The number one goal for every person I do career counseling with is to leave their job and pursue their art career full-time. However, the biggest concern is how to do it and most importantly, when. I tell every artist who's serious about leaving their 9-5 the same thing - have an established business, a well-thought-out plan and don't be capricious or you'll be looking for another day job in a few months time. Don't be mad at me for saying it. It's a statistic by Bloomberg and Forbes 8 out of 10 businesses fail in the first 18 months.
Let's touch on a segment of the article I just mentioned - #5 Inability to nail a profitable business model with proven revenue streams. In order to leave your job, your art business must be producing a constant profit from work you are selling. In order to achieve this, you must have both an online and an offline presence. The wider the net, the more people you are going to bring in as customers. I generally look at my marketing as having the ability to bring in about 1-2% of the people I know. While those numbers seem really low, they are accurate and based on decades of experience. I will get into how to increase those numbers later in this post.
So how do you create a favorable environment so you can leave your job without regret? I always likened it to a carnival act where the performer keeps more than one plate spinning at the same time. You need to perform the duties of your day job while simultaneously keeping your art business humming along. Take it from me, I've left a well-paying job to pursue my art career over a decade ago and never looked back. Has it always been easy? Absolutely not. I had no mentor, no online resource or template and not ONE full-time artist who was willing to give me any sound advice or direction. So, fortunately, you have the luxury of all my accumulated wisdom, and failures to help you achieve your goals in hopefully, a shorter amount of time. I've said it before, I always promised myself that I'd never become selfish with my information. It seems that many artists like to keep the secrets of their success insulated and to me, that seems rather paranoid and infantile. The truth is, I can give every small detail that has brought me to where I am but I cannot guarantee your success. I can't stay up at night with you to cheer you on or hold your hand while you close a large sale. Every success story is unique - every recipe for success is primarily based on the how well you utilize your ingredients.
If you're serious about leaving your job to be a full-time artist you have to think more about the business you are going into than the one you are in. This means you aren't going to be a star employee or everyone's best friend in the office. You have a goal and the goal is more important than anything ephemeral. Metaphorically, I treated the last two years of my job like I had one foot out the door. This means that every possible second you have available at your disposal you must have targetted towards your ultimate goal. In the graphic artist position I had, I'd use my lunch breaks, 15-minute breaks in the morning and afternoon, my commutes and even time during the day to conduct and build my art business. I wasn't going out to lunch with everyone or wasting time during the day gossiping about the boss. My focus was on getting out and what it would feel like to say, "I'm sorry, but this is my last day here." I can promise you this, the day you get to say those words is worth all the hyper-focused tedium, late nights and missed socializing. I just couldn't picture myself growing old, giving up on my dreams and working for someone else. I was always a respectable employee but in the end, they knew I wasn't a 'company' person and eventually, it would've counted against me. No matter how hard you work for someone or what level you achieve, you are replaceable. No one will respect you more than you. This is why I love being a full-time artist. All the hard work I put in benefits my family rather than an ungrateful employer.
No matter what anyone tells you, it's an imperative that you set up and establish your social media presence immediately. Stay focused and don't waste your time playing candy crush or sharing cat memes. Spend it on finding like-minded artists and people who enjoy art. Continue to engage with fellow artists and see what they are sharing and marketing. These observations will tell you a lot about what is working for them. Continue to build your audiences especially on Facebook and Instagram - this is paramount to your success online. You can manage profiles on Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and Linkedin too but if you have limited time, focus on Facebook and Instagram. Do all you can to learn about the advantages of both social media outlets and build them up in your free time. And please, I beg you, conduct yourself professionally. Keep the political opinions, silly banter with friends and irreverent behavior for your private page. I know this sounds dull but trust me, you want to collect clients not alienate them. I've written a blog on how to conduct yourself on social media and I encourage you to visit it if my advice seems too vague or harsh.
10 Things to accomplish so you can eventually leave your job:
1. Build your newsletter list. Add every person who has ever purchased your work or inquired about your work (with their permission, of course). These are people who will continue to support your career. It is a statistical fact that 25% of that list will purchase additional work from you again.
2. Build up your profiles on Facebook and Instagram. You can have up to 5000 friends on Facebook and as many as you want on a Facebook Fan Page. These are excellent outlets to meet like-minded people and potential customers. Instagram has also become an excellent source to show and sell your work. In fact, last year it was noted that more collectors are purchasing on Instagram now than even Facebook. I guess people enjoy seeing more art and fewer posts complaining about significant others and politics which is VERY telling.
3. Use Youtube!!!!!! I can't stress this enough. How much time do you have during the day? What about your commute time or even during work? Can you wear headphones at your office job? If you can, why aren't you using this time to educate yourself? This is downtime whether you want to believe it or not. When I worked for a corporation, I had 8 horrible hours that I could waste either listening to the radio or educating myself so I could leave that monotonous, unfulfilling job. Youtube may not always have perfect content but if used properly, you can find excellent tutorials on how to effectively market on Instagram or Facebook. You could get 8 hours of education every day plus your ride to and from work. Why are you wasting your time doing anything else?
4. Use your time effectively. Work on your career during your breaks and do business during downtime. I used to make calls to galleries and clients during breaks or drives to work. With the added bonus of a smartphone, you can now send texts, images, pictures of signed contracts and close deals with a push of a button. You are no longer confined to doing all your work from home these days. I used to commute 45 minutes to work each way - that was an hour and a half of work time I didn't have to do when I got home. I can remember one time working on such a large commission I even had to paint in my car during my lunch breaks to keep it on schedule. You do what you have to do to succeed.
5. Sleep or Work? If you're working at a job and trying to get an art business thriving enough so you can leave, you have to make sacrifices. I'm sorry to tell you that sleep time is now working time. For years I got up for work at 6 AM and came home by 5 PM from my job. I would eat dinner and then from 7 PM - 2 AM I would work on my painting career. It was a bummer not sleeping more than 4 hours a night but it set up my career. Each week I worked at least 30-40 hours on my art business, on top of the 40 hours I spent working for someone else. The more time I put into my art business the more of a foundation I built and the quicker I was able to leave my boring 9 to 5 job. Want to sleep or binge watch your favorite show on Netflix instead? Just remember that someone else is using that time to achieve their dreams while you goof off.
6. Aim for absolute perfection. This goes along with point number 3 and 5. Use Youtube to gather additional knowledge and work hard so you get better at what you do. They say it takes 10,000 hours to be a master at anything. If you equate the time I spent working on my business all those years I was able to achieve this in five years (based on the 40 hour work week I discussed in point 5). In contrast, if you decide to just work at night for a few hours it could take you 10-12 years to achieve this. Time is of the essence. Do you want to be stuck in your job for five or ten years? Make the sacrifice. The most important thing to consider is that during that time you will get better at what you do and you'll be able to streamline your approach to do more in less time. Case in point, if you sell a portrait for $1000 that takes you 20 hours to paint you are working for $50 an hour. What if you could learn how to paint that same painting in 10 hours? You would then earn $100 an hour. Learn to become a better, more efficient artist. It will benefit your bottom line.
7. Learn to wear a lot of hats. I'm planning on doing a post on this subject, but for now, I just want to make this point. You may have an artistic direction whether it's painting, sculpture, drawing etc but never be close-minded when it comes to veering outside your comfort zone. If you have computer experience, this enables you to take on some digital illustration. Or maybe you know how to make unique frames or are willing to create custom murals for homes. Just be willing to keep yourself open. Early on, not every job is going to be exactly what you want. Wearing many hats opens you up to more opportunities for continual income.
8. Build your confidence. Having your own business means you have to be confident in what you do. If you don't believe in yourself, no one will buy from you. If you're like 99% of the people on this earth you have a million excuses why you aren't confident. Bad childhood experiences, depression, self-doubt, shyness, self-deprecation, our parents, etc, we all have things in our lives that hold us back. Do yourself a favor and dedicate some time to listening to inspirational philosophers - this will help you reprogram your confidence. What if you started looking at yourself as someone with immense talent and value? Use your commute and time at work to change your life. Whatever your shortcomings are, they are not beyond repair if you're determined to rectify them. You can undo years of bad advice and experiences with uplifting and positive thinking.
9. Realize there will be setbacks. Napoleon Hill used to say, "Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit." This is SO TRUE. I've had some horrible setbacks only to find that by keeping focused, I was able to find something positive from that moment. Years ago, I had one of my paintings shipped across the country only to find out it was damaged in the process. Worse yet, the framer didn't open the package within 48 hours and the insurance I purchased was null and void. For a brief moment, it seemed like a complete disaster but once I cleared my head, I saw an opportunity. When my client told me what he was paying for a less than stellar frame, I offered to not only fix the damage but build him a phenomenal custom frame that better suited the painting. The client was thrilled and the lazy, over-priced framer lost over $12,000 worth of business because he neglected to open the crate in time. Sounds like a success to me. You have to realize that setbacks and 'holy crap' moments happen. It's part of the business. When you work for yourself you don't have time to shut down and cry about it - your future and reputation is on the line.
10. Hold onto the dream. Visualize the first day you get to work for yourself. Imagine how much better your coffee will taste when you're not gulping it down on the way to work. Focus on being free of the stress that comes from not doing something you absolutely love and were called to do. Believe me, I lived through enough corporate bullshit, mind games and unbearable personalities to love everything I do for myself, no matter what it is. Dream of the day you get to tell your boss, "I quit!" That dream is well worth the work. I remember and cherish those moments still. I laugh because the first year I went on my own I made more than I made working at that ridiculous job. And it's those feelings that drive me to work hard and love what I do every day.
I've started working on producing a series of videos to help artists on YouTube called "The Truth About Being an Artist." Check it out, like the videos if you enjoy them and subscribe to the channel. Thank you!