Recently I was invited to an Arts Inspiration Day at a secondary school to talk about being an artist. It was really interesting thinking about the pros and cons of owning a creative business, so I thought I’d share a bit on here…
The first thing I did when preparing for the careers talk was to make a list of all the things I do in my business. This was quite an eye-opener because I’d never really realised how many hats I wear – and also what a tiny part of the business the art bit actually is.
I’d love to offload some of these roles one day, but for now I’m a one-woman-band of Artist, Production and Packing Person, Social Media Manager, Blogger, Shop-Contacter, PR Person, Website Updater...
...Customer Service Manager, Finance Officer, Admin Monkey and Product Photographer.
It’s a lot to juggle and I drop a lot of balls VERY often, but I love what I do and I feel that for the most part the pros of running a solo creative business outweigh the cons. Here are some...
PRO number one: I have my own voice and can speak about what I choose. If I want to create a range of empowering women’s quotes, then I can (and I did!).
Empowering Women Collection, available in postcards and prints here
PRO number two: I am my own creative boss! If I want to do something completely random and create a range based entirely around Shakespearean insults then I can (and I did!).
PRO number three: I can set my own hours. As long as I get the important stuff done (post my orders out in time, reply to enquiries etc) then I can basically work when I want, which works brilliantly with ferrying my two small humans around the place.
PRO number four: the creative community is AMAZING. Self-employment can be a lonely old life, but there's a whole internet-worth of likeminded creative business owners there to cheer you on, give you advice and tell you to keep going.
It’s not all tea-drinking in the garden at 11am though. There are downsides to running a solo creative business that I struggle with on a daily basis.
CON number one: If I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done. If I don’t promote my work, no one's going to do it for me. I don’t have staff or anyone chivvying me on – the success of my business depends on me doing the thing. (I have lots of reminders around the place.)
'Do The Thing' prints and postcards, available here
CON number two: I’m very dependent on people still wanting to buy my work. If there’s a bit of a downturn (oh hai cost of living crisis!) then sales plummet and my spreadsheets start to weep.
When sales slump, the sensible thing is to throw yourself into promoting your stuff, but it’s hard not to feel consumed by despair when people aren’t buying. There’s also no one else to tell you what to do (because you’re your own boss), so it can get a bit depressing.
CON number three: it can all be a bit of a confidence crusher if people don’t like something you’ve poured your heart and soul into. I’ve had to retire things I love simply because they’re not commercially successful – but hey, such is life.
So yeah, it was really interesting distilling all this into a ten-minute talk for teenagers. Lots of them were a bit like, “uh, why would you put yourself through all that?” and my answer was always, “because I love art and I enjoy making things that people want to buy.”
The next day I saw the statistic from @BobandRoberta on Twitter and it made me even more determined to promote careers in the arts. I love that the school had an Arts careers day, but it was sad how few kids said they liked art or had thought about a career in it.
(Although to be fair, most of the kids just wanted to move onto the stall next to me to get the famous actor’s autograph (that's Matt Lewis, aka Neville Longbottom from the Harry Potter films, that is - and what a lovely chap he was too!).
So my advice to anyone wanting to set up their own creative business would be:
- You can totally make money from the art that you make – there are so many opportunities out there. But work out who you are and what you do and make sure your elevator pitch is spot on. For example:
- Look for leg-ups wherever you can: make connections, talk to people, go to exhibitions, write about stuff, post about stuff, share the wonderful thing you do with the world.
- I know it hurts, but shout about yourself and your art constantly and make yourself heard. I hate bigging myself up – every promo tweet I write makes me cringe – but if I don’t do it, no one else will.
- You will make mistakes. So many mistakes! But as the wonderful Neil Gaiman said many years ago, mistakes mean you're out there doing something - which is so much better than the alternative 😀
- If money is too tight to dive straight into self-employment in the arts, start with a side-hustle. And don’t give up if you’re not successful straight away! It’s a long game but it’s so worth it.
Obviously there's loads more on the subject of founding and running a creative business. Please add your own pearls of wisdom below! And let's keep on promoting and promoting the Arts to young people - because by goodness the world would be a depressing place without them.
And finally, please keep shopping small and supporting creative businesses. There are millions more amazing artists, designers, illustrators and makers out there who all do a happy dance when they make a sale!