simon's top 5 tips for starting your art business
Updated: Jul 1
Seven years ago, I was in a meeting with six others. It was a windowless room; nothing was achieved. There weren't even any biscuits! An hour of my life I'd never get back. I'm sure many can relate .
A few weeks later, I handed in my notice.
That was one of the most terrifying, yet exciting, moments for me. I knew establishing an art business wouldn't happen overnight; that it would take a lot of hard work and passion, but surely worth it for the dream of making a living from my creativity? Independence and flexibility are the obvious rewards, but so too is the fun challenge and opportunity to make a difference. It's been much harder, more stressful yet more rewarding than I would have thought possible 7 years ago. The following 5 tips have served me well and I hope they may help or inspire you also.
TIP 1: BE RECOGNISABLE
Focus on you. Before anything else, ask yourself what is important to you? What do you believe in? If you don't know what you stand for and what sets you apart, how will your potential customers?
Even in just the few short years I've been working in the art industry, I have seen it become increasingly more accessible and therefore way more competitive. If you don't stand out through your work and passion, others will. It is worth asking what it is about you and your work that is unique? What makes you memorable? For me, it's ok to develop multiple styles as long as each style works to a target audience. The most successful artists I know are distinctive, focused in what they do, and enjoy evolving their work. Become recognisable.
TIP 2: ONLINE PRESENCE
I recently went to an art and design grad show. There was a fantastic array of work on show from some very talented graduates. Yet of the artists I admired, only a few had business cards, and of those, fewer still had an online portfolio that I could explore further once back home. What a wasted opportunity that is so simple to get right! It frustrates me that we have some fantastic educational institutions that wonderfully develop students' art skills, but so often miss developing that final 10% of what to do in the 'real world'.
If you do nothing else, set up an online portfolio. It's easy and free, with plenty of tools out there to help you. Wix and Behance to name two. Get onto social media and connect with others. Instagram is definitely the platform for now (which may make this blog post feel dated in a year, such is the speed of online social trends these days). Collaborate. Be inspired. Have conversations. Above all, share your work and your brand. Allow others to gain a peek into you and your journey.
TIP 3: RISK AND CASH FLOW
I admit, those aren't the most inspiring of words! But if you don't learn to manage your risk and cash flow, or how to value your art, you will not have an art business for long.
I remember receiving my first Wraptious product of a pallet of wrapping paper - I was so excited. Six years later, we still have lots of it left! I had bought too much stock without testing if it would sell and wasted a lot of money - money that could have been better spent on growing my business elsewhere or keeping me afloat for longer.
They say sales is vanity, profit is sanity and cash flow is reality. If you don't have cash, your business can't function no matter how awesome your art is. That means you need to focus relentlessly on making sales and planning diligently where to spend your hard-earned cash.
I would recommend developing a cash flow plan for the next 3-6 months. No longer, as working out where you'll be in a year is probably as accurate as predicting the weather. At Wraptious, we forecast only 6 months ahead, and know what we need to generate in sales each month to stay afloat. In future blog posts, I'll be offering advice on how to better manage your cash and price your work. Running an art business is no different in this regard to any other business - you must have a razor sharp handle on your numbers. If you don't understand your cash flow, you won't be in business long.
TIP 4: PERSEVERANCE
More than once in my first year I would come home in tears from a market stall. Another day of low sales and feeling that the world was against me. Starting an art business is hard. Really hard. You will make mistakes and at times you will feel like you've failed. That is normal and for me it shows just how much you care. The sooner you accept that lows and serious hard work are an inevitable part of the journey to running a successful art business, the better off you will be.
Believe in you! Believe in your abilities. Believe in your plan and remain steadfast to your goals. Stay positive. Pick yourself up, again and again. It may take years but if you can find the confidence, resolve and passion to persevere through the tough times, you'll be fine :)
There's a great podcast by Adam Grant 'Bouncing Back from Rejection' where many share their advice and unique insights on this subject. Worth a listen!
TIP 5: JUST F**KING DO IT
My business partner and friend John-Paul once quoted a Chinese proverb to me that rings true in much of how I run Wraptious: "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now."
Just get out there. You won't learn or grow much if you keep your wall up. Be brave and let your art, and you, loose into the world. Find out what works and what doesn't - listen to feedback (and why not try our bespoke printing service - designed so that artists can trial their designs on multiple products!) Approach shops too. Write to magazines. Have conversations on social media. Set up an open studio. Visit galleries. Sell at local markets. Attend seminars. Enter competitions. JFDI!
Ultimately, be honest with yourself about who you are and what you want to achieve. Then go out and find the courage to grab every opportunity!
Enjoy the journey.