All Systems Go

By Carolyn Edlund

What’s working for you? What has failed? What have you learned?


Artwork Courtesy John Borys

Artwork Courtesy John Borys

I make a living by speaking with artists about their businesses. Most of the time I find them to be very positive, with great resolve to grow their little piece of turf in the art world.

There may be a few glitches, though – perhaps their website isn’t getting traffic, they aren’t sure of their perfect market, or they feel uncomfortable talking about themselves. Sometimes suppliers are unreliable, or the artist spends too much time on everything but studio work.

Step back and take a look at your own art business. Having a few issues that are slowing your exposure, sales or business relationships doesn’t mean that you aren’t talented, that your work is not saleable, or that you are a failure. Most likely if your business isn’t producing for you, there is a little tinkering to do under the hood with the systems in your business.

You may not think of them as systems, but you have developed ways to operate your business – some parts may be highly functional and others maybe not so much.

If your business isn’t working like a well-oiled machine, take stock of the systems you use:

Business Planning.  Do you have a business plan? Where do you want to be in a year, and in five years? Would you like to expand, and hire employees? Or perhaps quit your day job? How do you set goals, and how do you measure your progress?

Production System. Do you have a dedicated studio space without distractions, where you are undisturbed for sufficient lengths of time to accomplish what you need to do to build your body of work? Do you have a market you want to design for, projects in the pipeline? A method to work efficiently to produce enough work?

Support System. Are you interacting with an art community, such as a guild? Do you have support from other creatives, who may share resources, ideas and emotional support? Is your family supportive and do they give you the time and space you need to create art? What about an online community – do you engage your network on social media to get the word out and help to share about other artists as well?

Financial System. Do you have a system to keep all your expenses and income organized? Are you confident in pricing your work? Do you have profit built into your pricing and do you keep accurate records, or do you have someone doing this for you?

Marketing System. Do you have a marketing budget and plan in place? A marketing calendar? Are you happy with your website and is it working for you? Could you plan and execute an event such as an open studio, or have access to assistance? Do you use email newsletters, postcards, press kits and other forms of marketing?

Sales System. Are you following up on leads to interested collectors, galleries or other opportunities? It takes 5-12 contacts for most sales to close. That means you need a system to stay in touch with people who appreciate your work, and who have purchased from you in the past. Does your calendar have these reminders and are they effective?

Sometimes all it takes is a little insight into the systems in your own business which aren’t fully developed or working smoothly to get better results. Do an analysis of your own art business and identify those systems that need your attention, so that you can focus on making them a more productive part of your art business.


See more of John Borys’ artwork at the Mary Tomas Gallery.



  1. This hits home with me right now, as I do feel that I don’t have all these factors in place for my business. I just blogged about a horrible show experience that I had over the weekend. You can check it out here:
    I do also have a stand alone website, although I have neglected it lately.

  2. HAHA! So relevant for me too. I was just having the conversation with my husband yesterday that pretty much went like:

    “*MY* website isn’t getting traffic, *I’M NOT* sure of *MY* perfect market, or *I* feel uncomfortable talking about *MYSELF*…*I’m not* talented, that *MY* work is not saleable, or that *I”M* a failure”

    I have taken some of these questions and evaluated my business before, but I think it’s important to keep these questions at the for front of your daily business life because you become comfortable, lazy, then the next thing you know you are stuck back in the rut you were in before.

    Thanks for this post, it helps me believe that I’m not the only one!!

  3. Holy Cow! You are SO wonderful Carolyn.

    My challenge is staying organized with cyberspace. Period.

    I am in a bunch of galleries. My marketing mostly, apparently, is working. My studio time is in place and fully functional. I meet all deadlines. I have a successful business (20 years) and plenty of orders to fill – in fact, I say “no” to a lot of new business inquiries (wait-list them) because my demand is mostly always at capacity.

    So when I recently learned that my contact form on my website is not working – my first response was…. ugh! And then: Do I care?

    THAT part of my business is very ramshackle. I struggle thinking that I should just hire someone and re-do my entire web-presence so that I can have a stronger and easier way for people to do business with me. For example: have a password entry for my wholesale (I am already on so my peeps can do a quick re-order or those rare businesses that I do accept as new clients can just head off and order.

    I don’t do retail on-line, so I really don’t need or want much more than a web site. I played around with FaceBook and Twitter years back, but quickly realized that was NOT a good use of my time.

    I know that my website is a weak link (broken, in fact!), but since I am more likely to turn new business away then accept new business, I just keep back-burnering the idea of up-grading it. I guess I am in the rare position of not caring if someone can’t get to me via my “broken” contact form. I choose to think that anyone who REALLY wants to connect will find me. LOL. It’s so not my overall business philosophy and not what I teach in my sales and marketing seminars and trainings. I feel like a schizophrenic! I keep thinking that I am screwing up – but then in the next breath, I look at my production needs list next to me and just laugh. The cost benefit analysis keeps me from fixing something that is broke – so weird.

    Don’t know that I am even asking for your insight – but welcome it, as always, with an open heart.

    Meanwhile, I truly love this posting from you. This is one of the best whacks on the side of the head from you! Thanks for your immense knowledge and your incessant desire to help this community. I open and devour every email from you. You are “all systems go” all the time!

    • McKenna, I say go for a great webmaster who will fix your site and make it very user (and administrator) friendly. Whether or not you ramp things up to a higher production is up to you. It sounds like you have all the business you need, and I firmly believe that we should aim for the lifestyle we want, not just endless sales. But if the site is broken and it bugs you, go to a pro who knows what they are doing. Who knows – amazing things might happen. I had my site redesigned and doubled my traffic.

      Not sure if all my systems are “go” all the time. I’ve been working for weeks on the back end of my website to fix things I stupidly did wrong a while back. But at least I figured them out.

      • I would love to “ramp up” but I am not able to do much more. I can’t find my raw materials as it is. And can’t have my production levels increase beyond what I am doing. My “canvas” must be painted by me. I have very little of what I do that can be pieced out to anyone else. Pretty much ME in the studio in terms of creating. I have tried for years to find someone to work in my style, but it has never really worked out. And any “waste” is so tragic when you are using only found materials. I have a small amount of grunt work, but really not enough to keep more than one person in the studio for more than a few hours a week – I really have to work hard to come up with a list of things to do for an assistant.

        And I don’t want to double (or increase by much) my traffic. It would be of no value to me to do so. I would just say no more often.

        I guess I just will take some time and eventually fix the broken part on the contact form and call it a day. It’s just such a low priority.

        Thanks for your encouragement. I will continue to send as many people as I can to YOUR site!

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