Business ideas for artists: Using multiple income streams to grow

Build a successful art business to keep doing what you love

Does having a successful creative business that supports you to keep creating art sound like a dream come true? If you’re struggling to make this a reality you’re not alone.

Unfortunately, society teaches us that being an artist isn’t a real job. And those who “make it” are a privileged few who get a lucky break. The reality is far different. 

Those who “make it” have put in thousands of hours of creative work, testing, experimenting and failing. They’ve networked their butts off, and built a solid reputation online and in the community as someone who consistently gets work done to a high standard.

The secret that underlies this success is that they treat their arts practice like a business and apply business strategies to help support them. It’s time to think of yourself as an artistic entrepreneur.

Two of those business ideas, we’ll discuss today in this blog: Diversifying your income streams and your promotional strategies.

Read on to learn the best ways to create a successful art business, so you can keep doing what you love.

Increase your arts income by diversifying

Since I started my business in 2016, I’ve learned the hard way that if all my income comes from one client, or one project, then I’m reliant on that to continue to earn money. 

The same thing happens when all your income is coming from one product, one body of work or one event. Many people like you work from gig to gig, relying on organisations outside your practice to help you promote and sell work. 

  • Galleries
  • Cafes, hotels and corporate spaces
  • Festival and events organisers
  • Pubs and clubs
  • Art directories like: BlueThumb, ArtLover and more
  • Social media, YouTube, Spotify, Soundcloud and more

One of the best ways to overcome this reliance on others, is to create different ways to earn money, simultaneously. Then, if a project gets cancelled, postponed or the organisation you’re working with goes into administration, you’re still able to earn an income.

There are a few ways to do this.

Start by listening to your audience

The arts industry is undergoing massive change right now, and it hasn’t just affected the artists and workers, it’s also changed the way people consume art. When you’re thinking about ways to diversify your income – consider how the market has changed for them too. 

Why not create an online survey or reach out to a few customers and ask them how you can help them? Every good business listens and adapts to their customers needs.

For a lot of creative businesses, there are typically three main audiences who benefit from your art – but you might have others depending on your business. Think about:

  • What you can do to help buyers, collectors or arts workers?
  • What you can do to help galleries, event spaces and organisers?
  • Can you help other artists/musicians? 

If you’re stuck, you might like to think about how you currently help your audience, and how you can build on that. Or you might like to do some research outside your industry for inspiration. Is there a creative solution that no one has thought of yet?

New business ideas for artists

Creating alternate ways of earning money doesn’t have to mean creating art you don’t like, or offering a service that doesn’t feel right for you. If you’ve taken the time to define your brand values and vision, keep these in mind when you’re considering an additional way to earn some income.

Creative ideas to explore

When thinking about ideas that might work for you and your audience, resist the urge to compare your arts practice with others out there. After all, their brand values and vision might be different to yours. 

Your ideas will need to align with your brand, but it’s also important that it brings you fulfillment and happiness too. You want to create a business you love working in and that won’t drain your energy for creating your art. You might like to:

  1. Offer consulting on how to match art/music with spaces/events to achieve the desired impact
  2. Create passive income streams from resources to help buyers and collectors connect with the right art/music
  3. Create a course to help businesses incorporate creative practices into their day to day (for innovation/mental health, etc)
  4. Make and share resources to help businesses connect with local artists/musicians
  5. Offer online art/music workshops for people who need/want a creative outlet
  6. Offer online art/music tutorials for other artists/musicians
  7. Sell reproductions/prints/merchandise of artwork or music online in different formats/products (i.e. digital downloads, drop shipped products or limited edition printed and delivered works)
  8. Sell commercial licensing rights to images/music for different online/offline applications
  9. Offer session recordings of vocals or instrumental music for different projects
  10. Collaborate with other professionals in industries outside your own (think designs and artworks for product labels, clothing, music for videos/podcasts, etc)

Don’t rely on others to promote your work

There are many online tools at your disposal to help you promote your work. When deciding on ways that you might reach your audience, it’s important to think about who that audience is, and where you find them online.

The other thing to consider is whether *you* own the content or whether it’s owned by a third party. 

For example, you own your website, email and blog content because it enables you to have direct contact with your audience. You get to control the experience and invite one-on-one conversation with *your* audience without being at the mercy of another platform.

Whereas the social platforms, publications, online art/music directories, galleries and event organisers own the content you publish on their platforms and host within their spaces. This is what you call ‘earned’ and ‘paid’ promotion because it hinges on the relationships and money you spend to get that promotion. They get to decide how it’s distributed and shared with *their* audience.

Uncover these 6 blockers that are stopping you from growing your art practice

Getting your strategy right

Ideally, you want a high mix of owned content in your promotional strategy so that you can stay in control of the way you’re able to interact with your customers. And that way, you won’t have all your eggs in one basket, per se. 

Your strategy might include owned promotion such as: 

  1. Optimising your website for SEO (search engine optimisation) so that you appear in searches for the customers you want to attract
  2. Creating an opt-in or offer to encourage people to sign up to your mailing list
  3. Sending out helpful information to your email list regularly and keeping them updated on what you’re doing and where they can find you and your work
  4. Writing blogs that share your creative process, your values and invite people to learn about your art
  5. Creating a video to host on your website that shares a bit about you and your work
  6. Creating and sharing a brochure to give to people at your art shows/events

You might also like to build relationships and promote your work through:

  1. Online art auctions hosted on your social platforms
  2. Targeted Facebook ads 
  3. Engaging, adding value and promoting your work on your social platforms (then cross-promoting them)
  4. Networking with local galleries, art spaces, events and festival organisers, arts organisations and publications (online and in-person when you can)
  5. Collaborating and cross-promoting other arts organisations and suppliers content for mutual benefit
  6. Advertising your work in art directories (BlueThumb, Art Lovers, etc)
  7. Entering awards and prizes that align with your goals

How to decide what strategies are best for you

Don’t just put your hand up for anything. The ways you go about creating more income and promoting your work must align with you and help you achieve.

When you’re just starting out, there might be a time where you work together with someone for mutual benefit – but I firmly disagree with supplying work in exchange for “exposure” not dollars. You’ve got rent to pay and food to buy too, right?

Working for free cheapens the value of arts in society (the $111bn the arts contributes to our economy is nothing to be sneezed at).

You want any actions you take to:

  • Put you in front of the right audience (one that will love what you create)
  • Extend on your work’s themes and show you care about what you do
  • Align with your brand’s values (don’t sacrifice ethics for exposure)
  • Help you achieve your vision/goals/version of success

If you decide to take your art seriously, there will come a time where you must make some decisions on the best ways to build your practice. I hope this blog has given you plenty of food for thought and ideas on how to do this.

Over to you

Have you added to your income with other products or services? How successful has it been for you? I’d love to know.