Having a professional art career can be one of the toughest careers to choose and often leads to financial frustration to say the least. I was a single parent at the time when my professional art career took off the first time around, so things were tough enough.

Not to mention I knew absolutely nothing about business – so consequently I found myself partially funding my own career elsewhere. Which seems to be very common unfortunately.

After a few years I finally achieved some of my bigger goals. Having an agent, selling in London galleries, showing at the Affordable Art Fair in London and setting up and successfully running an Artists Trail where I lived.

But I also had massive moments of overwhelm and self-doubt in what I was doing.

So by 2008 I pulled back 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.

Since then of course I dived into learning all about business, trained and qualified as a coach and then loved working with other artists to help them build a sustainable business. Never thinking I might go back…

I often said though, if I knew then a fraction of what I know now, I would approach it very differently.

2017 has been a very interesting year as I am going back 100% to my art career, adopting everything I have learnt.

As I don’t want to repeat the mistakes I made in my previous professional art career. So here I’m sharing my Top 5 Business Lessons learnt.

My Top 5 Business Lessons Learnt From My Professional 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.

  1. 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. 

  1. 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? Further then those pieces I had no idea about anything else.

This time around I had a full Business & Marketing Plan worked out before I started fully painting. 

  1. 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 and 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…).

  1. 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, Instagram or Periscope 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 2-3 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? What do you think?

So a professional art career this time around will look very different, and I’m excited to have started with a simple Etsy Shop. Then created a Meet-up Group to meet other artists while I’m here in Perth, Australia.