The Art of the Business

A blog dedicated to artists who are serious about their business.

On getting away from it all… January 9, 2009

Filed under: Attitude,Life — Rebecca Coleman @ 7:46 am

Hoo boy. You should have seen me in mid-December. I was a mess–making dumb mistakes, being forgetful, generally quite useless. I’m a little embarrassed to admit, it actually.

Truth was, I was suffering from burnout. The last three very busy months were taking their toll. All that work stress was compounded by the pressures of Christmas, and the inability, due to the worst winter Vancouver has seen in 30-some-odd years, to get around.
So I was understandably eager to get away from it all for a few days. My significant something-or-other and I rented a

The Wind in the Alders

The Wind in the Arbutus

cabin on Mayne Island for four days. My greatest aspirations for these days consisted of drinking wine and eating cheese.  You’ll be happy to know, I was successful. I also read, wrote, listened to music, re-watched old favorite movies, went for walks on the beach, fooled around with my camera, napped, cooked great food and ate it. I did bring my computer, and I had internet access, but I managed to keep my online activities to a minimum.
There were no schedules, no daytimer, no meetings. My time was my own, and it was so great.

A second goal I had for these days was to take some time to reflect on where I was going in the coming year. I’m not much for making resolutions, I never really have been, but I do like to set goals for myself, and Mayne was the perfect place for not working on them. I know, it sounds crazy, right? Make goals and plans by not working on them? Puzzling things through rarely works for me. I don’t make decisions lightly–I often do a lot of research–and then end up feeling overwhelmed by the results, too paralyzed to make a decision. The answers come when I stop looking for them.
I did get some answers during my quiet time, and that was great. But I also realized that I need to make a few lifestyle changes to keep myself from getting burnt out. Working like crazy, and then taking time off may not be the right soloution. Instead, I’m looking for ways to create that ‘just came back from four days on Mayne Island’ feeling. If I could bottle it, I’d be rich…

Do I look relaxed? Check out that background!

Do I look relaxed? Check out that background!

So, I’ll keep you updated on my progress, but in the mean time, I’d love to hear any suggestions from you. How do you keep the burnout at bay?

To see more of my Mayne photos, click here.

To find out more about Wind in the Arbutus, click here.

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Focus!! December 5, 2008

Filed under: Attitude,Business of Arts,Success — Rebecca Coleman @ 7:53 pm
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I love being an artist. I love artists. I love being around and working with creative people. But, oh, boy, do I get frustrated sometimes.

Because the things that I love the most about artists are also the things that bug me the most. On one hand, our creativity makes us fun and interesting to be around–never a dull moment. There are always new and exciting ideas being bounced around, and being creative is, for sure, one of the keys of success. However, whenever I meet someone that I will term a “slasher”, that is, an actor/producer/musician/bartender, it raises my hackles. Because really simply, there are few people in the world that can do all of that and be successful at all of them.

As creative people, we crave constant stimulation, new things. It’s part and parcel of being an artist. But I really believe that we have to resist the temptation to get into something new every time we have an idea about what that might be.

You’ll probably hate me for saying this, but we need to focus. We need to pick something, preferably our area of expertise, create a plan around it, and go for it. When you have that particular product or service underway, and it’s doing really well, then look for new things to branch out to and add to your success. The truth is, if you focus on too many things at once, your focus will be divided, and nothing will get the real attention it deserves.

The business term for this is Nicheing. It allows you to get really specific with what you are doing, and who you are selling to. You become an expert in your field, and therefore sought after.

I often ask potential clients who their audience or market is. Alarm bells usually go off for me when they say “everyone.” Most products and services are not for everyone, but have a specific market, and if you know who that market is, it makes it a lot easier to sell to, rather than trying to figure out how to get in touch with “everyone.”

There are some resources out there on this topic. First off, a book that is on my ‘to-read’ list that has been recommended to me by a fellow entrepreneur: Nichecraft: Using Your Specialness to Focus Your Business, Corner Your Market, and Make Customers Seek You Out, by Dr. Lynda Falkenstein. I also found this short-but-sweet nine-step process to finding your niche.

Good luck. It’s not…. hey, what is that over there? Something shiny! Oh. Wait. Sorry. What was I saying?


Survival Skills for Artists: Chris Tyrell Interview October 23, 2008

Okay, visual artists, this one’s for you…. (but those of you who aren’t painters, sculptors or photographers, you can benefit from this one, too)

This month I interview Chris Tyrell, author of Artist’s Survival Skills, subtitled How to Make a Living as a Canadian Visual Artist.

No stranger to the Vancouver arts scene, Chris began as a drama teacher at West Vancouver Secondary and Capilano College. He designed, built and managed Presentation House Theatre and established the Presentation House Gallery of photography. As well, he co-founded the BC Touring Council and the Alliance for Arts and Culture. He’s probably best known, however, for being the editor of The Opus Visual Arts Newsletter for, oh, like, forever.
I asked him some questions about how to survive and thrive as a visual artist.

AotB: If I’m a visual artist who is interested in selling more of my work, and possibly even making a living from my artistic practice, how can your book help me?

CT: I have never heard an artist say, “I wish I earned less money from my art.” However, after every one of my workshops for artists on ways to increase income, I see expressions of despair on some faces. “I don’t like thinking about my art like a business,” says one. “Oh my god, I couldn’t possibly take all that on,” says another, “I’m going to get a gallery to do all that for me.”

“Then make art for enjoyment, keep your job, and stop thinking about making more money from your art,” I say. My book is for artists who want to make a career of their creative skills. It addresses art-making in the context of self-employment; it uses business language and subscribes to principles of small business development applicable to any small manufacturing business.

My book reveals how much work it takes to develop an artistic career. Starting a small business (and this is what we do when we set out to be self-employed artists who sell our work) is a serious challenge regardless of the nature of the business. And while there are many worthwhile books for Canadian entrepreneurs on starting and growing a small business, my book looks at key components of small business theory and discusses them in the context of a creative, skills-based small business—the self-employed Canadian visual artist.

There are many associations that support professional artists in Canada. The writers have the Writers Union of Canada, actors, stage managers, and dancers have the Canadian Actors Equity Association and ACRTA; musicians have the Musicians Union. Directors, choreographers, and composers—all artistic professions in Canada have a trade association or union to which they belong. These professional organizations provide support to their members in areas such as health, taxation, and copyrights, and they negotiate collective agreements with employer associations that cover salaries and benefits. Visual artists, however, do not have sufficient professional guidance and support. My book seeks to provide a comprehensive overview of professional development issues for the committed Canadian visual artist.

Why shouldn’t I just hire an agent/accountant/publicist? Won’t that leave me more time for my artistic practice?

CT: You can do all that if you can afford it. Often, artists who get represented by a gallery get a lot of management services, but unless the artists takes responsibility for his or herself and his or her career, it will never be as successful as it might be. An artist may well take advantage of the professional services of others, but still, the drive and direction of one’s career is best self-managed. It all depends on what the artist wants, and that is why my book begins with a chapter on planning.

A lot of artists want success but are not prepared to work hard for it. Those who have genuine genius need not worry, their career will unfold for them (Brian Jungen, for example), but those with admirable, even great talent, require HARD WORK to establish an enduring successful career, and no one works better for an artist than the artist his- or her self. Gallery owners have many artists to represent and cannot do for an artist what the artist can do for themselves.

AotB: What are some of the most important things I can do to help my artistic business along in the areas of marketing and finances?

CT:Read my book.
Set realistic, achievable, measurable and incremental annual sales goals.
Study small business management, take marketing courses.
Have a fabulous, selected and diverse product line visible in your portfolio.
Study the best practices of other visual artists.
Provide interesting insight into your work—people do not buy what they do not understand.
Join a co-op, work with other artists to achieve goals.

AotB: Thanks, Chris. Really great stuff.

Artist’s Survival Skills is available for purchase at Opus Visual Art Supplies.

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The thin line between confidence and ego October 18, 2008

Filed under: Attitude,Business of Arts,Business relationships — Rebecca Coleman @ 9:15 pm
Tags: , , ,

They don't call these guys 'Dragons' for nothing!

Last year, while I was taking my small-business training program at BCIT, I was introduced to The Dragon’s Den by one of my instructors. The Dragon’s Den is a Canadian production on CBC, and, as far as I can tell, is unique in the genre of reality television. Basically, there is this panel of very successful business people that have money to invest in start-up companies. Small businesses and corporations come in and pitch their ideas for expansion and development to the Dragons, in exchange for a percentage of their business.

As a person who was starting, and is now running, her own business, watching this show is an education. Looking beyond all the cheese of the reality-television formula (the tension-inducing music, the cutting-to-commercial before the final verdict), it is so interesting to see which businesses succeed on this show, and which ones get shot down in flames (another mainstay of the reality-TV formula). Generally speaking, the ones that succeed are super prepared with marketing materials and facts and figures. They’ve thought about what kinds of questions the dragons might ask, and are prepared with the answers. They don’t oversell, but allow the product or service to speak for itself.

The ones that fail miserably are the ones that, often, are so overconfident in their product/service that they have become downright cocky, and have lost sight of reality (or maybe they never had it to start with). I’m not saying that you shouldn’t believe in your product. In fact, if you don’t believe in what you’re selling, you have no business selling it. Passion helps, too, for sure. But some people think that their product or  service is perfect, and they are convinced that every single person in the world should jump on their bandwagon. And that’s just not true. For any business.

There is a fine line between being confident and being egotistical. You need to know that there is always something that can be improved with your business. And I’m not talking about perfectionism. You might be aware that everything is not perfect with your business, but maybe you choose to not act on that right now. For example, I’m thinking about moving my business from a home-based operation to an office. Getting an office would be a big boost to people’s perception of the professionalism of my business. But I need to be strategic about it–location, money, and who I would share an office with are all factors that need to be taken into consideration. So, I’m developing a plan….

It’s a fine balance–you need to be confident, but not too confident, you need to be aware of what needs improvement, but not be mired in perfectionism (because we’ve all been around those people, and boy, let me tell you, no party there).

So, if you haven’t yet, watch The Dragon’s Den. You might learn something. And if nothing else, it’s an entertaining way to spend a Monday night… if there’s no Canucks game.

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