Building a professional art career or art business can be one of the toughest things to do and can lead to overwhelm, frustration and feelings of doubt. I have put together these 5 business lessons that I learnt in order to help you accelerate your learning.
I was a single parent at the time when my professional art career took off the first time around, so things were tough enough. I knew absolutely nothing about business – and had to learn from the ground up.
After a few years and a lot of hours devoted, I finally achieved some of my bigger goals. Having solo shows, an agent, selling in London galleries and the Affordable Art Fair in London, as well as setting up and running a successful Artists Open Houses Trail where I lived.
But I also had massive moments of fear in what I was doing.
So, by 2008 I pulled out all my paintings and put down my brushes, for what I thought would be forever. I really had lost my desire to paint, partially out of feeling pressured into producing quantity over quality and partially through not giving myself enough time to develop my practice to the level I wanted.
Since then of course I dived into learning all about business, trained and qualified as a business coach, ran a successful coaching practice and now love working with other artists to help them build a dream lifestyle. Never thinking I might go back…
I often said, if I knew then a fraction of what I know now, I would approach it all very differently.
In early 2017 I had just that chance and now two years on I have re-found my ‘thing’, rent a local studio and am building a new fresh collection of paintings.
As I don’t want to repeat the mistakes I had made in my previous professional art career, I’m sharing my Top 5 Business Lessons learnt.
My Top 5 Business Lessons Learnt From My Previous Art Career:
1: Keep up your education.
For me this was massive. I’d had had an alternative art training over 3 years, been brought up in an artistic house (my mother was an artist too), and then taught art in school for 8 years, as well as running adult art classes… So, somehow I just rebelled at the idea of continuing my own artistic development.
I think now this was the biggest mistake of all. After all, with my coaching business I have continuously invested in further training in every area and continue to do so.
2: Get professional business help.
Of course most artists don’t even think of themselves as ‘business owners’, so having this mind-set switched on is a great start. I did go and get some local free business advice and this definitely helped, but it just wasn’t enough.
I think if you are serious about any business, then you need to go and get some professional help if this is an area you know nothing about. After all if you are planning to make this your core income, then you are in business, or at least ‘self-employed’ and you need to treat this seriously.
3: Have a structured business plan.
When I started out I had a one-sheet ‘Business Plan’ that charted the up-coming 3 months of exhibitions I had lined up; roughly how many paintings I needed to produce and how much I’d make IF I sold them all. Needless to say I didn’t…(sell them all). Oh boy, how green was I?
This time around I had a full Business & Marketing Plan worked out before I even started painting.
4: Keep a main income till you are profitable.
Now some people thrive on the ‘risk’ and ‘excitement’ in all things entrepreneurial, and in some cases this can be exhilarating, make you get outside of your comfort zone and make stuff happen. In other cases it can leave you in financial difficulties, stressed and in not a great emotional state.
So, I would suggest maintaining a stable income stream from elsewhere, creating that Business Plan, and waiting till you are regularly selling before jumping 100% into your professional art career. (Or any other business venture for that matter…).
5: Get great at marketing.
Gosh, this is such a game-changer when you really understand the power your marketing knowledge could have on your professional art career. Of course when I was painting and selling previously there was no Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram etc.
I had a website I hoped people would find; created expensive post-cards and flyers, and manually printed, folded and stuffed envelops with invites to my Private Views. No email addresses, just good old-fashioned letters.
Now I understand that for 1-2 hours each day I would need to be undertaking some marketing activity, or find someone to do this for me. I also understand that this makes the difference that makes the all the difference. And right now Social Media is the perfect strategy for all the visual arts.
When I remember hours spent stuffing those envelopes, then having my kids walk round the town hand delivering all the local ones; these were fun times that’s for sure. Will I be doing things differently this time around? Absolutely.
I hope these 5 Business Lessons have helped you with your art career or art business.