In my own process of becoming an artist, I have become also a manager, an strategist, a marketing maverick, a budget planner and a project director… and an artist. As any other project, painting has deadlines, expected outcomes and it needs to produce results. Indeed, I was also expecting some sales and to be known in the area. So what exactly is this if not management? However, management and business are words that seem to be heretic in the artistic circles… marketing? oh no, this is for those who are “sold out” artists… management? this is for shopkeepers… well, I do not think that becoming an artist is possible without becoming a manager.
“Become the manager of your art business.”
In simple terms, management involves responding to a number of ongoing questions: what do I want do do? why do I want to do this? what do I expect to achieve? when do I need to do it? and how am I planning to do it? and how much will it cost? These are basic questions that require a managerial approach, which is another word to say that you need to be organised, and this does not mean to take the fun out of the whole art-making but it makes a much more structured fun minimising suffering and anxiety.
Let me give you specific examples of how I am doing it.
What I want to do? Just before you start your artistic life, it is very important to “dream” about what you want to achieve. It starts with a mission or a vision, and it can be unfolded into more specific objectives throughout the year. This all sound a bit too structured, but that’s the point of it. This process transform your dreams into specific actions, therefore, into more doable activities and that level of control is really empowering. Be realistic, and try to be as precise as possible. This of course does not mean that you are not open to possibilities and opportunities, but somehow to know what you want to do makes life easier.
For example, in 2014 year my plan was to put my work out there… I wanted to have some exhibitions and most importantly I wanted to get exposure with different type of people. I also wanted to start a data base of people interested in my work… I also wanted to join some groups or networks and I wanted to work on three main projects: the botanical illustrations of Our Garden of Everyday, I wanted to finish some started projects, and I wanted to experiment with my techniques. This year, 2015, my key word is “Believe” and that also needs some work.
Throughout the year I managed to get through these key projects and to think some other more, but it helped me a lot to have that clear. I gave myself a year, and after lots of work I managed to do them all… but it started with a dream, with pen and paper (I normally use a A2 sheet to plan with colours and in a time line, so I can have a big picture), and planned actions. This is what is called Strategy.
When I need to deliver? When you commit with an specific date or with a commission you really need to schedule your time and your actions. This has been a key lesson this year, and perhaps my advantage has been that I am well aware that time is limited and working part time at the university makes my time even more precious. So before starting any project I plan it in the timeline, how many weeks do I have to complete different tasks, what are the main tasks I need to do before subsequent actions, what do I expect to achieve in week 1, week 2… etc. Also allow enough time when dealing with suppliers and ordering materials. This all require lots of Project Planning but the more you plan, the less “surprises” you get in your process and you’d be able to be more in control of what you do. Basically it is a list of things that are distributed in time… yes, we are all fan of lists, and they allow us to see how much work we have, but it is also important to be able to identify what are priorities, what are actions that are required before others (e.g. painting comes before framing), and what things can be done in a week or a day…
How much will it cost? “How much”is a key question for you when investing time/materials or trying to develop a project. I remember only too well when I was planning my first exhibition, I dreamed of producing t-shirts, mugs, tea-towels and all sort of paraphernalia like in a gallery shop. But guess what? all of that cost money and also time! It is important to keep track of how much money do you think you can invest in a project. Exhibitions can be expensive, and I am not talking about the materials, but also, the type of products that you want to use. You need a budget and try to stick to it. At least, try to keep track of how much you are investing and keep all the invoices… when you grow to be a sole trader you will need them, and indeed, just beginning will give you a sense of how much have you spent in producing that piece of art.
This also takes me to the other side of the coin: pricing. How are you calculating your prices: counting materials, hours invested, rent, transport, marketing materials, phone calls, transport, suppliers? And what about gallery overheads? But also how much do you think people are willing to pay, what type of products you wish to develop, and where are you in your artistic career? As a beginner I thought I need to calculate prices that cover a minimum of investment, but also I wanted to give some value to my work. I asked around, I consulted with my colleagues and I established some minimum prices, so I can go for that. And another question is how are you going to keep track of how much you spend and how much you earn… in other words, you need Financial Management.
In addition to this question you can also ask, how long will it take? because as they say, time is money. For instance, the question of social media… I will talk about that later, but first of all you need to evaluate whether or not you “need it”… I mean, you need to do marketing, but you may not have so much time to use all the platforms available. So, this is another thing to consider. More later…
How will I reach my audience/collectors? I talked about this in another lesson, but, as many successful artists have said, you need to consider that if you wish to be in control of your art-enterprise you need to think 50/50… 50% of your time actually painting or creating and another 50% doing administration, which actually involves lots of time in doing marketing. For example, at the beginning of the year I have just 2 or 3 people I could call my “collectors”, or customers… so my plan was to start a list of people who are interested in my work. The idea was to create a mail list to be able to communicate with them, which actually is the most fun part of sharing my art. I love to be close to the people who support me, friends, potential collectors, people who have expressed any interest in my art. I value so much their opinion and I want them on my side all the time. I used mailchimp to administrate my corporate emails, it is really easy to start up and it makes my life much easier. I also started a facebook page and a website. I also ordered some nice business cards. I really cherish and look after my collectors… and if this is marketing, well, this is just a word for an enriching process of getting to know them. But it takes time!
How not to get crazy? At the beginning you think you can keep all the information about your art and your collectors in your head. Mistake! You need to establish some sort of system, it can be a notebook, it can be the computer, whatever, but you need to have an information system available. Keep a database with prices, names of your paintings, description and who have purchased them. Organise your computer with proper labels, pictures and folders, so it makes it easier to find a particular painting or to find out where did you exhibit what. This may look as too much work, and when you are starting you think you may remember everything.. but it is not like that, soon you are producing I don’t know 50-100 paintings, and how are you keeping track of them? The computer is your friend and applications like Excel are so easy to use and transferable to more sophisticated apps or applications.
And all of that, my dear friends, is “business management”, it allows you to create and actually is a very creative thing to do. Of course, I am just starting as many of you, and I am although I have done good sales, and made a little profit indeed, many experts said, if you are not selling around £1k or £2k a month, it’s only a hobby. So I know that my further step is to think on a “livelihood plan”, a nice and perhaps less contentious word for a “business plan” but basically the same process. How can I create the conditions, systems and actions to be able to make a living of what I love to do? How do I blossom and nurture my talents while making them into potential income, opportunities and exciting projects?
If you wish to have some of the “templates” I use for this, please let me know, I will be happy to share.