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5 Ways Artists Can Work Like Entrepreneurs


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Image credit: Tool kit from Shutterstock

By Laura Zabel, founder of Creative Exchange

“How am I going to make a creative living and a life?”

That question can be daunting for artists, writers, performers and musicians at all stages in their careers, whether just starting out fresh, mid-career, or choosing to focus on artistic work full time after a lifetime of balancing it with other jobs. It can feel like a big void of unknowns, with an inner monologue of uncertainty that says, “I make art, then… something happens… and then I make art for a living.”

With the new “Work of Art: Business Skills for Artists” toolkit, you now have tools to cast light into the darkness of that “something happens.” Developed from decades of working with artists of all disciplines, the toolkit is a 12-unit workbook with accompanying videos that starts with career planning and moves through business plan essentials, offering you the framework and exercises to imagine, plan and put your artistic career into practice. The digital version of the toolkit is available for free via Creative Exchange, and here are 5 tips to get you thinking about your artistic future:

Define Success.

Knowing how you define success for yourself will shape all of your plans to come, and all the work that you need to do to get there. Defining success as selling Adele-level records takes you along a very different path than defining success as being a self-employed musician in your community. You can set goals for short-, middle-, and long-term success, but you have to start by defining what’s important to you.

Budget Your Time.

There is only one thing that every single person has in the world, and that is 24 hours in the day. How are you spending yours? Use the Time Management module to audit how you are actually spending your time, when you do your best work, and to allocate your 24 hours to have the biggest impact on your work.

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, band merch for sale, or creative services – will help keep your expenses and income in order, and know what kind of flexibility you have. The Pricing module walks you through steps for understanding the component parts of your costs, and how to set a price to make a profit.

Get That In Writing.

Contracts can seem dense and illegible, but they are important tools for protecting you and your work, and creating reasonable expectations between you and the party that is buying your work or hiring your services. A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on, or so the saying goes, so get your agreements in writing. The Legal Considerations module has important questions for you to ask to help create solid agreements, including things like defining the scope of work, how and when changes can be made, and defining payment schedules.

Don’t Do It Alone.

The “Work of Art toolkit is designed to be used with other people, whether in a classroom setting, or as part of a self-organizing group of artists. In the same way that art school critiques helped move your art forward, or playing demos for your friends gave you great feedback, the practice of taking care of your business is strengthened by learning as a group. Use the toolkit to connect to other artists and professionals in your community to grow and succeed together!


Laura Zabel headshot

Laura Zabel is executive director of Springboard for the Arts and the founder of Creative Exchange.



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