What Artists Need To Do To Grow Their Businesses
Over the last few years, I've spoken 1-on-1 with over 100 artists and creators.
There are two common traits they all had:
- they were desperate to grow their business
- they didn't know how
After reviewing my notes from these calls, there is one constant suggestion that I gave to the majority of these creators, and that's what this post is about.
By the end, you'll understand the greatest obstacle facing artists and creators today, and how you can overcome it to grow your creative business.
Success is 80% mindset, only 20% strategy and skills
In my book there's a whole chapter called The Three Personas Every Creative Needs in their business:
Based on Michael Gerber's book The E-Myth Revisited, that chapter teaches that we often gravitate to one "persona" and try to run - and grow - our business from that one perspective or approach.
The way Artists approach their business is to "do more art".
Managers try to manage and perfect things.
Entrepreneurs dream big dreams and spend time laying out a grand vision for the future of the business.
While there are upsides to each of these personas,
if you only ever operate as one persona, your business will struggle.
Only operating as an artist leads to stress and burnout because they can't "do more art" past a certain point. There are only so many hours in the day.
Operating as a manager 100% of the time leads to a spiral of adding more features, tweaking, perfecting, editing, and optimizing, without ever putting the work out into the world.
And only ever thinking and dreaming and vision-boarding never leads to a business at all.
The answer really is that you need to step into all three personas at the right time.
However, there's ONE persona I think Artists generally will benefit the most from.
You are already making art and you've already done some big picture dreaming, otherwise, you wouldn't be trying to make it as an artist.
Which means that the skill you want to improve and a role you want to play more often in your business is to be a "manager".
How to strategically grow your creative business
If you look at your business and you've got a bunch of products - finished or unfinished - but aren't making a full-time living from them, this article is written especially for you.
I had this same situation myself. When I started Craftsman Creative in the spring of 2020 - the best time ever to start a business... - I set out to create a ton of online courses, thinking that more courses would naturally lead to more revenue.
While that was true initially, a few weeks after the initial launch of the courses, the sales would slow to 1 or 2 a month.
That meant that without either a) more courses or b) better systems, the business wouldn't ever be profitable or sustainable.
So, I did what any artist would do! I reached out to a ton of new potential course partners, lined up a bunch of new courses, and created eight new courses for the site.
And then once those courses were launched, the same thing happened - they all slowed to 1 or 2 sales a month.
So while I made more money in the second year, the business was no more sustainable and hadn't really "grown" other than a bit more revenue.
So, here's what I did, and what I suggest that other artists do as well:
Focus on ONE thing at a time
Stop building until the things you've already built are sustaining you or growing consistently.
FOCUS - that's it. Singular focus on a singular outcome.
What this will force you to do is pay attention to one thing and grow it until it's "working".
For me, that was focusing on awareness and marketing until my courses, consulting, and other creative endeavors were providing me with a full-time income.
If you're an artist with a large library of designs, songs, photographs, articles or books, images, or any other sort of product that you can sell to an audience, and you're not yet making a full-time income from it, the answer is to not "create more work".
With the internet at the core of the strategy, all you need is more awareness, not more products.
I'm confident that there are enough people out there right now that would value your work enough to pay you for it if they only knew it existed.
You can read more about the idea of a Minimum Viable Audience here:
A minimum viable audience is the number of people you need to make a full-time income from your creative work.
If you're an employee, that audience size is 1. Your boss.
If you have a high-ticket item like coaching, or - like me - film producing, you may only need an audience of five to ten people.
If you sell something for $10, you either need to sell that 10,000 times, or 1,000 people ten times each, or somewhere in between.
Most artists, if they focused entirely on building a minimum viable audience, could reach that magic number in one to two years.
But the reason so many, myself included, have found themselves going years without ever creating a profitable business is that:
a) they are thinking like an artist and creating more products without growing their audience
b) they aren't focused enough on their business so it doesn't grow
If you want just one thing that works to grow your creative business over the coming months, the answer is to focus on one goal.
Grow your business.
That will force you to think of different ways to grow your business. Different ways to get more awareness from a larger audience of people. How to add more value so that you can earn more money per customer.
All of these things are strategies, not your core product or service. But that's what it is going to take to grow from where you are to where you want to be.