Artist and Crafter as Entrepreneur

Creatives

becky-photoCreatives in any of the arts embody huge energy and stillness. They are clever and naive at the same time. They play and have enormous dedication. Creative display great imagination and have discipline that has them striving to do better. While being passionate about their art, often they lack confidence. Creatives are most often full of paradox.

So what categorizes them is that they can’t be categorized. So for everything I say here, the opposite may be true for you. But the plain fact is that artists have to eat, too.

They may find other creative ways to generate income, like having a job or teaching their art. Whether they declare it as a goal, they want to sell what they create. This page is about finding ways to do just that. And recognition reinforces their motivation to continue their path of experimentation.

Here you will find sections on:

Selling Art

aztec sunSelling pure art is probably more difficult than selling craft online, but since the line between art and craft is often fuzzy, my the distinction is arbitrary. Ask artists who sell well and you will determine your own definition of the dividing line. The basics of business remain the same both for artists and crafters.

If you don’t know someone to ask, write to Virgene Tyrrell. She is a mosaic artist and through quite early on her commercial journey, she has ironed out many of the bumps in the road. I am sure she would share her experience with you. Her website is a delight, anyway. That’s her Aztec Sun on the left.

There are many new sites that help artists sell their work, but that’s only the beginning. If you are really serious about making a living as an artist, assuming of course that you have the talent, then you will need to think like a business person–as well as an artist. That means thinking like a buyer of art. Think about what they look for, and oh, no, it does not mean compromising your art for the sake of business.

Do not worry, even if you consider yourself an introvert. Many successful entrepreneurs are introverts, too. If you don’t believe me, I suggest you read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. So, artists don’t like big crowds, so avoid them, but rather cultivate working and sharing in small groups. Get the word out through relationship and indirect means, not shouting. But do so consistently and methodically. It’s not good hiding behind, ‘Oh, I can’t sell’ because you can if you put your mind to it and want to put food on the table doing what you love, then you will sell.

Where do art buyers buy their art, do they visit galleries and if so what sort. Do they search on line? Do they only buy certain artists? What about pricing? Where would you be most likely to find them. Do you go to the same places–on the ground or on the Web? Who introduces them to particular artists? All these sorts of things are probably more important than the basics like have a business card, a website, or a means of payment. If you don’t know where to turn for the basics, there are many options for creating a website, for example. Virgene used Weebly (various options: free-$4-$8-$25 a month) for hers, but another option, especially for artists is Folio Twist, where you’ll find all kind of help, like for adding PayPal to your site.

Have a look at these websites and see if any of them suit you:

  • Art Pal is a site where you can sell your art; it looks very competitive, but it will give you good exposure and has helpful articles like the one on selling your paintings.
  • Art.com claims to be the world’s largest online retailer of posters, prints, and framed art.
  • Yessy is a site selling painting & prints; sculptures & carvings; drawings & illustration; glass; textile & apparel; antiques & collectibles; photography; ceramics & peter; computer & digital art; jewelry; furniture; crafts & other art.
  • Art Web is not only a place you can sell your art and crafts, but can build your own website, get a Facebook gallery app, or sign up for a newsletter.
  • artnet offers a wide range of art market resources, providing a place for people in the art world to buy, sell, and research Fine Art, Design, and Decorative Art. You can even find top selling Gerhard Richter paintings there.

If you don’t like what I am telling you, go to Empty Easel, where you will find all kinds of advice about selling your art.

Selling Craft

Crafters often start by really enjoying what they do and imagine that starting a craft business is easy. It is not and the business end requires as much dedication and sweat as the craft itself. Nothing will sell itself, so you have to get out there and keep getting out there. It will take quite a while to find the right venue to sell your products, but keep trying.

The success of Etsy just goes to show how many people there are out there who love the craft they do–so much that they want to make things to sell. They are not always seeking to establish a business empire, but just to fund or supplement their income. I know about this personally having a partner who does just that.There are 400,000 micro businesses on Etsy. Newer is the small Tucson, AZ based company, ArtFire, with a passion for handmade, art, and indie business. As an interactive handmade market place and craft community they aim to support your business and your brand with innovative features and functions. They utilize a system of site design they call Community Directed Development (CDD) which put members in control of the development of functions and features of the site.

ArtFire contrasts with Etsy that is much bigger and has over $50 million of VC money in the business. Etsy has a mission to enable people to make a living making things, and to reconnect makers with buyers. There are less than 1,000 people who make more than $30,000 a year and average sales amount to just under $800 a year, but that’s hardly the point. In any event many Etsy crafters also sell by all sorts of other means like Craft Fairs and Markets.

Similar sites are being set up–like Folksy that was created with the aim of showcasing the work of independent UK artists, designers and crafters. The site launched in summer 2007 and has risen to become the main UK based site for crafters.

Subsidize Your Artistic Work, or Make a Living?

Many crafters subsidize doing the craft they love by selling what they make. Often this is on sites like Etsy, or at Craft Fairs. That’s great and can be fun or frustrating. BUT if you want to create a real business from your craft, you need to think about creating a business, separately from making your stuff. 

What constitutes a business? An entity outside yourself. That does not mean losing control, but seeing the operation as one which could in theory survive without you. For instance, you don’t put the car ‘on the business’, if it does not need one. Sure, you can charge milages at the approved IRS rate, so that you can reduce your profits when you complete a Schedule C with your tax return. Do not raise a bank loan simply to pay for someone to make a website. Go back several steps and ask yourself what business you are actually in and who your customers are.

Develop a real understanding of the value you are creating and write a so-called value proposition (ask me if you can’t picture how). A value proposition is a description of what value you will deliver to your customer, but that’s not all. You need to think through what your business model will be. Business model, ugh! No, it’s quite simple really. How will you deliver the value to customers.

Here’s a tool to help you do that. It’s called the business model canvas and if it baffles you, either ask me, or take a trip on a search engine.

bm canvas

From Student to Professional

Students of the visual and performing arts often leave college and leave their art behind. Some institutions are going beyond career counseling and helping graduates turn their learning into earning by supporting their entrepreneurial talents. The Julliard School in New York is an example. They have a focus on entrepreneurship and is you follow the link you’ll see many example of graduate artist-entrepreneurs. The SMU Meadows School of Arts in Dallas, TX, offers a offers a Minor in Arts Entrepreneurship.

The Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University offers a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre, Arts Entrepreneurship and Management. An Entrepreneurial Studies Major is offered on the four-year Bachelor of Science degree at The Minneapolis College of Arts and Design. At the University of the Arts, there is a Music Business, Entrepreneurship + Technology program. The field is growing.

Sales Channels

One natural way to sell is through art galleries or craft shows. You’ll find that not all galleries or craft shows are the same: they vary from church bazaars and Christmas gift fairs to focused galleries only selling one kind of art, or craft fairs with long pedigrees.

It’s the same with other marketing channels for the art and craft businesses. If you think that going the retail route makes sense, be aware that while you may get higher volumes, you will probably get lower prices. The retailer needs a markup. Galleries, the walls of restaurants, craft retailers or tourist shops may be right for you. On the other hand if you are making things that appeal to particular interest groups, then a specialist retailer will make sense. You may even find that businesses in a complementary field make sense, like a woodworker who makes cheese boards selling to a cheese store or the cheese department of a grocer.

Here is an incomplete list of sales channels to think about:

  • Make product identity versions of your art or products for companies, sports clubs, schools–an example is Anto, an old friend, the manager of the radio station I once ran in Corsica.
  • Piggy-back on other artists or craft business sellers whose products relate to, but do not compete with your own–my daughter, Rebecca Keyser (that’s one of her pieces of photo-art at the top of the page), shares a studio/gallery, called the Shape Art Studio with two other painters in Ireland, for instance.
  • Sell at shows of interest to those likely to buy your products; if you have developed a bridle decoration, it would be natural to go to horse shows or competitions, or a photographer might sell in an electronics store (they sell cameras!).
  • Build your own website; don’t be daunted, there are lots of easy ways to do it–my preference is for the Web Hosting Hub because it’s inexpensive and has easy ways to make a site.
  • If you want to make a fortune, good luck; if you clear $5 on each product, you’ll need to sell 200,000 of ‘em to make $1 million, but maybe a simple version of what you make might sell in volume.
  • See if you can put up posters in your local general store or coop; fliers in appropriate friendly retailers can work well, and if you take commissions this will be a good channel.
  • Print or mass produce versions of your work in derivative forms; if you are a painter, then greetings cards, or prints are a natural opportunity, but see if you can add value–with cards, include envelopes or sell in packets of 6, with prints, frame them.
  • Don’t forget eBay and CraigsList.

Personal Branding

Ugh! I can hear you sigh.But you will underpin your selling efforts by creating a recognizable brand for yourself, so that you are easily recognized in the markets where you are active. I am a great one for storytelling (yes, I have a book on it–at a mere $4.99 on Amazon) and you can be too–by telling about how you make your art, connecting how one style evolved from another and it does not have to be long, just snippets will do. The process of defining who you are as an artist, what your art is about and who you have in mind when creating it, will provide with a nice clear narrative.

Says Patrick Kennedy, “Personal branding in the arts is actually about staying true to one’s vision. The point is to clearly define that vision and to keep in mind the audience, no matter the size, that appreciates that vision.” Gregory Peters says, on Empty Easel, :Your brand, however, should not be focused on you. It should be focused on attracting customers. My brand is “Artwork that Begs to Be Touched” which immediately says something unique, and connects with potential buyers more than just a logo.”

Make sure that all you do put out about your art is consistent: business cards, posters, leaflets at shows, your Facebook page, website–it’ll be a snap for you since you are an artist. Be sure it’s not imitative or like consumer branding. It has to be personal, though not your life story or innermost stuff, but it must be instantly you and your art.

Big Business in Penny Packets

Of course it makes no sense to an artists to say, ‘but Gerhard Richter’s painting of Milan’s Piazza del Duomo just sold for $37 million.’ True he is a living artist but the picture was originally commissioned to cheer up the offices of the electronics conglomerate Siemens. He did not get that sum. But for both art and craft products the total market is huge, though often individual sales are often very small in size.

In the UK, the total market–buyers plus potential buyers–for craft is 26.5 million people or 63% of the adult population of England. If the percentage is replicated in the US, that would be a market of 145 million people. Not many markets are bigger than this. The numbers of buyers is huge, but of course, there is no question of mass marketing here. Buyers of craft products tend to be older and female. The same not be true on gender for art buyers, but they will tend to be older–at least at the higher end of the art market.

Currently, browsing in ‘real life’ at a shop, gallery, air or exhibition is the most popular source of information for people interested in buying a craft object. Craft fairs, shops and markets were chosen as their preferred suppliers for craft. Online craft retailers and individual makers’ websites are used or considered by a significant minority of the craft market, and their stated willingness to buy online indicates latent potential in this area. At least this is according to a study of the craft business in the UK by Morris Hargreaves McIntyre in 2010 for the Crafts Council.

While the total size of the craft market may be huge, most of the businesses are solopreneurs and hence micro-enterprises  that will always be selling in penny packets. The great opportunity that is presented to anyone wanting to do a craft business is that you have no leviathans with whom you have to compete.

Top Ten US Craft Segments by Sales

  1. Woodworking/Wood Crafts                                  $3.322 billion
  2. Drawing                                                                     $2.078 billion
  3. Food Crafting                                                            $2.001 billion
  4. Jewelry Making                                                        $1.446 billion
  5. Scrapbooking & Memory Crafts                            $1.440 billion
  6. Floral Decorating                                                      $1.303 billion
  7. Crocheting                                                                  $1.062 billion
  8. Card Making                                                              $1.040 billion
  9. Home Décor Crafts (Non-Sewing)                        $948 million
  10. Wedding Crafts                                                          $803 million

These figures are for 2010 (published in 2011 by the Craft & Hobby Association) and ranked the top ten crafting segments based on consumer spending and household participation which collectively represent 19% of the craft segments and 53% ($15.443 billion) of total industry sales. The study also found that 56% of US households crafted at least once during 2010, contributing to the $29.2 billion U.S. craft and hobby industry.

Helpful References

Your own web search will reveal a huge number of places you can get help. Some of the ones I found helpful are:

Art

Craft

  • The Artful Crafter–Eileen Bergen, MBA offers all kinds of helpful tips and articles–see her craft business section.
  • Free Craft Fair–Business Resources for Crafters.
  • Craft Marketer–James Dilehay offers tips, advice and news on the Craft Business. It is really worth following his blog. It’s packed with good stuff and you can browse past blog posts by category.
  • Uncommon Goods–an online marketplace offering creatively designed, high-quality merchandise at affordable prices.

Helpful Books

Buyers of crafts are likely to be motivated by the ideas and stories behind a piece or its perceived beauty, Don’t be shy about declaring the passion for what you sell and why you do what you do. On the other hand, just doing the craft is not the whole story, there has to be a plan to make a business from your craft.

Here are some good books to help you do those two things:

    1. The Handmade Marketplace: How to Sell Your Crafts Locally, Globally, and On-Line
    2. Craft, Inc.: Turn Your Creative Hobby into a Business
    3. Craft Inc. Business Planner
    4. The Savvy Crafters Guide To Success: Turn Your Crafts Into A Career
    5. How to Make Money Using Etsy: A Guide to the Online Marketplace for Crafts and Handmade Products
    6. Country Living Crafting a Business: Make Money Doing What You Love
    7. The Boss of You: Everything A Woman Needs to Know to Start, Run, and Maintain Her Own Business
    8. The Crafts Business Answer Book & Resource Guide: Answers to Hundreds of Troublesome Questions About Starting, Marketing, and Managing a Homebased Business Efficiently, Legally, and Profitably
    9. The Right-Brain Business Plan: A Creative, Visual Map for Success
    10. The Creative Entrepreneur: A DIY Visual Guidebook for Making Business Ideas Real
    11. Crafting a Successful Small Business: Making, marketing and merchandising