Am I an entrepreneur?



For this month's student post we asked Fine Art graduate Aidan Myers whether he considers himself an entrepreneur and for his view on business planning and time management as a creative. Here's what he had to say:​​

Time Management 

Time Management is always the key to ensuring that you can deliver your work on time and without disappointing clients or galleries. It’s fair to say that it’s extremely difficult managing time as a self-employed freelance artist, especially alongside other part time roles. 

First thing is to get a diary, everything goes in there however small or big the meeting, deadline or plan is. Figuring out what takes priority is difficult, though you have to negotiate this and make compromises. Though it’s essential that you don’t neglect the ‘smaller’ or ‘lower priority’ plans or jobs, they’re just as important as anything big. 

​Juggling freelance jobs and part time work

Creative, freelance jobs are really useful and beneficial. Especially working for something outside of your realm or for using your skills for a different purpose. It’s effectively research to broaden your skill levels and ideas. Work for companies that may be able to help you in the future or alongside your artistic career. 

One of my current part time roles is in a bottle shop/bar run for Waen Brewery. The salesmanship, client interaction and product knowledge skills have developed greatly whilst in this position, such skills are crucial when making business deals and sales of paintings.

9-5 Hours 

Running your own creative business isn’t a 9-5 job; it’s a lifestyle at all hours. Choosing to be creative cannot be something that sits between regimented hours, because every artist has creative spurts, thoughts, and ideas at all times of day – trying to get these ideas out can become too contrived or forced if you work 9-5 hours. I personally see being an artist as an obsession; it’s gotten to the point where I have to be constantly creative. 

It’s certainly quite easy and tempting to become overly ambitious too early. This is where I tend to make lists of all the things that I need to complete and all of the ideas that I would like to make, perhaps that aren’t feasible or logistically possible at the time. The list is then useful to ensure you’re on track and that you haven’t forgotten the adventurous/more risky ideas that may be useful for another project. 

Developing skills/success 

It’s important that you develop all of the skills that you have. No matter if these skills are not necessarily relevant or constantly needed now, you never know when the opportunity that requires your innovation. 

I guess that there is a certain amount of ‘luck’ involved with being a successful artist, however one defines the ‘success’ of an artist. Whether this is money related, happy with life or prolific in the work you make. 

To make a sustainable living as an artist, you have to be willing to take compromises, many in fact. I hear people say that they want to have a ‘break’ from art or do something different. This is something that I don’t understand. For me it would be twice as hard to start creating again – it also is explains the exact reason for making artwork in the first place. It’s not just a means to make money; it’s a way of life. I certainly think that I’d be completely lost ​without the opportunity to walk into the studio and make something creative.

So to answer the questions ‘Am I an entrepreneur?’ and have I always wanted to be self-employed? It’s not about wanting to be self-employed​; it’s more centred around the necessity & obsession to pursuing creativity. For me being invested so deeply into the thing that I love means that it naturally becomes entrepreneurial, especially as I have dedicated my time and energy into creativity. Running a creative business is always a huge worry, but equally the thing that I love the most. Personally I don’t quite understand why anyone who has invested time to study and research a creative degree wouldn’t want to earn a living by doing the thing that they love. 

I’ve spent a lot of time since leaving University living off minimal money, to the point that I had to really think about new ways to source income to pay the rent whilst still making & developing work. This certainly comes down to time management, compromising and planning. i.e. where a business model comes in. 

​Broadening your contacts and exposure is key; certainly it’s something that any student can begin doing from day one. i.e. developing an online presence through a website, blog, artist platform (managed by another company), making business cards, with your contact details, getting involved with local or artist community projects, events and exhibitions that interest you. The more involvements you have with things that interest you, the more conversations you have, the more relationships within the art community you develop. I still think back to projects undertaken in Made in Roath, Modern Alchemists and BIT Studios as a few examples of ongoing relationships and friendships within the art community. 

Leave your comfort zone

You totally have to be able to leave your comfort zone – both for commercial and creative development. i.e. making a commission that you may not want to do, test your skills and push yourself. It’s certain that mistakes happen along the way, but this has always been the best way for you to learn. 

Don’t be afraid, have self-belief 

Certainly my number one tip. This comes from experience of applying for commissions, exhibitions, and open call projects. It’s certainly worth applying for things even if they seem ‘out of your league’ or ‘that your work isn’t good enough’. Even if you’re faced with a rejection letter, it’s effectively a market research tool as to the places or communities that are interested in your work. 

This for me is where generic business models differ in creative businesses, particularly as you have to take risks to push the work out there and challenge your creativity, as opposed ​to always taking a ‘safe’, risk-free option. It may not mean that you specifically make a sale, but it could lead to a future collaboration, audience or another show. - ​It must be said that taking these risks must be weighed up and relative against other valuable options.

A particular way of getting your work out there is to apply for graduate shows – If you are serious about being an artist these are vital exhibitions for people to discover you and take interest in your work. These platforms are more available and beneficial in London, particularly as you learn a great amount of business techniques and ways to connect or build relationships in such a short amount of time. Depending on where the venue/ gallery is situated, you’re exposed to such a large number of London/ international ​connections. I certainly see that having a number of connections to London is quite important, particularly as there is always something fresh and new happening and it’s certainly a city in keeping with contemporary art worldwide. 

You must be patient and realise that any recognition or investment takes time. As with any innovative idea or business you have to be self-motivated and willing to put in as much hard work as it takes to get some kind of recognition or outcome that you aim to achieve. You definitely have to stick it out too; it’s easy to begin something, lose interest and not complete it. Things might not come as easily and quickly as you anticipate. 

Business Planning from an Artist's perspective.​ Are plans useful? 

Plans are useful. Though they certainly have to be loose and interchangeable. Business planning could consist of monthly goals in terms of sales,​ where you are planning on applying for shows or exhibitions etc. My planning consists of keeping regular contact with gallery representations as much as possible to see what is happening elsewhere.

​Planning in terms of what comes next is the key. i.e. figuring out the methods of approaching your next project so that it is lined up ready for when the current project is completed. - Generally aim to keep loose plans of each month allowing flexibility for juggling part time jobs, meetings etc. 

​Social media posts for an upcoming exhibition or a product/ painting that you’re about to release can be really effective. This has to be done at certain/set intervals. It’s beneficial to get an audience as the product develops, it can create a hype, excitement etc. Some people are seemingly more interested and invested in something that they’ve witnessed being developed from day one. 

This is particularly relevant as I’m currently working on my first ever catalogue/book publication with a colleague at Cardiff Met. Planning when to release products can be difficult especially if the development is process-based.