If you want to be serious and turn your creative pursuit into something that’s a career, you are going to have to run it like a business. This doesn’t mean selling out, and this doesn’t mean abandoning all morals. But it does mean looking beyond the fun parts and looking at the other, equally important parts: how to promote, how to keep track of finances and turn a profit, and how to avoid legal and moral pitfalls. Sounds like something only a corporate fat-cat would care about. The thing is, they already know all of this stuff. And they use it to their advantage, out competing us and squeezing us out of the market, which is why it’s more important than ever to stay ahead
Marketing is Everything
The word ‘marketing’ seems to have a bad rep. The truth is, marketing is often misunderstood. It’s essentially just letting people know that your business exists, and is important. Something as simple as a Facebook page or Instagram can improve your chance of getting people to discover your art, and it reminds people you still exist every time you post.
Advertising, by definition, is marketing that has been paid for, but if you’re still a small fry there is so much you can do for free. Collaborating with other artists is a great way to cross promote. Organising events and hosting things in backyards or warehouses is fun, and can be free or cheap if you do it right. Don’t be afraid to collaborate with journalists and other media outlets, some will be willing to write about you for free if it benefits them too. But don’t exploit people! Artists deserve to be paid, obviously.
Lastly, and importantly: Know your demographic/target market. Basically, you need to figure out the types of people who will buy your product. Nobody fits neatly into pigeonholes, but it’s good to get a ‘general’ idea of the sort of person you can expect to buy your goods.
Financial obligations, legal obligations, ethical obligations?
It’s important to keep track of how much you spend on your business. I went to my bank and got a 0% interest credit card, that I use exclusively for purchases for my business. I also keep each receipt/invoice I get, and turn online invoices into PDFs to keep track. I used to think I made so much money at vintage markets, but after accounting for market stall fees, the cost of my clothes, and other costs, I was spending about $600 and only bringing in about $750. Which is a $150 profit. Pretty bogus! You need to look at every dolleridoo you spend, and see if there’s anything you can cut costs on without compromising quality (or your morals.
It’s also important to stick to your legal obligations, because there are some real spooky pitfalls you could potentially fall into. For example, is that cute Disney fan art you’ve been making actually legal? Are you accidentally knocking off a copyrighted design? Copyright law is a messy one, especially since so much of what we do now involves selling on US websites, and so we have to know their laws as well as ours. While big companies seem to get away with ripping off independent artists all the time, if you mess up, you could potentially have to pay some hefty fines. I’ve heard anecdotal stories of musicians being fined thousands for having knockoff music equipment on stage, and artists being sued for accidentally making art similar to a poster design from the 80’s. Do some googling and know what you can and can’t do, because lawyer fees are expensive. It’s important to remember this applies to all of your business. So when you are picking a name to go by for your clothing brand, do a Google search and see what other similar businesses exist in Australia, and the US.
Lastly, don’t skimp big time on your morals for the sake of making a few extra dollars. Running a business, you will run into a heckload of ethical conundrums. Even though doing the right thing is almost always the more difficult/expensive option, it’s also the most important. Try to find creative ways to cut costs without cutting others down. If Disney villains and Donald Trump have taught us anything, it’s that there are already too many bad role models out there, so try to make money while also making the world a vaguely less terrible place. Even if it means working a bit harder.
Don’t stop learning
If there’s one thing you take away from all of this, it’s that Google is your friend and that you should never stop learning. If there are gaps in your knowledge, do some research. Turning your creative pursuits into a Real Life Adult Job is tricky, and it’s not for everyone. Whether you do it as a career, a side hustle, or just for the love, it can still be fulfilling and meaningful. If you’re in it for the long haul, just know that you should always be learning. Remember you’re competing in an overcrowded market, and it’s a hot mess out there. But I believe in you! You’re great!
Words by Anonymous, art by Bodie Hartley
This article first appeared in print volume 88 edition 1 HEAT