Arts. Business. Culture.
The ABCs of Building Your Career and Business in the Performing and Visual Arts Sector
Takin’ care of business. As an artist or performer, whether you’re a newcomer or veteran, it’s not as easy as the old song says.
It’s challenging to build a career that provides reliable paycheques while maintaining excellence and meaning in your medium or music — dollars and business sense don’t always come as naturally as our chosen crafts and passion for performance.
What’s more, many artists and performers work from show to show, or contract to contract. With the little time that’s left in between, it can be difficult to find a road map to business success. So, with the help of local veterans in culture and entrepreneurial development, the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce has created a how-to guide specifically for our community’s artists and performers. Since 1893, the Chamber has been here to sustainably develop our economy, create jobs and advocate for businesses of every sorts.
So now — it’s show time.
Lion’s Gate by Tanya Pixie Johnson created for the 2020 Nelson International Mural Festival.
Let’s take it from the top
Business 101 in the Arts and Culture Sector
Whether you’re just starting your career in arts and culture, or a veteran looking to get better at business, here’s a check list of ‘musts’. And tips on how to get ‘em done.
- Ask yourself one question first. Why? — Know why you want to own and run a business. It shouldn’t only be about making more money.
Be ready to learn and to look for support — Seek out educational opportunities to improve your skills and search for resources. There’re a lot of them. You’ll be surprised.
Write a business plan — Research and critical thinking are vital first steps. What are your business’s aims, and how will you achieve those? Ask yourself some thought provoking questions. What makes you think your art or performances will sell? How do you and your skills differ than those already out there? Then start checking the boxes, making the calls and crunching the numbers.
Understand your customer and market — If you want anyone to buy your art or tickets to your event, you need to know a lot about them, like who they are and where they are.
Understand your competition — They know things you need to know too. How’s your product and brand compare to theirs? What do they charge? Where do they sell or perform? How’s their inventory or touring schedule compare to yours?
Financial management & Accounting — Know your numbers. Finances, regular reporting and analysis are the foundation of your business. What are your start up costs, and where’s the money coming from — a loan, grant, your savings, share holders, crowdfunding? Remember too that grants are gravy — they come and go, and aren’t a source of reliable income. Map out your month-to-month, and year-to-year cash flow prediction. Track expense and revenues day-to-day, at month’s end, and at yearly tax time. Do you have a HST/GST number? Do yo know the requirements of the Canada Revenue Agency? Start with a call to an accountant and a bookkeeper.
Legal & Insurance — How will your business be structured: sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, non-profit? What licences and permits do you need? Are you, your property or studio, your shipping arrangements and your inventory properly insured? Are you in compliance with Work Safe requirements? Call a lawyer, and an insurer.
Marketing & Branding — The standard expenditure on annual promotion is about 10-15 per cent of your business’s revenue. So, once you know your audience, strategize how to reach them. Build your customer base by figuring out where your buyers and audiences are, and where they’re most likely to get their information about you and your crafts — posters on popular doorways, social media, a website, ads in media products they read, listen to or watch? And build your brand identifiers — a logo, word mark, slogan, a story or boiler plate, you name it — something that visually differentiates you from others in your field, and represents your personality, and the art and performances you’re selling. And remember — just because you’re an artist, doesn’t mean you can design a functional and compelling web site and logo. Hire a pro, not a pal. Contact a marketer and brand development agency for ideas.
Team building, vendors & venues — Whether you need employers, contractors or mentors, find the people who have the skills you don’t have, pros who supplement and support your business. Managing people with respect and efficiency is critical to a business’s success. Build mutually beneficial relationships with suppliers, service providers, and folks who book galleries and performance spaces. Learn to communicate effectively, understand each others’ responsibilities, prepare contracts and enjoy the experience of working with others.
Negotiating & Networking — If you’re in business of any sort, arts and culture included, you’re in sales. Know how much your work costs you based on your time and overhead costs. Make sure your rates provide the margin you need to stay in operation. Learn to negotiate effectively by understanding your client’s challenges and how you can help solve those. Consider a ‘no’ a ‘maybe’ and try a new approach. Generate strong media contacts with publications, podcasts or social network platforms that garner your audience’s attention. They’ll be interested in your story if its well-told and provides great imagery, sounds and samples. Keep up-to-date data bases and mail out lists. And party with your people! Have fun with others in your field and professionals of all sorts, to learn new ideas and make new contacts.
Disaster management & succession plans — Stuff happens. And one day, you’ll want to sell, or retire. Be ready for either scenario. What will you do in the case of a fire, flood, or unexpected loss of your property, instruments or studio space? Have a plan that’ll save inventory, instruments, documents, licences, insurance, data bases, orders and contacts — anything that could be difficult or impossible to replace if you have to set up temporary shop somewhere new. Are you near the end of your career, and hope to pass on your successful gallery and its inventory, your festival or studio to a new owner, family or otherwise? A succession plan outlines the ways in which that can happen financially and logistically.
Be strong. — Success, and recovery from rejection or failure, require hard work and resolve.
Who ya gonna call?
Some of the helpful contacts for art and culture business start up, funding and great advice.
- City of Nelson COVID Recovery grant (application intake open annually in January/February)
Deputy Corporate Officer Gabe Bouvet-Boisclair
- Regional District of Central Kootenay
CBT Grants Coordinator Lisa Rein
- Community Futures Self Employment Program
- Nelson and District Credit Union Community Investment Program
- Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance / West Kootenay Arts Council
(application intake open annually in January — March)
- Osprey Community Foundation
- BC Arts Council
- Creative BC (music/film)
- Community Gaming Grant
- Vancouver Foundation
- BC Alliance For Arts and Culture
- Heritage BC
Heritage Grants Administrator & Heritage Planner Imogen Goldie
604-417-7243 ext. 102
- Actors Fund of Canada
- Canada Council For The Arts
- Factor Canada
- Canadian Heritage
- Arts BC
Take it from them
These locals made it. So can you.
WE’RE HERE TO HELP
For more information talk to our friendly staff at the Nelson & District Chamber of Commerce!
91 Baker Street
Phone: (250) 352-3433
Toll Free: 1-877-663-5706