Creating a Mobile Independent Artist Business - Part 12: Pitfalls to be Wary of

By now you should have enough information to begin setting up your own Mobile, Independent, Artist Business. Last post I looked at pricing your art, this post I'll look at some of the pitfalls that can bring you unstuck or just slow your business down.

This list is by no means exhaustive but it does cover issues that I've personally had to navigate running my own Artist Business.



Work/Life Discipline


Working for yourself it's easy to think you'll just work when you want and have more time to enjoy life as a result. Certainly you can be more flexible with your time. For example, if you're not a morning person, start work later, that kind of thing, but make no mistake, you will need to schedule a lot of your day around doing the actual work.

Try to develop a routine based around the times of day you're most receptive to doing specific types of work. You might handle administrative tasks, like book keeping or invoicing, better earlier in the day whilst you're mind is still fresh. Later in the day you might relax into more creative tasks like making your art because it's less like work and easier to deal with (perhaps it's even like a reward for getting the more 'business-like' tasks done earlier).

Whatever routine you settle into, stick to it as best you can. When you work for yourself there is always something you can be doing to work on your business.

At the same time it can be easy to fall into the trap of working all the time. Your business is with you no matter where you are. If you have clients you can easily have your time taken up just with back and forth communications. Sometimes it's hard to shut down.

It's not unreasonable to take breaks on weekends and holidays like the majority of employed people do. Clients will understand that you don't work at these times because, more than likely, they don't either. If you have an urgent deadline, it doesn't hurt to work through a weekend or holiday occasionally, just don't allow it to become a regular occurrence.

Be just as disciplined about taking time away from work as you are working on your business. Remember, you are the boss, one of the perks of working for yourself is choosing when you work.


Over Commitment


If you're in the fortunate position of having more work coming in than you can handle then great, that's an exciting time for your business (I'm assuming you're supplying a creative service here, such as illustration or Graphic design). However it can be tempting to just keep taking on work so as not to lose business without thinking if you really have the time to do the actual work.

Unfortunately taking too long to complete jobs, and especially over running deadlines, can make for bad business where you'll not only lose potential repeat business but could also develop poor word of mouth.

One way to combat this is to just explain your circumstances to clients before accepting a job so they can make their own decision on whether to wait for your service or to go with someone else. Even if they do go with someone else this time they may come back to you next time for the same reasons that drew them to you in the first place.

Another option is to still accept the work but hire your own, trusted freelancers to do the actual work in your style, with you acting as Art Director and Client liaison. This way, you still get the client but earn less money on the job due to having to pay your freelancer. In this case you'll still want to make a profit so, typically, your freelancer will earn less for the job than you'd pay yourself. Reasonably justifiable since you're taking on the role of art direction and client liaison. You should be getting paid something for that role.

If your artist based business is creating a product or things (paintings for example) you should always know your production times and only accept orders within the limits of those times. Particularly if the art you create is reliant on you actually creating it (original artworks, commissioned art etc.).


Following the Money and not the Passion


It's said that if you enjoy what you do you'll never work a day in your life. If the art you create feels a lot more like work to make it and is not something you're passionate about there's a good chance you're following the money. Creating art simply because you know that particular art makes money.

It's perfectly okay to follow the money but if it really is starting to become a daily grind don't be afraid to change direction. To create art that you enjoy again and then finding a market for it.

In my own freelance career I started out doing product illustrations, moved on to selling my own original art in a local market center, then got into website design, moved back to selling my paintings (online this time), started taking on commissioned artworks of people's pets, then transitioned into creating animated explainer videos.

If you're not enjoying the work don't be afraid to change. You don't have to drop everything immediately and move on to the next thing, a gradual transition will help bridge that gap until the next thing starts earning money you can live on.


Working for the 'Exposure' instead of getting paid


This is probably one of the most recurring traps fallen into by artists just starting out. You're approached by a person or business that isn't going to pay you but claims their project will be good exposure for your business. What they mean is, if you work for free, we'll make sure our audience knows you did the work.

It sounds really great on the surface but you really need to weigh up their offer and do your research on who their audience is. What are the odds that the exposure you get will convert into additional work/sales?

It's very tempting for me to say never do any work for the exposure but in some cases it may actually be worth it, so I'm recommending you review on a case by case basis. One example might be, say you create T-shirt designs for a local rock band to wear during their performance. The band gets the T-Shirts free so long as they allow you to sell the T-shirts to their fans.

You'll get the same exposure if the client pays you for your work (remember that). Is the kind of exposure they're offering worth more to you than getting paid for the job. If not then, decline the job and don't look back.

In my previous example of the rock band, if the band paid you for the shirt designs and the license for the images, you then wouldn't be able to sell the shirts to their fans but the band could. You'd still get the same exposure though.


Not Paying Attention to Legal Issues


There's not too much to be said here. Always, always pay attention to legal issues and work within the laws of your country. Particularly make sure you have all the correct licenses (if you need them) and pay any tax that is a legal requirement.

Many businesses have come unstuck for doing the wrong thing (even unknowingly) and ended up paying heavy fines or worse as a result.

Staying legal is not hard. Mostly it's research and maybe filling out forms, etc. It may not be the most exciting thing to do but, because you're working for yourself, it's your responsibility to make sure everything you do is legitimate.


Spending all your Profits


Any full time, independent artist will tell you that, starting out, keeping the money coming in wasn't always consistent or a sure thing. They may also tell you that it still isn't depending on where they're at with their careers.

By all means you should enjoy the money you earn. Reward yourself for your successes however you like with a fun purchase. A gift to yourself for being successful in your business. Just do so within your means. In other words budget. Plan ahead. Make sure your business has money to cover the bills if you have a lean month of few sales.

It's not a good look to reward yourself with an expensive meal in one of the best restaurants in town if it means your business is going to tank due to a lack of cash a few weeks later.

If you are going to reward yourself, spend proportionately to the money you've earned and always make sure your business can survive a few months into the future with few or even no sales.


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I'm sure there are other pitfalls to be wary of. Many can be avoided if you just take a step back and think about your next steps instead of blindly moving forward before understanding what impact doing so will have on your business.

Which is probably the most important point. Don't just work in your business, make sure you also work on your business. Keep an eye on how things are going overall and that you're taking the business in the direction that is the most fulfilling for you.

Next post will be the final one in the series where I'll look at how you can expand your mobile business in order to work less and, ideally, earn more.





This post is part of a series called Creating a Mobile Independent Artist Business. Read earlier parts at the links below:

Part 1: Introduction and Equipment
Part 2: Business Software
Part 3: Creative Software
Part 4: Social and Marketing Software Plus Your Website
Part 5: Documenting and Sharing Your Work in Progress
Part 6: Photographing and Preparing Your Art for Printing
Part 7: Maximizing Your Art By Creating Variations
Part 8: Legal Obligations and Employee Care Plan
Part 9: What to Create and Finding Your Market
Part 10: Opportunities to make money (Part A)
Part 10: Opportunities to make money (Part B)
Part 11: Pricing Your Art

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