We train artists in a funny way. We spend hours and hours honing the craft, the tiny details that start a student on the path to being a master. But we leave out some of the big practical things that that student will need to function in the world.
Universities, conservatories, acting and art schools create these bubbles. Amazing sheltered places in which we can explore ourselves and perfect our art. And then they hand you a degree and you’re out in the world.
Now go spend all your time and resources doing art! … But also pay your bills, eat some food, plan for retirement, think about starting a family soon (tick tock tick tock), TRAVEL (cause life is short), and live a diverse and full life (because otherwise you’ll have nothing to say in the aforementioned art)…..
…. Um… how?
Ugh… JUST. DO. ART!!!!!!
Not super helpful.
In fact I think some of us get caught up in a loop of treating life like it’s university. Just waiting for a prof to assign you your next piece. Waiting for someone to tell you what to do next…
STOP WAITING. START DOING.
What no one is telling students these days is that they’re not just artists. If they want to take a shot at making a living in the arts, what they’re actually doing is starting a business. And starting a business takes a whole skill set that we rarely talk about.
Now, I realize that we’re artists. There’s a reason I didn’t take an MBA, and I’m not saying every artist should graduate with a minor in accounting, business, or marketing. But we have to learn how to live and function in the world as it actually exists.
That fact doesn’t mean that we function like other businesses, but there are things we can learn from the more conventional business world.
It’s key for this crazy variable life, to reach over to the side of the world that figured out how to create thriving stability and adapt it to meet our own set of demands in a really subjective and fluid industry.
IN THE ARTS THERE IS NO SET BUSINESS MODEL.
There are only stories about how other people managed to ‘make it’. These stories are great information. They can be inspiring, and give us ideas but I think it’s very dangerous to try to emulate them exactly.
The reason why it’s so difficult to talk about how to make a career in the arts, is that each path is often so different. Every individual who manages to hammer out a living in their artistic field ends up going on … quite the journey.
When I started out, I just wanted to find a place… somewhere in the arts… anywhere. I wasn’t picky. I didn’t have a specific idea of where I wanted to end up, as long as it was somewhere.
It’s a nice idea, especially for a little mennonite prairie boy. “Anything will be fine… just let me stay… I won’t make much noise…” But it’s not really that effective, and you can end up in places where you don’t really want to be.
It helps to have a plan.
And that’s where the business world can help us. It’s the place where every small business starts. Making a business plan.
Their business plans can get a little complicated, but even a simplified version can really help any artist. It sure helped me.
WHAT IS A BUSINESS PLAN?
A business plan doesn’t take any kind of technical expertise to write. It’s for you the artist; You’re not going to be showing it to potential investors. It’s for you. It’s a way to get your thoughts in order and figure out how to make your path in the artistic world. Then… to make sure that your resources are all going towards that path.
This business plan is all kinds of unofficial. It’s my simplified version of a real-life business plan, with some questions added in for the artistic temperament.
Boiled down, your business plan should answer 5 questions:
- Who are you and why are you doing this?
- What are you selling?
- Who are selling it to?
- What do you need?
- How are you going to do it?
No biggie right? Just a few short questions…. (I can tell you right now, there are a few of these that had me stumped for awhile… but even just wrestling with the questions really helped me figure some things out).
HOW TO MAKE YOUR VERY OWN ARTISTIC BUSINESS PLAN!
Part 1: company description (who are you and why are you even doing this?)
I feel strongly that an artist’s work is rooted in who they are. So it’s only fitting that every business plan starts with a ‘company’ description. For artists… the company is YOU.
This part is going to feel less official than the rest of the plan, but I think it’s essential. Break down the things that make you, you. This section should answer questions like:
Who am I? Where did I come from? How am I trained? And most importantly why am I doing this?
The last question is the most important part of this section. I know it seems super elementary school but I don’t know any artist that doesn’t face that question on a regular basis (monthly… weekly… daily… *sigh*). I’ve found it so useful to have an answer that I can come back to. A mantra I can use to remind myself why I started this business in the first place.
PART 2: PRODUCT DESCRIPTION (WHAT ARE YOU SELLING?)
This can sometimes inspire confused looks in artists. Yes… you are selling something. You are selling a product. For the performers among us, that product is again… yourself. But more specifically it’s a certain skill set. For the artists among us that create a product: art, sculpture, written works… it can be easier to conceptualize.
If we don’t know what we’re selling, we will have a hard time selling it.
So take a look at your ‘product’. What makes it … marketable?
Get specific. And be honest. There are no false points for modesty. You have to know what makes you worth buying.
What kind of actor are you? What kind of writing do you love to do? What materials and textiles do you work with? What voice type/fach are you? Are you funny? Dramatic? Do you look like a leading man? Does your voice move fast? Go high? … Just loud?
It is not your job to be everything to all people. To sing every style perfectly or write in 5 languages. Your role as an artist is to know what you offer and put yourself in positions where you can show that off.
PART 3: MARKET ANALYSIS (WHO’S BUYING??)
In the singing world we’re often told: “You have to go on a hundred auditions in order to book a gig.” So we dutifully go out and do as many auditions as possible… more of a shotgun approach to auditioning.
I’m not saying that’s wrong… but it’s super expensive… and it’s definitely not the most efficient way to use your resources. What if we tried more of a sniper rifle approach…?
It’s a pretty daunting task to look at the world and say… who wants to hire me? Who wants to buy what I’m selling? But that task is made far more possible by your work in part 2.
Once you know what you’re selling, it’s way easier to figure out who wants to buy it.
It’s your job to know the market. Which companies like to hire young singers? Or for the Canadians… which US companies like to hire Canadians? Look at colleagues with similar products to you… where are they working? For performers: what shows are companies doing in the next 3 years? Some of that information is public, and some you might have to dig for…. But lots of people know ahead of time. The more you can know, the better position you can place yourself in.
Targeted marking: That way you can make sure that, if your resources are limited, you’re putting time and money towards the best opportunity to make a sale (or get the gig).
It’s all about controlling what you can control. Are you guaranteed the job? No. But it’s just common sense not to waste time trying to sell to someone who’s just not even in the market…
Also, take the opportunity to look at companies and people you would love to work for. Places you really admire. Even if it’s not achievable right now, it can be a great motivator to have a certain market in mind. Something to build to.
PART 4: MANAGEMENT TEAM (WHO DO YOU NEED?)
You are the CEO of Artist Incorporated (#bestcompanynameever #probablynot). But you’ll need some other people on your team.
The team that you build around yourself is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Just keep a few things in mind: It is your team. It should be full of people that support you, and believe in you. Do not worry about having the ‘right’ teacher or the ‘right’ agent. The people on your team should be the right fit for you, in order to keep you happy, healthy, and able to produce. It also may change. That’s okay. The right teacher at the start of your career, may not be the right teacher for later in your career.
PART 5: FINANCIAL PLAN (WHAT DO YOU NEED… AND HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?)
Wait. Stay with me.
We’ve gotten this far without bringing money into the equation, but now we’ve got to talk about what things cost. Keep in mind, Part 5 isn’t about how you’re going to pay for it. Just about laying down the cost of the things you need.
Go through those steps and break down what the monthly/yearly costs of those resources will be.
What is the cost of maintaining/developing your product? Keeping in physical shape? Mental shape? Vocal Shape? Costs of learning new languages and musical/dance styles?
What companies do you want to audition for? How much will it cost to do those trips? (Flight, accommodations, etc…)
Performers: What repertoire needs to be learned for these auditions? Coaching costs?
What resources do you need to keep in contact with your ‘R&D’ team? Costs of lessons? Coachings? How often do you need to meet with these people? Weekly? Monthly? Are they close by or do you need to travel to them?
What are your yearly accounting costs? Costs of management?
How much will it cost to implement this plan, these things that you want to do?
Don’t worry about the how. Be methodical. What is every little cost that it will take?
PART 6: IMPLEMENTATION AND STRATEGY (HOW COULD THIS POSSIBLY ALL HAPPEN?)
This, is where we normally start. With the last step. Trying to figure out the ‘how’ before we’ve asked who, what, where, and why?
But now the demand is not… GO DO ART! It’s so much more specific. You have things you want to do, people you want to do them with, and an idea of what it’s going to cost.
Part 6 is all about reality. Your specific reality. If money isn’t a problem for you, implementing the plan will be pretty easy. For those of you that aren’t funded in some way, you’ll have to make some decisions.
What do you need right now? Is it exposure? Is it more development? Do you need to connect with as many markets as possible, or is it best for you continue to hone your craft with your R&D team?
Are you ready now… but you just don’t have enough money?
The advantage of the building a business plan is that you now have the information to answer those questions. If you don’t have much money you at least know now what you’re savings toward… and you know how much you need to save. If you need more time developing, at least you know where you want to be selling yourself in a year… or 5 years.
The timeline is your own to set. And it’s critical that you go at your own pace, however fast or slow that is. Take all this information, sit down with your team and make a plan.
This week. This month. This year.
need help? here's a workbook to help you through the process.
WHY SHOULD YOU MAKE A BUSINESS PLAN?
Making a business plan isn’t an empty gesture. There’s a reason that every business does it. It gives you focus. It clarifies who you are, and what you want. On those days when you feel completely lost… it gives you something to refer to…. Something to remind you that all those menial little things you’re doing every day is part of a bigger journey, a longer path.
You will find that people are always willing to offer advice. There are lots of opinions on what you ‘should’ be doing right now, and what will ‘definitely’ lead to a career. But they can’t and don’t know what’s right for you.
No one else is going to figure this out for you.
So think about these questions, and more than that… write something down. Thoughts are different when you write them down. Things that seem clear in your head, can sometimes be really hard to write down. Things that you’re sure you’ll remember are really easy to forget. It’s a great exercise. No one ever needs to see it. It’s just for you.
Now… go do art!!
Want to start getting control of your money? How can I help?
Financial Planner/Opera Singer
Money never came naturally to me. In fact… I was a bit of a disaster. I remember (very clearly) what it feels like to be ‘financially out of control’.
And honestly, I still get stressed about money… that doesn’t stop… the difference is that now I have the tools to deal with that stress.
And those tools are what’s made it possible for me to build a life full of the things I want: art, creativity, travel, family and more.