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More than Catharsis—Business Moves in Creativity that Won’t Make You Cry

Guest Blog by Jessica Knouse, MBA

Creativity in any form has an element of fun, whether you’re a writer, musician, dancer, painter, or sculptor. It can be an outlet for emotions or stress. It can be just a hobby that you do to have some “me-time” on the weekends. It can be the vehicle you use to become involved in your local community and meet new people. For some, creativity can turn into a business or even a career. But, it can be intimidating thinking about the business side of the creativity coin.

Business doesn’t have to be all suits and pencil skirts with heels in some high rise building in the city making million-dollar deals. It can look like a couch or garage with PJs and messy buns selling one painting for $100. Or it can be jeans and a tee shirt on a local stage playing a set of songs you wrote. Whatever it looks like for you there are a few key things to keep in mind.

Find YOUR Market

It pays to be true to you. Don’t try and commercialize yourself just to appease the public. If someone tells you they don’t like what you’re doing, that’s ok. Not everyone is going to like you. Not everyone is going to like what you create. And THAT’S OK! Find your audience and market to them. This may be counterintuitive for sales, but you will likely have more return customers being true to yourself than trying to be something you’re not. Marketing can be tricky and sometimes feel fruitless, but an easy way to market your art is to be active on social media. Posting something simple and small daily is an easy way to build a customer base. However, be careful with social media “shop sites.” These sites will often take a cut of whatever you sell, and the fees can add up. If you can, find a techy friend and build a website together for $10/month.

Don’t Let Imposter Syndrome Play Tricks on You!

I struggle with this constantly. If you have done the work, you deserve to be doing what you love. Don’t get me wrong, there is always room for improvement in anything worth doing. But don’t let someone tell you that you aren’t an artist, dancer, singer, fill in the blank when you have clearly made a product. You created something; therefore, you are a creative!

Don’t Sell Yourself Short

If you poured hours into rehearsals and money into equipment, don’t take a gig for “exposure.” If you spent years honing your craft, don’t complete a project as “a favor.” It may seem silly but if you want to make money from your art, treat your art like a business. There are a few ways to go about pricing your art and how you go about doing that greatly depends on what you are producing. A tangible, one-of-a-kind painting or drawing is not going to use the same formula as a piece of literature where you are selling multiple copies or even as a musician playing a 2-hour gig. Let’s talk about the tangible, one-of-a-kind first.

When you start a project, there are costs. Take time to think about every single thing you use to complete one of your projects. You need the supplies, your skills, and your time. There are more of course, like space, electricity, possibly water, but keep it simple for now. If you are working on a watercolor you need the right paper, the right brushes, the correct kinds of paints, because you aren’t going to use acrylics and copier paper. Really break down each individual item the first few times so you have an idea of what it costs you. Don’t estimate; keep those receipts and account for the costs. Once you have a total cost for your supplies, figure out your time. If you want to value your time at $15 per hour and one project takes you 2 hours, time cost is equal to $30. If your supplies cost $24, the total cost for the painting is $54. You absolutely do not want to charge less than that, but if you want to make your art business money and pay yourself something, you need to consider mark up. Mark-up is where you make your profit. It also gives you room to run sales or specials, which can entice someone to buy more. I can’t tell you what a good markup is for you, but just know it’s usually a percentage of your items cost. In the painting example, item cost is $54. A 25% markup would set the price then at $67.50 ($54*1.25). If you ran a sale, you would never want to discount this piece more than your mark-up or 25%, because if you did you would then be losing money.

For a person who wants to sell copies of their work, go through the same process, but spread the cost over multiple sales. It is also very helpful to know where your break-even, when you re-coop all your costs, and falls. Do you need to sell 5 or 30 copies to break-even? If you figure your cost out to be $150 and you want to set your break-even point at 25 copies sold, you will price your work at $6 each.

Performers, such as musicians, need to use a different pricing strategy. Some venues will just tell the performer what they will pay for a gig. Others will ask what the performer charges. You don’t want to price yourself so high you won’t land a gig, but you also don’t want to price yourself so low that you are undervaluing yourself. This will require a little research. Look into a union pricing in your area. This will help you gauge what other performers are being paid. If there is no union in your area, you can simply ask other performers about what they charge. Make sure you are comparable, but also consider experience. If you have only been gigging for a year or so, your experience level isn’t the same as a 10-year performer and therefore should not be priced the same. Pay attention to your market around you and keep up with the pricing. Once you figure out what you can charge, you will want to set your time commitment. Here you can work backwards. Think about how much you want to make from performing in a month or year. Once you have a goal, you will know how much hustle you need to put into performing. If you find you can consistently charge $65 per hour gig and you want to make $900 in a month, you will need to perform for almost 14 hours. Think, do you have that kind of time to put forth that kind of effort?

You don’t have to have huge profits, just enough to make it worth your time and effort. Remember time is one thing you can never get back. You will be able to find a way to earn money, but spending your time doing what you love is more valuable. Please realize that what I just laid out are just some of the ways you can go about pricing your work or yourself as an artist. This could be a whole college level class, and you need to find a way that works best for you and your art.

The business side can be hard work, but it can also be super rewarding. It can be discouraging at times, but I promise if you stick with it and remind yourself why you love your chosen art form, it will be worth the ride.


Jessica Knouse, MBA is a business administrator, artist, and mom of four. When she’s not directing budgets, she sings, crafts, and obsessively reads and watches Harry Potter with her husband Blair.

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