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Make Running an Art Business Easier

Learning to run an art business represented by this illustration of Alice Through the Looking Glass, by Ralph Steadman

The artistic brain works in mysterious ways. We as artists come up with weird ideas that no one else even bothers to think about, and we make connections between things that don't make logical sense sometimes. We are motivated and affected by color and mood and imagery in a way that non-artists don't understand. On top of this we also need to focus on these abstract subjects throughout our lives in order to develop our creativity and talent.

What ends up happening, I think, is that artists end up somewhat sheltered from reality, because we are busy creating our own!

A Rude Awakening

 Then one day you realize that you need to translate this unique outlook into an art-related business in order to stay alive and keep food on your table (or else risk giving up spending a majority of your time on the arts). You realize that business is all about forms and rules and decisions that are based completely on input from the outside instead of input that is developed from the inside. For the artist, it's a different way of thinking. It's a through-the-looking glass experience, except you're looking out of Wonderland and into boring normal life.

This subject is one that hits right about the time you graduate and are ready to work, or right when you consider going out on your own to be a freelancer or start your own creative business. And it's a big hurdle for everyone. Color classes didn't help with this!

So, if you need to be successful in art-related business, you need exposure to this perverse (aka normal) way of thinking. You need to figure out where your business brain is located so you can tap into it and use its powers to compliment your art brain.

There are several places to find this necessary business brain, if it's not already inside your own skull.

1) Find it at home

Do you have a spouse, significant other, family member, or friend who is in a field like accounting, marketing, or who runs a small business of any kind? If so, then they probably already know tons of stuff that you need to know, and hopefully they would like to help you out and share their knowledge with you. They will also probably know other people that you could connect with who specialize in even more details that you need to know.

This seems to be the most popular area that artists find their business brains- the next time you're at a comic convention, count the number of artists that are sitting to the side as their spouse does all the selling work, and you'll see what I mean. I think it's because this is the easiest way that doesn't require as much risk as the alternative; but it is also harder to get a good return because your potential is limited to the people that you know or meet randomly.

But what if you are a recluse, have sworn yourself to a lifetime of singlehood or if you keep befriending only other likeminded artists?  Or what happens if it's too complicated or you don't have great faith in the people you know so far? Or  what happens once your family members burn out on helping...

2) Find it in a stranger's brain

 There are businesses out there that have been created specifically to help others run their businesses, and this is the way that successful business people tend to go.  No business owner knows everything. In fact one common characteristic of successful people is that they know their strengths and limitations, and know when to seek help. You are an artist, yes?  But you're probably not also a business person.  So you need to find a business person to help.

But where specifically do you find these strangers who hold the knowledge that you need? 

Business Consultants

There is the option of seeking out a business consultant who may be able to charge you a small monthly flat rate for consulting and assistance with particular issues. You will need to call various places and tell them what you need and see what their suggestions and price ranges are.  If you contact smaller  consulting businesses to start, the likelihood that they will be cheaper increases. Once you start earning more money you can hire larger and larger firms if you feel you need to.

Local Colleges

Or if you have limited funds (shocker, we are artists here), start out with a class or two at a local college on entrepreneurship or running your own business.

Business Organizations

Organizations such as your local Small Business Administration or SCORE often have seminars and classes to help those who are looking to start a business. Here in Cincinnati, Bad Girl Ventures creates a woman-friendly environment (though they of course help men as well). Through participating in workshops and seminars you will also find similarly minded people who are seeking similar goals as you, some who are farther ahead, and some who are behind you in terms of knowledge.

Books and Blogs- Kinda

Of course there are also books and blogs on these subjects, which are helpful to start with, But you will need a flesh and blood mentor that you can talk to. They can show you exactly what to do with a form, explain terms that you haven't encountered before, and help with those other little details that are just impossible to understand without real life experience.

Looking on the bright side

Even business majors graduate and don't know what they're doing in business- they learn through real life experience. And that's what we have to do too, Just remember that it's a slow process but you can make major progress quickly, and that you don't need to know everything, as long as you know who to ask for help!


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