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?