FINALLY: A Basic Individual Artist Business Plan!

Please comment or make suggestions on this plan - I need your help!

*Note: this is meant to be simple and fun (believe it or not) so I've omitted many important aspects to business planning but this will hopefully be a helpful exercise for the artist who feels allergic to business.

Of all the questions I'm asked by artists, no one ever seems to ask, "How do I put together a basic business plan".  Yet of all the questions I'm asked, the most frequent answer is "Fer Chrissake! Put together a basic business plan".  Let's face it, the art world is experiencing increasing pressure to professionalize; artists are asked to focus their repertoire like a line of products; artists' names are akin to brands known for specific qualities; granting agencies are requiring stricter credentials to guarantee "responsible giving" even at the individual (let alone the institutional) level.  All of this burden is placed on individual artists who operate essentially as a small business.

So don't tell me you don't need a plan - you do. Maybe if you're just a hobbyist then you can wing it... maybe.  Even the most modest hobby painter is secretly pondering how to get their work into a gallery. Aha! So you do have a goal!  Ergo, you need to put together a plan.

The following is a very broad strokes business plan geared toward beginning career artists or just graduated BFAs. In fact, this "business plan" is nothing compared to what a normal business would require you to put together before applying for a loan or a lease for example.  This is just basic planning that you need to do if you ever want to use that moniker of "Professional Artist, and by the way please don't use that moniker.  The steps are to identify who you are, what you do and don't do, then you identify opportunities you are interested in. Then you lay out the goals, objectives and tasks.  And finally you put together a simple finance equation to see if you're at all realistic.

A basic worksheet to identify your general practice, themes, methods, media, etc. and your position

Identifying your practice is an ongoing process, but your work cannot possibly be all things at any given time. If you're using my worksheet, feel free to add or edit the categories that I'm using. The wording is not important, what's important is to declare what you definitely do and do not do so you can differentiate what opportunities are appropriate for you.  Nothing is black and white here, there are many niches you can fit into.

Please note that each position is not mutually exclusive but trying to do too many things is inefficient and will dilute your energy!  Examples of hybridized positions could be a commercial illustrator who exhibits originals in a gallery, a studio artist who also teaches adjunct at a college, an art handler who also sells work online or submits to calls for entry, an editorial photographer who does project-based residencies, et al. Once you declare your position, you can approach opportunities that are geared towards your skills and avoid "opportunities" that are not worth your time.


A worksheet of opportunities and assessing the specific opportunity
you are interested in, use a separate sheet for each opportunity.
Once you identify yourself and the opportunities you're interested in, you need to declare your goals. Goals are broad statements of what you want to do with a general deadline.  Goals break down into objectives which have specific, measurable outcomes. Each objective needs to have tasks that build up to an objective being accomplished.  The following is an example from a local artist who is interested in having a solo exhibition of his work in the next three years.  His objectives are to create a body of work, create a public following and approach spaces to exhibit - your objectives and tasks will always vary of course.

When declaring goals, look at your identity and position to make sure it's a good fit. Try to be very specific with your tasks and schedules, but most importantly be willing to fail! If your goals are so easy that they will undoubtedly be accomplished with little effort or tracking, then it isn't really a goal. Use wording like "schedule time to create" rather than "make work". Scheduling implies that you have a course to follow and need to finish by a deadline. You can't manage what you can't measure so... did you or did you not go into the studio yesterday? Did you or did you not make a website? Did you or did you not photograph your work?

A worksheet for setting goals, your goals, objectives and tasks will vary greatly.  You should include deadlines!

Every artist is woefully aware that making work costs money, so you need to look at finance. Some artists are more frugal than others, some sell more work than others, some seem to have no costs at all (they do). Each artist has a different strategy to funding their practice, but generally the more money you make or spend, the more you should be tracking your income and expenses. Note, that this worksheet provided doesn't touch at all on tax deductions, filing as a DBA, LLC or other business entity.  This is simply a method of predicting your future budget based on history.

Most items will be a range but some will be fixed.  This artist for example knows that they have art school loans of $270/month (minimum payment).  His materials and framing costs vary depending on the month or depending on his ability to trade skills.  Even though artists can keep costs down by bundling purchases (like using standard sizes of art for framing, shipping, storage or attaching their studio to their basement) you still need to track how much money your practice is consuming.  Trading photography for web services, trading art or supplementing payment for tools and materials is great but you still need to answer to your bank account.

Look back at your identity and opportunities worksheet.  You know you can't expect income from opportunities you won't be pursuing.  This particular artist knows that he's not pursuing gallery sales or commissions at the moment, so there will be no income there.  Therefore he knows to try commissions and online sales to fund his project of pursuing a solo exhibition.  If he needs more money for materials, then he can try to find more commissions or online sales.  

A simplified worksheet to determine how much you profit or lose from your practice.

Again, this is a broad strokes overview on how to achieve your goals as an artist.  I'm developing this into a final document that will change overtime with the newest version will always be available here for download.  Enjoy and please share!