieces in a style to be on your site or they’ll look like outliers and confuse your potential customers.
Don’t spend too much time getting your site up. If you’re relatively techy, it should take you a day of hard work. If you’re not, still no more than a week. Otherwise you should enlist the help of a more techy friend or family member.
Remember not to be too picky. That’s part of my suggested time frames here. You are going to refine this site A LOT later, but you don’t want to waste time doing it now before you’re certain of what needs refinement.
Also in this category, pick a social media channel that you find appealing and start posting regularly and interacting. Grow your fanbase as soon as possible.
HOW YOU’LL MAKE MONEY
Next, you want to pick out your revenue streams. Are you going to just sell originals? That’s a hard life. Maybe you also want to sell prints, or maybe you want to explore some more advanced possibilities like licensing or wholesale.
Don’t worry about knowing how to execute each of these yet. You’ll start with what you know, then the thing that seems easiest to learn, and so on and so forth.
WHO WILL BUY
After that, you want to get at least 60% confident in your target market.
Determining a target market is difficult and confusing. There’s a lot of bad information out there about which aspects of it are important and how to accomplish it.
I find the easiest way to go about it is to figure out a bunch of things that DON’T describe your target market (for example – if you create bright florals, your target market probably isn’t the alternative-steampunk-comic-convention crowd). This can usually get you at least 50% of the way there.
Narrow as far as you can without going crazy. Then move on and come back to it in a couple months after you’ve seen it play out.
Now, develop a plan for 4-5 marketing strategies you’d like to use aside from social media. Social media is a given for everyone. Pick a few more that feel natural or intriguing to you.
You can always change them later, and almost certainly will. But give yourself a place to start.
REVIEW & ADJUST
At this point, you’ve got a basic plan for your art business. It may not be perfect. But it doesn’t need to be.
There are so many ways to build an art business that works and brings you lots of money and happiness – there isn’t a “perfect”.
So a lot of people waste a lot of time in these first stages just reworking it over and over.
I only want you to rework it once. Look at these first 4 steps and make sure they make sense together.
For example, if you think your target market might be college students who love fitness and fashion, but your revenue streams were huge & expensive canvases and accent chairs with your art printed on them…. you probably need to either rethink your revenue streams or rethink your target market. Those two don’t play well together since college students don’t tend to have a lot of money or a big space to put these large things in.
This double-checking process should only take a few minutes. Do not spend weeks adjusting. Remember, at this stage done is better than perfect.
Finally we get to the implementation phase. Probably a lot of you are already here and that’s great. Don’t feel like you have to back up and do the previous phases again.
I want you to pick one thing to work on at a time. Maybe it’s a revenue stream you need to get running, like licensing. Or maybe it’s a marketing strategy you want to put in place to grow your audience quickly.
Now is the worst time for shiny object syndrome. Art businesses are destroyed by having a distracted to do list before the business is profitable because you don’t get good results when your time & energy is split up amongst a lot of areas, which is very discouraging and means a lot of artists quit.
FOCUS IS THE NAME OF THE GAME.
Pick ONE thing to work on. Either complete it, if it’s something that can be completed, or work on it for at least a full month before moving onto the next thing.
You may have other small things creeping into your to do list and that’s ok. You’re always going to have to photograph new work, answer emails, keep up with social media, etc. Just make sure that you’re not trying to implement 3 new strategies all at once.
TEST & REFINE
The last thing to do is to carefully watch how your focus task and the first 4 steps are working. Assess what’s bringing you new fans, what’s making you money, what’s feeling stressful, what’s taking up more time than the results are worth, etc.
Keep detailed notes so you can return to them years later when you’re thinking about trying a strategy you’ve already tried before. It will either remind you why it didn’t work so you can move on or you’ll be able to see where things are different now and the strategy may be more successful at this stage of your art business.
The refining part is important here. I’ve been telling you up until now that done is better than perfect. But once you’re in the test & refine stage, it’s ok to be more of a perfectionist.
Look for ways to make things better and better in your art business.
But if you start to lose focus, write down your ideas and revisit them next, once you’re finished with the current focus area.
CONTINUE TO SIT IN THE FOCUS AND TEST & REFINE STAGES SIMULTANEOUSLY.
This is what business looks like at least for the first few years, and often for the lifespan of a business, especially with rapidly changing technology.
Your confusion will dissipate as you start to follow this plan because it’s built around trust in yourself and putting off anything that doesn’t support that trust.
If you’re always looking at all the things you can do and picking ONE that feels important and helpful, it’s hard to feel like you’re screwing up.
Even if it wasn’t the absolute most perfect one you could have picked to work on, you know you’re not stupid and it wasn’t one of the worst!
So you’re making great progress even if you could have picked better.
That helps give your confidence in the focus area a jolt and, of course, your confidence in yourself will grow as you see this pan out well for you and stop getting so easily distracted.
What stage of the process are you at?
If you’re in one of the first four stages, or you skipped over any of them, you might enjoy taking The Artist’s Business Plan, a course designed to walk you through a lot of the decisions surrounding the strategy of your business.
I actually refer to the course myself every few years to make sure my business plan is still consistent with where I want to head & what I’m actually seeing happen, and many of my consulting clients do the same.