Tag Archives: working as an artist

Business Goals for 2018

~ by Maria Benner

As the Business & Marketing Manager, I’m the one responsible for keeping our art business alive, and an important part of that is setting goals.  I recently reviewed our goals for 2017, and breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that we accomplished all of them.  I also made a mental note to check in on our goals more often.  So, for the new year we have new goals.

  1. Create a new website to sell art directly to customers.  Currently all of our online sales are through our Etsy shop RealArtIsBetter.  Etsy has great SEO, and brings customers to us from all over the world, however, we have to pay a percentage fee for each sale, and potential customers can easily be distracted by other Etsy sellers while shopping for similar items.  Selling from our own website will hopefully generate more brand awareness, and we’ll pay a lower monthly flat fee.  We’ll also keep selling art through Etsy, just to keep reaching a broader audience.
  2. Design an autonomous order fulfillment system.  Right now we are fulfilling all orders.  We make prints on demand, and package all prints and originals ourselves, print the shipping labels, and drop everything off at the post office.  The drawback is that while we’re traveling, or spending time at our cabin in McCarthy, our business is on hold, because we’re not around to mail orders.  The goal is to find a company online that will print and mail our prints for us.  We will still have to mail originals ourselves, but prints make up the majority of our sales.
  3. Publish our first book How to Draw Alaska Baby Animals.  We have been working on this project for a couple years, but it always seems to take a back seat to more pressing tasks.  Scott designed how-to-draw pages for 49 different Alaska baby animals, and is in the finishing stages of designing the book cover.  He also painted several colorful oil paintings to include in the book.  I drew every single one to make sure there were no errors.  Now we just need a table of contents, a foreward, and to finish the final layout.  Then we’ll have to figure out how to publish a book, and to find buyers for it.  This task seems a bit challenging, but people publish books all the time, so I know it’s doable.

Those are our main three goals, and they will be enough for this year.  Most of the work gets accomplished in the winter time, which is already half way over!  In the summer we’re fishing, traveling, and just generally flying by the seat of our pants.  So wish us luck!

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Another year at the studio space.

~by Maria Benner

Scott's painting area all cleaned up after the Christmas painting rush.

Scott’s painting area all cleaned up after the Christmas painting rush.

We’ve been leasing our studio space in the 4th Avenue Market Place for a little over a year now, and last week we signed another year-long lease.  When we signed the first lease, the property manager told us that our rent would increase at the end of our year, because we’d be charged for utilities, which were free for the first year as an introductory offer.  So at the end of the year we sent the property manager an e-mail stating that we’d like to renew our lease for another year, or even two, and listed several reasons why we shouldn’t have to pay a higher rate.  Negotiating is always tough, and at first we were told that if we sign a lease, our rate would increase despite our request.  There was a caveat, however.  If we lease month-to-month, our rate will stay the same.  So we figured, why wouldn’t we do that?  I suppose if someone came along with a better offer, we would be asked to leave.  Then after about two months, out of the blue, the property manager agreed to our offer to keep the rent the same as the introductory rate, if we sign a lease.  So we went ahead and did it.  We don’t know how long we’ll be renting that space, and whether rent will go up next year, but for now we’ll be there for another year at least.  A big challenge of running an art business is keeping overhead as low as possible, so we’re glad we got a break on our lease.  I mean, the view alone is a major reason we love the studio!

A big reason we love our studio is the view!

A big reason we love our studio is the view!

What Does an Artist’s Business Manager Do?

~ by Maria Benner (Scott Clendaniel’s wife and Business & Marketing Manager)

Last week I ran into two acquaintances who I haven’t seen in a couple years, and both of them asked me what I’m doing for a living these days.  So I told them that I’ve been working full time as Scott’s Business & Marketing Manager for the last four years.  Then I realized that some people don’t really know what I do.  I have an MBA, so Scott and I make a great team for operating an art business.  Here’s a sample of my task list:

Follow up with potential clients (or make sure that Scott does)

Reply to inquiries about Scott’s art, sometimes about licensing or merchandising

Manage the Etsy shop that accounts for 50% of our sales

Create and send out invoices, and keep track of unpaid ones

Photograph all paintings and edit the photos so we can make limited-edition fine art prints

Package and mail orders (Scott helps with this)

Handle custom stickers sales (Scott and I are distributors for a custom stickers manufacturer)

Order supplies

Negotiate contracts

Edit/write blog entries

Manage social media platforms

Compose and send e-mail blasts (click here to sign up 🙂

Seek out new opportunities for sales, a.k.a. business development

Maintain the website

Apply for grants and public art projects

Organize art shows and open studio events

Manage business finances

Learn about running an art business through blogs, podcasts, books, etc.

This is not a complete list, but should be enough to give people an idea of what I do.  There is no way one person can make art, and tackle the business end, which explains the “starving artist” myth.  Most creative souls just want to create, but not all are lucky to have business-minded individuals taking care of the business end.  I love my job, and am glad I finally let Scott talk me into being his Business Manager!

10 Things We Learned about Being Self-Employed

~ by Maria Benner

Scott and I have both been working full-time on our art business, Real Art Is Better, for about four years now, and we’ve learned a few things about being self-employed.  So here are the top ten.

  1. Most people were not supportive when we started working for ourselves.  They told us we were being too risky, that we would become a burden on our society’s safety net, and that we were slacking on building a retirement.  This reaction was a big surprise to me, because I was always under the impression that self-starters and entrepreneurs are respected role models in America.  I learned that first we had to prove ourselves to these people, before they would start taking our business seriously.  After four years, some people still ask me what I’m doing now, as if being a Business Manager is not enough.
  2. There is no regular paycheck.  People expect us to pay our bills on time, but when we send out invoices, we have to wait for weeks to get paid.  Most times I have to send reminders.  We have to keep a very close eye on cash flow, and keep a list of IOUs.
  3. Hiring a tax accountant was one of the best things we did for our business.  We were using TurboTax, and I wasn’t doing our taxes correctly.  Also, it’s nice to know that if we need advice about a business decision that could affect our taxes, we can ask our tax accountant.
  4. Speaking of taxes, there are a lot of extra taxes for the self-employed.  We have to pay a self-employment tax, and contribute more to Social Security.  We also found out about the Business Property tax.  Turns out the Municipality of Anchorage collects a tax on business assets if they total over $20,000.  Luckily, we don’t fall into that category, but we were really confused when we received that notice.
  5. We spend a lot of time dealing with administrative tasks like book keeping, setting up our annual health insurance plans, reading and negotiating contracts, collections, etc.  Sure was nice to just focus on my job, knowing that my employer had a team of people working on such tasks, but I guess I’m learning more about the real world this way.
  6. We work almost every day.  In the last two months, we’ve taken five days off.  Sometimes if we decide to take a day off mid-week, we’ll make that happen, but we have to plan ahead.  We had more time off when we worked for someone else.  However, we can work while we’re traveling, so our jobs don’t hold us in place, and we can take more trips.  We just can’t be gone for more than two weeks before the business starts to suffer.  Luckily, we like our jobs, so we don’t need a lot of time off from them.
  7. When it comes to planning our day, we have a lot more flexibility.  We go running in the morning when the air quality is better, then sit down to a nice breakfast, and then get to work.  We end up working until 6 or 7 PM, as a result, but we don’t mind.  During the working part of our day, we are very productive, working straight for several hours, with a short break for lunch.  One of the best things about being self-employed is not having to wake up to an alarm, and not having set hours.
  8. There are days when things are going really well, and we think our business is unstoppable, and there are days when we experience a set-back and have doubts about the future of our business.  Those days are actually beneficial, because they motivate us to think outside the box to generate more income, but I still don’t like them.
  9. Working for yourself means there are fewer filters for your ideas.  Sometimes it’s nice not having to gain someone else’s approval before acting on a great idea.  Other times, it would be nice to have a second or third opinion, so we end up Googling, or crowd sourcing, or talking to friends and family instead of coworkers.
  10. Setting and following standard operating procedures is important.  That’s a given at a company, but when we started our business, we were just flying by the seats of our pants.  We’ve spent a lot of time figuring out and honing procedures.  The learning curve has been huge!

In conclusion, we both agree that we prefer working for ourselves, and our goal is not to have to work for someone else in the future.  However, we constantly have to be on our toes to keep the business rolling.  No slacking allowed.  One of my favorite quotes is, “If you don’t build your dream, someone else will hire you to build theirs.”

A Day in the Life of an Artist

Artist Scott Clendaniel working in his studio

People often ask my wife and me what we do all day, because we both work at home on our art business.  I work as an artist full time, and my wife, Maria, is the business and marketing manager.  She also spends about an hour every morning trading stocks.

We wake up around 6 AM, excited to start the day.  First thing every morning is Coffee Time, during which we spend an hour reading the news, checking e-mail and social media, and perusing Craigslist ads while we drink espresso and smoothies.

After Coffee Time I take care of any graphic design work on the iMac, while Maria manages her stock portfolio on the PC laptop.  One of the facets of our art business is being distributors for a custom stickers manufacturer, so some days I prepare bid requests for stickers at this time.  When I am done with graphics/stickers work, I change into my painting clothes and head into my studio.  I check my paint palette to see if the paint is too old, and if it is, I mix a new palette.  While I’m working in the studio I listen to the radio, music, books on tape, or Russian language learning CD’s.  I work for about 90-minute stretches, and take 15-30 minute breaks in between.  Around 9:30 AM, when the sun finally rises, both of us stop working to take time for our health.  We stretch, do push-ups and go jogging.  This takes about an hour and a half.

After lunch, I return to the studio and work for a couple 90-minute sessions.  I try not to rush, so usually I only complete part of a painting, but on days when I’m on fire, I can start and finish a couple small paintings.  While I’m painting in the studio, Maria works on the computer in the living room.  She searches for companies that license art and contacts them if she thinks my art is a good fit.  She also manages my Etsy shop, and my website, contacts bloggers asking them to feature my art, and follows up about potential art sales.  

During my 15-30 minute breaks from painting in the studio I make phone calls to patrons, and reply to e-mails.  Other tasks include photographing my work, checking on my paintings and prints at galleries and shops, packaging and shipping art work, and shopping for supplies.

We stop working around 5 PM, unless I have an art opening, in which case, our work day is much longer because we usually have to hang the art in the evenings, and art openings the next day last until about 9 PM.  We rarely take a whole day off, and try to keep our schedule flexible so we can take advantage of fun opportunities.  Everyday I go to bed feeling satisfied about my work.

5 Things People Ask Me When I Tell Them I Work as an Artist

Oil paint palette

My palette with freshly-mixed oil paint.

When I meet people for the first time, they normally ask what I do for a living.  Here are the top five questions I get when I tell them I’m an artist.

1. But what do you really do?
I’m tempted to say that I sell drugs on the side, but that wouldn’t go over well.  Despite the starving artist myth, it is possible for an artist to make a living.  Being an artist is a real job.  I sell paintings and prints online, in galleries, at gift shops.  I am also a distributor for a custom stickers manufacturer, and occasionally I do graphic design.

2. What kind of art do you do… what do you paint?
I’m an oil painter, because I like the bright vivid colors of this medium and it’s most durable.  As for subject matter, I sell a lot of still-life paintings of beer, but I also paint trees, landscapes, bicycles, antique autos, but the sky is the limit and sometimes I paint that too.

3. How much money do you make?
I can’t believe people ask me this, but they do… a lot.  I would never ask anyone that.  I make enough to pay the bills, but when I’m dead, I’ll make a lot more.  But seriously, I understand why people are curious.  Everyone wishes s/he could be an artist (because people don’t know how much work it takes).

4. Where do you sell your art?
I sell paintings and prints at art shows, in galleries, brew pubs, coffee shops, cafés, gift shops, and from my online shop on Etsy.com.  My wife works as my business/marketing manager, and helps me with networking online and in person.  I have upcoming shows at The Maury Pottery Sale in December, two shows at the Loft at Midnight Sun Brewing Company in January and in June, a show at Tap Root Public House in August, and a show at Modern Dwellers Chocolate Lounge in October 2014.

5. Do you make ends meet?
From what I’ve heard, many Americans can’t make ends meet (yet they still drive fancy cars, and live in huge houses).  We used to substitute teach to make ends meet, but realized that that was counter-productive to our long-term art business vision.  So we quit subbing last January and have been working on the art business full time, and yes, we have been able to pay the bills.  My wife also trades stocks and gets a couple tour guiding gigs each summer, but most of our revenue comes from selling my art.  We wake up and get to work early each day and sometimes we work on weekends as well.  Being your own boss takes a lot of discipline, but if we want to make money we have to do the work.  A major key is to keep overhead low.  My wife and I live in a small condo, drive an old truck, rarely go out to eat, and tend to spend money on quality experiences rather than material possessions.

Phew, that was a mouthful, and that’s why I get a little tongue tied when people fire all these questions at me one after the other.