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.
What an incredible realization!
Just let it sink in for a moment. You believe in yourself and your abilities, and that’s the all-important first step. Because many artists let excuses and fear—fear of the unknown, fear of taking risks, fear of failure—stop them from even trying. But you have one life, and you are going to make it count.
And, 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 artrepreneur!
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.
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 website.
Remember, not all customers are created equal.
Next, 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.
Ignorance is bliss… except when it comes to your 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.
NOTE: The ongoing spread of COVID-19 has left massive effects on the economy, and small business owners are already some of the hardest hit. While the SBA and Congress have attempted to use the SBA loan program to help America’s businesses, accessing the program can be confusing and challenging for entrepreneurs – especially those small business owners who either are not aware that resources exist or once they do, may have difficulty navigating bureaucracy. Check out Money.com’s updated article on small business loans to gain a better understanding of whether you’ll qualify, the type of interest rate you’ll pay, and more.
Remember, planning for financial success is the best way to make it happen. Which leads us to the next section…
Price your work for profit.
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.
Second, try one of these art pricing formulas. Some justify a dollar amount for the size of the work, while others simply go off of labor time and costs. Your skill level and education may play a factor, as well. But no matter what formula you choose, always make sure there’s still a profit left for you at the end by factoring in your costs.
Third, price consistently. Long story short, it will help you maintain a more positive relationship with galleries and collectors when no one feels undercut. Get the scoop here.
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!
If you still have questions about pricing, head over to our blog. It’s filled with pricing tips!
Make it legal.
You’ve made the work and you’re ready to start selling. The only thing holding you back from building your art business empire is making it legal.
That’s because even professional artists are required to have a business license.
Do a little research and decide what type of business structure you want to become. Many artists choose to classify their business as a sole proprietorship because it’s easy to set up and meets the needs of a basic studio practice.
Every state’s process is different, so head over to your local Clerk of Courts website, your state’s Department of Revenue site, and the IRS site to see what steps are required next, recommends creative coaches Emily Chandler & Alicia Haskew.
TIP: Start a separate business checking account with your bank. That way, your business and personal expenses aren’t all mixed in together when it comes time to do taxes. And, don’t forget to save your business receipts!
But before you make anything official, do some digging into what is the right name for your art business with these tips. Consider using your own name with the keywords “art” or “studio” added to the end, as long as it’s easy to pronounce and abbreviate.
Whatever you choose, be sure to double check that your name is not already taken! We’re sure you don’t want to deal with any legal battles. Plus, you are going to need a website and social media accounts with a consistent art business name so customers can find you.
Create the perfect website to promote your presence online.
You can’t have a business these days without an online presence. It’s the easiest place to find you and get answers, so people can take the next step and buy your art.
That means your website and social media need to be on point! We’re talking a reasonable web address and usernames on social media, easily findable contact info, working links, high-quality images of your work, and a clear and personable About section.
All of these things work together to build your art brand, A.K.A. what people assume about you and your artwork based on what they see, often immediately, whenever they come into contact with your business.
If you aren’t a web designer, no problem! There are tons of sites these days that let you build your own website using beautifully designed, drag-and-drop style templates. Artwork Archive’s professional-looking Public Page feature links straight to your current art inventory!
And as far as social media goes, the golden rule is to focus on doing a few things really well, rather than overextending yourself. Trying to take on every social media channel in sight just leaves you with no time and neglected accounts which does not bode well for your brand.
Work on finding the right social media channels for you (and your target customer!), and concentrate on making quality posts.
Finally, how you are going to track everything?
As a professional artist, you have to manage a full-fledged business. That means inventory details, which locations are showing or selling your work, exhibition dates, client contact info, sales records, invoices, call-for-entry application deadlines, your schedule—the works!
There are so many moving parts. That’s why artists are notoriously labeled as disorganized. It’s hard to keep track of everything!
But a good business owner will look for tools to help keep them organized. That’s why using a tool like Artwork Archive, a business software developed specifically for artists, makes all the difference.
Keep track of everything we mentioned above! Manage your art, locations, contacts, shows, documents, expenses, and sales. Generate professional reports like invoices and portfolio pages at the click of a button. Never miss a deadline again with a schedule and weekly email reminders. Get important insights into your sales strategy. Display a professional portfolio that’s up-to-date with your latest work.
Artwork Archive supercharges your entire art business workflow.
And, you need to have systems like this in place. Not only to keep you organized and feeling professional but to save you valuable time. Because wouldn’t you rather focus on creating art than keeping your business afloat?