Cash Flow for an Artists: What Is It and Why You Need to Pay Attention to It

Have you ever opened your banking app to look at your balance, only to find it’s much lower than you thought it would be? Not my favorite feeling either, but if you have encountered this sensation, then you’ve experienced the effects of cash flow!

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Just like you need to keep an eye on your personal account balance to make sure you have sufficient funds to live, so too do you need to pay attention to what’s coming in and going out of your business to sustain your practice. That, in a nutshell, is cash flow. 

When mastered, strong cash flow for an artist can make the difference between a business that’s healthy and one that’s no longer in business, or the difference between making more art or waiting for the next check. Let’s take a closer look at what cash flow for an artist  is, how to ensure you have a positive cash flow, and the impact that it can have on your arts business. 

 

What Is Cash Flow?

Cash flow is the movement of money through your business. Typically speaking, money coming into your business is revenue, while money going out of your business is expenses. Cash flow for an artist takes into account both revenues and expenses to date, as well as future revenues and expenses. In this sense, it’s also a forecast of what you can expect financially.  

Cash flow is calculated over a duration of time. Frequently it is analyzed over the course of a month, but you might also calculate the flow for a day, week, quarter, or year. A month tends to be most helpful as “bills” or invoices from vendors are usually calculated on a monthly basis. 

What Is Positive Cash Flow?

Cash ebbs and flows; sometimes we have more cash on hand, sometimes we have less. Having a positive cash flow for an artist means that more money is coming into your business than going out. It’s a sign that your business is healthy. It’s important to note that this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re profitable, as things can change over time. 

The dynamic nature of your cash position makes it important to look at your cash flow monthly. Consistent check ups allow you to a) ensure you’re not spending more than you’re taking in and b) adjust your forecast of revenue and expenditures of future cash flow to keep sufficient funds on hand to stay operational. And yes, when you are in business for yourself you can control the expenses and revenue. You can put more energy into marketing and sales to increase revenue, and you can reduce costs by changing vendors for products and services.

Additionally, a cash flow report for a certain period is often required by banks and lenders in cases where you need to take a business loan. 

 

How to Calculate Cash Flow

There are a number of ways to calculate cash flow for an artist, some more complex than others. If you’ve invested in an accounting tool, they frequently offer a cash flow report, but it’s good to still understand how it’s measured. 

A basic cash flow formula looks like this:

Income – Expenses

So, for example, let’s say last month you sold $5,000 worth of art. But you also spent $3,000 in expenses such as supplies and materials, studio rent, utilities, etc. during the same time period. You therefore have a $2,000 positive cash flow for the month; i.e. $5,000 revenue – $3,000 expenses = $2,000 cash flow) .

You can certainly project the same numbers out over a time period, but it’s important to take into consideration that both revenue and expenses are likely to fluctuate over time. That is, you’re not going to necessarily bring in $5,000 every single month, and your expenses may shift based on your business activities. 

But, let’s say you want to project your cash flow for the next four months. That’s a little trickier, particularly for an artist with revenues and expenses that fluctuate. A cash flow report might look like this:

January February March April
Cash at beginning of period $5,000 $7,000 $5,000 $9,000
Estimated Revenue  $5,000 $2,000 $6,000 $3,000
Estimated expenses $3,000 $4,000 $2,000 $3,000
Final Cash on Hand (change in cash + cash at beginning) $7,000 $5,000 $9,000 $9,000

 

Of course, your cash flow report should be more detailed, with itemized expenses and potentially income (particularly if you have multiple income sources). 

Ultimately, putting together a cash flow report and reviewing it on a monthly basis will help ensure you’re staying on top of expenses, operating within the bounds of your income, and whether or not your business is on a positive track. 

Your cash flow report can also help you prioritize your activities. If you need more revenue, you may want to work on your sales or marketing. If you have ample cash on hand, it may be time to invest in new equipment or more materials. Understanding cash flow for an artist, can give you more time in the studio with better gear to make the things you want to make!

 

Want help putting together a cash flow statement? I’m happy to help! Set up a time to chat with me or check out one of our Coworking with Creatives sessions

How to Make Money Online as an Artist

A common question artists ask me is how to sell their work online. For some artists, such as those who work in digital mediums, the answer is usually straightforward how to make money online. But for others whose work is more visceral, the answer isn’t always as clear. There are a number of ways artists can use the web to make money online, but there are tradeoffs for the convenience of selling work while you sleep. 

Let’s take a closer look at three common online sales channels open to artists and see how they might help you make money online as an artist.

 

Your Website

Every artist should have a website to share their portfolio and artist statement. But some artists may want to take their site a step further by turning it into a place to actually sell artwork online. Setting this up can be done fairly easily, even if you don’t know how to code. Sites like Shopify and Wix make setting up a personal website marketplace fairly easy, or if you use WordPress, there’s the Woocommerce plugin, which is free but can be a bit more challenging to figure out.

Benefits:

  • You 100% own the site and can control the content and presentation
  • You can set the price of your artwork
  • General low financial overhead

Costs:

  • You have to pay for the domain name and website hosting 
  • Potential additional costs for shop/market platform or plugin (e.g. Shopify costs a minimum of $29/month)
  • Setting up and maintaining an ecommerce site takes time and energy
  • You have to manage your own purchase fulfillment: packaging, cost of shipping, and logistics of shipping

 

Online Fine Art Gallery

There are many art galleries who have digitized over the years, as well as several galleries that are only present online. Ugallery is one of my favorites. Similar to a real-world art gallery, an online gallery curates and sells artist works, often across a variety of media. Some galleries will specialize in a specific medium, a specific geography, etc. Some might be local to you, while others might be more global. 

Benefits

  • You do not have to run your own digital market place or shop
  • Gallery will market your work for you
  • Professional representation and presentation of your artwork
  • Can potentially be passive income 

Cost

  • Limited control of the online experience for your audience
  • Galleries take commissions or charge fees for services
  • You may still have to handle shipping to customer or gallery
  • You may not be excited about the marketing or lack of marketing by the galley
  • Can’t control your own prices

 

Online Marketplaces

Online marketplaces might be the best of both worlds in terms of selling work online. Marketplaces offer the opportunity to control how your work is presented without the financial or time commitment needed to manage your own website. In some ways, they’re similar to online galleries, but they tend to have larger audiences. Etsy is likely the most well-known online marketplace for creative businesses, but there are others. 

Benefits:

  • Control over pricing and presentation
  • Established marketplace brand name
  • Community of other sellers

Costs:

  • Fees for each sale
  • Algorithm often drives visibility and you do not control the algorithm
  • You have to do your own marketing
  • You have to do your purchase fulfillment

Of course, these aren’t your only options for selling artwork online. There are also social media ecommerce channels like Facebook, as well as online merchandising sites. We’ll cover those in a separate post.

 

Feeling a little lost? I’m happy to help you figure out which of these channels is right for you. Contact me to set up a chat or check out one of our upcoming Coworking with Creatives sessions. 

Making Myths and Luxuries: Branding Lessons for Artists

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In the corporate world, we talk about “brand” to discuss a company’s identity. Much like human identities, there are many brand possibilities for companies. Brands can be fun and playful, irreverent, serious, etc.

While the word brand might be too stiff or formal for an artist’s business, artists still have an identity. And developing your identity is key to being successful. For artist entrepreneurs, it can be fun and valuable to explore what identity they want their business to have. Artist branding doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

 

What Is a Brand?

We often think of a brand as a logo, but it’s a lot more than a stylish symbol. A common phrase in corporate marketing is, “A brand is what your customers say it is.” In other words, a brand is the emotional connection between the company, its products, and the customer. A brand is complex; it is the essence of a company and the relationship of that essence to its audience. 

When customers buy something from a brand they like, they’re not just buying a product or a service. They’re buying meaning, something that goes beyond function and reflects on how the customer views themselves. 

 

Something similar can be said for art. 

 

Certainly, most people don’t buy art for its functional value the way they buy, say, a pair of shoes or a car. They buy art for how it makes them feel. A big part of that is the storytelling that happens around the art, what I like to call the Myth.

 

Myth Making for Artists

What makes one artist more well-known than another? Is it that their work is better than others? 

Sometimes a revered artists work IS better, but likely what makes an artist more well known than another is differentiation! More often than not, it’s the myths created around the artist and their artwork that heighten the audience’s value of the creative output. In branding, we call this “myth” a brand story.

 

What is a myth, exactly? 

 

It’s more than a story. Myths often have some common characteristics, including:

  • A story with a nearly unbelievable—but still possible—arc. 
  • An origin, a transformation, and an expansive possibility

Myths are created to teach us, to inspire us, and to help us understand our own experiences in the world. The ability to craft and articulate a myth can be very valuable to an artist seeking to sustain themselves through the sale of their artwork.

 

For artists, this usually translates to:

  • An origin story somewhere between truth and fiction, but that showcases the artist’s humanity. It is where you are from in all aspects. Your hometown, your family, your friends and colleagues, and all the unique things and experiences that make you, YOU.
  • A transition where they experience concepts and learn skills to turn ideas into things. It is how you emerged as an artist. Your early experiences. The teacher that recognizes your talent. The training that refined you. The critique that made you. The transition is the awareness of you as a creative force.  A vision of things yet to exist. The artist has dreams of concepts, ideas and inventions that will enrich them as a creator.

 

So how does myth making translate to selling art? To understand this, it’s important to understand what type of business you want to be and to develop a myth that embraces the type. 

 

Three Types of Businesses

There are essentially three types of business: Commodity, Premium, and Luxury. Let’s take a quick look at what each of these are. 

 

Commodity Business 

Commodities are interchangeable goods or services. Their price is controlled by the customer, who can buy any number of products or services that are nearly the same  from a selection of vendors. For example, it doesn’t matter whether they buy the store brand of sugar or a name brand. The product is essentially the same and the creator has no control over the price.

 

Fine art is rarely sold as a commodity, though there are certainly websites where artists can sell various quality prints of their work as a commodity. This might be most akin to an unlimited print run.

 

Premium Business

A premium business sells differentiated products or services based on quality of material, skill, or customer support. The prices are often tied to what the market will bear, but is also greatly influenced by the quantity and expansiveness of offerings that supply has created in the marketplace. The creator has some control over the price, although the peers that they are competing with will influence price as well.

 

For an artist business, a premium business model can make a lot of sense. The artist often selects ideal materials for their creations and their skill is often high caliber. Together, the quality of materials and expertise of craftsmanship to make a work of art can command premium pricing, although your price may be influenced by your fellow premium peers.

 

Luxury Business

Luxury businesses are distinguished from the other types based on often irrational, subjective reasons. Products and services in this category are driven by scarcity, usually manufactured, and priced much higher than the value of the materials or skill needed to create them. In some ways, luxury products transcend reality by enabling the customer to be, think, say or do something beyond themselves. 

 

Think of almost any high-end luxury clothing brand where it’s all about the designer’s name and the brand rather than the material of the product or the skill of the person actually making the goods (either by hand or using machines). 

 

Art easily lends itself to this category, and much of society also sees art as a luxury. Not only is art a perspective, expression or manifestation of an idea that reflects the buyer, but its supply is greatly limited, it is usually unique, and only the artist has the skill and experience to create it. As a luxury brand, the artist and their business team can have significant control of the price.

 

Where Does Your Artist Business Fit In?

So what do these three types of businesses have to do with making myths? Oftentimes, the myth defines the business type. In other words, your art might be totally differentiated from every single piece of art out there. But it is your myth—your story, your skill, your experiences, etc.—that defines whether your art is a commodity, a premium product, or a luxury experience. How accessible your myth is to your audience also plays an important role. If no one knows the myth–or understands it–it kind of doesn’t exist!

 

Keep in mind that you may work through all three of these types of businesses over your art career. You might start at the commodity level, maybe churning out similar, less differentiated work at first. Then, as both your artistic vision and business skills mature, you might morph into a premium business, making fewer pieces (i.e. reducing supply) and growing the perceived value of your work. Finally, you might further refine your model to develop luxury pieces and services, such as painting commissioned murals in a customer’s home or designing Diadora’s next show line.

 

Ultimately, the direction you choose to take your business is yours. But if you need guidance in refining your vision and understanding how to build a business that supports your art, I’m here to help. Contact me to discuss how to build your income as an artist in a way that aligns with your artistic vision.

 

Accounting Tools for Artists

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Let’s face it: Doing accounting for your business probably isn’t at the top of the list of things you enjoy doing. After all, you probably became an artist to express yourself, and spreadsheets and tracking income and expenses is probably not your preferred medium. Yet, as someone who wants to earn a living doing what you love most, you need to do at least a little bit of accounting.  

“Why?” you may ask yourself. 

For one, it is important to know your financial health. Just as taking care of your physical health allows you to create more art, a healthy perspective on your money will serve both your business and your creativity. Of course, you want to make sure you report the right amount of income and pay your taxes correctly in order to avoid major penalties and life-wrecking finances later down the road. And you might be surprised by how exciting it can be when you can see how your business is doing financially—especially when you’re profitable. Good accounting will also improve your pricing! Ultimately good accounting can give you more time in the studio and less time worrying.

Luckily, technology is here to help! There are a number of great financial tools for artists out there to help with accounting. Here are three that I like to use and that I’ve seen work well for some of my clients. 

Before we get to the financial tools for artists, it is important to note that the best tools for your business are the ones you will use. A powerful and great looking app may not be as helpful as a paper and pen sometimes. Choose the tool you want to learn and are willing to embrace!

Spreadsheets

I know, you’re probably thinking there’s nothing less interesting than a spreadsheet. I feel your pain. But hear me out:  The spreadsheet is a powerful tool that, when set up correctly, can make accounting a breeze while also giving you all the information you need to properly run your business. 

The best thing about spreadsheets:  You can set spreadsheets up anyway you like. They’re incredibly flexible to serve multiple purposes, and they are low cost or even free!

The worst thing about spreadsheets:  You have to have a basic understanding of how they work and how to manipulate them to get the most use out of them. They are also pretty boring to look at.

The good news is that there are plenty of templates out there that might be perfect for you, so you don’t have to start from scratch. There are also plenty of resources on how to utilize spreadsheets and even set them up for financial purposes. Finally, there are a number of free platforms out there that offer spreadsheets, such as Google Sheets or Apache Open Office. So, it’s often just a matter of finding the platform you prefer and choosing an appropriate template. 

Spreadsheets are a great financial tool for artists that are just getting started in business. The price is right, they are pretty easy to learn how to use and understand, and there are many individuals who utilize spreadsheets and can possibly help.

 

Quickbooks

Sometimes, it’s good to just pick a well known entity. And in the world of accounting tools, that winner is Quickbooks.

Quickbooks is the industry go-to for accounting software for small business owners. Unlike spreadsheets, you  have to pay for Quickbooks, but they offer a few different packages to fit different budgets. The cool thing about Quickbooks is its many functions.  You can track income and expenses, use it to send invoices to customers, send reminder invoices to customers, manage and pay bills, track inventory, and prepare for your taxes.Quickbooks offers a lot of automation and can connect to your bank account too. Quickbooks might be worth the investment as it will save you a ton of time and headaches.  It also generates reports that can help you make better business decisions that give you more resources (money) and enables more time to create.

Quickbooks is a great  financial tool for artists who have figured out their business to some degree. They likely have gone through a tax season or two and know what their sources of revenue are and what expenses to track. There are excellent resources and lots of professionals to help set it up as well as possibly do the financial work. It is a great financial tool for an artist who wants to automate some of their finance work and is interested in how finances can influence operational decisions.

The challenging thing about Quickbooks is that it requires at least a basic understanding of accounting terminology and principles. It also requires a bit of time and effort to set it up properly. You can certainly do this yourself, but there are plenty of accountants out there who are more than happy to help you with this.

HoneyBook

Want something that’s easy to learn, easy to use, and kinda pretty? If so, you might want to consider HoneyBook.

HoneyBook calls itself a platform to get everything done that you need to. In addition to accounting features, it can help you manage projects, clients, proposals, and more. It helps you manage essential documents (contracts, invoices, etc.), and  allows you to streamline client communications into a single platform. You can  manage bookings (such as if you’re scheduling photoshoots) and payments. Honeybook can be a great place to manage your customer contacts, particularly for relationships points like quotes/estimates, invoices, and tax reporting.  For the full price ($390/year at the time of this writing) you get all the platform’s features, but they do have more affordable plans if you don’t want to make that level of financial commitment. 

Honeybook is a great financial tool for artists who want to integrate their finances, customer information, and production calendar, while creating a high-touch experience for customers. It doesn’t quite have the support system of spreadsheets and Quickbooks, but there are resources and individuals who can help get things set up properly.

 

Want to learn more about financial tools for artists? You’ve come to the right place. Check out my upcoming Finance Friday coworking session where we’ll discuss all things financial for your artist business. Or if you have a burning question now, don’t hesitate to contact me

 

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Pricing Artwork doesn’t have to be magic: How do I Price My Artwork?

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“How much should I sell my art for?” 

Too often, I find that artists asking that question don’t have a good sense of what their work is worth and are vastly undervaluing their art. 

Case in point: I have a client who was recently offered a commission for $2,000. It sounded great on the surface, but when we dug into the details, we realized the project would run six weeks and prevent the client from doing any other work. Projecting out based on that one project, this artist would make less than $18,000/year. Basically minimum wage. 

Your work is worth more than that, isn’t it? I certainly hope you believe it is. 

So how should you price your art? 

 

Subjective vs. Objective Pricing

Artists frequently price their work subjectively, meaning they give it a price based on what they think its value is. But price and value are two different things. 

Value is what an artwork is worth to somebody. It’s subjective because many factors go into the value of an artwork, such as the owner’s sentiment towards it, rarity, age, etc. When we say something has a “market value,” that’s basically what a piece could get in a market. But that doesn’t always mean it’s what someone is willing to pay. 

Price, on the other hand, is objective. Or at least it’s based on some objective measures. Price is a function of supply and demand (I know…economics terms always make me groan, too). As an artist, you control the supply of your artwork and you can influence the demand (see blog post: art marketing plan). 

 

How to Price Your Art

Luckily, there’s a relatively simple way to price your art (the objective part), though it does require a little bit of math.

(Good accounting can help you with this part)

First, you need to consider what the cost of your supplies are. That includes all the items you need to make your art (tools, materials, etc.) but it also includes things like your rent for your studio, electricity and heating costs, etc. Basically, anything that you need to create your work should be included. This is where tracking your finances comes in handy. 

Secondly, you need to figure out your hourly rate. Even though we don’t like to think of ourselves as hourly workers, this is an essential step to coming up with a fair market price for your work. To calculate this, consider what you would like to make annually before taxes. For the sake of simplicity, let’s just say $52,000/year. 

To calculate your hourly rate, you need to divide the annual salary by the number of hours you work each week. First, divide your annual salary by 52 (there are 52 weeks in the year), and then divide that number by the number of hours you work. For argument’s sake, let’s say 40, since that’s the standard for full-time work. Here’s what that looks like:

$52,000/52 weeks = $1,000 per week

$1000 per week/40 hours = $25/hour

That’s your hourly rate. Now, consider how long it takes you to complete a single piece of art. Let’s say something took you five hours to finish. 

5 x $25/hour = $125

But that doesn’t account for things like supplies. Let’s say it costs you $50 in supplies to make a particular piece. Thus, your total cost would be $175 (your labor and supplies). It’s important to note that this should be considered the base price. Don’t forget you have to add in other factors like a portion of your studio rent, insurance, marketing costs and other overhead items. The price needs to be closer to $300 (labor + supplies + overhead)

Ultimately, how you price your work should be a combination of objective (the real costs like labor, supplies and overhead)  and subjective (the desirability, rarity and non-measurable things) approaches. It should meet your bare minimum of what you need to make to sustain yourself as an artist, of course, AND you can also take into consideration how others feel about your art.  The good news is, that could be a whole lot more than you think!

If pricing still feels a bit overwhelming, don’t worry. It takes time to figure out your numbers. It can also be helpful to have someone to talk to about it. Feel free to reach out for a chat if you want more space to think out loud with someone. 

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How to sell your artwork: Know Your Value

 

Cute English Bulldog in Hat

Charlie is more than a dog. She is constant love and creator of joy.

 

People ask regularly how I ended up in the arts with my background from rural Minnesota and two engineering degrees. I will spare the details of the journey for another post, but my vocation in the arts is due to my recognition that art is the most valuable creation of humankind. 

 

Art is hoarded by people in positions of influence across history and frankly, it is what endures from every civilization. As much as we revere science and technology today, they will always be a part of the process, never the destination. 1000 years from today our data and the findings gleaned will make us look like flatearthers and I have no doubt the iPhone 12 will overwhelmingly end up in the heap of refuse.

 

What is it about art that makes it so valuable?

 

To the creators, their artwork is an opportunity to be fully seen. Art is the tool we use to express ourselves. It brings the deepest parts of our being into the world. The word on paper, the paint on canvas, the harmony of stroked keys, the movement through space and the images captured on film are the manifestations of our thinking, our feeling and our intuitions. The work we create is the essence of who we are. It allows us to understand ourselves and just as important it allows others to understand us as well.

 

To other individuals, artwork is an opportunity to also be seen as well as expand the resources that are available to them. An artist allows their audience to say things that they could never put into words themselves. But more powerfully, the artist and their work allows the audience to think, to feel, and to sense the world in ways beyond their own faculties. Artworks allow the audience to gain knowledge, to build new relationships and to navigate the world in new ways. Through art, the audience is able to open up new opportunities.

 

When the audience becomes more than another individual the artwork is amplified. Society operating with a collective idea, feeling or sensation is a powerful tool for world changing activity. Art is often the catalyst that bends the universe towards love, justice and all the good things we aspire to. And yes, I should note it can also be used for detriment in the wrong hands.

 

Art has incredible power, for the creator, the audience and society and as such it is incredibly valuable! 

 

My vocation is to help artists harness the value of their artwork so they can impact the world, and simultaneously help the audience harness the power of art to enrich their own lives and the world around them.

 

THIS IS THE FIRST PART IN A MULTIPART SERIES ON SELLING ART