Tie Your Plan Together

Tie Your Plan Together

A good business plan will help guide you through uncertainty. It will remind you of your deeper intent and priorities as new opportunities come up. It will account for fluctuations in your revenue streams and help you manage money in the down-time. Your business plan is your map.

Walk through everything you’ve entered, and start to fill in the gaps. Once you have a draft, make revisions. Consider applying your artistic process throughout the editing process of your business plan. Work in a way that may help you feel more comfortable with bringing the plan to a complete form. Remember this should be a tool for you as you grow that will be revisited, as well as a way to communicate, build investment and access capital funds.

Reflection Questions

1. Throughout this course, you learned about each of the elements needed to construct a business/action plan. What element of the business plan (Vision, Market Research, Product and/or Service, Marketing, Finance and Legal) interests you the most? Which element of the plan will you reach out for additional help?

2. Which part of the business plan or action plan do you feel you already spent a lot of time on?

3. What is the projected timeline for you to complete the entire Business/Action plan? Have you established benchmarks, or something that will help see your progress (think of the “constant” in a science experiment)?

4. Which friends and colleagues can help answer your questions throughout your plan?

5. Who do you trust that can provide objective feedback and make suggestions for how you can make the plan stronger?

6. A business plan is only useful if you use it. How will you use everything you’ve put together to inform your business related decisions?

7. Will the work you’ve done impact the type of work you create? Take a look back at the strategies for maintaining your artistic integrity next to your new business goals.

8. When is the next time you will revisit your business plan? Pencil it in on your calendar now.

Quick Final Lesson from One of the Best

No one sees an opportunity quite like Russel Simmons, co-founder of Def Jam and owner of Rush Communications Inc. He was an early adopter in the hip-hop community and launched acts like RunDMC, the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, EPMD to international fame. He easily translated his industry knowledge to clothing (Phat Farm), TV (Def Poetry, Def Comedy Jam), advertising (Narrative, ADHD), media (All Def Digital), and even banking (RushCard). In an interview with LinkedIn, Simmons showcases how he sees every day challenges as opportunities, and what he sees as success.

You Are Not in It Alone

You have what it takes to keep your creative practice moving forward. Take advantage of this incredibly useful (and incredibly free) e book. Making Your Life as an Artist, by Andrew Simonet, is a guide to building a balanced, sustainable artistic life. Take time to contemplate your next steps as you create and revisit your action or business plan.

Session 5: Finance and Legal

Session 5: Finance and Legal

Click through tabs below to explore funding options; leverage and record how you use funds; build financial strategy and security, and operate above board.

Raising Money

Made possible by support from

Huntington Logo

Reflection Questions

1. Keeping the for-profit and nonprofit models in mind, name three options for seeking funding or models for investment that you are considering.

2. Many artists face difficulty in obtaining conventional loans because of variable income and lack of collateral. Even if an artists’ income is high, it may vary significantly throughout the year, making them a “volatile” loan prospect.  If you face these types of challenges, how can you make yourself more bankable?

3. Are there ways to even out your income stream over the course of the year?

4. What collateral do you have that could be used to secure a loan? Do you have assets (such as an automobile, a home or business space) that would offset risk for the lending institution making the loan?

5. Do you know your credit score? How will it affect your ability to obtain funding in the future?

6. Write down three strategies for how you might improve your credit score in the coming year.

7. How much ownership of your business would you be willing to give away for startup funds? Investors typically choose a great idea, and more importantly one that is well managed in exchange for a portion of ownership and subsequent profits.

8. Where in your community can you find out about additional information regarding grants or other special funding programs for artists?


Keeping accurate records consistently is the foundation of strong financials regardless of artist discipline or whether you are a nonprofit, for-profit, or contractor.

Accounting and Finance

Marketplace 101 –  Small Business Accounting & Finance Made Easy (Market to Market)

Activity: Create and Manage a Budget

  1. Enter your budget and track actual income and expenses using the worksheet below. It may seem intimidating. Take it one number at a time. The totals will automatically calculate as you enter each number. The first column, Fiscal Year Budget is what you think you will earn and spend in each category from January 1 – December 31. Once you enter your budget, you won’t typically edit it until next year.
  2. At the end of every 3 months, type in what you actually earn and spent that quarter in each category.

The last column is the total amount you spent over the year. You can compare this to what you thought you would spend in the first column.

At the very bottom, you will see a profit $ or loss ($). Your goal is obviously to make a profit, but this is a difficult feet, especially starting out, and will often vary from season to season in any artistic discipline. If you are starting a nonprofit organization, change the “profit/loss” to “surplus/deficit”. The goal is still to maintain a surplus of income that you can feed back into the organization. Nonprofits may be trickier in that if you don’t spend funds from some foundations or other supporters, you are asked to give the money back.

AEI Budget Template

Reflection Questions

. Are there certain expenses that increase as you sell more work? Which ones?

2. Are there times of year when your expenses are relatively high and relatively low? Based on this information, what strategies can you employ to plan for times of year when your profits are lower or higher than average?

3. Build a sales spreadsheet. Consider including additional information, such as basic information regarding where the customer resides, how they found out about your work, how long the purchase occurred after their initial contact with you, whether they have made a purchase from you in the past and where they made the current purchase.

  • How can this information inform the market research work you began?
  • Are there any trends regarding what work sells the best, where and to whom?
  • Is there additional information you would like to gather about your sales to inform your market research?

4. Because of the sometimes complicated nature of accounting and finance, we recommend consulting with a Certified Public Accountant on such issues. Are there any challenges or questions you have regarding your accounting and finance? For instance, are there any items that you are unsure how to categorize as an expense, or are you unclear as to when you should record a sale? How could an accountant assist you with these issues?

  • Which accounting and bookkeeping functions do you feel comfortable addressing yourself?
  • Given your budget, and the scope of your business, which accounting functions are you most concerned about having addressed by a trained accountant?

Paying Taxes

Tax Write-Offs:

Reflection Questions

Reflection Questions

1. Business-related taxes are issued at a variety of levels (municipal, county or parish, regional, state and federal) and through a variety of methods (sales tax, income tax, property tax, capital gains tax, social security withholdings, etc.). Find the name of the taxing agency at each level of government, their filing deadlines and their website address.


Ohio: http://www.tax.ohio.gov/ohio_taxes.aspx

  • Which taxes relate to your artist business?
  • Are there contacts at any of these agencies that can assist you with your questions regarding filing procedures and your specific tax compliance responsibilities?

2. Review your expenses spreadsheet. At the various levels of government, are there specific taxes for which you may be able to claim a business deduction?

3. What are the documentation requirements for your eligible deductions (e.g. a travel log, receipts, invoices, etc.)?

Because of the complexity of filing taxes at a variety of government levels and the specific knowledge required to correctly identify business income and expenses, we recommend consulting with a Certified Public Accountant on such issues.

1. What questions do you have for your accountant or tax preparer related to tax compliance?

2. What is your timeline for obtaining answers, given the filing deadlines that your business faces?

3. Are you aware of any services that provide low-cost or free consultation with accountants in your community?

Contracts and Clients

If you are doing work for hire, you may feel like a small fish in a big pond. You have more power than you think you do.

Our speaker at the March 2011 San Francisco, CreativeMornings (www.creativemornings.com) was Mike Monteiro, Design Director, and co-founder of Mule Design Studio (www.muledesign.com). This event took place on March 25, 2011 and was sponsored by Happy Dog and Typekit (who also hosted the event at their office in the Mission).

Mike’s book “Design is a Job” is available from A Book Apart (www.abookapart.com/products/design-is-a-job)

A big giant thank you to Chris Whitmore (www.whitmoreprod.com) for offering to shoot and edit the video. Photos were graciously provided by Rawle Anders (twitter.com/rawle42).

The San Francisco chapter of Creative Mornings is run by Greg Storey (twitter.com/​brilliantcrank).

Follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/​SanFrancisco_CM


Reflection Questions

1. Different types of insurance cover different aspects of an artist and their creative practice. What types of insurance do you currently have? Are there any that you are considering?

2. Refer back to your expenses spreadsheet. How much are you currently spending on your insurance? How can you best leverage your insurance to minimize cost and minimize risk?

3. With an assortment of insurance types available, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. What advice would you provide to another artist if they were seeking home/studio, health, liability and/or automobile insurance based on your experience?

4. Are there any resources that have helped you in selecting your insurance?

Session 4: Marketing

Session 4: Marketing

Position yourself to effectively and appropriately communicate your artistic practice, build a lasting brand and sell your art, performances, screenings or writing.

Biggest Marketing Mistakes of Startups

How to Plan and Execute Great Startup Marketing Programs

And information on how it really works from an expert consultant in the tech industry.
Video courtesy of MaRS Discovery District. (https://www.marsdd.com/)


Begin to outline your marketing plan in your business plan. Continue to fill in some of the blanks as we continue to work through this session. If you are more visual, think about drawing this up in a way that helps you define and organize your thoughts about pushing your message out there (advertising, email, social media, etc.), or pulling people in toward your work (go to your website, social media, come to your shows, seek out your work).

Executive Summary

This is the last item you write, but helps someone get the gist of your marketing before they get into the details.

Target Audience

Who is going to pay for your art? Who will pay to see you perform? Who is reading your stuff? It may help describe one fictional ideal character. Include:

  1. Demographic Profile: This includes things you can typically observe or answer with one question. Things like gender, age, ethnicity, where they live, level of education, etc.
  2. Psychographic: This is a bit more difficult to get at and includes other interests they have outside of your work. Where do they go? What do they like to learn about? What are they talking about?
  3. Needs: The most difficult of all is finding out what your audience wants or needs and why they are coming to you. What do they want? What frustrations do they have? What gives them energy and enthusiasm? What conversations are you striking up that really get them talking?

Your Niche

Why are you different than the other artists, writers, musicians and performers that you identified in your marketing research? Why should someone choose to see your show or buy your art instead of someone else’s? Why should they spend money on your artwork instead of spending it elsewhere? Focus on the strengths you outlined in the first session. This will inform your messaging and brand.


What are those audiences willing to pay for your work? Are you a bargain or high-end? Can you be both? Can you charge more if you perform in a special location or for a VIP audience? How much more do you charge for custom pieces? Getting the right price is an art in itself, but building a strategy can help you identify your best prospects for making money through your creative voice.

Reflection Questions

1. Once you create it, how will you use and continue to revisit your marketing plan?

2. Based on the major components of the marketing plan, what areas do you currently spend a lot of your time on?

3. Which areas would you like to spend more time on in the near future?

4. Based on your current skill set and experience, which areas of the Marketing Plan do you foresee yourself reaching out to others to help with?

5. Name a few individuals or organizations that could lend you a hand in those areas.


Communicating Who You Are

A “brand” is essentially a promise. It is a “pledge” of some sorts, whether that is to provide a high quality product, the lowest possible price, or the quickest possible service (or all of the above). It is the essence of a product or service delivery, including why it is great, and how it is better than all competing products.

Read This Handout Before Moving On 

AEI-Branding Handout


Write down three elements of your brand image that you would like to develop and make more visible to customers and potential customers (e.g. the work you create, your packaging, your website, etc. If you don’t have packaging, consider things like your bio or where you conduct meetings with collaborators, editors or producers).

For each element, list one strategy you will use to strengthen your brand across everything you do. In the case that your artwork is segmented into different brands, build a strategy to strengthen each brand without competing with one another. Add this to your goals in your business plan.

Establish a concrete deadline for implementing that strategy.

List some measures of how you might know the strategy worked (e.g. an increase in page views, meetings scheduled, revenue).

Reflection Questions

1. What are some examples of strong brands that you have encountered?

2. Which brands do you find yourself most loyal to?

  • What about these brands do you find appealing?
  • If these businesses suddenly branded themselves in a different way, do you think if would affect your buying habits? How or why not?

3. What one word do you think people would use to describe you?

  • To describe your art?
  • Your business?

4. How can you build on these existing perspectives to develop a consistent brand message?

5. What kinds of customers do you think would be most likely to respond to this image?

6. Who would be your most likely competitors for reaching these potential customers?

Marketing for Artists

Now that you have a strong sense of your market, you can use that knowledge as you develop a strategy for reaching them where they are. With so many outlets and constant information being thrown out there, building and maintaining relationships is key for individual artists. Here is how one artist made his mark in the comic and illustration market.

Marketing for Artists 101 (Bobby Chiu)


To date, what are the strategies you have used to tell people about your artwork outside of your immediate circle of friends and family? (business cards, festivals/conventions/conferences, postcards, websites, advertising, press releases)

Which of those generated the most or best exposure?

What target audiences that you identified in your market research and marketing plan do you want to reach most?

What did your research find about how this audience or type of client gathers information? (Are you more likely to reach them electronically or on paper? What do they tend to read, and where do they read it?) The more narrow you can get here, the less likely it is that you will waste money and time on blanket marketing efforts.

Create a Marketing Campaign

A marketing campaign should be an extension of your marketing plan.

In other words, you have one overarching marketing plan; marketing campaigns are a collection of activities to achieve the goals in that plan. A marketing campaign may be to increase traffic to your website, for example. Another campaign may be to sell a particular event or collection of work. You may have different campaigns to reach different audiences. Once you have determined how your audience prefers to receive information, the campaign is a set of strategies to expose your work to them.

  • Are there particular people with whom you need to make contact to run this campaign (reporters, advertising departments, etc.)?
  • Do these individuals work on particular deadlines or timeframes of which you should be aware?
  • What kind of barriers should you prepare for with a particular marketing channel (e.g. perceptions people have of Facebook ads and how you combat that)?

Choose one way you can increase your visibility with the right people without spending too much or any money. Make that the basis for your first campaign.

Create Your Elevator Speech (Or "Boiler-Plate")

Describe yourself and your artwork in 100 words or less. Every word should be chosen based on how your audience receives information, pulling their interest, rather than starting with you. Most often, avoid using technical terms since most people may not have experience in your artistic discipline. See the next section on storytelling to craft your message in a way that can draw someone in and remember you.

Activity: Tell Your Story

Choose a piece of content you need to create to engage people with your business. It could be a video, your about page, a business pitch presentation, or anything else you are doing to put yourself and your artwork out there.

  1. Identify the protagonist and the starting point. (Is it you today? Is it where you were when conceived your idea? Is it your friend or someone who experiences a piece you created?)
  2. Explain the routine or average day of the protagonist.
  3. Pinpoint the “inciting incident.” In other words, what happened in your world or the protagonist’s world that set that routine in a different direction?
  4. State the obstacle and describe all the frustration and tension that rises as you try to overcome that obstacle.
  5. State the moment of bliss, the moment when the artwork and process you are offering to your audiences or clients solves all of the problems and tension.
  6. Tie up loose ends and state the new normal.

Session 3: Art as a Product

Session 3: Art as a Product

How Do You Define a Product When the "Product" is an expression of self?

Art and creative services are difficult to consider as products. If you are invested in sustaining yourself through your art form, consider using this business vocabulary and applying it to your work. To make a profit (or ends meat) your work must be something that either consumers, funders or patrons want to pay for.

Product Lines

What Influences Consumer Preferences?

How do people decide what art to buy? What show to see? What poetry to read? 

In many worlds of creative professions, the work, or at least the idea for the work, comes before we ever get to the question of who will buy or pay for it. As difficult as it may seem, developing a “product line” does not have to be exclusive of artistic integrity. For example, can your scale your work? Can you sell copies of the originals? Can you license your work to an organization for their own marketing? How can you utilize your creative process skills in a different context or business setting? You are tailoring your existing vision only in its physical state or practice, not its intent. Each product within the line then, is based on where, when, how and by whom it will be experienced.

Reflection Questions

  1. Do you offer more than one type of art?
    1. If so, are they directly related, or completely separate endeavors
  2. What is unique about your work compared to other artists or businesses in your market? How specialized is the type of work you do?
  3. What audiences tend to be drawn to your art work, whether it’s film, poetry, dance, performance, etc.?
  4. Why are they interested?
  5. Are there other people who share that same interest–for a different reason or in a different context perhaps–that you aren’t reaching?
  6. How can you modify an aspect of your existing body of work to better appeal to those art markets, without changing the nature and intent of your work?

BONUS: Can you isolate the unique qualities you have as a creator and apply them in a different way? For example, a theatre artist consulting with sales representatives on presenting skills, or a writer who consults with mass-media firms on how to tell compelling stories.

Everyone's a Critic


In either your products and services or operations section of your business plan, build in at least one strategy to help you adapt to feedback with clear intent and focus.


How to Price Your Work (Dave Picciuto, Artist)

How much does it cost you to make your work? What are your expenses? How much money do you need to make? How much is your time worth?

How much would someone be willing to pay for your work? Many individual artists, writers and creative ventures in general have a tendency to drastically undersell their work and their time. If you shift your perception away from pricing your work to make ends meet and gear it toward communicating the quality and value you offer, you may find yourself much better positioned in the local, national and global art markets. Cleveland may be a more affordable place to live than other cities, but it doesn’t mean what comes out of it should be any less valued.

Determine Your Value (Bill Carney, Creative Mornings)

Reflection Questions

  1. What have your total sales been in the past three months?
  2. What has your total revenue been in the past three months (your total sales, less your fixed costs (rent, utilities, etc.) and variable costs (materials, time, rental costs, etc.)?
  3. Are you underselling yourself? If you increased your prices by 10% each year, would you drastically reduce your customer base?
  4. If you increased your rates even more, could you break into any new, higher-paying markets? What would they look like?
  5. Could you compete in those markets? What would be your niche?
  6. Could you develop or maintain some lower priced offerings of your creative practice while increasing the prices of your high-value creative works? Which ones?
  7. Would the labor intensity of the low-cost, high-volume work make up for the value of keeping your prices low? Would it help or hurt your bottom line (and what does it do for your own health and well being)?
  8. 8. How much work and at what prices would you have to sell in order to make a comfortable living (based on your own definition)?


  1. Create a pricing sheet: List every item you identified in your “products and services” list.
  2. Assign a price to every art work or artist service you intend to offer.
  3. Segment products by product lines.

Do the prices you have listed match what the audiences for that product line?

For example, “bread and butter” items (low-cost to you, easily made items, that many people will purchase) should increase your potential profit the more you sell. “High-end” or exclusive buyers may may rely on price as an indicator of value, so it will be critical not to undersell yourself here.  “Whole sale” work that you will sell in bulk to a retailer will need to allow the retailer to make a profit off their individual sales. Conversely consignment options will need to accommodate the percentage the owner will take when your art sells. Artistic services may require you to set an hourly or daily rate, or you may choose to set one fixed price for that service based on the preferences of the people hiring you.

Driving the Market

Are other artists forced to lower their own prices to match yours? Is that good or bad? These questions relate to your direct effect on the local art/music/literary economy. By lowering your prices, others are forced to lower theirs to keep their market share. Ultimately, new customers you would have gained by reducing your price will likely go back to buying the lower-quality, lower-cost work. Likewise, increasing your prices and valuing your work may allow others to do the same. In time, you are contributing to driving the local art market up or down.

Supply and Demand

What people are willing to pay for your work is also affected by demand, or the number of people who want it and how much they want. So, for example, let’s say no one else is offering anything remotely similar to what you are creating, and a ton of people want it. Demand is high. Supply–or the amount of items, seats, copies or time you are selling–is limited. Price should much higher in this case than if, for example, you have a warehouse of inventory or never-ending supply of work and only a handful of people who want to access it. This is not an excuse for giving your work away for free, but may be an opportunity for selling in bulk or at very low cost. When should you offer free goods or services?

Competition and Prices

The beauty of what you do is that your work is always one of kind. “High-quality,” “creativity” and “local” are all great selling points. Everyone, however, has competition. Without diving too deep here (the Marketing session is next), there are some pricing tricks you can use to convey how you are different without lowering your rates. For example:

  • Ending prices in odd numbers has been known to convey a sale or clearance. This has a tendency to also reduce perception of quality.
  • Leaving off a $ symbol conveys higher-end products, and opens you up to a more global market.
  • Offering “bundle” prices could increase a purchase for someone who came for just one item, but sees value in the collective offer.
  • Higher prices are generally associate with higher quality and exclusivity. Building trust with those clients requires that you deliver on those promises.

Copyright and Fair Use

One of the most important things an artist can do is protect her or his work and ideas. Having the right resources can involve a great deal of research, but it will definitely be worthwhile in the long run. Watch the video and read through some of the articles below to learn more about copyright and fair use.

Can You Copyright It?

Reflection Questions

1. What are the primary differences between a copyright and a trademark?

2. What types of your work are eligible for copyright protection? What types are eligible for trademark protection?

3. Given the art you are creating, are there certain types of work that would warrant formal copyright or trademark protection?

4. What would be the advantages of mitigating the risk of your intellectual property being stolen or misrepresented, given the cost of registering for copyrights?

5. If you are hired to create new works, your rights related to your intellectual property may be different than the work you do on your own. What are the major differences?

6. How can you ensure that you understand what rights you will have to the work in the future when conducting “work for hire”?

7. Are there resources in your community that can assist you in obtaining low-cost or free legal services (e.g. the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association hosts a volunteer program, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts)?

Distribution Outlets Reflection Questions

For each artist, filmmaker, performer or writer, distribution outlets will significantly very. You might be thinking publishers and agents, fairs and galleries, music halls and clubs, screening locations or any combination of other venues.

1. What are some distribution outlets–both within and outside of your discipline–that you have seen artists use to distribute their work?

2. How do you currently make your work available to people?

3. List advantages and/or disadvantages to the particular method(s) you use. For instance, are certain methods more time-intensive, but get in the hands of audiences more directly? Have you been more successful in generating profit through one than others? Are some better at developing long-standing relationships or quick transactions?

4. Where is your target audience when they are looking for things similar to what you are doing?

5. Where are your audiences more generally? Can you put your work in unlikely places where your target buyers already go?

7. Have you seen artists use any nontraditional or outside-the-box methods for distributing their work? Can you follow (or improve upon) their lead?

6. Which distribution outlets do you believe present the most opportunity for you in the future?

7. Who do you know that could assist you in getting your art in those places?

8. How do you plan to gather additional information about new distribution outlets?

9. Will new outlets stretch your resources? Would the payoff be worth it?

10. Are there cases when you should pay (or pay more) for getting your work in the right location?

Dave Arnold, Mr. Sign, talks of turning his passion into a business.

Please note: This Video Contains Profanity

Making the Sale Reflection Questions

Note: If the term “sale” is completely off-putting, try using a different term, like “support” or “exchange” or “unicorn” if it helps.

1. In the last year, what sales tactics did you employ at each point of distribution (Maybe that you didn’t even realize you were doing at the time)?

2. Did your strategy differ depending on where you were and to whom you were talking?

3. How would you rate your success for each thing you tried? Was it related to your comfort level or their interest level?

4. How would you modify your current strategy to help you “close a deal” faster, sell more work or get a higher price?

5. Identify a small step that you can take to improve your next sale. Add this to your list of goals in the business plan.

6. What local, regional or national resources can help you get your work in the hands of the people who want to pay for it?

Session 2: Market Research

Session 2: Market Research

What and Where is Your Market?

When you develop a marketing plan, you can strategically broaden and diversify your audience and client base. Understanding your target audience is key to this development. Find what and who else is out there, and ask the right questions before you launch into a new market with no grounding.

Market Research Basics

8 Ways to Conduct Market Research

Conducting market research is critical to matching what you do, to the person who will buy it by helping you:

  1. Know your customer. If you know your customers or potential audience – that is, what they like and don’t like – your chances of being successful are enhanced tremendously.
  2. Know who is not your customer. Some people will never be interested in what you have to offer. You shouldn’t be wasting effort either trying to reach those people, or worse, trying to change what you do dramatically to reach those people. Stay focused. Do only what you are good at and attract those who want it.
  3. Know where your customer is.

Read the handout for more information

AEI Market Research Basics

Research Questions

1. What questions can you ask yourself to get a deeper understanding of your audience? You can start with those listed in the handout above.

2. To what degree do you know what your audiences think of you and your work?

3. How can you find out how people perceive you, your creative practice and their interactions with you?

4. Market research might feel artificial, intrusive or uncomfortable as an individual artist or sole proprietor. What are some strategies you can employ to conduct market research that feels more authentic to you and your brand?


1. Write down three questions you have about the people who engage with you and your art.

2. For each question, write down one research strategy or method that you plan to employ that could begin to answer that question.

3. Create a deadline for completing this analysis.

C4 Atlanta, Competitive Advantage

Market Research

Equally as important to understanding the people who will buy your work (or tickets to your show, copies of your book, etc.) is understand who else is solving that same problem. To get a better understanding of how you are different than your competitors, there are a number of research strategies and questions you can ask. Read the Market Research handout in the previous session for more information about primary research. You can also find research about the local arts economy and the players that make up each industry in our Research Library.

Reflection Questions

  1. Who offers the same type of work you do?
  2. Who outside of your peer artists, writers and performers are solving the same “problems” as you and your work? I.e. where else could they be spending that money for a similar experience.
  3. In what ways is your work different from theirs?
  4. How else is your work benefiting the people who experience it in addition to the initial “problem” in question 2?

Session 1: Vision

Session 1: Vision

What does an artist entrepreneur really mean; and what does it mean for those of us in Cleveland? It’s about strategy and breaking through the barriers that restrict us from unleashing our full potential.

Let’s start with defining a clear vision that marries your artistic philosophies with your business priorities.

Work through your action plan, or business plan structure as you complete each session below (download our template if it helps). This will give yourself a solid foundation of material to revisit and polish up when you’re in the thick of running your artist business.

Focus on Your Strengths

1.1 Finding Your Strengths

Assess your strengths and weaknesses internally, as well as the opportunities and threats that may out of your control. All of these items should influence your artist business decisions both immediately and down the line. Capitalize on opportunities, seek others whose strengths are your weakness, and be creative with how you can use this information.

Understanding what you are already good at and where you need to improve seems intuitive. But getting more concrete about these things is essential to pin pointing what tools and resources you need to help you fill the gaps. While you think through this activity, reflect on:

  • Your current products or services (your art)
  • The resources you have – both money, knowledge and human power
  • Your individual capacity – skills come in many shapes and sizes
  • Current markets and their economic impact

Activity: SWOT Analysis

This activity will allow you to gain insight into the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats that surround you and your creative endeavor. Then we will help you understanding how to leverage each of these (including weaknesses and threats). Download the SWOT Analysis Worksheet to complete after the video.

AEI – SWOT Analysis Worksheet

Reflection Questions

Reflect on the current state of your creative practice. You’ll go deeper into some of these topics throughout the course:

  1. List your individual capacity. What skills, traits, experience, synergies (people with whom you work well) do you have?
  2. Identify all of the current markets that you are already reaching. Describe who buys (books, publishes, presents, etc.) your work.
  3. Where do you need the most help?
  4. Who is your competition?
  5. Is there any potential for growth, or is your current market already saturated with what you offer?
  6. We know that art has a profound impact on the community. How do you reach your neighbors, colleagues, friends, etc. through your creative practice?
  7. How would you classify the impact of your work (education, economic, helping others express themselves, etc.)?

Mission Statements

If a business plan is your map, your mission is your destination. It reminds you why you’re in business. You can use it to get your bearings. If you are ever in doubt of what to do, ask yourself “What will further the mission?” It should be broad enough for your artwork to expand, grow and change direction. It should be defined enough to help you stay the course when a tempting offer could steer you the wrong way.

Your vision, then, would be the picture of that destination. It’s what you imagine your business/work/life/situation will look like when you reach your mission.

Vision Statements


Draft a vision and mission statement and enter it in the business plan template provided in the first session. You will have plenty of time to revise this as you go through the course. Ultimately, everything you do will be designed to achieve your mission. A good mission states what artwork you are providing, to whom and where your focus is. This is not an elevator pitch, though many brands do use this to support and promote their image.

Activity: Define Your Goals

Enter your goals into your business plan in the order you’ll complete them.
To get started, take some time to reflect on the main elements of SMART business goals in the image to the right or below. Use the following prompts to identify as many (or as few) goals as you find useful to help you find and focus on your priorities. These are the steps you will take to realize your vision and mission.

Setting Business vs. Artist Goals

  1. Write down three goals you have for your arts-related business.
  2. Write down three goals solely devoted to your art or creative process.
  3. Write down any personal goals you have that are unrelated to your craft or business. Take note of these, but do not necessarily include them in the plan.
  4. Where, if at all, do these goals align?

Developing Priorities

  1. Rank the priority of all the goals you listed. Among the top goals in any category, choose a number one priority if you haven’t already done so.
  2. Which of your long-term goals can you break up into a set of more manageable ones? Break those up, and place them in the appropriate order in your list of priorities.


  1. What concrete steps can you take right now (when you finish this exercise) to achieve any of your goals?
  2. What will you do each month over the next year to ensure progress? There are some great free tools for typing in tasks and creating your own deadlines, and it will create timelines and charts for you. Search “free timeline tools” or “free project management tools” or things of that nature to find what works for you.
  3. At what points will you celebrate your achievements (this does not require a completed goal, but must help you make progress toward that goal)? What is your reward? (We use a tool that can automate a flying unicorn across the screen when we complete a task).
  4. Will you need help? If so you can view the artist resources section for organizations that can help you with specific artist-, business-, music-, writer-related needs. If you can’t find the help you need, give us a ring.
  5. Can you drop anything from your list and still achieve your mission? This is an important editing process in managing your time.


  1. How often will you review your goals? Pencil it in as a recurring event on your calendar or planner.
  2. How will you know if you have accomplished a goal?
  3. In the event that you are not meeting your stated goals, what strategies will you employ to better address them?
  4. Under what circumstances will you change your goals or their priority?

Business Structures


When a legal professional meets with you, be courteous of her/his time and articulate exactly what your legal needs are, and what you hope to achieve by visiting with them. List at least three major questions you would like answered regarding how best to select a business structure that is appropriate for you.

Share these questions with your attorney or advisor and take notes for your records. Make sure to provide as much information as possible regarding your current business activities and your future business goals. Use the questions below to help you organize this information.

Reflection Questions

Are you currently selling artistic products or services?

2. If yes, have you actively thought about what type of business entity is most appropriate for your business other than being a sole proprietor?

3. What obstacles have you faced in identifying what type of entity would work best for your business?

4. Different types of business entities have different levels of personal risk of liability. How willing are you to take on personal liability associated with your business activities? In other words, is risking your own personal assets (your home, car, etc.) more or less important to you than minimizing tax burdens?

5. Is a nonprofit right for you?

  • Is the primary focus of your work for the greater good?
  • To what degree do you want to maximize your management control over your business rather than a board of trustees?

6. Choosing a business structure can have a long-lasting impact on your business’ ability to succeed. Given the complexity of the topic, the Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute highly recommends seeking out assistance from a trained legal professional. Do you currently know an attorney or other trusted professional who has expertise in business transactions and would be willing to assist you?

Business Partners

Lot’s of artists work with other artists, even if they create original work in solitude. Thinking “strength in numbers” may prove to be very beneficial when structuring your business as well. It is helpful to have partners. They may provide better expertise in areas you lack knowledge, and it can lighten the workload. Selecting the right business partner is critical to avoiding more work and stress. Whether it be a friend, relative or a random, establishing a new business relationship must be strategic, trustworthy, and beneficial.

Choose the Right Business Partner

Before looking into partnership agreements first establish the roles and duties of the individuals involved. This video on “How To Choose The Right Business Partnership” might help you decide your partners strategically.

Develop a Partnership Agreement

When considering partnerships, make sure everyone is on the same page. Your business partners and you may run into issues and disagreements, both creative and otherwise. Outline a set of rules you all can follow, known as a Partnership Agreement, to avoid a potentially damaging set of circumstances. This kind of agreement is especially critical when relationships exist outside of the business.

Reflection Questions

  1. Do you already have partners in mind?
  2. What type of selection process will you use to find the right partners?
    1. Do they have a similar aesthetic and style artistically?
    2. Do they complement your own skill set?
    3. What skills does the business need that you don’t have?
    4. Does it matter if they understand the specifics and technical aspects of your discipline?
  3. Do you have close relationships with any of your partners? (i.e. friends and family)

Setting Expectations

  1. Are your partners comfortable, educated, and on the same page in terms of how your business is structured? If not, how will you communicate your business structure to your partners?
  2. How will you delegate roles and responsibilities?
    1. Try to match the needs of the creative and business operations with the strengths of each partner as best as you can. What you think is tedious may be second nature to someone else. Communicate about your preferences.
  3. How is the workload shared?
    1. Are partners expected to work set hours?
    2. Does one partner expect to work more or less than the other partners?
    3. What is the job description of each partner?


  1. What assets are the partners bringing into the business? (hard assets: cash, physical property, intellectual property, equipment; or soft assets: expertise, time, a broad network)?
  2. What type of compensation (salary, payroll, contracted services) works best for your business?
  3. Based on the roles, workload, responsibilities, and contributions of your partners, how will stake be divided among your members? In other words what percentage of the profits (and alternately, liability) is attributed to each person (50/50, 60/40)?
  4. How much authority will each partner have when handling contracts, selling and purchasing, and handling debt? When do you need to get the others’ opinion?

Conflict Resolution

  1. When you have a disagreement, what steps will you take to resolve it?
  2. It’s not always easy to discuss, but what is your contingency plan for a death of a partner? What will happen to that partners shares of the business and intellectual property if this occurs?
  3. What happens if a partner leaves? In what circumstances may a partner leave without damages?
  4. Who has final say in a dispute?
    1. Is there a chief executive officer among partners?
    2. Will you take a vote? Does anyone’s vote get more weight?
    3. When do involve an outside advisory board?
    4. At what point must you turn to mediation, arbitration, litigation?

Artist Business Planning

Artist Business Planning

Download AEI Business Plan Template

Think of a business plan like a road map, No matter which route you ultimately choose, or what ends up happening along the way, you can always refer back to it to get your bearings. Whether you use the newest technology or prefer paper and highlighter, the business plan is a guide to help you arrive at your destination and make well-informed decisions along the way.

Artists are natural entrepreneurs. Business research shows that successful entrepreneurs:

  • Take calculated risks
  • Have a clear sense of purpose and drive to be the best (whatever best may mean to you)
  • Adapt quickly
  • Understand their strengths and weaknesses relative to their competition
  • Understand their target market and how to reach them
  • Are comfortable with uncertainty

Even with all of the above, the most seasoned entrepreneurs and business managers fail more often than they succeed. So we’re here to help lift you up and have your back.

Why Do Artists Need a Business Plan?

A business plan helps you structure your own thinking about your business model. You already think outside the box. This is a new box to help you funnel and organize those thoughts.

You can use this time to tests your ideas and stimulate strategic thinking. Not every idea is a good one, and even the best ideas need good management to become reality. The process of writing a business plan will help you think strategically AND creatively.

Focus on one or two goals that will be most likely to help you build some startup wealth through your art, then add on from there. Trying to achieve everything all at once can be overwhelming. Why not prioritize?

Identifies risks and solutions

Look before you jump. Take the risks you want to take based on your overall concepts and vision.

Identify gaps in your business model before you go live!

See and work through flaws, risks and potential failures before they are at your doorstep. This will save you a lot of time, energy and money in the long run.

People can better help you succeed if you can articulate your vision of success.

So when relatives ask you, “So, what do you do?” you can give them an answer they can understand and get excited about…among many other more business-savvy reasons.

Having clearly put in the time and research to document your idea and prove it has merit will help you raise capital.

People generally are not going to throw money at you without reason. Investors, even a crowd of investors, want to know that you can, and will, deliver.

Most importantly, a business plan helps you determine if your idea – in theory- can actually work.

Many people start businesses without knowing what they’re getting into to varying degree’s of success, and if that’s what you need to get started, we are all for it! But when it gets daunting, or if you’re not in a position to risk it all, sometimes it helps to write it out and think it through. If you work through all the numbers and angles, and find out the business you’re dreaming up costs more than it can ever earn back…it’s better to have lost a few hours and some paper, than all the startup capital it would have taken to figure it out the hard way. Plus it’s a lot easier to revise your plan and strategies so that it will make money before you’ve ever spent a dime!

There is a ton of information out there on building your business plan. AEI addresses the unique business challenges many creative entrepreneurs face head on. The content of your business plan will help you make your case for a potential commission for example, or a banker who questions your revenue stream. While the tone of a business plan may not feel entirely natural to you, we encourage to throw away all notions of “left-brain vs right-brain,” “corporate,” or “stuffy.” Break down your own perceptual barriers, rise above the stigmas out there, and make your passion your business.

Reflection Questions

  1. What are your biggest concerns about your creative enterprise?
  2. Are the items you just listed practical concerns, or perceptual barriers to building a successful, self-sustaining career with your art or creative practice?
  3. Write down 3 strategies to help preserve your artistic integrity.
  4. Are artists conditioned to avoid making a profit or developing a business?
  5. What ave you already overcome and acheived to get you to this point?
  6. What is still holding you back?