Artist Miriam Schulmanin the studio.
Miriam Schulman, New York artist, and founder of The Inspiration Place and The Artists Incubator Coaching Program, helps artists develop their skills, tap into their creativity, and grow thriving art businesses. Schulman left a Wall Street career in the wake of 9/11 to pursue art full-time. Her story has been featured in major publications including Forbes, What Women Create, and The New York Times, as well as on NBC’s Parenthood. Her podcast, The Inspiration Place, graces the top 1% of all podcasts globally and is listened to in over 100 countries.
ARTPRENEUR: The Step-by-Step Guide to Making a Sustainable Living from Your Creativity is a marketing playbook for anyone looking to make a living from their art. The book provides the inspiration and practical steps artists need to build a personal brand, overcome starving artists syndrome, and make consistent sales from their art. By combining left-brain traditional marketing methods with these tools, artists will learn to build a confident mindset, take charge of their destiny, and create a clear path for success.
There is often a defining moment for artists when they finally decide to pursue their passion full-time.
For me, it wasn't a typical moment, but it is what led me to teach this framework to other artists.
Here is where my "artpreneur" story began ...
Imagine: a tan, muscular, bleach-blonde woman strode to the front of the room, spun on her heel, and eyed the room full of gym instructors. This required training session was part of the curriculum with master trainers who shared their success secrets for rising to the top of the gym’s power structure and commanding the highest hourly rates.
She continued staring at us until the room fell silent, as we shifted nervously in our chairs and then sighed, “Sadly, most of you believe that your hot body will sell training packages.”
Fired up from a day of exercise and motivational talks, I hatched a plan to hook my next sale—but not for the gym.
I figured traditional techniques could be used to sell anything, including art. It doesn’t matter if you have a hot body or amazing art: no matter what you’re selling, sales require work. You can’t just expect to make sales because you’re awesome.
I had recently painted a portrait of my four-year-old son, Seth, in his Batman suit. The bat-eared costume added a bit of whimsy while capturing his likeness. Seth proudly showed it off to all his friends when they came over who were impressed by his celebrity status captured in a painting.
Strategically, I moved the framed painting into our foyer so his friends’ parents would see the portrait when they came to pick up their kids. With the portrait in full view, Seth’s friends remembered to ask their parents if Seth’s mom could paint their portrait. Children are the best influencers. This sly bit of influencer marketing led to commissions, and then more people saw those portraits, leading to added referrals. Before I knew it, I had a full-time business painting portraits.
If I had any lingering doubts about my commitment to my art, the universe conspired to keep me out of the Pilates studio with an emergency appendectomy, followed by a broken toe. My love affair with portraits really kicked off during this time, and I continuously looked for ways to elevate my marketing. For example, whenever I sold a portrait to someone at my children’s school, I delivered it at pickup time in the school parking lot so other moms would see it. I also gave my clients a notecard set that featured their commission printed on the front.
Gifting my clients notecards created a way for them to easily share my art and generate referrals. This “social sharing” all happened long before Facebook came along, but I still recommend you use physical marketing pieces to promote your art. A social media post slides by in the blink of an eye, but a physical piece will sit on someone’s kitchen counter for days. However, promotion is only one business element you’ll need to have in place.
To make it as an "artpreneur," you’ll need to develop all eight of the foundations in the Passion-to-Profit framework.
The Passon-To-Profit Framework for Artists
The Passion-to-Profit framework consists of the five foundations of any sustainable business. These foundations are production, pricing, prospecting, promotion, and productivity. You’ll need to develop skills in each area, and these skills will often overlap and support each other. But a problem or lack of planning in any one foundational area will hinder your success in another.
Foundation One: Creating a Production Plan for Your Art
Your production plan includes what you plan to sell and how long it takes you to create your products or deliver your service. A solid production plan requires consistently building a profitable body of work and making sure you’re producing enough marketable art or offering classes on a steady basis. Artpreneurs understand that they cannot wait for inspiration to strike. Classic mistakes in production include creating art that isn’t profitable because the product can’t be priced high enough; a lack of capacity to create the products fast enough; and trying to produce too many kinds of products, which makes the artist look like a dabbler rather than a serious professional.
Foundation Two: Creating a Pricing Plan for Your Art
When it comes to building a sustainable income, your production plan goes hand in hand with your pricing plan.
In other words, if you sold everything you’ve created in your studio, would the grand total be the income you’re looking for? For many artists, when they do this math, they discover they can’t produce fast enough to create their desired results.
When you’re trying to build a sustainable business, exclusively focusing on low-cost products could be a mistake. If you’re selling inexpensive art, such as hand-painted rocks, stickers, or greeting cards, your profit margin will be low, and you’ll probably struggle to sell enough of them to build a sustainable business. This is always a production problem. Either the art takes too long to produce, relative to what the market commands, or there’s an upper limit for the price of the product. The problem isn’t the price, but the product.
A glimpse inside artist Leslie Parke's studio. Paint piled on the table. Photo by Nina Duncan.
Foundation Three: Understanding Your Capacity to Produce
When your capacity to produce is limited, you might have a production problem. Sometimes a production problem can be alleviated simply by raising your prices. But not all kinds of art command high prices. And if at a low price you can’t sell enough pieces to make a living, you’ll be better off producing more profitable art. Breaking things down in this manner, many artists have the “aha” moment when they realize: “I can’t make a living selling five-dollar greeting cards because I’d have to sell ten thousand of them every year.”
I see this happen to a lot of artists who sell their art printed on products. Believing it’s easier to sell their art in a form that’s useful, they ignore that they must do incredible volume to make the numbers work. Trying to compensate with volume becomes too much of an obstacle. If you’ve ever said to yourself, “Well, if only I could find a bigger audience, that would solve my problem,” you probably have a production problem.
Foundation Four: Developing a Healthy Relationship with Money and Confidence with Pricing
When an artist has a pricing problem, it’s not that they couldn’t command higher prices for their art—it’s that they won’t because mind drama gets in their way.
They imagine that collectors are motivated by lower prices and that they’ll sell more at lower prices—but that’s almost never the case!
Most people are so married to the sabotaging stories they tell themselves that they can’t recognize these thought patterns as low-profit thinking. They assume their low-profit thoughts are facts. In Artpreneur, I’ve dedicated an entire chapter to pricing as well as including thought work throughout the book so you’ll learn how to overcome your pricing drama.
Foundation Five: Finding Collectors and Building Relationships With Them
Prospecting is the first step in the sales process. Artpreneurs know that they need to find collectors who love their art and then create a plan to contact these “prospects” in the future. The mistake most artists make is that they don’t create a reliable way to stay in touch in order to close the sale. Instead, either they hand over a business card or hope the prospects will seek them out on social media.
Artists who focus solely on building a social media following without a reliable way to stay in touch, such as adding them to their email list, will fail to make consistent revenue from their audience. Social media accounts are shut down all the time, with thousands of followers vanishing in the blink of an eye. Don’t think it can’t happen to you because you “follow the rules.” My Instagram account got hacked, and it took me over a month to convince Instagram that I was the true owner of the account. One of my clients had her Instagram account shut down without explanation after she posted an artwork of a bird. There’s no reliable help desk for this behemoth of a company, and she was left scratching her head wondering what happened and why. Even well-known influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers have seen their accounts get shut down or hacked.
The key to making money with your prospecting efforts is to continually move prospects to your email and contact lists. You can use your email list to send messages in bulk through an email service provider. For that, get the person’s permission to add them to your email list and include a means for them to unsubscribe. You can also maintain a contact list for sending physical mail or personal one-on-one email. Make sure you consistently get your art and yourself in front of people so that you can find those who want your art and then ask them to take the first step with you by joining your mailing list.
Foundation Six: Investing in Building Your Client List
The moment artists realize they need to raise their prices, doubts about where to find buyers willing to pay those higher prices creep in. Buyers are out there—waiting for you to have the confidence to show up and claim your value—but other than thinking positively, exactly how do you find them?
In each of the places where you interact with prospects, they’ll need a reason to join your email list. Examples of incentives could be a free instructional class, a discount on a purchase, or first dibs on your one-of-a-kind creations.
For many artists ready to pay for advertising, a large budget isn’t necessary. For example, my client, wildlife artist Elizabeth Mordensky, took out a small series of ads for $750 in an art collector magazine and negotiated a multi-page feature article. As a result of this investment, she sold $9,500 in original artwork.
Foundation Seven: Closing Sales Through Promotion
Promotion includes your sales and marketing. Many business owners confuse marketing and sales because they both involve forms of promotion, but here’s how they differ. Marketing promotions get the attention of your prospects and convert them into email subscribers. Sales promotion is what you’re doing when you talk with someone who has some awareness of you and may be ready to buy. Sales promotions include words on your website and what you say to close the sale. An effective promotion campaign will include a series of emails announcing there will be a sale to drum up anticipation, followed by emails that include a call to action to buy something.
Your promotions should follow this structure. First, whisper that an event is coming, like a new collection drop. Tease that people need to get on your email list so they don’t miss out on something special, like an early-bird discount, first dibs, or a limited supply. Then, increase the volume once you’ve announced the date of your launch, when tickets go on sale, or when your collection drops. Finally, pump up the volume when the event is here—and everyone should buy now. You’ll notice that this is how live concerts and movies are promoted. You’ll see “coming attractions” for movies six months in advance. This promotion builds awareness. Then, once tickets go on sale, the second phase of promotion is selling.
People buy with their emotions and drumming up desire with a long runway ultimately generates more sales because using a promotional sequence builds anticipation. Part of the thrill for the customers is knowing that the collection may sell out very quickly on opening day, and the fear of missing out motivates them to make a quick decision to buy as soon as the collection is released.
Foundation Eight: Prioritizing Organization to Increase Productivity
Once you know all the steps of prospecting and promoting, how do you organize this so you can focus and stop spinning? Your productivity plan will include all the steps you take from the time you meet a prospect until they finally buy from you—and all the steps in between. Organize yourself to manage your priorities, protect your sacred studio time, and stay focused on your goals. To make it as an artpreneur, you need to become a ninja about managing your priorities and how you spend your days.
Identifying Which Foundation You Need to Focus on to Grow as an Artist
In many cases, artists misdiagnose the problems that limit them.
You may think your problem is in one area, say prospecting, when really, it’s in another, like pricing.
Think you need a bigger audience? Maybe you’re too focused on low-profit art (a production problem), or maybe you’re pricing your existing art too low (a pricing problem).
Think you don’t know how to sell on social media? Typically, that means you aren’t using social media to connect and prospect (a prospecting problem), or you don’t know how to close sales (a promotion problem).
Think you don’t have time to get it all done? When you’ve misdiagnosed your problem, you’re spending time on the wrong things (a productivity problem).
Generally, these classic mistakes occur when an artist doesn’t understand the five foundations of building a business or because of limiting beliefs that inevitably affect their progress.
What's Next for Artists?
As the internet pushes aside art world “gatekeepers” who used to decide what was "worthy”, there’s never been a better time for artists to transform your ideas into a sustainable business. I urge you to gamble on yourself. Instead of “quiet quitting” go all in on your dreams.
In ARTPRENEUR: The Step-by-Step Guide to Making a Sustainable Living from Your Creativity, you can learn more about the foundations of establishing a profitable art business. The book provides the inspiration and practical steps artists need to build a personal brand, overcome starving artists syndrome, and make consistent sales from their art. By combining left-brain traditional marketing methods with these tools, artists will learn to build a confident mindset, take charge of their destiny, and create a clear path to success.