Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ : Opening Your Own Art Business

Ever thought about going into business for yourself as an artist? You sell a painting/sculpture/photograph/________ , cash the check and go on your merry way, right? Sorry, folks.

Chin-Azzaro business card

You have to pay taxes on that income. If you offer a service, you should have insurance (the liability kind, not just the medical kind). And if you want to be legitimate, you need to file a business license with the city clerk. All of this sounds like no fun, cost and headache. But once you get over these hurdles, you’ll not only be offering your clients a great piece of work, but yourself peace of mind. And that’s invaluable. Here are a few tips to get you started.

BUSINESS PLAN – Maybe your service is just as easy as selling paintings. But if you’re struggling to find your niche market or you’re new to an area, drawing up a business plan is a good idea for anyone. Outline your purpose and mission, goals, key demographic, costs and how you’re going to achieve it. Even on a very rough basis, writing this out may give you clarity that you didn’t realize beforehand.

INSURANCE – I don’t know all the ins and outs of the type of coverage you need, but you do need it. Imagine a slip and fall on the job, it could be you or someone else tripping over an easel you set up. A lawsuit could wipe you out financially. Or, say you offer advice and it turns out to be faulty and a client sues you for defamation of a work. Perhaps you feel that you can’t afford insurance as a small business owner or if you’re working for yourself. But you can’t afford not to have it. I would suggest checking out Johnsonese Brokerage for a start. They specialize in coverage for the creative community and know how to deal with every artist’s situation.

LICENSE – Every city and county has a different set of forms to fill out. Most will require a business license that can be easily found on line or at the city clerk’s office so that you can conduct business transactions, period. There’s generally a fee associated with filing, but every city varies.  Also, check the IRS page here to figure out what kind of business you are and to get an employer identification number (EIN).

TAXES – There are two very important things to remember as an artist working for yourself. The first is to keep track of your expenses including all costs associated with running your business. Did you take a client out to dinner? Keep the receipt. Do you buy your own medical insurance? Keep track of all costs including prescriptions. Categorize them and tally them so you have them organized for your accountant. Which brings us to the second important part – get a good accountant. Not someone that just plugs numbers but someone that knows what numbers to plug. When you work for yourself, there are certain deductions and benefits that should be taken into account and not everyone will be savvy on what questions to ask.

Another good rule of thumb is to put aside 30% of your earnings to pay for taxes later on. It’s a huge chunk but it’s the only way that you can be on the safe side come tax time. The alternative is to pay by installments when you owe. And being an artist that gets paid by in full – believe me, you’re going to owe.

Branding, Marketing and Publicity - three monsters to conquer

LAW – Sooner or later, you’ll have a question that only a lawyer can answer. If you’re going into business as a self-proprietor, you could probably get by with advice from a family lawyer or friend. But if you’re starting a brick and mortar store, you’ll have to hire one.

BRANDING – Branding, marketing and publicity are a whole other set of monsters. If you’re not confident that you can do it yourself, hire or barter with a graphic designer friend. Don’t think that you can do it yourself just because you want to. Think of the tone-deaf singer on American Idol – everyone knows they’re horrible except themselves because “my mom tells me I’m a great singer…” This is one of those times that you let the experts do it. I’ll do a longer post on this soon.

Today’s post isn’t meant to be a downer, but simply a quick to-do list that will get you heading in the right direction. We’re traveling on the same path so we feel the lows and highs of starting out. Let’s go on this trip together.

-Y-

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