Whether you’re an oil painter or a musician, a makeup artist or an embroiderer, if you want to make money through your art and reach a wider audience, you need an artist business plan. As artist and Skillshare teacher Jamie Smith states, “To take our creative work and make it into a business, that just takes determination, passion, and a plan.”

Why It’s Smart to Create a Business Plan as a Creative

You might not think of artists as being the savviest businesspeople, but if you want to make money from your art, you need to put that assumption aside. These days, with more ways than ever for creatives to reach their audiences, there’s no need to be a starving artist.

That said, becoming a successful artist does take some planning. That’s where an artist business plan comes in handy: It’ll help you set goals—both for your art and for the amount of money you’re bringing in—know exactly how much you’re spending and making each month, and plan effective marketing and sales strategies. All of which will help you stay accountable to building a sustainable creative practice (and income stream). 

Here’s what you need to know about creating an artist business plan and making money from your creative endeavors, whether it’s a makeup artist business plan or a music artist business plan.

How to Create an Artist Business Plan

outlined plan
An artist business plan sample page by Jamie Smith.

Step 1: Create a Vision for Your Business and Set Goals

Before you put pen to paper or start crunching numbers, it’s important to create a vision for your business. It’s so much easier to create something when we have a clear vision of where we’re going, whether that’s a graphic design or a makeup artist business plan.

Close your eyes and imagine yourself in your work space, the center of your creative business, one year from now. What are you enjoying about the work you’re doing right now? What are you known for? What have you achieved this year? What are you most proud of?

Write down everything you saw and imagined during this visualization exercise. 

Once you’ve noted down everything you want to create, ask yourself why you want to create these things. Your “why” is what will help you stay on track, even when things get difficult. In her course The Creative Business Plan For Artists: Create A Thriving Business, Jamie Smith provides a number of prompts for this first step in the process of creating an artist business plan.

The final part in this first step is coming up with some goals for your business. Goals can be easy to set but harder to achieve. If you answered the “why” questions with clarity, you’ll have a greater chance of achieving your goals.

Step 2: List Your Offerings and Set Your Prices

Whether you’re selling tangible items (like a painting) or services and packages (such as web design), it’s important to be clear about what you are offering to prospective buyers. Then, to price them appropriately.

If you’re selling tangible goods, don’t forget to factor your time into the sale price. If you’re only covering the cost of your materials and forget about the time it takes you to create something, you won’t make a sustainable living, however much you sell.

It can be tricky to know how much to sell a piece of art or a service for, but a solid way of determining an appropriate price when you’re making your first artist business plan is to research what other creatives in your niche are charging. You don’t have to charge exactly the same as them or offer the same things, but this will give you a good starting point.

Step 3: Crunch Your Current Numbers

So far you’ve spent some time looking to the future of your business. For now, it’s time to take a step back into the present to evaluate where you are, financially, right now.

Note what you are currently spending and earning in your creative business. If you’re just starting out, this list may contain nothing more than the cost of the materials you use to create your art. If you’re creating a music artist business plan, this step may be the cost of your instruments or recording equipment. If you’re already making sales, you can get a bit more specific and itemize the types of work you’ve been selling, to whom, and so on. Either way, note down every cent spent and made.

The goal for a sustainable and profitable business is to be consistently bringing in more money than you’re spending. If you’re not there yet, you can make some decisions about how you’ll get there, either by increasing the number of sales, increasing your prices, or cutting your expenses. Whatever the current financial situation of your business, you need to have accurate knowledge of it to create an effective artist business plan.

Step 4: Set a Financial Goal

Your financial goal for your business might be for it to pay for itself plus provide a bit of pocket money. Or, if you’re quitting your day job to pursue your creative business full-time, your goal may be for it to pay a salary that’s on a par with your previous job’s salary. Whatever your goal, write it down.

Then, pull out your offerings and prices list from step 2. How many items or services do you need to sell each month to reach your financial goal? 

Step 5: Create a Marketing Plan

You may have an incredible product or service, but if you don’t know how to get the word out about it, or how to talk about it, you won’t be able to sell it. As Jamie Smith notes, “The key to marketing is being consistent and sticking with your message over time.”

As you’ve been doing with the financial part of your business plan, break the year up into months. Based on your monthly financial goals and expenses, work out three marketing goals for each month of the year. This might be selling a certain number of pieces or landing a certain number of ongoing clients.

Give yourself room for trial and error regarding the marketing channels you experiment with. For example, one month you might market through Instagram, and another month through fliers posted at your local coffee shop. Choose your channels depending on how you think you can best reach your target customer. As you go along, note what works and what doesn’t with each marketing channel.

Once you know your marketing goals and the channels you’ll use, write out the action steps for getting there. For example, designing and printing fliers, taking photos for Instagram and researching hashtags, and so on.

Step 6: Build an Action Plan

The steps covered thus far have focused on big-picture vision and goals, finances, and marketing. Each step requires smaller action plans, but once you have each of these smaller steps worked out, it’s time to create an overarching action plan. This will be the crux of your artist business plan.

Divide the year into quarters, to make it more manageable. Set goals with action steps for each three-month chunk. For each quarter, focus on three business goals and three creative goals (which may overlap, but don’t necessarily).

An artist business plan can be a living document that changes as you experiment and expand. Keep refreshing and refining the steps you need to take on the path to achieving your creative business dreams, and keep your “why” in the front of your mind.

Take Your Creative Business to the Next Level

The Creative Business Plan For Artists: Create A Thriving Business