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Inspiration Gets You Nowhere
Many Roles, Part 1by M. C. A. Hogarth
It took me almost two decades to figure out the reason I've always run my art/writing activities as a business -- even when I haven't needed the money—is that I enjoy being a business-person. It's hard work, it's maddening, there are a thousand little details to track... but I like it all, even the fussy bits. So I've decided to unpack some of that knowledge to you in the hopes that you can use it.
This entry is Part 1 of 3 in a series entitled "Many Roles" about being a business-person in a creative field. In this post, I cover the three basic roles: Business Manager, Marketer and Artist. Artist can be taken to mean any artistic endeavor: writing, craft-making, singing... whatever you're trying to make money on. Veterans of larger companies will note that I've folded Sales into Marketing, which is a personal bias. -_-
Without further ado, then, the Three Micahs!
When running a creative business, you have several roles, all of which have responsibilities and work modes. I name these the Business Manager, the Marketer and the Artist, and have detailed them below.
Role: Business Manager
Primary Workmode: Practical and Administrative
Your Business Manager self needs to channel an inner Virgo (if you have one): meticulous, data-focused and completist. This is the self that makes lists and does chores and says, "Uh, no" to things like "Can I buy a crazy-expensive thing that we can't afford." Since I don't have an inner Virgo, I think of the Business Manager as my inner Parent; they both say 'no' a lot. -_-
The primary duty of the Business Manager is accounting: tracking expenses and revenue and calculating profit. That means every time money comes in, you write it down, and every time money goes out, you write it down... and then you subtract the one from the other to see how you're doing. The Business Manager is also in charge of maintaining lists of customers, tracking layaways or recurring purchases/income and preparing taxes.
Your Business Manager self is also charged with time-tracking: this means that you need to know how long everything you do takes, whether it's marketing, creative or your business management tasks. That really does mean everything. Runs to the post office, inputting income, drawing a new picture, researching a new art supply, social-networking, composing blog posts; all of that is a cost of doing business, and you need to record it. The Marketer will need this data to help advise the Business Manager which tasks are more profitable than others.
The Business Manager also tracks (and depreciates) all your assets, manages inventory and replaces or re-orders necessary parts. This is the part of you that shows up to sort and label all your existing art, figures out if you need to buy a new printer or brushes and purhases another year of your post office box when the rent comes due.
All businesses have processes... and the Business Manager should always be on the look-out for ways to streamline yours. If you spend less time on processes, you have more time to do everything else. Things like deciding to run all your business errands on the same day so that you aren't constantly interrupting your studio time to hit the post office fall under process-management.
This is the Self that goes out and mails out things, deposits checks, packages things, buys pens and papers and coffee.
Facing: Vendor and Financial Institutions
The Business Manager is the one buying things (with a jaundiced eye and a tight fist) and interacting with banks and financial institutions.
Outsourcing Potential: Medium.
You can get people do so some of the work of the Business Manager; it's not too hard to get someone to label things and mail them for you. You can pay for someone to prepare your taxes. This can be moderately expensive, depending on where you are or whether you have access to artist organizations. The cons? A lot of Business Management requires close interfacing with you on a day-to-day basis, or exchange of personal information. Getting other people to help you streamline your processes can be hit-or-miss if they don't know your daily routine or your personal situation.
Primary Workmode: Creative and Social
Your Marketer self is the one that spends most of her time thinking about, interacting with or guessing at what other people want. This can be a surprisingly creative process. The first question that she holds in her mind is: "How would I like to be treated as a customer?" (followed closely by "How do other people seem to like to be treated?")... which means you spend a lot of time delighting yourself by figuring out what makes you happy and trying to do that for other people.
Your inner Marketer is in charge of taking sales, revenue and expense data and using it to figure out which of your tasks are the most profitable. For instance, the Marketer might notice that selling prints at a show takes roughly 20 hours and makes $800 before expenses and $600 afterwards... while selling a single original might take 8 hours, make $500 before expenses and $450 after; this would lead your Marketer to tell Business Manager and Artist at their next meeting: "Hey, stop going to shows and produce more originals."
The Marketer is also in charge of dealing with customers. She's the one who figures out how to attract them, the one who closes the sale (and decides how to manage the sale process to make the customer feel special) and the one who keeps in touch with them afterwards to see if they're interested in new products. The Marketer's also the one who deals with problems: yours (oops, I was late delivering something I promised: here's my apology and a coupon or free cool thing) or theirs (ack, the post office bent your print, let's discuss what we can do about that).
Your Marketer is the one who develops new products and maintains existing ones. There's more than one way to sell an artist's labor; the art you make is not a product until the Marketer figures out how to sell it. You might choose to license it, sell commissioned work, package it as a book, sell it as prints, collaborate with someone else to create a different item... the possibilities are as endless as your imagination.
When you sit down to update blogs, do social networking, respond to customer queries, enter contests, send work to juried shows, design fliers or contact the local paper to offer an interview, it's your Marketer who's doing the work of advertising. She's also the one charged with research to see what your peers are up to: how are they marketing themselves? What products are they offering, and can they be adapted to your work-style? What's hot now?
The Marketer is the one dealing with patrons, audience, customers. You should always have your best face forward for them!
Outsourcing Potential: Medium-to-High.
Of all the roles you've got, Marketing and Advertising can respond the best to outsourcing (in my experience). You can hire people to run and create your website. You can buy books or read blogs that basically tell you what kind of products to sell or how to sell them. You can hire advertising firms, if you're so minded. The problem? It's very expensive. It also means your marketing is less customized to your product and work-style, which can become a problem (more on that in another entry).
Primary Workmode: Creative and Internal
Nose to the grindstone in your studio! Here's the raison d'etre for the whole business.
Your number one job as an artist is to make stuff. That's probably the reason we all signed up for this, after all. But this is ironclad: you really have to make things. You can't sit in a studio and think about making things. You can't say you're going to make things and never get around to it. You can't make things irregularly. If you're doing this as full-time work, you should be sitting in a chair doing it for most of the day.
Your other job as an artist is research. Not just what other artists are doing, though that can be helpful. You should be researching your craft (has some new technology come out that's made things easier or better? Is there a new technique you can learn somewhere?). You should be experimenting, both with the art itself and with the processes you use to create it. Your goal should be to develop as an artist, because there's no holding steady. You're either improving or stagnating. Entropy is law in this universe, and you are no less subject to it than anything else.
Related to research is practice: you should be improving your skills. This relates not just to technique, but how quickly you can turn your work around. Practice is also the only thing that will allow you to learn to estimate your time-per-project, an essential skill: this will allow you to set realistic deadlines and feed data to the Marketer about how much time it takes for you to create something.
Your creative self should be quieter than your other selves when interacting with people; by nature most people's inner Artists are passionate and that passion can often clash badly with your need to be an empathic salesperson. A lot of artists also find that talking about their work gets in the way of them doing it: they lose their interest after discussing it, or they find themselves discussing it as a way to procrastinate.
Outsourcing Potential: Low
Only you can do the work!
Now that we've met the three Micahs we're ready to move on! In Part 2, we'll cover Products and how the three roles interact with them.
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