What are you looking for in a business partner?

by Jeanette Smith





Recently I have been helping many artists find the right agent to propel their art licensing business.  There are so many questions you need to ask    yourself and a prospective agent before entering into a business partnership.  Today’s article is dedicated to the artist/agent relationship.  If you have decided to represent yourself, I think you should still find this topic of great interest as it will give guidance as to what you should be doing when representing yourself.


Finding an agent is an important process so you should start by asking yourself a few questions:

  • Do you have the desire or capabilities to represent yourself?

  • Can you handle constant sales and marketing?

  • Can you sell your art better than anyone else (actually this is probably true since it’s your passion)?

  • How much time can you dedicate to sales?

  • And maybe more importantly, how much time WILL you dedicate to sales?

  • Are you willing to give up a significant proportion of your revenue stream to have an agent sell for you? 


If you decide to pursue an agent to help build your art licensing business, you need to research agents that focus on art licensing.  The first thing you look for is an agent that seems to have artists in your style, without actually having something too close to your style.


I really like to look at how many other artists an agent has. Some creators are comfortable in bigger agencies. Others desire a more personal approach to marketing their artwork, which comes with a smaller agency.  No matter which feels like a better fit for you and your art, there are many questions to clarify in the process. 


Make sure you interview prospective agents, just as they interview you.  While it’s exciting to have an agent interested in you, don’t jump on board without a thorough examination and a contract thoroughly reviewed by an objective lawyer and industry expert. 


When approached by an agency, start by seeing if you like the people in the agency and by reading everything you can about them.  Remember that agents who like your art will also be interested in asking you lots of questions about your history, experience and skill sets.  They will want to know whether or not you have any existing licensees and how much art you have.  All of this is to determine, frankly, if there is an opportunity to make some money.  There is definitely competition between artists in the marketplace for great agents, so be forewarned and prepared.


That said, it’s still up to you to research any prospective agents to see if they are a match for you.  Make sure you ask each agency exactly what services they offer. It’s important to have them describe their sales process and how they work with clients. For example, do they create a licensing plan?


Also make sure you know the breath of their expertise before signing on for all of your rights.  Do they have contacts with manufacturers in all product categories, or do they specialize?  Not many licensing agencies have experience in the publishing arena, so you may want to hold back those rights, if you are planning to publish a book.  If they are interested in worldwide rights, just make sure they have the capabilities to get you deals around the globe.  Otherwise save those rights for other international agents as you grow. 

Of course, ask what commission they work on and if it’s negotiable.  Most agencies these days are charging in the range of 40-50% of earned licensing royalties.  I haven’t heard of any above the 50% mark yet, but never say never.  If you are going with an agency at the high end of the scale, make sure that you are getting a broad spectrum of services and ask if there are any other costs involved.  Do you have to contribute to legal services, travel funds or trade show booth design?  It’s best to know up front, so you can plan accordingly.

And finally, you will want to ask for client references and call a few.  And don’t just call the references they give you, pick up the phone and call a selection of people from their web site. Even if you like each other, it’s good to get the perspective of other clients.  How is the day-to-day experience of working with them and, most of all, have you been satisfied with the deals they have brought to the   table.  Though remember, it is always different for each and every artist.


In the end, you want to feel as though you did your homework and found someone who is a personal and professional fit.  After all, they are your new business partners and you are dependent on them for your revenue stream and the livelihood of your growing art licensing business.