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A Nature Artist’s Business Plan | 2020

An artist’s business plan is just like any other business plan, really. It all boils down to a strategy to make more money than is spent. 2019 was my first full year of ‘being an artist’. Last year was mostly one of trial and error, and learning. I suppose I should add a disclaimer here that I’ve yet to make any of my attempted businesses ‘successful’, but I think a lot of that may have to do with not having had a plan.

Why bother with a business plan?

Although I love creating art for the sake of creating it, money is a necessity if I want to use supplies like the heavy-weight art paper for my paintings, ink for the printer, good paint brushes, etc. I also need money to buy supplies for my experiments making other products like the mounted prints I did last year.

Plus I’d love to be able to contribute to the sustainability of our household, AND have spending money as a result of my efforts. So while some people might just go with the flow and create and/or/not sell without a plan or expectations, I like to have an idea about how much money I need in a year to keep doing what I’m doing. And that sets a baseline for how much income will need to be generated during the year. And that’s a good reason for making a business plan. It helps in keeping a focus. In order to be able to deduct expenses on my income taxes, I have to show that I’m trying to do this professionally, and not just as a hobby. An artist’s business plan shows honest intent, if nothing else.

Last year’s ‘plan’ was handy to look back on while composing this year’s. I can easily see where things went according to plan, and not. Mostly not. Well, I say that, but I did pretty much follow the plan but the results were not what I’d hoped. For the sake of simplicity, I am considering my writing as part of my ‘arts’. And the ginseng nursery is completely separate. It even has a separate form for the taxes (Schedule F). I should probably make a business plan for the nursery too.

The income part of an artist’s business plan

As an artist, there are a few ways to generate income. Original art, prints from that art, and other derivatives like note cards. Then there are also workshops and lessons, and a mysterious thing called licensing that I haven’t had time to research. It’s how the artwork gets on all the things you buy with art on it… like fabrics, home decor, note cards from major companies, etc. Plus I sell a little of the paints, but I don’t make that often enough or in large enough quantities to be a reliable ‘product’.

Things to sell

I tried coming up with a few products to sell, since I don’t sell the originals very often. All of it, except the paints, is offshoots of the original art I create. Not everything I’ve tried has panned out, but a few things worked well enough to continue them. I learned enough to see that my focus in 2020 will be on creating new art. The rest of my effort will be on filling in the cash-flow gaps between larger sales with smaller sales. Traditional unframed paper prints and smaller originals sell alright too.

Where to sell

But that brings up the issue of *where* to sell. Going to farmer’s markets were too exhausting, craft shows were the wrong audience, and juried art shows are expensive and competitive, and usually far away. I do plan to find more consignment outlets for my prints this year.

The 'small' setup, as opposed the the full setup. Doing more outreach in the northwest Arkansas area is part of my 2020 artist's business plan.
The ‘small’ setup, as opposed the the full setup. Doing more outreach in the northwest Arkansas area is part of my 2020 artist’s business plan.

What Didn’t Work

Lack of consistency

The biggest fail was in not continuing to write my daily words on my stories, and not painting often enough. I’ve done better this year so far, ha. But today is only the first day, so there’s plenty of time to slack off on that again this year, too.

Excess Supplies

The other big fail was in buying too many supplies to make products that aren’t selling very well, like the mounted prints. They’re a lot of work to make, and they seemed like such good items, but they’re not moving. So it’s not worthwhile to continue that line. They haven’t sold well in any of the consignment locations, either. Traditional prints sell a lot better.

Unfortunately, a business has to account for, and pay taxes on, unused supplies. So I’m going to try and use them up by making the rest of the products they were intended for, or find some other way to use them and make something different. Note cards and traditional prints seem to sell. And small original paintings. I sold all of the small twisted trees in monochrome pigments at the Little Craft Show. I had even sold some of those at the farmer’s market in Fayetteville at the end of 2018. So I’ll definitely paint more of them this year.

Wrong Audiences

I did a few events last year, and am getting a better feel for what sorts of things will sell better. That’s a hard thing to gauge when there’s no audience to try it out on, so for that reason the events I did were worth it. But some were more worth it than others. Well, really only one was. The Little Craft Show in Bentonville this past December was a great event. I’ll probably apply to that one again next year, too.

2020 Bullet Point Business Plan

  • reduce spending on supplies
  • increase output and outreach
    • submit submit submit (judiciously, to exhibits)
    • paint paint paint
    • apply judiciously to shows/fairs
    • public outreach (workshops, demos, presentations)
    • get all products listed at Google Merchant Center
    • find more consignment outlets for prints
  • get website organized
  • get Wild Ozark eCommerce site organized & UPC codes assigned
  • make more paints (list extras for sale)
  • keep better records of paints and pigment sources
  • write at least one sentence daily on fiction
  • keep ledgers current
  • book some presentations

Of course, it needs more detail to be very useful, and I will add that too. But I don’t think most of you would be interested in the details, so I’ll spare you, haha. The abbreviated list acts as an outline.

A resource

Here’s a free downloadable starter artist’s business plan from the Abundant Artist website, if you’re interested in creating one for yourself. It’s a real one, as opposed to my list. If you listen to podcasts, Abundant Artist has that too. I’m always learning new tips from pro’s through the podcasts I listen to. I need to add an ‘education’ bullet point to my Artist’s Business Plan.

Excel Spreadheets

I created two spreadsheets last year during my struggle to gain some control over record-keeping. The first one is a spreadsheet to keep track of my original art, what date I made it, whether it’s sold or not, if sold who owns it, whether it’s framed or not, what price I’m asking, and where it’s been entered into submissions and shows. I also keep information in that last column about dates to drop off/pick up, with full name and address with email of the contact person for that show.

The second one is a workbook for for my entire year of book-keeping. It’s based on the columns I ordinarily use on my Schedule C when I’m filing the income taxes. Plus it has a sheet for adding up and keeping track of Arkansas sales taxes. I only have to file my sales taxes once/year because I don’t yet have enough sales to qualify for monthly filing. I don’t have all the counties/towns listed, only the ones I’ve sold to. But you can easily add more as needed.

Both of these spreadsheets – the inventory and the accounting workbook are available in my shop if you want to modify it to fit your needs. For the sales tax sheet, you’ll have to change the headings to calculate your own towns and state and counties. Each year going forward, just save the workbook under the new year’s file name and erase the contents of the cells (but don’t erase the formulas). You can add other columns or change the headings if you use different tax categories. For example, I didn’t have any Schedule 179 deductions this year, so that’s not one of the headings.

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nancyhartney
14 January 2020 10:52 am

Well, much of what you’ve said about your art work and painting can apply to authors and writing. I’m struggling with much the same things. It’s a constant search and adventure.

Judiann Edwards-Burrus
Judiann Edwards-Burrus
14 January 2020 4:59 am

Thank you for sharing your insights and experience. Your artwork is beautiful and unique. Wishing you all success always.

sustainabilitea
13 January 2020 2:45 pm

It was interesting to read about this, both your thoughts and the reality of creating and trying to sell art. It sounds as if you’re getting a handle on it, but it’s definitely an area that makes art a difficult type of enterprise. I think you’ll start getting more and… Read more »

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