By Megy Karydes

business-wise-november-2008-2As artists, we don’t often see ourselves as businesspeople. But the fact is, even if you’re creative by nature, you still need a plan to get to the next level, whatever that level may be.

A well-developed business plan should be an essential element of your business. And while it’s not required to have a business, a business plan will most certainly increase your success rate for two simple reasons—it makes you stop and think about what you are doing and provides a framework to get there. Artists and gallery owners can benefit from the same planning. Your art, after all, is your business.

So why are there so few artists and gallery owners who bother to draft a business plan? Perhaps because it does force you to think about what you want to do and how you want to run the business. Most people don’t know where to even start. Others think the idea of making money is somehow “selling out” or that their work is so great that they don’t need a business plan. Sadly, unless you have the benefit of a trust fund, you still need to make a living. If you want to do it on your own terms, you’ll need to figure out how to make the most of your talents.

A business plan need not be complicated or something to dread. Like the first day of school in a new year, it’s an opportunity to sit down, be thoughtful and develop a road map to your success. Libraries and bookstores have entire books devoted to business plan formats. Some small business centers even offer courses on developing a plan. Or, you can follow these three simple steps to make the journey easier. Whatever path you choose, developing a business plan will reap rewards for you and your business.

Step 1: Draft an outline of your business goals and how you plan to achieve them

You started your business for a reason. And, for most, that reason was creative freedom or because you simply enjoy the work. Too often, we get so caught up in the details that we forget about the bigger picture and why we started a business in the first place.

Use this first step to write out what your business is, what it is that you make or sell and why you do it. It will not only remind you of why you started, but it will put you in the right frame of mind as you continue to develop your business plan.

Next, make a list of your short- and long-term goals. Here are some questions to get you started:
1) What are your goals for the next 12 to 18 months? Some goals might be: get new business, get more business from existing customers or clients, confirm or adjust pricing structure, offer new services, increase networking, finally launch a website, etc. The goals can be large or small—just jot them all down here. You can always edit them later to what is achievable.

2) How will you reach those goals? If your goal is to search out new business, you’ll want to brainstorm some ways to achieve this goal. Is it by exhibiting in more shows, developing a better customer list and mailing out postcards every quarter? Is it by asking for referrals? Make sure each goal has several ways to reach it.

3) What is your focus for the upcoming year? Based on your goals and how much you think each will cost in terms of time, money and resources, which ones do you want to focus on?

4) How will you plan out your expenses? Once you narrow down your final goals, you’ll want to drill down and develop some type of budget for your plan.

One of the benefits of thinking about and writing down the answers to these questions is that it keeps you on track and allows you to focus your energies.

Step 2: Plug in the financials

Another benefit of developing a business plan is that it can show you the numbers and can be a great benchmark when quoting fees or costs on work. While the first step covered numbers on the surface, this second step is meant to delve into the specifics. Also, having a plan can help you decide which jobs to take and which jobs to turn down.

Financial information is simply sitting down and coming up with a plan to make your art profitable. What does it cost you to make your pieces—the raw materials. Add the time it takes to make each piece and the costs to sell it. By staying detailed in your analysis, you’ll understand the true cost of making your piece so you can price it to make a living. This can be a reality check for some, but if you want this plan to help grow your business, these numbers matter. It will pay you back well if you take the time to figure it out now.

This can be quite the reality check, so it’s worth doing. Be extremely conservative in predicting capital requirements, timelines, sales and profits. Few business plans accurately predict how much money and time will be required.

Step 3: Craft the marketing plan

Finally, after you determine your goals and your financials are in place, you’ll want to concentrate on your marketing. The first question to ask is, “For whom am I making this?” If you think your work appeals to 35- to 65-year-old women with college degrees, then that is your market. You want to answer this question as specifically as possible because it will help you focus your promotional energy (and budget). You want to expose your work to the right people—those who want to purchase it!

Marketing doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should be consistent. If you blog about your work, blog consistently. If you send out an e-newsletter to your customers, send it regularly. Ask customers and potential customers for their contact info and build your customer list. Shows count as marketing—if the show producer has a pressroom for the media, make sure they have your press kit! Most of these marketing methods are low cost or no cost. You just want to figure out what method works best for your budget.

If you’re a visual person, consider developing a calendar format of the plan as well. Plug in the date for your e-newsletter to be sent out, another for the show you’ll be going to and so on. Tack this calendar in your workspace so you can see upcoming deadlines. Otherwise, you’ll be tempted to forgo some deadlines if you forget about them until it’s too late.

A business plan shouldn’t be very long. It can be as short as three pages or longer if you need it to be. However, don’t make it so long that you’ll never reference it.

Finally, don’t forget that your business plan can and should be fluid. You can always change it because you wrote it—it’s your plan after all!

Megy Karydes is a Chicago-based freelance writer and marketing consultant. She can be reached at