5 tips for every artist-entrepreneur

by Jeffrey P. Fisher




I've been a self-employed artist for most of my career. And I've learned a few things along the way. Here are some top ideas for you to apply to your own situation.


1) Image + Credentials = Reputation

Building your reputation is a crucial part of making your career better. As buyers, we are all skeptical because we've made poor purchasing decisions in the past. We don't want to repeat those mistakes, so many of us are less willing to take a chance. However, a good reputation instills confidence and reduces that fear of buyer's remorse. When people trust that you'll deliver what they want based on your past track record, they are more willing to support you. People buy your rep so spend your resources growing and selling it.


You build a reputation through image and credentials. An image establishes what you are about and should appeal to the people you are trying to reach. Package your image through diligent and consistent presentation of your art, attitude, dress, speech, graphics, and other visual material including your web site. Credentials show people you are legitimate. Having your work out there is one credential. where you demonstrate your skills and prove you are for real. Other credentials come from third-party endorsements such as media reviews and testimonials from satisfied buyers, clients, and peers. This evidence of your success works its magic on the doubtful. Don't believe this works, look at all the movie ads in your local paper. Two thumbs up goes a long way toward getting people into the theaters. Finally, work to win awards. These endorsements are credentials you can take to the bank.


2) Knowledge + Action = Success

How do you quickly make your art career better? Learn all you can about how the business really works. Read, take classes, find a mentor or two, and get real-world, hands-on experience. The more information you gather, the easier it will be to make good decisions that lead to your taking appropriate actions and moving closer to your goals.


Don't sit on your hands waiting for something to happen, either. Be proactive. Building a reputation, cultivating business relationships, and growing your career takes time and effort. You need to push hard always. What are you doing today to reach those people who want and need the products and services you sell? What actions can you take that move you closer to your goals?


Success is somewhat self-perpetuating. The more you achieve, the easier it is to sustain. But that doesn't mean you can ever become complacent. Don't take your clients or your fans for granted or you'll risk losing everything you've struggled to earn fast.


3) You help other people = Other people help you

I often hear from would-be composers wanting to score independent films. Quickly, I discover that they don't hang out with indie filmmakers, go to indie film festivals, or even read the indie film magazines/blogs/Websites. It's crucial that you start associating with the people who are either in a position to help your career along or ready to hire you. You can't make it completely on your own.


Join and participate in your particular art scene and start networking with industry people, media, and your peers. Start helping others in whatever ways you can. Ask about what they do and what they need. Let them know about your skills and what you are looking for, too. Networking is a form of barter. You want to build long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with people, not just take, take, take. When you approach and give assistance first, people will, out of a sense of obligation, help you in return with referrals, good word of mouth, and occasionally a paying gig.


4) Bookkeeping: It's your money!

If you're earning money from your artistic pursuits, and I do hope you are, get your finances together fast. If you don't keep track of what you make and spend, how will you know your true financial situation? How can you successfully complete your taxes?


If you are not an employee, and instead manage your career yourself, you are in business. As a small business there are many legal, financial, and tax regulations that apply. Since finances and taxes interrelate, it's crucial that you establish a specific method for tracking them. Setting up a proper bookkeeping system today will save many headaches later.


Get a business checking account and a credit card for your business. Deposit your income into the account and pay all your business expenses from it. Either use a ledger or software to record all these inflows and outflows. The more detail you use the clearer the picture. If you track specific income streams you will see which activities are profitable and which are not. Also, carefully monitoring your expenses in detail reveals where you over or under spend.


5) Taxes: It's your signature on the 1040

I was once stung by the bee of a substantial tax bill. It was my own fault having jumped, young and green, into the waters of my first business without researching key issues. I collected check after check from client after client and failed to notice that nothing was being deducted from those checks. Self-employed individuals pay their own "payroll" taxes (federal and state income taxes, social security, and Medicare contributions). Consequently, I faced a substantial tax bill come April the next year, owing for the previous year and making my first estimated payment for the current year.


When all this came down, I made two important decisions. One, to research all the issues that affected my business and, two, to go out of my way to help other people avoid these same mistakes. There are many distinct advantages to having your own business and there are many pitfalls. Make sure you fully understand all the tax issues as they apply to your unique situation. Knowledge here benefits you greatly as you'll save money and stay out of trouble. Also, examine any legal issues, especially liability, to protect your business and personal assets.


Those are my top five ideas for the burgeoning ingénue … you!