What are some of the challenges, realities or hardest parts about running a business as an artist?
If you want to do art as a business, you can’t just make art. You also have to figure out how to handle the business side.
Eventually you may hire people to help with aspects like accounting or taxes, but if you’re like most artists, you’ll likely start out doing everything yourself and this can definitely be a challenge.
The realities of running a business differ in specifics but can be fairly universal in generalities, so below you’ll find some of the challenges the Allies have faced when running their own businesses as artists.
Clients + Money
Continuing to figure out how to talk about money with clients is still difficult. I don’t know if it will ever be easy. At least the people I look up to say it never gets easy.
For instance, I was talking with my dad about some project for Sherwin Williams and he basically said something to the effect of, If you did a mural for them and you charged $5,000 they wouldn’t really value your work as an artist, they would think that you’re inexperienced and not worth that investment. Whereas if you charged $25,000 for doing the exact same project they would be like, Okay, this guy is legit.
Understanding how to navigate that. Learning how to read and understand a client. I think one of my struggles is figuring out how to really understand what a client intends to invest in a project, and I think that’s through understanding value-based pricing on a deeper level that I haven’t really taken the time yet to do. That’s something I really want to dive into more.
When you’re a one-man band and run your own outfit, you do have to shoulder a lot of burdens that you don’t necessarily want to shoulder.
For me, not being a business person, finding money and doing the producer side of things has always been a big challenge and not something I enjoy doing. So I think the search for more money, as Spaceballs would say, is kind of the story of my life and the story of a lot filmmakers’ lives.
Just navigating the financial side of things and being able to figure out how to monetize our relationships and our partnerships. I mean, that’s always the biggest challenge. I’m not a salesman. I think I do a decent job of it, but it’s not my forte. It’s the thing I like least about what I do and I just have to do it.
The hard part is that even though so much of our business is online, it is getting harder and harder to sell online because everyone expects free shipping and you have to compete with Amazon and it’s impossible. We keep having to raise prices, give free shipping and all that stuff, but we don’t really make anything online.
We’ve been trying to scale it back because the only way we can actually make money and thrive as a business is when we bring in local customers. We can’t decide if maybe we should bring the woodshop back and stop doing mass production. You can’t have it both ways — you’re either a manufacturer or you’re an artist. It’s hard to do both and make money out of it. And we’re trying to pay people a living wage at the same time.
People online aren’t really willing to pay what it’s actually worth. Our frames are made from scratch, starting with the raw wood. We mill it all, sand it, putty it and they all have finished corners, which means there’s not a seam on the corner. They’re all designed by hand and touched by ten people through the process. But people who buy things online just want the cheapest thing.
So I much prefer focusing on people who come see our place locally and see that we’re actual people who are making things by hand.
Tending to Business + Art: wearing lots of hats
I really like that I’m in control and I wear all these different hats to make this career possible, but at the end of the day there are a lot of times where I’m like, You know, I just wish I could pour myself into making a pitch deck for 20 hours right now, but I don’t have 20 hours this week or next week.
So the biggest thing about how to sort of combat that struggle and what I’m teaching myself is to chip away at things. It doesn’t always have to be all or nothing.
As far as emailing and all that, I hate it. I can’t stand it. I would love if somebody would be my agent but I haven’t found that person yet. That’s the hardest part for me ‘cause it takes the fun out of it. Somebody like Thomas [“Detour” Evans] is really good at it because he went to business school, so that’s how his mind thinks.
I don’t want to look at the computer screen. Even when I’m drawing on it, it gets old fast. I’m all analog.
Business Management + Knowledge
Jon: It’s a myriad of problems. Confidence. Persistence. Work ethic. Just typical core values that make people good and successful. Professionalism.
Lindz: Yeah, unfortunately professionalism is a big one, being responsive and responding to email.
Jon: Some of the best, most gifted artists are the worst at business. Some artists who are talented enough to execute art, whatever that looks like, just need a pep talk and to be steered in the right direction. A little guidance can go a long way with people. That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve noticed.
If you’re a creative you might want to start being a critical business person and be thinking about, How do I get ahead amongst this field of creatives? How am I working smarter and harder than the next person to achieve? What are the obstacles that look like opportunities but are dead ends?
With the rise of the creative class it’s understanding that the road to success is not always just climbing straight up the mountain — you have to know when to come down or traverse to get a better angle to the summit. I think a lot of that is lost on somebody just out of art school, which is why many people don’t want to work with them. They want to work with people who have 10 or 15 years of experience, who have dealt with those things and realities of being a professional creative.
So getting people to open up their pocketbooks to fund high-powered creative projects has always been my biggest battle.
Most artists are not the greatest business people in the world. Most people work for money but that’s not why artists work and I’ve realized that. They work because they want to make stuff.
The economics and the business side of things, that’s something that, for most or a lot of artists, is not even part of their persona or anything they even understand. Pricing, delivering work on time, everything else that you have to do as a business is not something that they’re even thinking about.
And being active on social media because I think that can be a really valuable tool, but I don’t know, I always have a hard time promoting myself, it just feels strange.
Probably the taxes. Keeping track of things to write off and inventory. I’m still so confused by the tax side of it. I started keeping an inventory of all my work maybe four or five years ago because I’d forget where these painting are because I’d loan them to people. Mainly just keeping track of things, because when I’m painting, that’s so far from my mind.
As dumb as it sounds, keeping an inventory and having a list of what people owe you— it sounds so simple, but it makes a big difference.
I think I learned the hard way on a lot of stuff. I’d just try a bunch of things and a lot didn’t work out. I had a lot of events that just kind of bombed and I probably worked harder than I needed to instead of targeting things in a more specific way.
Like I did this Bro Show. It was so bad. It was at the Denver Merchandise Mart and it didn’t even go through the end of the hours. It was supposed to be, like, all these “things men,” you know? So I thought, That fits my art. I actually broke even on it. A $500 booth fee.
But you know, there are a lot of things I look back on and I’m like, Man, why did you do that? That is dumb. So you have to be fairly tactical. I’m very risk tolerant on that spectrum and I think it’s because I built it so that my art was just a side job, that I didn’t depend on any of that income. So I was like, There’s money in the account, I can do it, and that has led to some successes and some failures.
Probably the hardest part is trying to make sure that I’m making enough time to do my art. In Ohio I worked all of the time and I was hardly ever doing my art. It’s hard to motivate myself sometimes to do my art.
Film has its challenges with the business side for me — the bureaucracy, red tape, distribution of wealth. I mean, the directors and actors get paid millions of dollars and the production design guys and the production assistant people get paid very little, comparatively speaking. So in that sense, I have a little bit of conflict with that.