Artrepreneurship 2.0 – The Business of Art in a New Economy

by mariah on August 12, 2010

Published in Grand Valley Magazine (www.grandvalleymagazine.com) – July 2010

The star of a recent New York Times story by Alex Williams titled “That Hobby Looks Like a Lot of Work” is Yokoo Gibran, who quit her day job after successfully selling her hand-knit scarves and accessories in an Etsy shop. (See note at end of story.) The Times reports that she earns more than $140,000 per year knitting. That’s no hobby! And I started thinking about how artists can utilize the Long Tail economy to find customers and sell their art. We talked about the Long Tail economy last month (Strategic Marketing in a Long Tail Economy, GV June 2010).

Etsy’s mission “is to enable people to make a living making things.” What’s not to love about that? Companies like Etsy that are techie, fast-paced, web-enabled, and virtual can be used to connect us with real things in real life that are important — like art. With blogs, Facebook, and online marketplaces, there is no reason that talented artists in the Grand Valley can’t use these tools to create a great reputation and reach a viable niche market anywhere. The new economy is good for art!

The idea of artists as business people isn’t new. Cheryl McNab, Executive Director of the Western Colorado Center for the Arts, says, “Art has to be a business if you want to be serious about it.” Many artists in the community have worked with Linda Brotman-Evans and ArtSpace and Open Studio, where a mix of business seminars and studio tours can give artists the support they need to earn an income.

Many Grand Valley artists have been successful here, but just as many have needed to go to other communities to find their niche. Art is as much about relationships (if not more) than any other business. In creating a business around an art product, it is critical to make that very personal human connection. Today, new media tools add to your ability to do this by allowing you to do it in a virtual manner.

So you want to turn your creative juices into a business. Where to begin? Let’s assume that you, the artist, are highly skilled and have developed an attractive, marketable line of products. Since your wonderful creations are in high demand, let’s get started with the business side:

1. Write a business plan.
You might think that a business plan is used only to get financing from a bank or other lender. This is not true. A business plan explains your goals, your path, your vision for your future. It can be creative — one of my favorite plans is in comic book form. In the process of writing a business plan, you take a good hard look at what you are going to do and make a strategy for how to make it successful.

2. Get the details right.
You’ll need to form an entity that is the business. Some types are: sole proprietorship, limited liability company, corporation, among others. You’ll also need to understand what expenses the business can expect and how your revenue will impact your tax liability. Developing a good working rapport with a CPA is a must. You should explore business insurance and create a system for tracking your products, sales, and expenses. This approach may be contrary to the artistic sensibility — you may be breaking out in hives at this point — but it is a necessary evil. Trust me: It’s not so bad once you dig in and find ways to do projections that are effective for your work style.

3. Identify your customer.
Start with a target customer. (Generalizations and stereotypes are perfectly acceptable here.) Prioritize; you get to select only one target customer at a time, so begin with the most likely group. You might say, “My creations appeal to all types,” but think of the person most likely to buy your work. Can you describe that person? Younger or more mature? Male or female? Urban or rural? Creative? Professional? Outdoorsy? Bluegrass music lover? Get as specific as you can.

4. Broad can be bad.
Don’t try to make art that is attractive to all people. People want art that speaks to them personally. If you take on too much, your product line will be all over the map. Find your voice and decide what you want to say. Focus on what you do best and know that with time and experience you can do and say more things. It’s a little like an introduction to a new person at a party: You don’t tell them everything about yourself in the first five minutes. You start with the primary thing you want them to know, the thing you think they are most interested in.

5. Start talking.
Make yourself known to the world through new media tools. A great starting point is the Grand Junction Commission on Arts and Culture’s new website. Artists, groups, organizations, galleries, and arts-related businesses can apply with Lorie Gregor for a landing page, a website to introduce yourself to the local market.
Open a blog and/or Facebook page and load pictures, articles, video, or whatever you want to say about your art. This is not a build-it-and-they-will-come tool. This is a way to find and talk to people who are interested in your art. Have you ever bought art from someone who was teaching an art class? That person probably said something that impressed you enough for you to open your pocketbook. You want make that type of impression on Facebook.

6. Make a shopping cart.
Your clients are going to search for art, whether through Google, Facebook, or a local gallery. Make sure that if someone wants to buy something, they can. Make it easy. Artists need to focus on where their consumers are looking to spend dollars. Today, Facebook may have more traffic, but websites are where people are looking for products and spending their dollars.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but it should get you ready to go. If you need assistance, call us at the Business Incubator Center — we’re happy to help: www.gjincubator.org.

If you haven’t browsed on Etsy, you’re in for a treat. True, some of the creations fail to approach the level of art, but you’ll find lots that do. Visit www.etsy.com.

The Grand Junction Commission on Arts and Culture’s new website can be a big help. Visit www.gjarts.org.
Dianna Fritzler, our local Grand Valley art-marketing guru, used fineartstudioonline.com to develop her site. It is a clean, easy-to-navigate site and offers a selection of items from oil paintings for $2,000+ to prints for under $30.

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