My business plan

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You know that internet joke that goes:
1. Set up online business
2. ???
3. Profit!

Um yeah, that kind of IS my business plan!

I mean, it’s slightly more sophisticated than that. It actually goes:
1. Make lots of work
2. Show work online and in exhibitions
3. Build up reputation
4. ???
5. Make lots of money, er well, some money anyway

Seven years after graduating, I have come to the conclusion that it’s not the world’s most efficient business plan. Steps 1 to 3 are coming along nicely but unsurprisingly, steps 4 and 5 continue to elude me.

I have been struggling a lot with the money thing lately, most particularly with how it relates to my art. Recently I came to the conclusion that I’m just not comfortable with money.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem spending it – although actually I’m usually pretty sensible with that side of things. My problem is more with the concept of getting paid for what I do.

I think on some level my image of myself just doesn’t include the idea, ‘earns lots of money’. Certainly I’m much more mentally comfortable in the voluntary/low income sector. I have no idea why this is. Some misplaced notion of bohemianism, perhaps? Some basic insecurity or lack of self belief? I suspect both these things come into play but looking back, I can see that I’ve never been motivated by money. I don’t care about status symbols like fancy cars and designer clothes and as long as I have enough money to get by, I’m perfectly content.

My motivation has always been internal rather than external. I had a hard time when I was at school because I hated what I saw as all the ‘jumping through hoops’. I’ve become somewhat better at that over the years but I’m still the sort of person who will work my fingers to the bone if I’m interested in something but if I’m not interested then it’s like pulling teeth, no matter how much money you offer me.

Naturally I understand that everyone has to do things that they dislike and I’m not so spoilt that I’ll refuse to do boring things. I’ve done my share of mind-numbing paid jobs in the past and if my health was better, I probably still would be. There are also plenty of art tasks that don’t fill me with joy: I dislike documenting my work, writing exhibition proposals and doing graphics for posters but I crack on and do them because they are part of being an artist. However, I’m doing these things because getting my work out there matters to me; again it’s self motivation rather than the external motivation of money. I don’t want to get the work out there to make money, I want to get the work out there so that the work is out there. I find this makes quite a fundamental difference when it comes to the ‘getting paid’ part of the equation.

One of the most obvious ways that my conflicted relationship with money manifests is the difficulty I have with the idea of selling my art. I have wavered back and forth on this for years. There are some real practical issues – most of what I make doesn’t lend itself easily to selling. For example, because of the length of time my work takes, most of it would not be economically viable unless I charged astronomical prices.

However, I’ve noticed that I’m also extraordinarily resistant to the thought of selling my drawings, even though they’re a much easier and more realistic prospect. Oh sure, I have a ton of excuses for that one – “they’re not good enough”, “I don’t know how to sell”, “I just don’t feel ready” and “I don’t like putting a value on things that I make” – but I can see that it all comes down to my fundamental unease with money.

Another example: before today, it had never once occurred to me that my photographs might have a market. Because I don’t think of them as ‘art’, attempting to sell them had never even crossed my mind. And now that I have thought about it, I want to run away really fast! I am formulating new excuses in my head already. It’s abundantly clear that the true problem is not with the kind of work I make; it’s with the very idea of selling.

It often feels as though money is a strange language that I don’t speak. In fact, it’s as though my brain is wired in such a way that it doesn’t even recognise that it IS a language. I think I have ‘earning money blindness’, in the same way as I have ‘pass blindness’ – you could be showing very obvious interest in buying my work and I simply wouldn’t notice. Yes, this has actually happened to me – the person in question had to spell it out to me and when she did, I was completely floored and didn’t know what to do.

You see the problem – I truly suck at this stuff. Plus I clearly have ISSUES.

Expect more posts on this subject, as I work my way through this money thing. Yes, internet, you are my therapy. Aren’t you lucky!

I am an artist & purveyor of obsessive projects based in Hebden Bridge, England. My work involves the accretion of large numbers of small objects - pins in fabric, knots in string or hundreds of envelopes - to make sculptures that deal with fragility, loss, repetition, obsession and time.

7 thoughts on “My business plan

  1. Your Art can be such a intimate process that you can regard selling it as a form of prostitution. Does it’s Integrity remain if exhibited without payment?

    [Reply]

  2. Your Art can be such a intimate process that you can regard selling it as a form of prostitution. Does it’s Integrity remain if exhibited without payment?

    [Reply]

  3. I too struggle with the make money aspect, I think that in reality all I want to earn is enough to cover expenses and buy more art items…

    Even though I am sewing children’s clothes and things like that, that aren’t necessarily ‘Art’ enough of me and my time goes into the items, that they feel like small art projects each and every one, with my fabric choices definitely reflecting my personality etc.

    So people want to buy things, (person to person rather than over the site) and I always undercut myself, because I feel strange accepting ‘retail’ pricing in person, lol, its all a bit strange isn’t it! :)

    [Reply]

    Kirsty Hall Reply:

    Hi Nyssa, I’ve always been a ‘I just want to cover my costs’ person too but I’m slowly moving into thinking that I need and deserve more for what I do. It’s difficult to accept that people are going to pay for our stuff – there are so many issues of confidence, self worth and a fear of rejection tied up in it all. I think I’d be happier if I never had to deal with the money side but since it keeps rearing its head, I guess I am meant to be facing it and finding a way that works for me.

    [Reply]

  4. I too struggle with the make money aspect, I think that in reality all I want to earn is enough to cover expenses and buy more art items…

    Even though I am sewing children’s clothes and things like that, that aren’t necessarily ‘Art’ enough of me and my time goes into the items, that they feel like small art projects each and every one, with my fabric choices definitely reflecting my personality etc.

    So people want to buy things, (person to person rather than over the site) and I always undercut myself, because I feel strange accepting ‘retail’ pricing in person, lol, its all a bit strange isn’t it! :)

    [Reply]

    Kirsty Reply:

    Hi Nyssa, I’ve always been a ‘I just want to cover my costs’ person too but I’m slowly moving into thinking that I need and deserve more for what I do. It’s difficult to accept that people are going to pay for our stuff – there are so many issues of confidence, self worth and a fear of rejection tied up in it all. I think I’d be happier if I never had to deal with the money side but since it keeps rearing its head, I guess I am meant to be facing it and finding a way that works for me.

    [Reply]

  5. Being an artist is in no way different to being in any business. 'The Studio-side' of being a painter needs to have a plan. It needs sensible documentation in place ready for just that unexpected moment. e.g. a calculator for a commissioned artwork [canvas-size, materials, brushes, frame, packing, shipping, insurance etc.] And a contract document that outlines the terms of business in detail e.g. get 50% up-front…and what happens to the artwork if the balance is not paid in a defined time.

    [Reply]

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