Can you be a business owner and still be an artist?
There are many talented and successful artists working hard every day to do what they love. Some people are able to periodically earn money with their passion, but for many artists, that income is not enough to consider it a “living.”
Confronting the Myths (And Some Realities)
It is perhaps unfortunate, but true, that there are many preconceived notions about artists and other creative types. For example:
- They are childish
- They are absentminded and forgetful
- They are disorganized
- They don’t care about business
- They are all a little crazy
- (Insert your own here)
While these may be stereotypical preconceptions (or misconceptions), if you’re a creative person, you may identify with some them. The point is that creative and artistic types often face particular challenges in transitioning from thinking of themselves strictly as “artists” to adopting the mindset of a business owner. So much of what makes an artist thrive stems from right-brain thinking. So much of what makes a business owner successful comes from left-brain processes.
In his book Career Management for the Creative Person, author Lee Silber refers to “The Seven (Bad) Habits of Highly Ineffective Creative People.” In this list he mentions seven tendencies that seem to be particularly common among “right-brain types,” as he calls them. The list includes procrastination, the desire to take on every job, the inability to be satisfied financially, being egotistic and overly confident, the tendency towards addictive behaviors including becoming a “workaholic,” and a lack of discipline.
Does this mean that artists cannot make great business owners and entrepreneurs? Certainly not! Some of the most successful businesspeople in the world are artists first and foremost.
So what’s the secret for the lucky few who have managed to turn their artistic passions into a profitable business? How can one go from being a talented artist who makes money to a business owner who still functions as a talented artist? On one level this is the same question that any professional—be it a graphic designer or a hair stylist—must ask themselves. The key is being willing to transition from being an “artist” to a business owner, or in E-Myth terminology, to go from being strictly a Technician to becoming and Entrepreneur.
It’s Not a Job, It’s an Enterprise
As an entrepreneur one is engaged in an enterprise. Webster’s defines an “enterprise” as: A project undertaken that is of some importance or that requires boldness or energy. A company organized for commercial purposes; a business firm.
The implications here are numerous, but key is that a successful enterprise requires a boldness of vision, a plan for achieving that vision, and an energetic strategy for carrying out that plan. Another implication is that it will not be done alone. A team is essential for the successful building and management of a business. This does not necessarily mean hiring employees, but at the very least, having a network of mentors, colleagues, sub-contractors and vendors is critical.
Building a business means having operations in place for managing finances, for directing marketing, lead generation, and lead conversion functions, and for client fulfillment and internal management processes. Being a business owner means being ultimately accountable for the successful implementation and orchestration of all the various systems needed to make the business run smoothly, effectively and profitably.
And there is the danger for the owner who wants to remain the artist: how does one build, manage, and oversee all of that while still having time to pursue one’s creative aspirations?
Every successful endeavor begins with a vision and a plan to achieve that vision. As an entrepreneurial artist desiring to become a business owner, developing a clear vision of your business is vital. And this doesn’t mean sitting around thinking about it. You must write it down, give it shape… Give it life. You can even draw it out if that’s easier for you! Bottom line, your vision doesn’t mean anything if it’s just ideas swimming around your head; you need to get it documented.
A key part of that vision is defining the exact role that you, the owner/artist will fill in the organizational structure. In the beginning, you’ll have to wear multiple hats and be responsible for functions that you aren’t necessarily comfortable with. As the business owner, you don’t need to excel at every part of business, but you do need to have a basic understanding of the business fundamentals. At the end of the day, you are ultimately responsible for the business as a whole. But don’t fret; just the act of developing your organizational structure will help you identify the areas that you need to get help with first, be it through an employee or sub-contractor.
Once that vision is established, a strategic plan needs to be put into place and then effectively carried out. This should involve designing, developing, and documenting standardized systems for all of the key functions in the business. For example, if you’ve determined through working on your organizational structure, that you need an administrative assistant right away, then why not start by documenting how orders will be taken and the process for fulfillment? Can you standardize the customer experience so that you deliver a top-notch experience every time? You can work through this process with your new hire to some extent, drawing on their expertise and input to get these processes in place. What a great way to start with an employee! Giving them a documented way of doing business, right from the start!
Planning and strategic work of this magnitude will not be accomplished in one sitting. A key piece of successful implementation and execution is the management and follow-through of each step and each phase of a long range plan. Flexibility and a willingness to adjust to changes in the marketplace, the economy, and so on are important. But it is vital that the general plan and the key objectives always be kept in sight.
So what’s the bottom line? It’s that entrepreneurial artists can successfully make the transition to becoming business owners. And they can do so while structuring their role in the business in such a way as to allow them to continue practicing their particular craft.