by Miriam Schulman, artist and founder of The Inspiration Place, and author of “Artpreneur: The Step-by-Step Guide to Making a Sustainable Living From Your Creativity“
Moving forward feels scary. “Step zero” is finding the courage to monetize your creativity — and taking the practical steps that will ready you to receive money. Remember, finding courage doesn’t mean having no fear. Courage is being afraid and deciding to act in spite of it.
There’s no need to feel fully confident before you start asking for sales. Confidence is a choice to set an intention. Step zero is just setting an intention to monetize your creativity. No need to feel ready or get rid of that fear first! Assigning a value to your art and asking others to pay that full value feels uncomfortable, and this is normal. But you can reach a point where the discomfort of staying stuck outweighs your discomfort with changing. When I was in college, the discomfort of struggling on financial aid and wanting more income to keep up with the lifestyle of my wealthier classmates fueled that desire. After I left Wall Street, my determination not to return to the corporate world continued to motivate me.
Know What You Really Want
Ask yourself: how much do I want to earn from my business? When I speak to artists who don’t have money goals, I spend a good part of our time coaching them on believing what’s possible for them, and then attaching a number to their goal. In addition, if a prospective client shares that they don’t care about the money, I won’t work with them. To make money from your art, you need to want it — and money doesn’t go where it isn’t wanted.
Recently, I coached a client named Sara. She was gearing up for a three-day art show, and I wanted her to get clear on her goals. When I asked what she wanted from the show, she admitted she “hoped to collect some emails and sell some prints.” When I pushed her to get more specific and create a bigger goal, she resisted. She felt that setting a bigger goal could bring disappointment. But with a wishy-washy goal, she doomed herself to mediocre results. This is very common, and in the past, you might have set unambitious goals for yourself to avoid disappointment. That’s got to stop. You’re not going to go any further than your goal, and if your goal is too modest, it will limit you.
On the other hand, not having a goal at all is like driving your car aimlessly until you run out of gas. You should even set the goal beyond the goal so that your upper limit is high. The best way to explain the concept of a goal beyond the goal is with my grandfather’s favorite quote by Robert Browning: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp.” You’ll want to create a goal that makes you feel excited, since those feelings will motivate your actions. Remember, your thoughts generate feelings that fuel your actions, which ultimately drive your results. That’s why it’s important to monitor your thoughts — to make sure they’ll lead to the outcome you’re looking for. Big goals generate positive energy to make your art career soar.
“How Do I Price My Art?”
Pricing art is very subjective and often feels arbitrary. So many factors determine a sufficient price: the venue, materials, subject, presentation, affluence of your market, and so on. Regardless of what you’re selling, if you’re willing to make mistakes as you find your pricing path, you’ll learn faster than wanting to get everything perfect in advance. You’ll always make faster progress when you’re willing to make mistakes along the way. We’ll dive deeper into pricing and buyer psychology in chapter 7, but for now I want you to see the big picture of how pricing fundamentals come together.
Be Willing To Ask
Let’s say you want to sell T-shirts. (This is just an example — you can replace the T-shirt with anything you create.) Up until now, you’ve been giving them away at charity events. You have no idea how to make this into a business because you’ve never priced your T-shirts. Someone you met at a charity event now wants to buy one of your shirts. What do you charge?
A T-shirt might seem reasonable at $10 or even over $100. To test that theory, I did a quick search on Bergdorf Goodman’s website for black T-shirts. I chose black T-shirts as an example because they come in a range of prices, and I wanted to see how the prices could differ based on venue, design, and materials. For this search, I found a plain, short-sleeved, black T-shirt priced at $120. Then I did a second search for black T-shirts on the Neiman Marcus site and found Givenchy men’s tees priced at $455. In both cases, the high-end department stores recognize that luxury buyers equate a high price tag with greater value. Now let’s imagine that Brandon Maxwell, Lady Gaga’s designer, custom-made a black T-shirt just for you. What would you expect to pay for it? There are countless answers on how to price a simple black T-shirt — yet all are correct if the seller is willing to ask and if there’s a desire match with the right buyer.
*Excerpted from “Artpreneur: The Step-by-Step Guide to Making a Sustainable Living From Your Creativity“, HarperCollins Leadership, 2023
Miriam Schulman is an artist and founder of The Inspiration Place, where she helps other artists learn how to profit from their passion or become better artists. She is author of “Artpreneur: The Step-by-Step Guide to Making a Sustainable Living From Your Creativity” by HarperCollins Leadership.