As I was preparing for my recent art hanging, I spent some time researching the business side of the arts. Part of that “research” included reaching out to Lee Silber, an author that has written many books, including several business minded books for creative people (money management, marketing, etc.). Many years ago I wore out my copies and passed them on to others to enjoy. I think it’s time to re-order!
I have subscribed to Lee’s newsletter over the years and he is always a wealth of knowledge. He was kind enough to answer some of my burning questions and graciously agreed to a Q&A interview so that I might share some of what I have learned from him over the years with others.
Q: What is your artistic background?
I say you gotta walk the talk, right? I went to art school, taught graphic design, and have been a working musician for a long time (I play bass and drums). Oh, and I have written 19 books and countless articles so there is that artist outlet as well. In fact, my 19th book was my first novel and it became an Amazon best seller.
Q: How are you making money from your art?
None of us want to talk about what we make (unless you make millions) but we would all secretly like to know what others make. So I'll explain how I am able to say (with a straight face) that I have never had a real job. Never. The first thing that has helped me more than anything is having a wife with a real job. She is an executive and makes a good salary with all those great benefits that comes with a real job. The next thing is I found a way to take all the things I love to do--write, speak, design, teach, and perform and put them all into a gig that pays really well. I am a corporate trainer that helps business people be more creative and I help creative people become better at business. I also do a lot of speaking at conferences and for corporations that is very lucrative. The thing is, I would do it for free I enjoy it so much, but I almost never have to give it away.
Q: Why is the business side of the arts difficult for some artists, especially starting out?
The side of your brain that makes you so wonderfully creative (and quirky) is the opposite side of where all those business skills reside. We (creative types) are in our "right" minds while people who excel at business use their left brains. We need to develop our left brain to handle the tedious tasks that lead to long-term success.
Q: What tips do you have for artists that are just getting started and don't know where to begin?
Whew, talk about a loaded question. I could talk to this very important point for hours. Let me pick just one area that I think holds a lot of us back--procrastination. Now it's called "procrastination" but what it really is: fear. It's no surprise when you don't know what to do, don't know what will happen once you do something, don't know what people will think of your work, don't know where exactly the money will come from… there is just a lot we don't know. The mistake people make is they spend all their time trying to learn what they don't know. Now this seems like the right thing to do. It's not. Act and react--but do it in a small way. If you screw up, it's just a blip. Think big, but start small--so small you can do it easily and if you don't get it right, you can quickly fix it. The other reason people procrastinate is they are afraid (there's that fear again) someone will steal their ideas. (We should be so lucky our work is worth stealing.) Today, acting fast and being first is more important that paying for patents, attorneys, and dealing with paperwork while someone else fearlessly moves ahead--and ahead of you. Just do it.
Q: How important is marketing? How much time should an artist devote to marketing (as compared to making great art)?
Of all the skills, marketing is the most important one to develop (or work with someone who is really good at it.) The good news is it's another form of creativity to figure out how to get the word out about who you are and what you do. Use your brain (and not a bunch of bucks) to sell yourself. And that's what marketing is, it's selling. But who wants to sell. So change the term to teaching or explaining or helping others understand how what I do can make their life / business better.
Q: What are some of your favorite marketing methods and tools?
We all know social media is the best way to market right now. That said, without a solid knowledge of what to say, how to say it, and knowing who to say it to will lead to failure in any medium. Marketing is marketing, it's just faster, easier, better, and cheaper with social media.
Q: What other business areas should be in focus right now (in the beginning)?
Again, this is not an easy question to answer. It will be different for different people. My advice is to focus on what you do best, what you love to do, and find people who will pay for it rather than trying to do something that isn't your strength. Be bold, be different, and be better than the rest and people will find you.
Q: What business areas can wait a little while? Why?
My theory is to spend money on items in my business that have the potential to make money. Will a new office chair help you make more cold calls, spend more time online looking for leads, or creating your art? Only you can answer that, but in the beginning it's important to put your money where the profits are--or could come from.
Q: If you were able to go back in time, what would you have done differently starting out?
This will probably surprise people, but I'll say it anyway. I wish I trusted my gut more when I first started out. I was way too left brained. I played it safe. I took advice from others (who were well meaning and knowledgeable) but in hindsight I KNEW what to do, but was afraid to listen to my "Inner Advisor". Now, I shoot from the hip and go with my gut more than before. It's just like when you took a test and guessed at the answer but went back and after thinking about it changed your answer and it was…wrong. Don't think too much. Act and react.
Thanks for the great words of wisdom, Lee!!!
For More information:
LEE SILBER is the best-selling author of 19 books including the popular creative person series for Random House and "Organizing From The Right Side of the Brain" (St. Martin's). For more information and free resources go to: http://www.creativelee.com.