5 Ways Starving Artists Can Build Up Their Business Skills

From financing to marketing, here's what you need for a flourishing career

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Many artists, actors, musicians, and writers have the talent, but were never taught the business skills to turn their craft into a career. While an MBA is likely out of the question for most artists, a new free online workbook and video series called Work of Art: Business Skills for Artistscan guide them through every step of building a successful career and business – from financing, marketing, and taxes to pricing, time management, and social media.

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According to Laura Zabel, executive director of Springboard for the Arts and the founder of Creative Exchange, Work of Art fills a critical void in a profession that, until recently, placed a lower priority on teaching artists critical entrepreneurial and business skills. “Work of Art is aimed at replacing the myth of the ‘starving artist’ with that of the thriving, empowered creative entrepreneur who is able to do what they love, make an impact on their world, and be valued for it,” says Zabel. “We are excited to make these critical and relevant tools available in an easy, accessible way to anyone who want to use them.”

To make the successful program accessible to artists and artisans from all disciplines nationwide, Springboard for the Arts received support from the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation’s Marketplace Empowerment for Artists program to create the Work of Art toolkit and video series, and make it available for free via Creative Exchange.

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In addition to helping individual artists, Zabel notes that Work of Art can also be used by arts schools to supplement educational curricula and by organizations to start or enhance their own creative entrepreneurship programs.

Here, Zabel shares five tips on how any artist can start working and thinking like an entrepreneur.

Know the margins – There’s an old joke in business about a company going broke because they lose money on every order, but they make up for that in volume of sales. Knowing how to price your work – whether original artworks, brand merchandise for sale, or creative services – will help keep your expenses and income in order, and know what kind of flexibility you have. Track the component costs of your work, including the time spent on the process and the profit you want to make, to understand how to price your work.

Plan your social media – Social media is a great tool for attracting attention and customers to your work, and to help define who your audience really is. Spend time to plan out your social media messages, tailoring them to the audiences you want to develop relationships with – and make sure you are participating authentically in the conversations online. Additional Work of Art videos with tips and pointers are also available!

 Learn from unexpected sources – If you are only comparing your entrepreneurial work to the work of others in your field or discipline, you are missing out on a whole spectrum of inspiration. Look at how other artists in different disciplines are sharing their work and attracting audiences, look at businesses you shop with to see how they merchandise their products and communicate with customers. And if you are a business person, it flows both ways – look at artists to learn how they create shared experiences and keep patrons coming back for more.

Protect yourself – Getting literate with legal terminology will help you navigate the waters of copyright, intellectual property and work-for-hire, and help you make the most from your work. Work of Art will help you get up to speed on legal terms, questions that you should ask to protect yourself in contracting, and just in case you have to use one, it has a sample cease and desist letter template.

Don’t go it alone – At some point in your career, it may make sense for you to hire an accountant, or to get legal counsel, and don’t be afraid of doing that. You can’t and shouldn’t have to be an expert in everything. Also, don’t be afraid of working with and sharing with other artists, whether that’s learning together with the Work of Art series, or developing networks of support and encouragement.