"To open a shop is easy, to keep it open is an art." -- Chinese Proverb
Can you make a living as a crafter on Etsy? Yesterday there was some flurry on Facebook over the broadcast of this story on WBEZ, Chicago's public radio station. What struck a real chord with me was a comment left on my FB page by a friend who is an amazing painter. She's found a niche market for her pet portraits, but is completely overwhelmed by the prospect of building a business from them. Where does one even start?!
Research. A business becomes successful with a little planning and that starts with research. Over the years I've read a number of books pertaining specifically to an art career and I've read those that are broader in approach. Hands down my favorite book for artists is How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist: Selling Yourself Without Selling Your Soul by Caroll Michels. I own three different editions of it, starting with the first edition purchased just after I left college with my BFA. It is full of information on everything from insurance to contracts.
There is also the recent addition to my library of The Artist's Guide to Grant Writing by Gigi Rosenberg. I've written grants, but what I loved is her constant affirmation that many foundations have the mission explicity to provide funding for artists to work. I have this blockheaded guilt complex about accepting grants. Don't ask. I don't understand it either, but according to Gigi, I'm not alone with this thought. I love her clear suggestions for getting organized and staying motivated.
But what Jessica was asking about was the actual process of starting and building a business. She has a service (personalized pet portraits) and a product (paintings and drawings) to sell. For some reason, this topic still isn't taught to artists in many colleges. Why it isn't remains a mystery to me. Some artists are willing to live in a tree house, such as Dale Chihuly when he started Pilchuck, but every artist I know loves to eat. Yes, I will do my art just because I love it, but I'm much happier when I can end the day with a great bowl of pasta, some veggies and a glass of wine. A slice of chocolate cake doesn't hurt either.
Well, a great place to start is The Boss of You: Everything a Woman Needs to Know to Start, Run and Maintain Her Own Business by Emira Mears and Lauren Bacon. Written in a tone reminiscent of a good chick flick (sorry fellas), it is full of information. How do you figure out a monthly budget? How do you price your work? Do you want to set yourself up as a sole proprietor, an LLC, an S-corp or a C-corp? I recommend it as a launching pad. I found the exercises helpful even after having owned several businesses. Bonus - Chicago's very own Cinnamon Cooper of Poise, co-founder of the DIY Trunk Show and author of Everything Cast Iron is quoted throughout it. Yeah!
I also recommend reading the Business and Career sections of Chicago Artists' Resource. Read every link. It will take you a day to do, so instead of overwhelming yourself with information, spend an hour every morning (or evening) with your favorite beverage at hand reading and making notes. There are links informing one exactly how to go about legally setting up a business, what to consider and who to turn to for advice. There is even information on how to find and obtain business loans! The blog Up and Running is inspirational while giving the occassional kick in the pants. I also like the newsletter The Daily Worth. It provides concise information on handling your personal finances, an important aspect of preparing to start and maintain a business.
Other books in my library -
I'd Rather Be in the Studio: The Artist's No Excuse Guide to Self-Promotion by Alyson Stanfield
The Artist's Guide to Public Art: How to Find and Win Commissions by Lynn Basa
The Artist's Guide: How to Make a Living Doing What You Love by Jackie Battenfield
Business and Legal Forms for Fine Artists by Ted Crawford
Graphic Arists Guild Handbook: Pricing and Ethical Guidelines by the Graphic Artists Guild
Guerilla Marketing: Easy and Inexpensive Strategies for Making Big Profits from Your Small Business by Jay Conrad Levinson (This one helped me a ton with my former yarn store. 11+ years later and I still love it.)
There have been other books I've read over the years, but these are the highlights. I've found golden nuggets of information in each of them.
Most of all, I think the hardest part is not to give up. As I write this blog entry, I'm clocking in 13 hours now at the computer, most of the time spent in correspondance, updating websites, applying to shows / art festivals / competitions, and researching new opportunities. Being self-employed is not for those who like to punch the time and check out for the day.