There are only about 50,000 people in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that make a living through creating artworks, doing performances, or writing. That’s a pretty small number when you consider the number of people who work in the United States!
Does this mean you can’t turn your artwork into a small business? No, but it does mean that you need to put in plenty of work to do so! Starting a business with your art is not impossible, but it’s a competitive field, and things might move slowly for you at first. Here are five steps you need to take to turn your artwork into a small business:
1. Figure out who you’re selling to.
You can either sell fine art through a gallery, or you can sell artworks directly to everyday people. Selling through a gallery will net you bigger prices for each work of art, but it can be difficult to sell many pieces in a year – or even to get a gallery to represent you before you’ve already made a name for yourself! Selling to everyday people requires that you be your own salesperson, and you may end up selling mostly prints of your artwork instead of original pieces.
The method you decide to use will really depend on your personality and goals. If you want to make a name for yourself in the world of art, you’ll want to go through a gallery. If you just want to have fun being creative and make some money doing it, it may be easier, in some ways, to sell directly to everyday people.
2. Figure out where you can get your name out there.
There are lots of ways to display art for the public. You can talk to local business owners to see if they’ll display your artwork with a small business card and price beside it. It’s a good way for them to get a free rotating display of original, local art for their walls, and it’s a good way for you to start finding customers.
Lots of local businesses will put your art on the walls, though some might ask for a commission if you sell a piece to their customers. Doctors’ offices, lawyers’ offices, car dealerships, coffee shops, restaurants – pretty much any local business that doesn’t have strict franchise laws regarding what it can put on its walls is open game.
3. Get a business license.
In most states your first couple hundred dollars of sales aren’t taxed, but after that, you’ll need to pay taxes on your sales. For this, you’ll need a business license. You can usually apply online through your state’s business department, and it normally doesn’t cost much at all.
You might also want to consider getting insurance for your artwork, since it can easily get damaged in traveling to shows and such. If you plan to expand your business into doing murals or other things that would take you into people’s businesses or homes as an entrepreneur, it’s a good idea to become bonded and insured, which means you’ll be able to cover any damage you might happen to cause on someone else’s property. You can find out more about all the business-y aspects of selling your art online, or see if there’s a business support organization in your community.
4. Decide where and how to sell.
Lots of artists these days are using websites like ArtFire and Etsy to sell their work from online shops. This can be a good way to get a web presence, but it’s also difficult to compete in this type of environment. If your artwork is better experienced in person, figure out how you can help people do that. Traveling to local and regional arts and crafts fairs can be a good way to do this. Many vendors say they don’t get a ton of sales at the fairs, but showing their work in person and handing out business cards ramps up online business and custom orders.
Just be sure that the arts and crafts fair suits the style of your artwork. Modern fine art wouldn’t do so well at a fair geared towards country crafts. If you aren’t sure, head to the fair the year before you decide to purchase a booth, or talk to other vendors to see if you’d be a good fit. Many fairs and shows are juried, which means you have to be judged by a panel before they’ll decide to let you in. Getting into a juried show can make a big difference for your business, as they often cater to more upscale clientele in a particular niche.
5. Market your business.
Business cards are a must-have, and there are plenty of online printing companies that will print your business cards for next to nothing. You can also do a postcard marketing campaign with people you, your friends, and your family members know. It’s not always super successful, but it can get the word out about your business and website.
It’s always a good idea to use blogs and other social media to grow a new business in this market, too. You can blog about your experiences as an artist and connect with former and future customers in these ways.
It can take some time to start an artwork-based business, but it’s definitely doable. Take things slowly, and learn to think about your artwork as a business. Remember that this is a competitive niche, so don’t expect your artwork business to turn into a full-time venture overnight.
Abigail Hall helps small business owners including artist and performers compare business credit cards at CreditDonkey. For new business owners, read her blog to learn how to evaluate credit card applications and deals. Remember, with hard work, dedication, and creativity, though, you can become one of the few people in the US making a living off of your creative passions.