A strategic plan for the artist

Planning isn’t the artist’s strongest skill. Here’s a step-by-step model you can use.

Winter lambing, by Carol L. Douglas. When I stray from my narrow focus, it’s for my own purposes and intentional.
My husband’s work is incremental. His current project has a three-year timeline. The members of his team have a clear idea of the end product. Each person disciplines him- or herself to finishing their bits each week. Planning has to be part of their process, or the end result would be chaos.
Artists work alone and usually finish a piece in a few hours, days or weeks. Then we move on to the next piece. Our planning is limited, and many of us resist it. “I’m a free spirit,” we tell ourselves.
Yesterday’s posttouched a chord. I messaged with artists from Mobile to Maine about how to write a strategic plan.

Apple tree swing, by Carol L. Douglas. One of my goals is to limit how many plein air events I do.

Here are the steps:

  • Find yourself someone smarter than you to work with. Lots of artists have business backgrounds; I don’t. Ask that person questions. Ask gallerists for advice. And don’t forget your spouse. After you, she/he is the biggest stakeholder in your process.
  • Identify what you want to make and sell. In my case, that’s landscape paintings, workshops, and a weekly class.
  • Identify marketing channels, including cost-free publicity. Social media marketing is so fluid that what works today will certainly notbe effective five years down the road, so be prepared to revisit this question regularly.
  • Julie Richardsuggests that you do a SWOT analysis. I didn’t, but I think it’s a good idea. That means you identify your:
  • My Acadia workshop is important to me both personally and professionally.
  • Many artists work other jobs to support themselves (including child care and homemaking). They need to figure out how many hours a week they can honestly give their art careers. Other artists are at retirement age or have retired spouses. You’ll be frustrated if you don’t face the limitation of time honestly.
  • Who are your target clients? Bobbi Heath and I drew up profiles of our clients based on our sales experience. We each realized we have two separate client bases, one for teaching and one for painting.
  • What are your objectives? Be realistic. When I first did this exercise with Jane Bartlettmany ago, I said I wanted to be earning $10,000 a year. (Money was a lot cheaper back then.) That seemed modest compared to what I was earning as a designer. I failed to make a fundamental calculation. At the price points I’d set for my work, I couldn’t possibly produce enough paintings to hit that goal. I was selling well enough, but still coming up broke.

    The answer to that, by the way, was not to raise my prices to an unrealistic level. It was just to ride through those years. Knowing they were coming would have helped my financial planning, though.

  • From your objectives, set some concrete goals. Commit to them. Most of my working week is spent working toward them. They keep me focused.
  • How are you going to make those goals a reality? By setting some action items. These may include:
    • A calendar of show applications with the dates firmly inked into your personal calendar;
    • An advertising schedule;
    • A work schedule as in, “I’m going to finish six large studio paintings by May.”
    • A budget—I realize that you’d like this budget to be zero, but that’s not practical. It costs money to make art and it costs money to advertise.
  • Write it down. It doesn’t need to be complicated; my current one is barely a page long.
  • Create accountability. I use Bobbi Heath’s system for managing multiple projects, but you might need an accountability partner. Make a system and use it.
  • Go back and look at the plan on a regular basis.
Give yourself room to be flexible. My watercolor workshop on the American Eagle is a new thing.

Does this mean you can’t be flexible? No. If you see an opportunity, grab it—as long as it doesn’t take you totally off track. if it does, ask yourself if your current plan is really your best plan, or does it need revision?