It’s every artist’s dream to support themselves by doing what they love. For some, it’s easier than for others, but most every artist finds it difficult to balance their ability to produce new work and maintain business preparedness, all the while managing their public and online presence. Today’s topic is about how you as an artist can learn from the experiences here at Pyrotechniq that have helped to forge a successful and profitable business which supports itself by creating and executing the art that it was founded on.
#1 - Identify Your Financial Lifestyle
Compare the work you are producing to similar works / styles / compositions. Consider how many pieces or acts would need to be created and hired out on a weekly / monthly / annual basis in order to maintain the lifestyle you're currently living. Do you want your art to supplement a percentage of your lifestyle or all of it? Is it possible to create what is needed within the time constraints of what your desired lifestyle can provide? If not, you'll need to get clever with both your approach and your product.
Whatever the case may be, do yourself and every other artist a favor by demanding fair compensation. How much you should be paid is entirely up to you, but it’s easy to feel taken advantage of if you’re not willing to value your own work. Understand the value of your art. If you’re unsure, talk to other artists about it. Most professional artists I have spoken with were very forthcoming when asked to share their rates, and this has helped to understand what Pyrotechniq should charge for various products and performances. You may need to charge more for your art, or think of creative solutions that allow you to create more efficiently. You’re an artist after all, so use that creativity to help you in solving the challenge of finding life balance between your love of creating your art and the production of art necessary to support your financial lifestyle.
#2 - Diversify
Sitting alongside a self-employed architect over good conversation and a beer, I asked him what has worked for him. He pointed to a group of people across the room and said "Those people over there are my friends. Three of them are architects, one is an interior designer and the last is a PhD focusing on poetry with an interest in architecture." With a smirk he continued, "Each of them are just as broke as I am. I go to networking events,
rely on word of mouth and maintain an online presence to bring in business. I need to spend time networking beyond my social circle because architects don’t hire architects." This moment may forever stick with me and is the pinnacle of my belief in the need to diversify my personal and professional network. Find people who can afford to pay you what you need to be paid to support your desired financial lifestyle.
Keep Artist Friends These are the people you can get technical with, stay inspired by and bounce ideas off of. This is your fountain of inspiration as well as your anchor of sanity. Your income will not likely be generated from this group of people.
Network An artist with the same or a similar discipline may not hire you or purchase your work; but a musician who comes across a dancer might know an event planner or married couple-to-be that is looking for your service. Get to know your local Chamber of Commerce, find talent buyers for street festivals, or the owners of the local nightclubs, galleries or even restaurants. These people may find that your services fill a need.
You have to ask yourself, "Who is looking for my service?" and "Where is the best place to publish my services for them to be found by people needing them?" Art committees, clubs and organizations are other exceptional ways to come across and meet potential clients. Keep it fresh! Don't let your outreach be limited by your comfort zone. If you're not a people person there are many online communities you can be active within to reach other opportunities without the pressure of face to face interactions.
Product It is uncommon for artists to be financially successful doing only one thing. Yes, there's the guy who duct taped the banana to a canvas and raked in bookoo bucks. We all want to be him, but unless we're lucky enough to win the art lottery, you'll likely need to offer more than one thing and be in more than one location. Your discipline may be dance, but in order to keep yourself afloat it may be advisable that you host private and small adult workshops, have stage outfits for sale, teach after school programs as well as perform for private and public events. You may even find yourself producing your own events.
Skills Know what you're good at and where you need help. You may be the best actor in the city, but you may also lack the digital organization and research required to find auditions, networking events or arrange your acting classes. Maybe you're a chef with the best ramen dish at a successful restaurant, but you have no clue how to handle your taxes. Find the help you need to cover all your bases when you're not able to cover them all yourself. Consider bartering your skills with those of others; Pyrotechniq once traded a fire performance for a law firm's golf outing in exchange for a professionally written contract.
Have the Support of an Urban Environment Cities are inherently diverse. Larger populations with a variety of cultural backgrounds and interests fuel both creativity and opportunity! If you live within a smaller population of people I can’t stress enough the importance of having your work exhibited online. The world wide web may be the most densely populated urban environment available to us.
#3 - Be Ready to Play the Long Game
You're going to make a lot of sub par art before you can put forward a product good enough to bring in mid-to-high range pricing. As owner of Pyrotechniq, I maintained a part time job as a bookkeeper for 5 years before having the reliable client base needed to feel comfortable taking the leap into full time art creation. The bookkeeping job covered my rent, utilities and car expenses. The art funded meals, entertainment, and most importantly, I was able to establish a business savings account. I learned that entertainment can be a feast or famine industry which made me uncomfortable leaning on the art to pay 100% of the bills.
My ability to be creative was crushed by the idea that I could end up in a situation where I may or may not be able to pay my bills based on someone hiring me as an artist. Creating the savings account was an essential part of my sanity. I set a goal to save $20,000 before going full-time and that money served as a financial security blanket when I decided to leave my part-time jobs. To get to my savings goal, I spent the money that came in from bookkeeping on my day-to-day life and saved the money I brought in from performance. I basically worked my butt off for 2 years and didn’t pay myself for it. To date it’s the best financial move I’ve made towards financially preparing myself for living a full time artist’s life. It took a lot of dedication to pull it off, but it was essential in realizing my dream of living off my art.
#4 - You're No Longer Just an Artist
Welcome to the world of small business ownership. The amount of click clacking on a keyboard required to lift your creative offerings from a hobby to a business can be particularly daunting. It’s a whirlwind of paperwork, dotted lines, fees, tax ID numbers, bank accounts, spreadsheets, insurance quotes, website content, contracts, and legal words you'll have to look up. But it's a necessary evil that legitimizes your product. If you want to rake in professional prices, you need to professionally package your product, including yourself. You’ll also want to understand your taxes.
But does the income you're generating qualify you as a business owner or as a hobbyist?
A recent article from The Guardian can help you answer this question. It interestingly suggests that an extremely large percentage of ‘small businesses’ are incorrectly reported to the U.S. Census Bureau.
#5 - Get Your Sh*t Together
It’s easy to get frustrated with the rate at which you make progress, but it’s an essential step in becoming a successful artist. Know that, in order to “make it”, you need to be more buttoned-up and present than ever before. You can’t just hone in on the “fun parts” when you’re a small business owner. I recommend setting a 40-50 hour weekly work schedule for yourself and stick to it. Make it a combination of tasks that don’t come naturally to you. For the artist this may be the paperwork earlier referenced. Complete the tough-for-you-tasks and reward yourself with the ones you enjoy doing more. Sometimes the hardest part is holding yourself accountable. You have to work on either the craft or business side of your goal every day.
#6 - Own it!
Your story. Your inspiration. Your execution. Your expertise. Your Passion. Nobody can own it, market it or believe it more than you. If you really want it, do it. All of it. Whatever it takes. Wear all the hats that don't fit and make them look fantastic on you. Make them take your picture.