Fail-Proof Business Advice from 10 Years of Art Biz Coach

Last week, in celebration of my 10-year anniversary at Art Biz Coach, I gave my top 10 pieces of marketing advice from the decade of this newsletter.

Today, let’s look at some sound business advice that it pays to review from time to time – another top 10.

©Ruth Dent, Needles. Lithograph and linocut. 30.5 x 30.5 centimeters.

©Ruth Dent, Needles. Lithograph and linocut. 30.5 x 30.5 centimeters. Ruth is a member of the Artist Conspiracy. Used with permission.

10. Proceed with caution when donating your art.

Most artists can’t afford to run a charitable business at a loss. Artists in the U.S. can’t even write off the full-market value of donated art, which is a fact that most non-art organizations aren’t aware of. Donating too frequently (1) lessens the value of your art; (2) weakens the art market in your area; and (3) encourages people to wait to buy at the next event you donate to – when they think they can get a bargain.
Since September 13, 2004.

9. Challenge yourself.

Nobody ever got anywhere by playing it safe. Break out of your rut. Stop showing in the same locations and entering the same juried exhibits. While you’re at it, try a different medium or work with your eyes closed. Grow!
Since May 6, 2002.

8. Acknowledge your achievements.

It’s too easy to focus on everything that you want or have to do. When you get into the habit of writing down your achievements (daily, weekly, monthly, and/or annually), you learn to give yourself a break. You know that you didn’t waste your time on Facebook or reruns of Seinfeld.
Since December 22, 2003.

7. Ask a lot of questions.

Don’t accept things at face value. Don’t trust your interpretation of a situation (an exhibit agreement, a gallery contract, a commission arrangement) that isn’t clearly defined. Trust other people, but verify what they say by asking a lot of questions. This is key for maintaining control of your career.
Since October 18, 2004.

6. Figure out how you will make money.

Saying you’d like to sell $50,000 worth of art is one thing, but getting there is quite another. How much art do you need to make in order to reach this goal? Is this possible? What must your marketing machine look like to get you there? Drill it down!
Since January 12, 2011.

5. Express your gratitude.

Say Thank You often in handwritten notes, short emails, and via social media. Write silent gratitudes to yourself in your daily journal.
Since May 19, 2003.

4. Under-promise and over-deliver.

I believe in this business commandment so much that I think about it before ever promising a deadline to anyone. No one likes to be disappointed, but everyone likes a pleasant surprise.
Since November 28, 2005.

3. Get (or Put) it in writing.

This goes along with #7 above. Don’t assume anything. See it for yourself in black and white. If there is no written agreement or contract, make one of your own and get the parties to sign off. This isn’t just legal protection. It will deter potential headaches and might just save a friendship.
Since April 3, 2006.

2. Treat your art like it belongs in a museum.

It’s appalling to see artists schlepping their art around in plastic tote bags and framing work with crappy mat board that looks like it’s been cut by a child. Until you start treating your art like it has value, why should anyone else?
Since August 26, 2002.

1. Break the rules.

I give you advice for best practices in my book, in this newsletter, on the blog, and in my classes. They’re just starting points. You have to figure out what’s best for you and your situation at this time. Great artists throughout history didn’t become known because they did what had always been done. They made a name for themselves because they did something different.
Since February 15, 2010.

What advice serves you?

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31 comments to Fail-Proof Business Advice from 10 Years of Art Biz Coach

  • Hi Alyson,
    Congratulations on your first ten years…and thank you for being a friend too…

  • Thank you for the great advice! I am finding 10 & 7 to be particularly helpful right now. Artists tend to shy away from the business aspect of creating their art, especially when it’s for a good cause or for friends.

  • Thanks Alyson. I think one of your best business and life practices is: Be generous. This is what I observe through your blog. It’s very magnetic.

  • Treat my art with more respect. I need to put my art on better canvases and not downplay it. I get a lot of nice feedback from others, but I have a hard time accepting it and treating my own art with that level of respect. But I’m getting to the point where I see the need to.

  • Congratulations Alyson on your 10 year anniversary!
    Your advice on donating art has been very helpful in helping me establish the number and type of “freebies” I contribute.
    Each year I donate prints (never originals) to a couple of my favorite non profits.
    The advice has also led me to not participate in discounted sales events in galleries. I realized that offering my work for less is a disservice to my buyers who saw the value and invested at full price.

  • Lee

    As a museum worker and art conservator I cannot underemphasize #2. The number of times that we receive damaged works due to the artist using poor materials or ill-considered packing and crating is appalling. If you feel your work is worth money invest in shipping it in appropriate protection and take the time to think about what that entails. It creates the impression that you are professional, conscientious and easy to deal with. Three things that will encourage a museum to collect your work again.

  • Every single one of these tips is pure gold! Huge thank you to Alyson for setting the standard and the pace!

    Here’s a tip I’d like to add: use caution when writing emails, comments, blog posts and websites. You don’t have to be a professional editor – just read it once more before hitting “send” or “post”. Read it aloud so you can catch any snarky tone or misspelled words. And if you have any doubts about how it might be perceived, perhaps even sleep on it first.

    P.S. I think every one in this commenting session actually followed this tip – wonderful encouragement and gratitude is expressed here!

    • Jana: Ain’t that the truth. I wish I could take back a whole slew of emails from over the years.

      Recently I decided that I would never email anyone anything that I wouldn’t want everyone in the world to see. That comes after worrying that I hit Reply All instead of Reply. Luckily, I didn’t, but the worry wasn’t worth it.

  • Congratulations, Alyson – and thank you very, very much for your helpful advice. I’m just starting to build my art business and I was so pleased to find your book – it’s just what I was looking for! I learned of you through Dreama Tollel Perry’s “Artist Toolbox” – it seems you have a well-deserved fan club!

  • Roger K. Lawrence

    Your business advice is pure gold. Thanks for sharing it.
    As a retired electrical engineer with marketing experience I am embarking on a new career in fine art. I have no fear of the marketing task. I have competed my marketing plan before I have completed my body of work. Look forward to the selling. That will be fun. We always gravitate to the familiar because we like doing it. Sound familiar?
    My problem is finding that creating high quality fine art is far more difficult than expected. I have had to knock down walls of self doubt, time & cost of learning ,
    and the discipline of working for myself.
    Alyson, your advice of acknowledging your achievement is what I needed to climb over the wall slowing me down. Thanks, I will give you credit for this in my bio.
    Roger Lawrence

  • Alyson, always offers great business advice.
    I would add:

    Work hard
    Think Smart

    Just like Thomas Edison said, “Success is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.”

  • Hi Alyson,

    Ten years – wow! Congratulations. Your advice has done more for me with my art career than anything else. These ten tips are no exception to the quality advice you continue to give out. Thank you for being you.

  • Kathleen

    Great advice, Alyson. And huge congratulations on your ten year anniversary!!

  • Alyson,
    Congratulations! I know you have helped so many artists and business professionals. When I have a question, I often look to your blog for advice.
    Thanks for all the time you put into it.

  • Thanks Alison for all the timely reminders … always good to re jog the memory and get the next few months goals re sorted .. Liz

  • Congratulations Alyson! How exciting! Hope you did something special to celebrate your 10 year anniversary! You are such a big asset and inspiration to artists everywhere! We thank you.

    And, thanks, also, for sharing your stories. Sometimes we small business owners work in a vacuum and it’s always so helpful to hear what other owners do to get the job done!

    Here’s to another wonderful 10 years ahead!

  • Alyson, I agree with all these points! Especially the one about how to clearly define how you’re going to make money as an artist. Now that I am a full time artist it is definitely the most important question I have to ask myself every morning! Not getting caught up with applying to every single local art show is a challenge for me sometimes… and thinking about the $ factor always helps with my decision.

  • Congratulations! and thank you for the brilliant post.
    If I had to select only one here it is:

    “Treat your art like it belongs in a museum”
    respect ourselves and our own work, also being CRITICAL to ourselves doing every painting better than last month’s, this is the only way to keep us growing