Tuesday, February 16, 2010

the business end

I've been writing about making pottery a business, and I hope all of my intelligent readers know that these points can be applied to making any art a business. Today I'm going to write about something that will probably make 99% of you squirm in your seat a little bit, send a flash of guilt through your brain, and then leave you feeling a little bit inadequate. I'm referring to running the business end of things, and I feel confident in saying that most artists want to concentrate on making art, not running a business.

I have had many struggles over the years in making the business a priority, and one that I could manage without wanting to start screaming and crying. I've fucked things up pretty bad in the past, and I finally had to give up and call in Mommy to clean up my books and make my invoicing system work. I have learned a lot from my experience over the years, and here are a few points to keep in mind:

1) It is never too late to learn how to make your business run. You may have put yourself in a corner where you have no idea how much money you are really making, if you are overspending for supplies, or what your production costs are. You may feel that keeping your head in the sand has worked for you for many years and there is no reason to change at this late date. There is reason, and the reason is that no matter how successful you are right now, you could be even more successful if you had a handle on your numbers. Why? Because the deeper understanding you have about your business, the more you understand how to make your money work more efficiently for you. And running a good business means just that: efficient use of your limited resources.

2) Never fall for the "I'm an artist, not a businessperson" line. Being an artist means being curious, and also multi-talented. If you want to support yourself as an artist, then you must be curious about how to do that. Turning the business part into a headache is self-defeating; instead, try to look at it as a question that you are trying to answer through learning and research. The question is, "How do I make enough money to support myself?" Answer it by learning Quickbooks, balancing your checkbook, tracking your expenditures and sales, and paying attention to your bank balance. Now that I do these things regularly, I've actually convinced myself that it is fun.

3) It is never too early to learn how to make your business run. I think a lot of artists are so overwhelmed and excited when they first start working for themselves that the idea of slowing down and figuring out the numbers just seems like a big drag. The longer you put it off, the bigger drag it will be as the guilt and procrastination accumulates. Even if you are only selling a few things a month, taking the time to log it all in, run the numbers, and see where it's all washing out sets you up with some good early habits that will pay off, and gets you comfortable with numbers, especially as they get bigger and bigger.

4) Taking yourself seriously as a business is a call to the Universe to take you seriously too. Yes, I live in California, so I have to bring the Universe into the discussion. Not only will the Universe take you more seriously and send you more customers-- no snickering-- your customers will sense your confidence in your art and your business and feel more sure in purchasing from you. Most people love seeing artists make it, and they love supporting that success. Running a solid business makes your success shine for everyone to see.

5) Ask for help. I am not a born businessperson, and likely you are not either. But there are a bunch of people out there who are, and they are dying to help you. Talk to your banker, take a business class, ask a friend to teach you quickbooks, hire a bookkeeper, read art-based business blogs for tips and support. You are not alone, or hopeless. No matter what your business problem may be, someone out there can help you figure it out.

Also, remember this: Nothing and nobody is perfect. I don't run a perfect business, and I still have a lot to learn. We all need to take steps to be better business people, and we will all have our failures while we take those steps. Don't stop because it's not perfect.