There are plenty of myths surrounding creative entrepreneurship and being an artist. These are 10 common myths that tend to surface during the start-up period of creative entrepreneurship. I included a few myth-busting resources at the bottom of this article in case you need a bit of support as you move through some of these preconceived notions.
1. Being an Artist or Creative Entrepreneur is a Risky Career Move
Gone are the days of graduating, finding a job, and working there until retirement. After my first layoff from my day job, I attended mandatory state workshops to receive unemployment. When the workshop facilitator asked if anyone had been previously laid-off, about half of the group raised their hand. The facilitator followed up with, “…and this won’t be the last time you’re laid off either.” Since that time, I have had two more bouts of a temporary lay-off.
It’s time the fear-based assumption that creative entrepreneurship is risky or unstable needs to change because it’s just not true. These words of warning often come from concerned friends and family who express concern but don’t realize they are stifling creativity and perpetuating a myth that the corporate world is stable. With a little business training, support, and a network, artists can run successful small businesses that can be stable and financially positive. Find a believing mirror, someone who can support you and show you the way as a thriving artist.
2. You Gotta Have the Start-Up Necessities
Fancy computer, software, art database software, a studio space – actually, you don’t need any of these things to be a start-up and begin working as a professional artist. Most of these items are nice to have when operating as a creative business, but they are not necessary to begin. You don’t even have to formally become a business to begin to follow your creative career, hello sole proprietorships! Knowing your start-up necessities and managing finances is more important than having the “things” that make it seem like you are a real professional artist.
At one point in my creative career, I was spending where I hoped my business would be (rather than its current financial situation). I had so many overhead expenses I couldn’t keep up: $400 a month studio, internet bill, website costs, marketing, gas to get to the studio….all costs incurred before even making art. This put a lot of pressure on me to pump out work and sell, rather than enjoying the process of making art or feeling that creative flow.
This doesn’t mean struggle or do without important items needed to make work, however, it’s important to spend to the size of your business. Spending money and banking on earning more isn’t the way to set up your initial finances.
3. If You Build it They will Come
Not true. Building a website doesn’t equate to sales. And making a Facebook page, an e-commerce shop, an Etsy shop, or an Instagram won’t give you results either.
By building customer relationships, generating leads, and networking, you will actively cultivate your business which will lead to sales. You need a strategy for your sales and marketing and you need to consistently act on it to grow your audience.
4. Have a Formal Business Plan
- No need to buy a fancy business plan (or template) to get started
- You won’t need venture capital or a loan
- Don’t spend money on a big business start-up class either
- And you don’t need to show anyone your plan in order to open a business bank account.
Don’t overcomplicate a business plan. Having a few well-planned goals broken down into actionable steps is an excellent first business plan. My business plan lives in a simple spreadsheet.
5. Growth is Good
Growing your business bigger oftentimes means spending more money to become larger. When you say yes to every opportunity (or continue to spend outside your revenue means), you amass more work, more clients, eventually more stress, and maybe even hiring employees to keep up with the work.
Making better artwork, improving collector satisfaction, experimenting, building work efficiency, and finding work/life balance are all ways to challenge your business and grow but in a way that isn’t bigger (or more expensive).
6. Everybody Knows What They Are Doing
While it seems like everybody knows what they are doing (except for you of course), this is a trap we fall into which can cause us to second guess our choices, feel inferior, or form a creative block. This comes from unrealistic comparisons to peers and creative competitors.
The curated lens of social media oftentimes makes people look like they come into their success overnight, but when you hear business owners speak about their journey, you will find they encountered many failures, learning, and years of work that helped build a strong foundation.
7. You Have to Go to Art School
As you can tell by the name of this blog, art school didn’t teach me much about running a creative business. Sure, I learned color mixing techniques, how to draw an anatomically correct body, and the Coptic stitch to bind books. I missed out, however, on critical business learning because the opportunity wasn’t there. My senior graduation preparation course met biweekly to write artist’s statements. Writing an artist statement is important, but doesn’t prepare any graduating student from knowing how to be an art entrepreneur.
Many creative entrepreneurs did not go to art school and are finding fulfillment and success in their creative careers. And some artists who went to art school have abandoned their creative work for other jobs or passions. There is no one right way to approach your creative career and there is no right path you need to be following.
8. You Need to Feel Inspired to Make Art
Creativity, art-making, and business management are all skills. While being inspired and feeling in the flow is a great experience, it’s not necessary in order to keep your creative business operating.
Just like showing up to your job on a day when you’re not feeling motivated or inspired, you still manage to get work done and get through the day. You also can show up to the studio uninspired and make progress without needing to feel a certain way.
Studio rituals, morning pages, artist dates, playlists, lighting candles, proprioceptive writing, accountability buddies, consultants, and mentors are all ways to keep the momentum going when you feel unmotivated.
9. When am I Ever Going to Need to Know That?
As nice as it would be to hide in your studio and just make art, there are many important and transferrable skills you need to learn and carry over from high school, job roles, and other areas of life to have a successful career.
I remember a fellow classmate in school challenging the teacher on when we would ever need to use the quadratic equation. Now, I’m not here to convince you that this equation has a place in your art business, but there are many non-art skills needed which are taught in non-art courses that are necessary to be successful as an artist.
- Percentages, cross multiplication, and measurements are mathematics I used daily
- Financial balancing, cost projections, and profit margin help set prices and build my revenue…(and dare I say assist with taxes!)
- Grammar, editing, and essay formulation assist with project proposals and grant writing
- Public speaking and presentations help with talking about my artwork publically and presenting myself at art shows
Some school courses and jobs may be hard to get through, but the best approach is to absorb as many skills as you can so you can apply them to the next step in your creative career. Being a generalist at many business skills is so important to being a successful creative entrepreneur.
10. I Need to Quit My Day Job
Being an artist doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing career situation! Many professional artists manage a day job where they have stable income and benefits while making work on the side. It’s perfectly fine to work towards being a full-time professional artist, however, make sure you have a solid business foundation and operation before making the leap. This is similar to the myth, if you build it they will come.” By spending some time preparing your business to be a solopreneur, creating operations, and mastering the art of financial management, you will find success when you go all in and quit your day job….in other words, to put on your parachute before you leap out of the plane.
- Browse other blog posts on What Art School Didn’t Teach You to help you with your start-up
- Work through the book, The Artist Way by Julia Cameron, this is especially helpful if you have some friends or family nay-sayers to the idea of becoming an artist
- Take me up on my offer for informational interviews if you are a student artist
- Read this blog post for student or beginner artists
- Consult with me to learn more about what it takes to start driving customers to your digital spaces
- Read, A Business of One by Paul Jarvis. It’s all about how to manage a small business without focusing on growing and spending more to operate.
- Read The Double Costs of Studio Rent so you can plan out your finances before signing the lease
- Learn how your day job can support your creative passion