Your Power as an Entrepreneur

by Carolyn Edlund

Starting your own business is empowering. It puts you in the position to make decisions and control your own destiny.


Quote from Alice Walker


Often, self-employed artists believe they have little power. They may think they are at the mercy of a gallery that could potentially represent them, or prospective customers who are difficult to deal with. However, becoming an entrepreneur is a positive step of self-empowerment that gives you the autonomy to decide what is best for your business and your life. You are the CEO of your art business, with benefits and responsibilities. Let’s take a look at a few examples of what you can control, and obligations you have.

What do you have control over?

  • What you want to make and offer for sale. You design and create the work that you want to sell. You can decide what items, if any, will not be sold. If your work is diverse, you may have different collections under different brand names, and even have more than one website to represent them if you like.
  • How you earn your income. Want to wholesale your collection? Sell retail? Interested in doing commission work? Prefer to license your art? Would you rather sell online, at fairs and festivals, or through studio events? Or does gallery representation sound best for you? Make those decisions given your own situation and your goals. Choose those forms of commerce that fit best and pursue them.
  • The customers you approach. As a business owner, you are free to choose the customer base that you want to attract. You can do this by entering a chosen marketplace, setting particular price points, and creating a brand and marketing messages that align with it. In this way, you position yourself deliberately rather than hoping others will find you.
  • The prices you charge. There is no reason not to charge whatever prices you feel you can get for your work. You don’t have to keep prices low, or follow a particular formula if you feel the perceived value of your work can carry a higher price. It’s up to you. The results you get may show that your prices are on point, should be raised, or reconfigured. Use that information to continue to hone your pricing.
  • Whether you are willing to donate. Have you received requests to donate work for auctions, charities, etc.? You can say yes, or no, or counter with different terms if you like. As the artist you cannot deduct the retail value of work that you contribute from your taxes, only the cost of your materials. Decide what is best for your business and also fulfills your charitable goals.
  • Your terms. Do you want to sell your work on a pre-paid basis only? Or accept a payment plan over time? Will you offer a discount to repeat collectors? Create terms that make sense for your business, and put them in writing. Place them on a page on your website and have a physical document with terms for in-person sales.  If you work on commission or are negotiating a custom job, make sure you have a contract that meets your needs. If you are consigning, get it in writing. Read any proffered contract; if changes need to be made, counter with your own version. You have the right to set terms that work for you.
  • Whether to say yes or no to a sale or an offer. You can walk away from opportunities or sales that your studio cannot accommodate or that don’t interest you. If you have an overly difficult customer, you may want to have an honest discussion and let them know that you won’t be able to accept orders in the future.
  • Whether to ramp up your business, or tone it down. As an entrepreneur, you determine the roadmap and pace of your business. Do you need to take a sabbatical? Interested in retiring or selling your business? Want to take your current collection into an entirely new direction? That’s your call. No one else makes these choices for you.
  • Your hours and place of business. Whether you operate a studio with regular business hours, choose to have a seasonal business, or operate solely online, it’s up to you. You might want to work from home, or balance your studio and family responsibilities in a unique way to accommodate your needs and give you a reasonable schedule. That is one of the greatest perks of being an entrepreneur.

What are you obligated to do?

  • Be upfront and honest with people. Your business approach and your customer service comes from integrity. It’s the right thing to do (and will keep you out of trouble.)
  • Not discriminate. You can’t refuse to do business with anyone based on race, religion, disability or other factors; discrimination is illegal.
  • Make sure your terms are fair and clear. Communicate these to your customers, and work to resolve any problems as they come up. Having comprehensive written terms on your website and in your materials helps.
  • Honor your contracts. If you have an agreement, keep it. If you have issues or need to renegotiate, get in touch with the other party to discuss.
  • Follow through. Your word is your bond. Make sure you are trustworthy and dependable, ship on time or make a phone call if extenuating circumstances wreak havoc with your schedule. Communication is key to building strong relationships.

Taking the high road by fulfilling your obligations as a business owner with integrity is part of the package, and it enhances your reputation and credibility. Having the autonomy to set your course and do business as you like is a great benefit of being self-employed. Add in motivation to work hard and the persistence to see it through and you will have a successful business model.


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