I met someone recently who was asking me a lot of questions about my start in the photography world, my ideas, my vision – basically, all of the craziness that lives in my head. And he asked me if I had always been entrepreneurial. The question took me a little off-guard, because I have never thought of myself as an entrepreneur, although I’m not sure why. I did start a business – a few actually – but somehow the association of art and business often gets lost. However, the business side of art is hugely important, especially for artists. You can be the most talented person in the world, but if you do not know how to get an audience for your work, you will most likely not have any success beyond getting a few “likes” on facebook whenever you post a new image. “Likes” make you feel good, but they do not usually translate to sales or exposure opportunities.
Artists need to think strategically about who their target audience is and how to attract them. They need to create a strong, consistent, professional brand through social media and their website. They need to develop a plan and timeline to thoughtfully launch new work that involves strategically reaching out to appropriate galleries, publishers, and online outlets. It sounds like a lot of work. It is.
So back to my business beginnings. . . When I was asked if I had always been entrepreneurial, I had a flashback to my elementary school days and remembered the business I started. Crazy, because I hadn’t thought about this in years and years, but – I had a club, and of course, I was the president (read: dictator). We wanted money to buy matching t-shirts with our club names on them (we each had gemstone names that were supposed to correspond to our birthstone, but June is pearl and not sparkly, so as club president I had the authority to assign myself “Amethyst”).
We had a goal (t-shirts) but needed a plan to reach that goal. I felt we could create a product to sell to our classmates (3rd graders), so we had our target audience, now how to attract them? At the time, these loom potholders were very popular to make, but better than potholders were headbands made from the loom loops. We created a few headbands and made posters and order forms (a professional brand, pre-social media and websites) to post in the 3rd grade classrooms.
They were a smashing success, but we ran into some unforeseen problems. The demand was very high, and we did not have a dedicated workforce in place (the other club members were not pulling their weight – slackers). Also, everyone wanted pink and purple headbands, and if you know anything about those loom loop packets, they only come with one or two pinks in the entire bag. We did have the advantage of no supply costs, since our parents bought the loom loops for us, but ultimately we had to close up shop. We got the t-shirts, but a well thought out business plan may have helped us foresee the set-backs that ultimately did us in.
No, I do not advocate third graders writing business plans, but I do think artists should. If you are creating something you want to sell, you have a business, and you need a plan. Art is no exception. Be thoughtful and deliberate about it. Your art deserves nothing less.
(As a sidenote, I started the business back up in 5th grade selling Pencil Pals – little animals made out of pipe-cleaners with a bead for a head that hugged the top of your pencil. They were more popular than Garbage Pail Kids. I thought I had solved the labor issue by creating a relatively easy product to make, but I did not anticipate kids ordering 25 Pencil Pals at a time. Apparently my fellow club members did not have the same work ethic as I do, and my only option was to raise the price from 5 cents to 10 cents per Pal. There was a mutiny, and we halted production. It was a shame. They were adorable.)
Looking for help to formulate a plan for your work? Read more here.