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by Association Member Paul Churchman

Entrepreneur, ~ born or evolved out of experience? Well, actually a little bit of both. If you are already in business for yourself you’ve clearly got the self belief that allowed you to, perhaps, stop working for someone else or simply made the decision to take a leap of faith and invest, time, experience and crucially money in your own future right from the start, but let’s not forget natural ability ~ the passion, desire and talents that made you want to turn your creativity into something more rewarding than just acceptance, turning professional in any field has its pitfalls but none more unforgiving than one in the public eye.

But having all these characteristics is simply not enough, yes your a good artist and yes you have passion for your creation but your newly formed “ commercial “ career could go belly-up unless you acquire a whole new range of skills ~ commercial ones!

Unless you are rich enough to employ lots of people with varying skills and expertise, then you are about to become sales director, marketing manager, secretary, accountant, exhibition promoter and dare I say it tea-boy! as well as artist of course, its time to focus on the nuts and bolts of running a business.

Of course, chat to self employed friends and make a point of sitting in front of a business advisory manager at the bank but remember one of the best points of information and support is organisations like Business Link, Chamber of Commerce and associations like the AEA, having a strong support network can be invaluable.

Let’s take Business link for example, their website is a superb resource for what’s out there from art funding, sponsors, competitions, networking to support on legal, tax, and if needed copyright, patent and intellectual property rights, as well as printable guides on all areas of business. Sitting underneath the umbrella of Business Link are a number of enterprise programs and agencies which operate locally, these often run events, workshops or programs, where for a small fee or sponsored funding you’ll get a large helping of useful, targeted and practical support aided to giving you the resources to grow. Think of it as investing in your own destiny, your future, your commercial success.

Begin with the free half day “ starting in business “ seminar, this gives an insight into pre-start issues, offers advice on planning and gives you useful information about what training support is available in your region, but i here you saying “ that’s like going back to school ~ isn’t it? “ well bear this in mind, not only will you be enriching your knowledge but you will also have an audience of other new start up businesses who individually have their own range of skills, knowledge and expertise you could call upon to help your business grow, you never know they may even be buyers or know of potential buyers. so don’t discount it just yet.

If you get bitten by the bug of such programs you could also sign up for a course of six workshops, yes there may be a cost involved but you may be able to get a grant to aid you in your business quest, remember you don’t need to do all these programs you can pick and mix which ones you feel would support your business best, subjects cover topics such as Marketing a small business, personal selling skills, finance & legal matters, simple book keeping, work smarter and business planning.

Understanding these elements of business will give your business a firm foundation for growth, then you can pay someone else to the sums and you can concentrate on what you do best ~ creating your art.

So your now armed with the tools to become the next Richard Branson, well hold on for a second!

Now comes the most fundamentally important piece of text you will ever read...

Know your market

In any business, the importance of researching your market and getting to know your audience and seeing them as buyers is essential. Being a successful artist is only one element of understanding and knowing who will buy your work, knowing how to communicate to them and generate new markets is a skill in itself, one you cannot afford to ignore, knowing your a great artist gives you a great sense of accomplishment but if you don’t set time aside to generate that passion into market you wont pay the bills.

There are some basic questions you need to ask yourself to get the ball rolling, firstly and most ignored is “ who will buy my work? “ Anyone right! well no!, i know that will come as a shock but its a reality of the world we live in you are trying to create art that sells or at the least art you love and hope to sell, but people’s tastes can be a fickle mistress to command.

To find the answer to who will buy, look at the work of other artists who have made a success within their chosen market and ask yourself, or better still ask them, one of the benefits of being in the AEA you are in that community already!, ask them why they believe they are successful, what they have done to make their work stand out form the crowd and get noticed? If you are pitching work to a particular gallery, research them, visit the gallery over a period of time and look at what sells, what their buyers show interest in, get to know the directors, quiz them at what works, what’s seasonal and what price point they work to.

The same is true for magazines or book publishers that use photography or illustrations in their printed make up, if you are really serious about making money, you’ll find out which styles, themes and subjects sell better than others and adapt your own work to suit, remember just as seasons change people’s tastes change, what’s here today may not be here tomorrow, keep things fresh, don’t get drawn into supplying work to one or two outlets, vary your work and vary where it is seen.

Always visit exhibitions, shows and fairs, such as the Affordable Art Fair or Erotica, Skin Two, again talk to the exhibitors who show, look at their audience, see what sales, listen to how they communicate to their audience, even by listening to bad sales techniques gives you a chance to hone your own sales skills to perfection.

Of course its up to you to take on board this mix of information, whilst one artist may tell you that specializing in one field or coming up with an innovative signature style is the key to success, another will contradict this and claim diversity, flexibility and adaptability is what really pays, avoiding any identifiable style like the plague.

Another way an artist can leap to professional status is via online art libraries. These organisations will demand artwork or images on a certain theme and of a minimum resolution, so do your homework before submitting anything to them, contact them ask what they see as commercial, opening a dialogue will pay off.

Becoming part of the art community like the AEA means you can meet and share information with like minded commercial artists, its a great tip, as is keeping abreast of industry, social and market trends, browsing internet forums and blogs can all help bring in information and generate leads. Apart from knowing your market, there’s also marketing yourself, which is a whole additional skill to be explored in greater detail but before you can market or advertise you need to be sure who will be buying your work on a consistent level, once you recognize this you can look to establish a following.

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