January 19, 2012

Thoughts on Business Plans

What goes into starting a crafty/arty business? Depends on your vision, really. You hear a lot about the importance of a business plan. I believe the level of its importance is directly related to the size of the profit margin you desire. For now, I’ve bypassed the business plan. It was a stumbling block for me. I could spend years (and I have) planning this creative endeavor of mine. Or I could start working on it, a little at a time, and allow it to generate its own momentum. Which is precisely what has happened and I couldn’t be happier.

While I am busy, busy, busy behind the scenes working on a logo, branding, packaging, website development, setting up shop on Etsy, making products, etc., allow me to share my thoughts on business plans. The following is copied from a paper I wrote in 2003, Business Planning for Part-time Artists. 
I find it quite telling that when I phoned to inquire about an MBA program at a local university, that the person processing my request was shocked. Upon learning my undergraduate degree was in fine art, the processor exclaimed, "Wow, what a jump, from art to business." Despite popular opinion, artists are business people. Some of the most creative financing strategies I have come across are employed by artists struggling to stay one meal ahead of the starving artist stereotype. For those of us artists not comfortable with this kind of precarious financial situation, where do we turn to shore up our business skills and how do we put them to work in service of our art?
Most books for start up ventures, small businesses, and how to write a business plan assume that entrepreneurs are in business solely for the money; to make a profit. These manuals and advice books believe small business people are looking for the next big thing; entrepreneurs will do anything as long as it is on their own terms and it will turn a profit. Or, for those renegade entrepreneurs who do happen to have a dream they wish to follow, books guide them into borrowing enough money to get started until the cash starts flowing.  
These books are all well and good, but do not serve the needs of new and emerging artists. Art is not consumer driven. Serious artists do not pander to current market trends. When artists create a “product” solely for personal fulfillment, expression, and compulsion, turning a profit is a nice thought, but not the motivating factor. Most artists create regardless of audience or buyers, yet desire financial stability. As disparate as they are, these two ideals can meet. In order to create, most artists need to be free of worry, free of financial concerns. If artists have to wonder how to pay the rent, their minds are too preoccupied to make good art. Therefore, artists need a means of financial support with enough left over to support their art making.  
For artists who do not rely on art sales for their livelihood, business guides for artists and craftspeople miss the point. Like business planning guides, business manuals for artists focus on sales as the ultimate goal. I have yet to discover a guide that focuses on art creation while emphasizing good business practices to support the creative process.* This report attempts to synthesize business practices with artistic creation. It adapts the common elements of business planning to serve the artist's needs. The report provides general instruction to create an artistic plan.
*Since writing this in 2003, I have come across a helpful resource, Crafty Superstar: Make Crafts on the Side, Earn Extra Cash, and Basically Have It All by Grace Dobush. And I just discovered that Grace is based in Cincinnati, my stomping grounds, and one of the organizers of Crafty Supermarket. How cool is that?

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