From Hobby to Profession: Taking Your Creative Business to the Next Level
By Jodi Ohl
Having your own business is truly one of the elements to which the “American Dream” is founded on. In this day and age, we are truly blessed with more opportunities to make self-employment a very real possibility for so many. This is especially true with creative entrepreneurs, artists like you and I, no longer have to rely solely on being in a gallery to be ‘found’ by others that appreciate our art. Opportunities to be found have opened up exponentially, especially with social media on the internet. But what does it really take to leave the safety net of your day job to venture into the world of selfemployment?
First and foremost, it starts with a lot of planning and daily acts of bravery all coupled with the willingness to work hard, perhaps harder and longer than you have ever worked before and truly sacrifice in the name of your art and craft. I promise, it is worth it in the end.
Last October I did just that. I quit the security of my day job as a bank manager but the wheels were in motion a few years ago when I was armed with little more than my blog: Sweet Repeats and my Etsy Shop Sweet Repeats Studio, as well as a love for painting and storytelling through my art. My disclaimer here is that I am not an expert and I hope that I never feel like an expert, (which may seem like an odd thing to say) because that would mean that my desire to learn and grow has taken a backseat to complacency. Complacency is the kiss of death to any business person. I can, however, share with you some of the ways I managed to go from a bank manager to a full time artist in just a few years.
Here are some key things I did to position myself to go to that next level with my creative business:
1. Creating a body of Work:
If you plan on making a living off of your art or craft, you need to have a body of work that can support you in the manner that you want to be supported. And then you need to double that amount in inventory at the very least or be able to create enough each day/week to double or triple what you want to make in an average year. Think about it. If you want to make let’s just say $1000 a week in your art, you have to have more than that amount in your ‘inventory’ because chances are you are not going to be selling everything at full price. If you sell your work wholesale, you can count on 50% off your retail price as your sale price to the retailer, and in a similar fashion, 30-50% would go to any gallery, boutique, or shop you will consign or sell in. Eye-opening, isn’t it? So first you must CREATE in order to sell and sustain yourself. That’s where your hard work comes in.
2. Save Money
There may never be a perfect time to do what it is in your heart and what you are passionate about but you can prepare yourself financially by saving enough money to get by in the lean times. It may seem out of reach at first, but there are a lot of things you can do today to start saving a little bit at a time, to make your dreams a reality. Review your household budget. What can you do to change your spending habits so that you can save more money to launch your business?
There of course will be people out there that are fortunate enough financially all ready to just do it now, but the vast majority of us will have to prepare for our departure the old fashioned way: by socking away a nest egg little by little while we are working our day job. Here are some ideas: pack a lunch, eat at home rather than go out for dinner, rent a movie rather than go to a movie, vacation at a friend or family’s home rather than in the Caribbean, don’t spend your tax return or bonus if you receive either, during a course of year, coupon when you grocery shop, buy everything on sale or on clearance and only buy what is necessary, set up a special account
and have money transferred to your ‘business account’ every pay period. All of these things will help prepare you to weather the storms when you go out on your own as a self-employed individual. I bet you can come up with at least 10-20 more ways to save money if you just sit down and do the math.
3. Planning and Research
Know your competitors, understand your market, and most importantly, understand YOU and your business. I can’t stress it enough that there are going to be people out there that are doing the exact same thing as you are doing so understanding what differentiates YOU from THEM is key to your own success. Capitalize on those differences and do the best work you can day in and day out. A creative business is no different than any other small business in the framework of its conception. Be professional and develop a business plan. If a structured business plan is too far out of reach for the way you operate, then get a pretty journal and create one that is one of a kind!
4. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket
For a long time and even to some extent now, Etsy or Ebay were one of the main online venues for creative individuals or small business retailers, but there are other fish in the sea and some maybe more viable then others for what YOU do. With that said, don’t discount galleries, boutiques, and other brick and mortar stores as there are huge opportunities in the ‘real world’ to showcase your wares as well. For me, I decided to take a multi-faceted approach and not just sell on line, I sell at art festivals, galleries and other shops, as well as, teach all over the state and most recently around the country for art retreats as well as teach online art workshops. I also write for artsy related magazines which helps not only support my business but it gets my name out there in the creative market and builds my credibility for my brand. In addition, I spend time weekly prospecting new venues to sell my work at. I do so though in a limited and precise way as I need to be able to fill those shops with my work so I don’t take on more than I can handle. Make a list of 20 places you could potentially sell your work at. Take steps to prospect those candidates starting today! Even if you only are able to secure a spot in ¼ of those places, that’s 25% more than if you did not do anything at all!
5. Marketing and Sales
Artists and creative individuals are not known for their marketing and sales proficiency but that doesn’t mean you can survive without having some skills that will get your business and art into the world (a lot of skills) or know someone that can do it for you (inexpensively). Sure, there will be some individuals whose art or crafts will go viral because of some phenomenon, good for them! The rest of us have to roll up our sleeves and spread the word manually. I know, I know…but you want to play in your studio all day, me too! But we can’t just create our work, we have to sell it and we need to wrap our arms around the fact that we have to constantly put our names and our work out into the world. I’m not saying posting 70 things a day on facebook is the answer (you don’t want to shove yourself down potential customers throats as that will turn people off) but you do want put on your sales and marketing hat on a daily basis. What are some options? Newsletters, postcards, calling on galleries, shops, listing NEW work on Etsy, promoting on social networks, blogging, doing demonstrations at venues that have customers
that are likely to buy your work, being featured on other blogs, advertising (online or in print media), networking (both online and in person), hosting giveaways. This just the tip of the iceberg. Be thinking of ways you can get your name in front of potential customers every day and then do the work to get there.
6. Take the Leap
So now that you’ve got a plan in place, inventory to sell, a market to sell to, a place to sell at, and have a little money socked away to carry you through in case the going gets rough, take the leap of faith. Understand it’s not going to be easy but if you are passionate about what you do, let that passion fuel your fire. Be ready to roll up your sleeves and have to make sacrifices every day in order to survive in a very competitive market. Continually analyze what you do and be willing to make some adjustments. Be critical of yourself and take ownership for your endeavors. It’s easy to place blame on external factors, but it is critical you stay in touch with your own business. If the sales are not there, what can you do differently to increase the likelihood to sell? If you are ready to take the leap you have to be ready to continually run with your ideas and constantly strive to better your product, increase your efficiencies, lower your costs to increase your margins, and grow year after year. Learn every day. Wake up with a positive attitude and believe in yourself, because you can do it. Wishing you much success in your endeavors. Now get out there and do the work!
Art Bio Jodi Ohl
Jodi Ohl is a self-taught mixed media artist who resides in Aberdeen, NC. Having recently left her day job to pursue her artistic career full time, she is has built a body of work that is known for its distinctive texture, bold color combinations, often whimsical or abstract compositions, as well as motivational in nature. Her art appeals to those that seem to be young at heart and who appreciate the positive side of life whether communicated through words, colors, or composition. Published in a variety of international mixed media magazines such as Cloth Paper Scissors, Somerset Studios, Artful Blogging, Artful Journaling, Somerset Holidays and Celebrations, and Cloth Paper Scissors Studios, as well as a contributor to two mixed media books, Art at the Speed of Life by Pam Carriker and Cloth Paper Scissors, The Book by Barbara Delaney, Jodi enjoys writing about her art and sharing the love of healing and motivation through creativity. She is represented by regional galleries in North Carolina and teaches at local and national workshops around the US. When not painting, she enjoys time with her two sons, Josh, 11 and Zach, 17 as well as other friends and family. Jodi welcomes visitors to her blog Sweet Repeats www.sweetrepeats.blogspot.com where you can find a full listing of classes, weekly musings, and additional artwork for sale.