There's a variation on an old joke that says something to the effect, "Yesterday I couldn't even SPELL 'entrepreneur' and today I ARE one." If you create and sell your work, you are too. If you don't sell, then you're a hobbyist. I guess I'd never thought about it in quite such stark terms. Today, I attended the second in the series of "The Business of Art" workshops. The speaker for the afternoon session was Jackie LeBerth. She and her husband own a "bed and breakfast" in a big, two-hundred-year-old farmhouse overlooking the scenic Ohio River not far from where I live. She also does small-business consulting work on the side. Downsized out of her "day job" she's now a full-time entrepreneur. Her husband is a full-time student. They have a son in college, a mortgage, five chickens, a horse, and some other miscellaneous farm critters to support. With a degree in marketing and all that resting on her shoulders, I have to think she knows what she's talking about.
Perhaps the major problem artists face as entrepreneurs is they lack focus. Actually, it's not so much they lack focus, but that they focus on the wrong thing--their product. A professional artist should be so adept that the act of creation, producing his or her work, is second nature. The business, however, seldom is. And the key to focusing the artist/entrepreneur's rambunctious mind on "minding his own business" is the business plan. Besides providing, on paper, a focus on the business, it is also a feasibility study, a management tool, and a communication of goals for both the artist and those in the financial world with whom he or she must deal. Its effect, is to create an atmosphere in which the artist is PROACTIVE rather than REACTIVE. It helps identify opportunities, and perhaps most of all, it directs attention to the most important element in ANY business--the customer.
A business needs money, it needs a product or service, it also needs management skills, but without the customer it's dead in the water. Given enough customers, all these other items can be bought and paid for. And all too often, the artist is only vaguely aware of who this critical element really is. This is where demographics come in. There is an old rule of thumb in business that says, 20% of your customers provide 80% of your income. Therefore, you don't have to know ALL your customers, just the 20%. But here you need to at least know their age, gender, education, occupation, income level, marital status, and household type. Worst of all, not only do artists often not know who their customers ARE, they don't even CARE. Artists are notoriously self-centered. And they wonder why they don't sell. Beyond just knowing ABOUT their customers, artists should also be aware of WHERE they buy, WHEN they buy, WHAT they buy, HOW they buy, and WHY they buy. That's what's called focus. Without it, success as an entrepreneur is rare, short term, and largely accidental.