Many artists struggle to generate reliable sales. Many of my posts here are about how to begin creating more robust, more consistent sales by increasing your exposure and optimizing your pricing and inventory.
For many artists, ramping up sales can seem like a herculean task. Still, when you break sales down into its core components, awareness, interest, decision, and action, and start working systematically on each, it’s only a matter of time before you see results.
Today I want to shift my focus from the challenges of generating initial sales and building momentum to talk about the most significant challenges artists who have achieved more regular sales are facing.
I’m fortunate to work with many highly successful artists and interact with many more here on the blog. You might think that once these artists began seeing regular sales, all their problems disappeared. You would be wrong!
The truth is that at every stage of an artist’s career, they will face unique challenges and opportunities.
While successful artists face many challenges, experience has shown me that the five most common are:
- cashflow management
- time management
- project management
- labor management
- pricing management
Even if you are early in building your art business, understanding the challenges (and opportunities) that lie ahead will help you develop a plan for managing your finances, time, projects, and labor. This will enable you to build a business that is sustainable and profitable.
One of the biggest challenges an artist can face is managing their cash flow. This can be difficult, as income can be sporadic and unpredictable. Artists may have months where they are swamped and make a lot of money but then have lean months where they make very little. It can be hard to plan and budget when income is so unpredictable.
Artists can do a few things to try and manage their cash flow better. First, they can try to create a budget and stick to it as best as possible. This can help them control their spending and ensure they are not overspending when they have a good month. Second, they can save money when they have a good month to have a cushion to fall back on during leaner months. Finally, they can look into ways to supplement their income, such as teaching classes or selling other products related to their art.
Cash flow management can be challenging for artists, but by being proactive and carefully budgeting their income, they can make it work.
Artists often find time management challenging because they are so passionate about their work. They can easily get lost in their art and forget the outside world. This can lead to them missing deadlines or not having enough time to complete a project.
There are a few things that artists can do to overcome this challenge. First, they can try to set realistic goals for themselves and their art. This will help them to stay on track and not get lost in their work. Second, they can set aside specific times to work on their art and marketing, and business efforts and stick to those schedules. This will help them be more productive and ensure they use their time wisely. Finally, they can reach out to others for help when feeling overwhelmed. This can provide them with support and accountability to help them stay on track.
Project management is another challenge for successful artists because they often work on multiple projects simultaneously and must juggle various deadlines. They also need to adapt to changes and solve problems quickly. To overcome these challenges, artists need to be organized and efficient in their work. They should also create a realistic schedule and budget for each project.
Artists must be especially mindful of project management when preparing for shows or large art installations. This is because many moving parts and pieces often need to come together in a short period. To ensure everything runs smoothly, artists must plan ahead and delegate tasks. Artists who frequently engage in large projects should consider using a task management app like Todoist, Asana, Trello, or one of the many other apps designed for project management.
Most artists begin their art business as a solo operation. The artist works as the creative talent, the marketer, the salesperson, the logistics supervisor, and the bookkeeper. This works initially because most artists have more time and energy than money and other resources. They can more easily afford the time to do something themselves than the money to have someone else do it.
Eventually, however, an artist experiencing increased sales will realize that if the business is going to grow, the artist can’t continue doing everything. The artist needs to create and focus on the creative parts of the business and delegate the business tasks to others. Often this other work will fall to a life partner, spouse, or friend if the artist is fortunate enough to have someone in their life that is capable in these areas.
If an artist isn’t fortunate enough to have a close connection that can help, or if their art business grows substantially, the artist will need to consider hiring an assistant or handing off some of the work to outside providers.
An artist can hire an assistant to help with the business side or the more mundane aspects of art creation (think canvas prep, sculpture rough-in and scaling, artwork photography, etc.).
Outside providers can help with essential but less frequent tasks like bookkeeping, shipping, or even studio cleaning.
Finally, many artists struggle with pricing management. As sales increase, time, project management, and an assistant will go a long way toward making an artist more productive, but those efficiency gains have limits.
Eventually, many artists find themselves in a position where sales are outstripping their production, no matter what they do to make their time as focused and productive as possible.
When this happens, it’s a clear sign that it’s time to raise prices. It can be tough to do this. Artists often fear losing sales if they raise prices and may have no idea how much to raise them.
These concerns are understandable but need to be overcome. Over the years, I’ve worked with artists who found themselves in the incredibly frustrating position of having a large audience for their work but unable to supply enough work to meet the demand.
The key is to raise prices gradually but consistently. A 5-10% increase each year is a good starting point, though I’ve worked with artists who have had to implement increases every six months to help balance demand and supply.
Ironically, some artists actually experience increased sales when they raise their prices. When this happens, the tension between supply and demand remains, but a higher level of profitability helps compensate for the stress and provides additional resources to hire help.
As artists build their businesses and experience increased sales, they face new challenges. Cash flow, time management, project management, labor management, and pricing management can all be difficult to navigate. However, by understanding the challenges, artists can be better prepared to overcome them.
Along with these challenges, successful artists will experience fantastic opportunities. They may have the chance to collaborate with other prominent artists to create new work. They will see their work displayed in major museums and art galleries. They receive critical acclaim from art critics and the general public and have their work purchased by major collectors and art dealers. They may have the chance to participate in international art fairs and biennales.
Building a successful art business is a lot of work, but it’s worth it!
Have I Missed Anything?
Did I miss any major challenges successful artists face? Share additional challenges and your comments below!
Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to offer assistance to struggling artists in a variety of topics of concern.
You are absolutely right. Help in a few aspects becomes imperative. Doing everything yourself can be daunting and adds to the frustration.
Finding the right people however is not easy.
True Ann – it does take a lot of effort to find the right people to help, but it is definitely worth it when you do!
After 45 years in the art business at all levels the greatest challenge has been the perceptions and often outright animosity of other artists and art groups to your success, earned by consistent long term hard work and decisions others would/could not make. The family of artists disappears quite rapidly in my experience. Everyone wants a piece, a connection, a contact etc not realising that you have paid a high price for your success, nothing in the art business comes for free, its all earned.
Many successfull artists i have talked with have also found this effect. The challenge is to get beyond it through engagement with other individual artists. Developing your own family of creative folks around you, not all of them being artists.
that is my experience the rest is just standard business management.
Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Richard. It can be difficult to achieve success in the art world, and it sounds like you have worked hard to get to where you are today. It is also understandable that other artists may be jealous or resentful of your success. I think you have the right idea – we can’t let negativity push us off course.
Thank you for this article-now I can share it and it gives me one less task to do. I am a single business owner/artist and it is a lot of work but it is worth it.
Bartering services may be a solution for some tasks. One thing that is labor intensive and not fun is packing my fragile glass sculptures. As my sales have increased, packing was eating up valuable time and taking me away from creating. I was lucky that one of my students was willing to be trained in my process and now packs some of my pieces in exchange for studio time at the torch. She takes a lot longer than I do, but I trust her to do a great job and the time exchange is well worth it to me. Maybe something similar will work for others.
Thank you for your suggestion, Vicki! This is a great idea for those who have tasks that are labor intensive