The model of an artist’s career is longer that of a solitary genius waiting to be discovered. A professional artist in the digital age is a creative entrepreneur or “artrepreneur“; a self-employed business owner who wants to make an impact with her work and make a decent living. That’s why having a well-thought-out artist business plan can be the difference between success and struggle, control and uncertainty, succumbing to circumstances, and being in charge of your own destiny.
Learning how to put together an artist business plan is an essential tool and road map for becoming an ‘artrepreneur’. A SNAAP report found that 81% of arts alumni cite business management skills as important competencies in their professional or work life. It all starts with your artist business plan.
What is an Artist Business Plan?
An Artist Business Plan (whether it’s for an artist, interior designer, landscaper, or restauranteur), is a document that sets out your future objectives and strategies for achieving them, usually within 1-5 years. Here’s where you lay out your mission, vision, and goals, how you will achieve them, what resources you will need, and how you’ll know you’ve succeeded. A solid artist business plan provides an accurate assessment of your creative product (your artwork) and the market research to show the demand for your work — who will buy it. Financing your business is an essential part of the plan to identify various forms of revenue, anticipated expenses, and ways you can secure money upfront if needed. Finally, an artist business plan will detail actionable strategies and metrics for growing and sustaining your business in the short- and long-term.
We’re taking the guesswork of freelancing and turning it around into creating a business plan with this step-by-step guide to crafting your artist business plan. From a strategic analysis of your work to a detailed artist marketing plan, these steps will get your artist business plan underway.
1. Define Your Vision, Mission, and Goals
The first step to craft an artist business plan requires that you do some introspection about what you want and what success means to you. Before you dive into the specifics, you want to have a clear vision of who you are as an artist, what you want to contribute, and where you stand within the local, national and international art world or creative landscape. You should be able to answer:
- What type of work are you making?
- What’s your medium?
- What are you trying to communicate through your work?
- What are the likely uses for your work?
- Does your work belong in a gallery, or is it better placed in a commercial space like a hotel or office?
- Will you need gallery representation or are you taking a freelancer approach to secure your own gigs and clients?
- How will you sell your work?
- Is success living off of your work? Getting museum or solo exhibitions? Getting paid to do public or private commissions? Licensing your work?
Defining the types of uses for your work is crucial to define the types of customers and buyers you’ll need to target with your marketing and promotion strategies.
2. Create a Marketing Strategy
The goal of your branding and marketing plan is to synthesize who you are (which you determined in Step 1) and keep that message consistent. Once you understand who is likely to purchase or distribute your work, you can create a branding and art marketing strategy that will help you reach your customers or audience. Your ‘brand’ is how you consistently present yourself, and that image must be aligned across all of your marketing channels.
Perhaps you’re a portrait photographer interested in obtaining event and commercial work. Your brand would communicate that, but it would also showcase the look and feel of your work. Say you’ve determined that light-filled, matte-finish photos that inspire a whimsical aesthetic appeal are some of your strongest work. You would ‘brand’ your work by only showcasing photos that demonstrate that same look and feel through your marketing. Your artist bio, portfolio, and social media channels would only include work that represents this brand of photography.
Once you’ve determined your brand, you’ll have to come up with a strategic artist marketing plan. Update your website with relevant portfolio samples and craft an artist bio that outlines your vision as an artist. Reach out to previous clients and ask them to contribute testimonials. Find new clients by attending networking events and encouraging word-of-mouth referrals by staying in touch with past clients and industry colleagues. Vow to upload a certain number of photos to your social media channels and use hashtags that will get you noticed among other users.
3. Set Specific Goals
Now that you know who you are as an artist, and you’ve crafted a branding and artist marketing plan that strongly communicates that finding, you’re ready to set some goals for yourself. Goals can be anything: Maybe you want to earn a certain amount of money this year. Perhaps you finally want to land gallery representation. Maybe there’s an award or an artist residency you’ve always dreamed of landing. Whatever your goals might be, they should meet the following criteria, known as SMART Goals.
SMART Goals are goals that are:
- Specific – What do you want to accomplish? When do you want to do this? Where do you want to do this? Who needs to be included? Which resources will you need? Why is this goal important?
- Measurable – What measurement will you use to determine if you’ve met your goal?
- Achievable – Do you have or can you get access to the knowledge and skills you need to achieve this goal?
- Relevant – Does this goal help you meet your final objective?
- Time-bound – When must you accomplish the goal? What is the deadline?
Here’s an example of a SMART goal for an artist:
- By March 2022, contact and secure interviews with at least 3 local galleries that have a history of selling work similar to my style, price, and subject matter.
Once you’ve determined your goals, you can start the process of creating your artist business plan.
4. Create an Action Plan
Now that you’ve determined the kind of artist you are, the means through which you’ll market and brand yourself, and have set specific goals for the year ahead, it’s time to start writing and defining what your actionable next steps will be. List your goals and how you plan on tackling them.
Your artist business plan should include everything you’ve determined up to this far, organized in sections. Section 1 can include your artist bio and statement of intent, section two your branding and marketing strategy and the targeted effort you’ll make to see this plan through, and section three a list of your goals and how you plan on tackling them.
Next, you’ll want to create three actions per month for the next twelve months that you can take to accomplish your business goals. Create a section for each month, and consider three actions per month that you can take to accomplish your overall goals. Perhaps your action plan will be to send your portfolio to five arts organizations per month. Or maybe you’ll set a goal to attend one conference or networking event per month. Take a look at what’s coming up in your area and find opportunities for getting your work out there.
5. Implement Your Plan
The hardest part of creating an effective artist business plan is taking the time to revisit the plan regularly and make sure you are sticking to your targeted actions in order to achieve your goals. You’ve put the work in to create a path to become a successful artrepreneur, and now that plan needs to take center stage among your weekly tasks. Visit it frequently, re-work it when necessary, and make sure you’re sticking to the monthly action items you’ve listed in your plan. Most importantly, remember that a successful art entrepreneur is one who makes room for creative thought, and your artist business plan should drive and support your most important work.
There are a variety of business plan templates. Find a format that works for you. Here are some examples of artist business plans. Pick what works best for you, and dream big!
Do you know of other resources? What are your art business goals? Let us know in the comments!
Nicole is a veteran arts and culture journalist. Her work has appeared in Reuters, VICE, Hyperallergic, Univision, and more.