With the rise of the microbusiness and the creative entrepreneur, artists and makers are finding success and funding their work the old-fashioned way: by selling their work.

There’s a common perception that artists live for and survive off grants. Always looking for the next bucket of funding to survive! It’s not necessarily true.

With the rise of the microbusiness and the creative entrepreneur, artists and makers of all different kinds are finding success and funding their work the old-fashioned way: by selling their work.

If you’ve got a big project you’re desperate to work on, but don’t have the cash to kick it off, generating your own funds can be the fastest route to the launch pad. Why? Because other options such as securing government funding, donations or crowdfunding pledges can come with strings attached. Make your own money and you can spend it anyway you like.

Funding your work through your own profits means you have complete control over both the project and its outcomes. And it may not be as hard as you think.

Step 1: Work out how much money you need

It might sound obvious but this first step is often overlooked. How much is your dream project going to cost?

Let’s say you’re planning a new theatre piece. You’ll need development time and rehearsal space. You’ll need to pay actors and techies. You might need specialist equipment, props and costumes. Plus insurances, royalty payments and transport costs. That’s before you’ve even hired a venue.

Don’t forget to budget it as thoroughly as possible, as you don’t want to underestimate how much you’ll need to raise. Once you’ve done that, you’ll have your target. And you’ll need that to conquer step 2.

Step 2: Work out what you’re selling and to whom

You’ll only be able to raise money for future projects out of the profits from selling your work. So, you must make sure you can make a profit on the stuff you’re selling. Again, it sounds obvious, but often artists and makers don’t know how much profit they’re making on their products/services. If any.

There are a few key points here:

  • Make sure your product meets a market need. If you produce something that no-one wants to buy, you’re not going to hit your target.
  • Make sure you’ve got a way (or ways) to get your product in front of your target market. These are your channels. They can be online or in person, but they should suit the people you’re trying to sell to.
  • Calculate your profit per item. It’s your sales price less the costs of production, and any ongoing expenses you have to pay out. Target ÷ profit per item = how much you have to sell.

Back to our theatre example for a moment. Let’s say you plan to raise money for your production by selling theatre workshops to teenagers. You want to ensure you’re delivering them in an area where there’s not too much competition and which has a good size population of drama loving teens (that’s the market need part). Perhaps you’ll deliver them at schools after hours and the schools can help with promoting the workshops (that’s your channel).

Then if you’re selling the workshops for $25 a head x 10 kids per session, and your costs per workshop are $50, you’re making a profit of $200 per workshop. If the theatre piece is going to cost $5,000 (hey, it’s off off off Broadway), 25 workshops will hit that target.

Getting there faster

You might be saying, “Sure. I get how I can save money from my profits to fund my work. What I want to know is how do I get there as quickly as possible?”

Fair enough. This is where you need to be committed to driving sales and looking for opportunities which get you closer to your goal. Here are a few tips:

  • Know your customers and what they’re looking for. What other products/services can you provide to them? How can you tweak your existing product to suit their needs?
  • Collect customer data and use it regularly. Building up a good email list of clients allows you to get in touch directly with people who you know are fans of your work. Offer them special deals, exclusive products and so on.
  • Devise exclusive products at higher price points for your hero customers. A theatre workshop might lead to one-on-one tuition for the right price.
  • Encourage people to refer you to their friends. Offer them an incentive for bringing new customers in.
  • Let your customers know about your big picture goal. If they get excited about it too, they might buy more of your stuff to help you on the way.
  • Build your online presence, and regularly let people know what you’re selling, what’s new and how they can purchase from you. Post lots of images showing you making the work – engage your fans in the process!

What about pre-selling work?

Pre-selling work can be a great way of raising the funds you need for a major project. The idea is simple enough; you offer people the opportunity to buy the results of the project (a theatre ticket, a CD, a print or so on) before you undertake the work.

For this method to work, you need an existing community of customers or fans; people who know you well and who trust that you can deliver the goods. It’s similar to crowdfunding, but the main difference is that with crowdfunding, you’re offering a range of rewards for support of different amounts. Here you’re just preselling your eventual product.

If you undertake this method, you still need to work out how much money you’ll need to create the project and how much you’ll need to presell to produce the work. Ideally, you don’t want to presell 100% of what you’re going to produce. Aim to presell up to 50% to fund the production of the work, leaving the other 50% for you to retain and sell after your costs have been covered.

Patreon is a version of preselling; an online community of people pledge regular payment to artists to produce work; everything from blog posts to podcasts to music videos. It’s a platform which can automate the process for you and is particularly useful if your product can be distributed online.

Where to from here?

You need a plan. Run through the steps above. Work out what you have to sell and who’s going to buy it. Plot out your path from your first sale through to funding the project you have planned. Write, draw or design your plan but make sure you have one. Be creative! After all, it’s what got you here in the first place.

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