by Carolyn Edlund
Is launching into a full-time job as an artist a good idea? Maybe yes. And maybe no.
Several people lately have asked my opinion of simply quitting their day jobs and going solo as an artist. I’m self-employed myself, and owned a studio for over twenty years, so I’m a big fan of the independence and satisfaction of being a business owner. But it’s not for everyone.
It partly depends on your personality. Does facing a challenge, like coming up with next month’s rent through sales of your work, energize and motivate you? Or does it throw you into sudden panic and possibly an anxiety attack? Only you can tell what your comfort level is here. But, you can overcome some of the stress by putting a plan into place that works on multiple levels to bring in the income you will need when you quit that day job.
Develop a business concept and understand how you will sell. What is special about your art? Why should people buy from you? Do you have a complete story, a brand, and a concept that intrigues potential buyers and pulls them in? Does your work fit into a niche? Have you built a system for cultivating and closing sales? If you aren’t confident that you can sell your work, do this planning while you are still employed elsewhere, and before you go it alone.
Multiply the ways you will earn. Having more than one source of income, which are complementary to each other, can stabilize your business. Selling wholesale and also exhibiting at retail fairs is a good combination that I recommend (it’s how I built my own studio into a six-figure business.)
But you may not want or be able to produce items that sell wholesale. So, would you license your art? Sell your work online? Solicit commissions? Sell to the corporate art market, seeking out designers, architects and building managers? Would you teach classes or give workshops? Do you plan to write a book about your technique?
There are many ways to earn money as a self-employed artist. Just be sure that you understand clearly that as an entrepreneur, you are in sales, plain and simple. Be prepared to devote a significant amount of time to marketing, following up and closing. Is this currently a challenge for you? Marketing and selling are activities that you must embrace if you want to be self-employed. But, I can guarantee that making regular sales of your work is fun. It’s satisfying, motivating and validating. You might even start wondering why you ever thought you didn’t like the idea of sales in the first place.
Creating income streams where you have repeat sales puts you in the position of doing business with regular customers, which is far easier than always seeking new customers who are “cold.” There are ways for artists to build this component into their business. The aforementioned wholesale model is a perfect example, but you might cultivate strategic alliances with businesses who send you regular referrals in return for a percentage, or for a return referral.
Maybe local funeral homes recommend your handmade custom urns for families who want to honor their loved ones in a special way. Perhaps you have an ongoing arrangement with a restaurant to make custom ceramic mugs with their logo. Or you regularly provide stock photos for a service. Get creative here – there are a million ways to connect with repeat customers. Come up with ideas and be prepared to flesh out this model, and to make a presentation to build those partnerships.
Know what you will do during the rough patches. Is January a tough time for your art business? Unless ski resorts are your best market, or you live in a tropical resort area, this might be true. Regardless of whenever you hit a slow sales period, you will need to plan ahead. Those multiple streams can smooth over the hard times by adding income when another earning method has dried up. Giving a workshop in January might be your solution to having no retail fairs in your area, if you don’t want to travel south for the snowbirds.
Have a money plan. If you have no other income, such as social security, investment income, or a spouse’s salary, and you have to earn every cent through your own art sales, you will need a multi-pronged plan before you leap into action. Do you have savings that will help you through the transition to quitting your day job? Do you have a good grip on the costs of being self-employed, including taxes, and expenses? Is your work priced correctly to produce profit on every sale?
Ultimately, there comes a time when you will have to quit that day job if you want to work full-time in your art business. If you decide that having that day job (either full or part-time) is a lifeline you don’t want to give up, that is a perfectly sound decision, too. Everyone has a different vision of their ideal work situation, and different needs. Find the perfect balance that works for you.
Have you quit your day job to become a full-time artist? How did you do it?