6 Ways for Artists and Creative Professionals to Learn Business

If you are reading this article I probably don’t have to convince you that business skills are an important part of any creative career whether you are in business for yourself or you work for someone. The business world has changed and many of the things that have worked in the past may be less effective or not effective at all. Having a good grasp on how business works will help ensure the success of your creative enterprise and make you more valuable to your employer.

How Do Artists Get Business Skills?

Well you probably are not going to get them in art school! A few art programs have business as a part of their curriculum and more seem to be adding them. If you are in art school and they offer business courses you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t take advantage of them. For everyone else here are a few ideas:

1.  Go to business school

A friend of mine who runs a fine art photography school has a great saying when photographers ask him, “I just got my BFA in Photography, what graduate school should I go to?” His answer, “Any school with an MBA program!” If going to business school for a couple of years and spending tens of thousands of dollars isn’t your thing, don’t worry there are other alternatives. I wish more art students would get their MBA’s – maybe some of their creativity would rub off on the other business students!

2.  Learn as you go

This seems to be the general model for artists and a whole lot of other business types as well. Read all you can about business, take advantage of the web and your local library – there is a wealth of information out there. There is nothing wrong with learning from your mistakes but in the business world some mistakes could be fatal. Don’t get me wrong, even if you go to business school and read everything you can find on business you will still make mistakes, hopefully they will be new ones.

3.  Learn from other successful creatives in your field

This is a great, often overlooked way to gain business knowledge. In order to make it work, it is up to you to find a mentor, convince them that you are willing to learn from them and you are worth investing their time. Some mentors have knowledge that is relevant to “now” and others may have knowledge that is relevant for all times – you need both! There are organizations who provide mentors for many industries and subjects – Google it.

4.  Take some classes

There is no shortage of organizations such as chambers of commerce, the SBA, and colleges (community, adult learning) that offer business courses. Meet with their representatives or counselors to see which classes would benefit you. Start with the basics and then take classes in the areas where you feel you need some help. Some of these classes are low cost or free and others may require you to enroll as a student. Some good things are happening at the Center For Innovation(MSCD) in the Artrepreneurship and other courses where students can get business training without being enrolled in the business program.

5.  Hire a consultant

A good consultant will not only show you what to do but they will also teach you how to do it. When choosing a consultant make sure there is a fit, they have credentials and experience and most importantly references. We live in a world where anybody can be a consultant or coach, choose them carefully and make sure they can help you with your particular needs. Don’t forget that your accountant and business lawyer should be a part of your consulting team.

6.  Specialized programs/workshops that teach business to artists

There are a growing number of programs that are designed to teach business to people in the arts. Some of these are just a basic business program with the words Art or Artists added to the name. Others are designed specifically for creative people with real life examples and terminology directed at the creative sector. In any case, you should expect that upon completion that you have the knowledge and resources to move your art business forward. Make sure the program covers the basics, it is relevant and provides you with the “new tricks” of business as well as the old.

A real life example

A new program NxLevel was just recently started in the Denver area by the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs and the Denver SBDC (Small Business Development Center) to teach business to artists and other creative people. One of their students, Matthew Colella has started a blog to chronicle his experience with the program. I invite you to check out his blog and follow his business adventure at the blue13 satellite.

A final word

Whether you decide to teach yourself, take some classes, hire a consultant or any combination of the above – just do it! Business learning is like learning any other subject – there is always something new to learn or a new way to look at the world and this is what makes successful artists and companies.

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About Neil McKenzie

Neil McKenzie is an author, educator and consultant to artists and arts organizations. He is the author of The Artist’s Business and Marketing ToolBox – How to Start, Run and Market a Successful Arts or Creative Business available in softcover from Barnes & Noble and Amazon and as an eBook from iTunes, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. He has developed and teaches the course “Artrepreneurship” at the Center for Innovation at Metropolitan State University of Denver, and is also a visiting professor at University College at the University of Denver. Neil has over 30 years’ experience as a management consultant and marketing executive, working with some of the world’s top brands. Neil is a frequent lecturer to artists and arts organizations, a guest columnist for Colorado Biz Magazine, where he covers the creative sector of the economy, and the author of several articles for Americans for the Arts, a national arts organization. Follow Neil on Twitter: @neilmckenzphoto