Are you ready to be a full-time artist?
Are you sure?
Our goal is to help artists develop the skills they need to sell their art online successfully, and many of our artists such as Tom Harold, Sarah Guthrie, and Sara O’Connor have gone on to quit their day jobs. Forget the myth of the starving artist: with work and practical business skills, the dream is within reach! But going full-time requires more than simply making enough money to pay your bills.
We’ve put together a list of the top 10 tasks for artists who are preparing to quit their day job and take the plunge into full-time art. These tips come directly from artists in our Association and whom we’ve interviewed for past posts, all currently working full-time as professional artists. Whether you are nearing the goal amount you need to quit your day job or it’s still far off, you can begin this checklist now. When the time comes, you’ll be ready to take the leap.
Ten things to do before quitting your day job:
1. Figure out your timeline
Quitting your day job to pursue art full-time does not happen in a vacuum. As you begin to plan for how to make it happen, begin with your current and projected income for the next 6-12 months. How much money will you need to pay the bills comfortably? Remember to include: rent/mortgage, car payments & insurance, food, utilities, medical insurance, childcare, entertainment, and other household expenses. We recommend quitting your job when you have at least six months of income in the bank. We then recommend waiting until your monthly business profit exceeds your personal expenses.
As you get close to your quit date, factor in the time it will take for your current employer to hire and train a replacement (if applicable), how much time it will take to find and hire the right contractors to help you with the finances and legal considerations for your new business, and how much time it will take to get your website ready. Create a tentative timeline, and seek feedback from other artists who have already gone through the process.
2. Decide on the legal structure of your business.
Will you be a sole proprietorship, an LLC, a corporation, or something else?
US artists can review the options at the Small Business Administration website: https://www.sba.gov/business-guide/launch-your-business/choose-business-structure
Nailing down your business structure before you take the leap is extremely important because it will impact the way you approach day-to-day operations as well as quarterly/yearly taxes. While many artists start out as sole proprietors, for example, a sole proprietorship cannot have employees and is personally responsible for business debts and legal issues. It’s important to consider the risks and limits of each type of business structure, perhaps seeking legal counsel, before embarking on your journey.
3. Hire a bookkeeper
Why should you hire a bookkeeper instead of saving money by keeping your books yourself? Put simply, a professional bookkeeper saves you time and money. Bookkeeping errors, like thinking you have more money coming in than you do, or thinking your expenses are different than they are, can be costly. Factor the cost of a bookkeeper into your operational costs from the outset, and you’ll avoid tremendous headaches in the future.
What does a bookkeeper do?
A bookkeeper is in charge of recording transactions, posting debits and credits to your accounts, producing invoices, and handling payroll. Your bookkeeper can also be an invaluable advisor on whether your business is healthy enough to quit your day job. If your business grows to include studio assistants or contractors this will be especially helpful.
4. Hire a CPA
You may be able to find a CPA who also provides bookkeeping services, but a CPA (certified public accountant) will generally provide you with analysis and advice on a quarterly or yearly basis. Use a CPA to help you figure out your taxes, analyze whether you’re spending your money wisely, and find even better ways to make your money work for your business.
5. Reach out to local business organizations for resources, grants, and networking
Taking your art business full-time requires your networking game to be on point. An excellent example of networking prowess is Jesse Reno. When he first began creating art with an eye to going full time, he created a strict rule for himself:
“In the beginning… I had serious rules to get me here. I had a full time job and was like alright, ten hours a week either trying to get a gig or make 10 contacts, whichever one comes first. Then you’re off the hook and you can paint. It’s one thing to paint, it’s another thing to make a living from it. I did quick math and I was like alright, there’s 52 weeks in a year, that’s 52 contacts… (if I) contact 500 people, something should happen. I stayed on that level of hustle for probably the first four years, and then things started to happen that I didn’t really need to make ten calls.” – Jesse Reno (listen or read the full interview here: https://theabundantartist.com/podcast23/)
Connecting with local and regional artist organizations will also make it easier for you to access grants that may be available for small business owners. For more on writing grants, check out How to Write Grants for Your Art Project.
6. Hire a coach or join a mastermind group
Whether or not this is your first foray into starting your own business, you’ll benefit greatly from hiring a business coach. The Abundant Artist offers coaching sessions, or you can ask artist friends for recommendations. It is wise to find a business coach who has experience working with artists.
Once you’ve hired a business coach who can work one-on-one with you, a mastermind group will provide you with the support of peers in varied stages of business who can cheer you on and hold you accountable. Read more on why you should be part of an artist mastermind group: Mastermind Groups for Artists.
Sarah Guthrie facilitates our mastermind groups at The Abundant Artist, and she herself has a business coach as well (Charlie Gilkey of Productive Flourishing; we can’t recommend him highly enough!). Sarah says of coaching & mastermind groups:
“What became clear after a couple of weeks working with Charlie is that I really wanted to live the Dream and make creating and selling art the center of my business… (coaching artists) becomes this exciting feedback loop that keeps me open and growing. I love researching and sharing what I’ve learnt with my clients–it’s mutually beneficial as I am learning for them and I am learning for me. Within the coaching, there’s two branches: there’s the work I do at The Abundant Artist and coaching really seasoned artists, sharing my knowledge of business and communications and marketing, performance management, and goal setting. I love bringing that training to support artists. I’ve gotten a great deal of joy out of helping people who are very creatively blocked get unblocked and find the joy in their lives.”
Read our full interview with Sarah: https://theabundantartist.com/sarah-guthrie-case-study/
8. Make sure your website is up to date
Start strong with a website that clearly tells your story and makes it easy to buy your art. With a compelling call to join your mailing list and memorable images of your artwork, your website will be an essential tool to help you grow your business.
Wire ball sculpture artist Tom Harold, who went full-time in 2018 and works primarily on commission, found that a quality website helps potential clients take you seriously:
“One thing I learned was that people take you more seriously when you have a website that legitimizes their perception of you as an artist. Another thing I learned from TAA is that you want to have eighteen to twenty pieces in your portfolio as a really good starting point. There’s that mental shift- people are like “oh, this guy is pretty serious.” And learning how to present yourself online. My website still needs a ton of work, but I have all the basics down. I learned things about making it as easy to navigate as possible. And just presenting things in a clean format. I still think all the time- ‘Do people really read the about page?’ Yeah, they do.” – Tom Harold. Read the full case study here: https://theabundantartist.com/tom-harold-wire-ball-sculpture/
Not sure how to get your website up to snuff? Check out Artist Websites That Sell.
9. Identify your strengths and weaknesses
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to build your web design skills, but you’ll do yourself a tremendous favor by identifying which of your weaknesses you should invest time and money in improving, and which you should outsource in favor of focusing on your strengths.
This is another reason why joining a mastermind group is so important: the feedback of peers and a skilled facilitator will help you to identify strengths and weaknesses that may not be clear to you in the isolation of your studio.
Why is identifying your strengths and weaknesses so important?
Isn’t this the kind of exercise one might do in a high school guidance counselor’s office? What makes identifying your strengths and weaknesses so important? In part, it’s because goals requiring skills you do not possess often equate more time and money than you can afford to spend. If your goal is to revamp your website this year but you don’t want to spend the money on a professional web designer, you may decide to spend the time and effort learning how to create the website yourself. But by the time you have managed to create a passable website, something that could have been created in a short amount of time by someone who knew what they were doing to begin with, you’ve spent countless hours that could have been much better spent on growing and expanding on one of your strengths.
This is when the principle of the “minimum viable version” is completely acceptable- do you need a super beautiful immersive themed site with pages and pages of perfect custom code written from scratch, or do you just need a simple website that tells your story and sells your art?
Association members have access to archives full of videos and transcripts of productivity training that will help you nail down your strengths and weaknesses, and identify how to make the best use of your time and money in the New Year.
10. Identify your business model
“Once you start thinking, there’s so many ways that you can get your work out there, and they’re not all gallery oriented. You don’t have to rely on somebody else to sell your work. There’s lots of ways that you can do it on your own. You can rely on yourself to do it.” – Amica Whincop (Listen or read our full interview with Amica here: https://theabundantartist.com/podcast33/)
Will you be selling in traditional galleries and supplementing with online sales, or will you focus on commissions and outdoor art fairs? In the beginning it’s good to experiment with lots of ways of selling your art, but within a year or two of starting to sell your art, you should focus on the one area that brings you the most profit.
Many artists who could quit their day jobs don’t make it because they slow their business by trying to sell in too many different ways. This divides your attention and makes you less effective.
Creating a business plan and goals for growth will require a clear vision of where your income will be coming from. There are nearly as many ways to bring in money as an artist as there are kinds of art. Consider this list of ways to make income from your art, experiment to find the one that works best for you, then create your own personalized business model that works for you:
- Traditional galleries
- Selling original works, Direct to Collector. This includes:
- Outdoor arts and craft fairs
- Online marketplaces (Etsy, Artfire)
- Selling on your website
- Selling prints
- Print on demand marketplaces (Redbubble, Zazzle)
- Offering commissions, public works or installations
- Art licensing
- Teaching online art courses
- Teaching in-person courses and workshops
Taking your art business full time and quitting your day job is completely doable, and you don’t have to starve to make it happen. But you will need patience, perseverance, and a plan. Use this list of action items to help you move closer to your goal of living a creative life of freedom.
Have you already gone full time? What steps did you take before taking the leap? Let us know in the comments!
If you’re looking for extra ways to increase your income as you work towards going full time, check out our list of passive income options for artists: Passive Income for Artists.