How many hats to you wear as an artist/entrepreneur?

There is a hat for every reason… baseball caps keep the sun out of our eyes when we are playing the game.  Straw hats cover the gardener working to pick weeds, till their garden and attend to the vegetable plants.   And there are sunday best hats we wear to church, or stepping out.  Hats signal the role you are working in… and have purpose.  For the sake of this article I am being a bit metaphorical.

English: Hats...

These days’ artists have to be more than just practitioners of their skilled art.  If you are serious about having a small art business here are some of the hats you will have to wear:

  • Photographer – able to capture sumptuous photographs of your work, because it is critical to be able to show people your product.  It goes beyond point and shoot… a good photo of your product will involve stylizing the scene… telling the story in the photo itself.  Consumers are so much more visually oriented today.
  • Marketing Specialist – knowing who is your audience, and how to capture their attention is key to success.  I just read something about finding your market the hard way, by sitting at shows and fairs and doing low volume of sales.  Marketing not only involves getting the word out about the products, but wisely deciding how to engage with the public to maximize return.  Not every artist is savvy in the marketing aspect… and I must admit we have certainly discovered some things trial and error.  One of the best tips someone gave me is learn your market by talking to your customers… are they all over 40, or young, what would you describe is their demographic?  What do they spend money on?  What are their interests? Every artist will capture a different patch of the market- for example my hand dyed silk has a very limited high end boutique appeal… does not do well at an open air market where the average person is browsing and buying vegetables… but exceeds expectations in an environment where the audience is composed of knowledgeable art lovers with expendable income.
  • Branding Specialist – Able to clearly articulate the product, and more than that, the idea represented by the idea.  A great example of branding is Coco Chanel, who packaged perfume with a story – a life of glamour, elegance, extravagance.  Her perfume still sells because of the branding image people think of when they see the name.  In artists we think of Tiffany and immediately know it was art glass of the highest forms, stained glass windows, and high end glass installations.  As an artist what does your work speak to?  How do you paint the picture of what your work represents?  Branding is something that is left in the public conscience that jogs a memory of your work.
  • Accountant/Bookkeeper/Tax Expert – able to juggle the books, keep the accounts, and pay the bills, taxes, etc.  For me this is oddly the shortcoming.  I don’t mind the functions, but often get swept up in the creative side and lose sight of good accounting practice.
  • Record Keeper/Historian – Carefully documenting where you are, what you did, how you did and when it happened.  This is essential to benchmark how well the business is doing…. And provides a comparison from year to year.  Records are critical for taxes too…
  • Supply manager / Logistics Expert – able to source out the needed raw materials at affordable pricing, and get it shipped in the most efficient manner.  Likewise, being knowledgeable of the best way to ship products to customers.  Both are critical bookends of the business.
  • Writer/Communicator – Being articulate, the consumate advocate of the work, documenting about projects, discussing how things are made… well, just like what you are reading now!
  • Web site developer / web site maintainer – most people these days have a web presence for their work, even if it is just a “look book” to allow customers to see what you have done in the past.  Web sites take time, and effort to develop, tweek and maintain.  I find that our blog is a constant updating process.  And currently we use for our e-commerce site… this too is a demand of time and effort.
  • Graphic layout  designer – Any business will need forms, price tags, labels, brochures, post cards, and occasional mailings.  Let’s not forget developing a logo, and a standard for the publications.  Keeping uniform appearance helps to keep the brand standardized.  This is where I realize that all those years of doing layouts for newsletters has been a pay off because I knew the software, and had some sense of graphic style.
  • Packaging strategist – able to look at the finished product and know how to pack it.  Most obviously our soap needed a wrapper.  I must admit I looked at our competition and noticed one thing that needed to be different immediately – that was that the bar of soap needed to be fully wrapped.  Many soapers will simply place a label around the naked bar.  Wrapping the bars distinguished our bars of soap from others – we care enough to keep it sanitary, and we care enough about the soap to protect it in travel.    But the label took some design time, determining proper measurements to fit a standard bar of soap, include a proper name, logo or company name, contact info, and ingredients.  We kept it a very simple white wrapper with black print.
  • Research and Development specialist – Looking at trends, looking at shops, galleries, stores, and online to see what others are developing and doing.  Testing new ideas, and bringing new concepts to market has been one of the most fun aspects of our soap business…. But essential to this job is constant research… always being aware of what is out there, trending, succeeding – and asking “how can I do it better”.
  • Time management specialist – Able to establish a schedule that works for you and accomplishes all of the needed components of the business.  I must tell you that actual production is the heaviest part of my schedule, however I find myself forcing myself to more disciplined schedule.  Keeping a schedule is a benefit to you and the household also… allowing for down time, and time spent catching up on that other part of your life… things like dishes, vacuuming, laundry, and grocery shopping!
  • Motivational Speaker/Cheerleader – You have to go on, when the season is long and feels fruitless.  You have to stay focused, pointed, encouraged, and energized to see the long term goal.
  • Social Media Expert – keeping the tweets and Facebooks, Instagram’s, and LinkedIn straight, keeping everyone informed, educated, encouraged and keeping the buzz about the business flowing… this involves utilizing the power of photos, of blogs, of reaching a wide swath of the market.
  • Coach and Mentor – This is a niche both of us have found to be fun, and encouraging.  As we learn something we like to share.  We have found that in the art community there is a willingness to share the knowledge, discuss strategy.  When we first started out this was very helpful.  We have found that everyone likes to share success, and most artists applaud the opportunity to build each other up because it makes the market stronger.
  • Educator – in my work with silk i have found that few people really know alot about Serti painting technique on silk.  So i have taken to task the goal of learning everything i can, growing constantly, and teaching my skills, sharing my knowledge, and establishing my niche in this art form.  Educator is not for everyone, but it is yet another way of getting the word out.  You have to be comfortable with people, public speaking and have the ability to keep every level of skill of your students satisfied.  Verbal communications – critical
  • Expert on legal issues– not a lawyer, but able to know what the law is regarding your product, your business, and your documents.  Often artists are exposed to contracts and agreements with galleries, and other situations.  Having a good attorney to review and approve such will save you alot down the road.  Taking the time to read every contract will fully inform you what you are involving yourself in, and the ramifications.  This also includes making sure that you have adequate insurance to cover your business.  Insurance is a niche market for artists.

Overwhelmed?  Don’t be.  As a natural part of the startup of any business you will find you wear these hats and take on the roles without realizing… they are jobs to be done, and things to make the business grow.  It adds a dimension to your resume that few people stop to think about when they see the title of business owner.