Financial planning for artists is one of the “business of art” topics that many creatives struggle with. The art and design industry employs creative freelancers, self-employed businesses, and independent contracts as work tends to be more project-based, client-pitched outsourced. There are fewer companies with “in-house” art and design full-time staff. In the gig economy, creatives often don’t receive training or education in financial planning due to their educational coursework in their artistic disciplines. Coupled with the episodic income of the gig economy, financial planning for artists needs to be strengthened as creative entrepreneurship becomes more attractive for those seeking more control of their career, diverse income streams, and alignment with their professional and personal goals.
Develop Good Financial Habits and Set Goals
Artists avoid thinking about money for any number of reasons. For one, many artists have no idea how to place value on their own work, whereas others “don’t do it for the money” and have an ambivalent attitude towards money and success. Just because you avoid the subject of money, however, doesn’t mean that money is unimportant. Dealing with money also doesn’t mean allowing money to dictate your life. On the contrary: the reason to set financial goals in your art business is to take back your power to make decisions.
First, establish an annual spending plan for your art business. Creating and maintaining a cash flow analysis will help you clearly identify income and expenses. If you’ve been keeping track of your income and expenses in a spreadsheet or in a budgeting app like Mint or YNAB then this will be a cinch. If not, find a template online with common expense categories and come up with an estimated budget, starting with more expensive budget items. Next, establish an ideal spending or growth plan. Say you were to hire a part-time assistant, turn over your social media management, or rent a bigger art studio. How much money would you need to make in the next year or 5 or 10 years to be able to do that? Seeing the numbers can help make these choices concrete.
Identify income sources, be they from existing revenue streams or potential new ones. Do some market research–are the prices you are charging for your artwork comparable to other artists with whom you show? Perhaps you aren’t earning money from your art business: what about your salary from your day job or the products and services you do sell? Where are you due for a raise? Pick out a few main goals or projects, for each quarter of the year that you believe will expand your practice or business. These might match up directly to your income goals or they might be geared toward allowing you to feel more supported in your practice. Prioritize these goals around what will ultimately serve you best, personally and professionally.
Start Exactly Where You Are
Once you’ve set your financial goals, you have a better idea of what success looks like for your art business. Even among famous artists, a closer look reveals the journey as anything but linear. Stepping beyond the fantasy and getting more familiar with the true story behind an artist’s rise to popularity can both comfort and inspire you when you encounter financial barriers.
Choose a few artists you admire, be they living or historical figures. Learn all that you can about them. Pay special attention to the moments before their “launch”: the chance encounters or day jobs that ended up opening doors for them. Think of these people as your mentors and learn from their example. Take their experiences into account and then focus on your own situation. This will allow you to start taking informed baby steps towards your own goals. Above all, stay curious. You never know where a new opportunity for your art business might arise!
Do an Art Business SWOT Analysis
A SWOT analysis is a technique that businesses use to discover new opportunities and eliminate potential threats. “SWOT” stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Just like an annual checkup is meant to maintain your body’s overall health, a periodic inventory of your art business helps you track the status of your finances. Here are a few questions to ask:
- What advantages do you have? Are you in a good location geographically? What skills do you possess, along with social or professional connections?
- What unique or low-cost resources can you draw upon?
- What is your competitive edge? What do you do differently or better than everyone else?
- What aspects of your art business could you improve?
- What factors lose you time, sales, or peace of mind?
- What are successful artists doing that you aren’t doing?
- What new opportunities in the market or to reach new markets are becoming available?
- What opportunities did I pass, but are still available?
- What would be the ideal opportunity?
- What obstacles do you face on an ongoing or continual basis?
- Are changing market conditions or technologies threatening your income or the way you work?
- Do you have debt or cash-flow problems?
Uncover limiting beliefs
What if your current financial status was based not so much on how much or how hard you work, but due to subconscious programming? Whether you realize it or not, you have a financial prosperity setpoint. Research from the National Institute of Health confirms this. Your financial setpoint is-a number or amount of money that motivates you to work and beyond which you don’t think is realistic.
Becoming aware of your attitudes, opinions, and assumptions about money is key to changing your approach to financial goals. If you find yourself stuck at the same income level year after year, you might consider taking an inventory of your money beliefs. A quick Google search for “money blocks” will yield a host of questions, but here are a few to get you started:
- Am I used to being in debt or living from paycheck to paycheck?
- Am I hesitant to spend money; or, do I spend it the moment I get it?
- Do I believe that having money makes me a selfish or greedy person?
- Do I believe that the more money I have, the less there is for others?
Feeling that you do not deserve success is a major obstacle to growing your business, so if you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, you may want to explore further.
Hire Someone to Support Your Art Business
Your greatest earning potential comes from working out of what Gay Hendrick’s calls your Zone of Genius. The Zone of Genius combines what you do–the skills and education you’ve mastered–with the special elements of who you are. To be in the zone of genius means utilizing the unique combination of skills and talents only you can offer the world.
The number one thing you can do to expand your art business is to hire someone, even if it is for a few hours a week or a month. Especially when you are just starting out, it is easy to get stuck under mountains of mundane but “essential” tasks. Recognizing that just because you are efficient at something does not mean it is where you should be spending your time and energy is a major mindset shift that can set you on the path towards distinguishing your capabilities.
In addition to getting out of your comfort zone and letting go of control, hiring an employee provides additional motivation towards making a consistent income. It also provides a feedback loop forcing you to look at what money is going in and what is coming out. We all have our blind spots and getting someone else’s perspective can be invaluable to growing your business. Especially if you find yourself turning down opportunities or putting all your energy into tasks that frustrate you, it is time to hire out.
Fellow artists and creatives: Have you put any of this advice into practice? Do you feel supported in your art practice by utilizing any of this input, or have you found other methods that support your goals? Share these with your peers in the comments below!
Erin Sickler is a mindfulness & creativity coach living in the Hudson Valley. A former NY art curator, she has worked with some of the world’s most successful living artists and now writes about expanded modes of being on the creative path.