There is a misconception that being an artist guarantees a life of financial struggle and hardship. However, I can confidently tell you that this is just that — a misconception. I have been able to sustain myself through my art for years because I understand the business side of it. By creating visual content, reaching out to an audience, and leveraging that audience for financial support, I have found success as a creator on the internet. To achieve this, it is essential to treat your art like a business. Engage in pitch meetings, establish relationships with distributors and vendors, and seek sponsorships for your projects. Many creatives often prioritize their art over their livelihood, which can lead to financial difficulties. Unless you have affluent parents funding your life, finding a balance is crucial.
The first step is to always have a cash flow available. This may mean having a job that pays the bills while pursuing your art on the side. This approach allows you to finance your projects, meet your financial obligations, and maintain a stable living situation. It can be challenging for artists, as it may feel like it hampers their creativity. However, adjusting your mindset to view it as part of the process is crucial.
There is a pyramid of leverage, also known as a wealth ladder, that, when properly positioned, allows you to earn significantly more money with your skill set. At the bottom of the pyramid, we have generalists — individuals who are willing to work in various fields without a specific focus. These are often students or recent graduates who take jobs without a clear direction. While they possess some knowledge in different areas, they lack mastery in any specific field. However, as they gain experience over time, they become proficient in their generalist skills and are recognized as experts. Typically, experts have around a decade of experience and can mentor generalists, such as a senior designer teaching a junior designer. As they progress, experts narrow their focus to a few specific areas and become known as the go-to person for those tasks. Moving up the ladder, we have Unicorns and Trail Blazers, who share the same level. Unicorns are a rare breed of creators who excel in multiple disciplines. They are like having several specialists within one person — for instance, someone who is an expert programmer, game designer, and artist all in one. Trail Blazers, on the other hand, are crucial because they set the tone for emerging industries and skill sets. They are the ones who are deeply involved in a new trend or technology from its inception, enabling them to be well-prepared when it gains popularity. At the very top of the pyramid, we have celeb creators — artists who have gained immense recognition for their work. They have reached a level of fame where they can demand high fees for their services or lectures on their particular expertise.
Once you have developed your skill set and identified your position on the Pyramid of Leverage, it’s time to establish a solid foundation for your art. Continuously develop your skills to climb the ladder and reposition yourself for greater financial success. Create a marketing plan that incorporates content and brand strategies for your art. Start building a social following by sharing your content across various platforms. Place your art wherever there are eyes, making sure to include links to your central social platform. If you’re a painter, Instagram might be the most suitable platform for you. If you’re a VFX artist, YouTube could be the best place to showcase your work. If you create short-form clips with storytelling elements, TikTok might be the ideal platform. Allocate 80% of your efforts to directing your audience to these primary social channels. Always include a call to action in your posts. The goal is to build a substantial audience on one central channel and, once that audience is established, focus on building up another platform.
Once you have built an audience, it’s time to leverage them for sponsorship deals and paid projects. Look for companies that advertise products relevant to your niche. Identify the decision-makers, usually the Chief Marketing Officer or head of talent relations. These individuals determine whether their company will collaborate with you. Platforms like Social Blue Book can provide insights on how much you should charge for a post, video, or advertisement. However, keep in mind that these sites focus solely on audience metrics and may not consider your skill or ability. If you excel in your craft, you should be able to negotiate higher rates or even receive recommendations that lead to additional advertising opportunities for which you can charge more.
When you have mastered the process, you can learn to scale up your business. If you can charge $100 an hour for your art, it’s wise to delegate tasks that consume your time to someone who can handle them for a lower rate. This includes writing descriptions, creating ads, running campaigns, and other time-consuming activities that hinder you from focusing on what generates revenue — your art. By hiring someone for $30 an hour to handle these tasks, you can concentrate on earning that $100, resulting in a significant increase in your overall productivity and financial success.
To maximize your profitability, it’s crucial to treat your business as a business rather than just an influencer. When brands approach you to create content, they often try to negotiate lower prices based solely on your number of viewers, disregarding the effort and work you put into the project. Imagine if Coca-Cola wanted you to pay to run an ad on your TikTok but didn’t want to compensate you for your efforts in writing, filming, editing, color correction, and scheduling the video. Unfortunately, this scenario is reminiscent of many influencer conversations with large brands. They focus on paying for the audience rather than acknowledging the creativity and effort of the content creator behind the audience growth.
To overcome this challenge, it’s important to position these conversations as if you were working with a production studio that produces TV shows and commercials. Embrace the mindset of a professional creative business, emphasizing the value and expertise you bring to the table. By framing the discussion in this way, you can command fair compensation for the work you put into creating high-quality content, ultimately making your business more profitable.
Whether you are just starting out or have been in the industry for years, I hope you found value in this article. Take a moment to assess where you currently stand in your journey and always strive to move forward and grow.