Burning Bridges and Building Businesses: How Artist Entrepreneurs Can (Actually) Make it Happen

Dec 19, 2022

Creatives today face the unique challenge of marrying the creativity of an artist with the needed business acumen of a tech entrepreneur (how else will they be able to break through the noise in their oversaturated markets?) That means balancing our creative endeavors with the need to earn a stable income, the need to invest in and grow our businesses, and the need to take on leadership roles that may sit outside of our comfort zone.

Of course, the problem is that, as artists, we probably don’t have the same background in business as traditional entrepreneurs do. Many of us were lucky to receive formal training in our chosen artistic discipline. But I’m guessing most of us stayed very far away from our khaki-wearing, academics-driven classmates at the business school across campus, hoping somebody else would eventually help us deal with the practical aspects of running a business, such as marketing, sales, financial management, and undefined but terrifying “admin” responsibilities. I’m also guessing that special somebody hasn’t come along yet—and now you’re finding yourself trying to do it all!

The good news is that it’s possible for artists to be entrepreneurial while still maintaining their mystique, creative energy, and artistic identity. It’s important for artists to find ways to execute basic business processes in a way that feels organic and natural, rather than forced or contrived. This may involve using their creativity and artistic skills to find unique solutions to common business problems, or finding ways to integrate their artistic work with the practical demands of running a business. But by doing so, artist entrepreneurs can push themselves out of their comfort zones and into real action, a trajectory Artist’s Strategy knows leads to greater success.

Sell! But Not Really…

Like actual entrepreneurs, artists face the challenge of selling their product to a valued consumer. (If you’re already cringing at the word “consumer,” this blog post is for you.) Unlike actual entrepreneurs, however, artist entrepreneurs have to sell their product (ditto cringing on “product”) without appearing overly salesy, pushy, or corporate.  

For example, you might create a meme that features a memorable line or scene from one of your performances. Or create low-lift videos (see: TikTok) that highlight your sense of humor with behind-the-scenes footage or interviews that showcase your creative process to engage and entertain potential followers (industry and otherwise). If these more “basic actor-y” marketing strategies are not for you, you can get way more creative with your marketing strategies. For example:

  • Self-produced projects (you are an artist after all)

  • Photos and stories of you hanging out with folks you know in the biz (tells the story that you know people)

  • Branded photography, not just headshots (maybe loosely based on the types of roles you can play)

Either way, you'll need to find the right balance between appearing organic and accidental, and actually getting people to notice and hire you.

Running a Business is Hard? Try Two!

Many artist entrepreneurs have to run two businesses at the same time, which is like trying to juggle while riding a unicycle on a tightrope—a real circus act! But hey, at least you're not alone. You've got other artist entrepreneurs out there who are also trying to balance their creative careers with the practical demands of earning a stable income. Although the truly entrepreneurial understand that running a secondary business is the only way to be creatively and financially free, others rely on gig work for survival, including teaching acting classes or working as a bartender, in order to generate a steady income. We know you think this is unique to you, the “starving actor”, but great entrepreneurs from all walks of life have to get innovative with their income streams. Until their primary businesses earn a profit (for Tesla it took over a decade) they will have to figure out a way to not only keep their lights on but make enough money to invest in the business they are actually in. 

Just remember, even though it can be tough, you're an artist entrepreneur, which means you're creative, unique, and full of surprises. So don't be afraid to think outside the box, and keep juggling those businesses! Who knows, you might even make it look easy.

You’ve Got to Spend Money to Make Money

You’ve probably heard that investing in your business (yes, your business!) is important for its growth and success. However, as an artist, you may not have a lot of money to invest. This can be a challenging situation, but it’s certainly not insurmountable. Many artist entrepreneurs have found creative ways to raise the funds they need to invest in their businesses, such as crowdfunding, loans, or investors. It may also be possible to negotiate payment plans or other arrangements that allow you to invest in your business without putting yourself in financial jeopardy. By finding creative solutions to this challenge, you can invest in your business and help it grow, even with limited financial resources.

You’re The Boss

As an artist entrepreneur, you're used to being in control of your own career. But let's be real, being the boss isn't always as fun as it sounds. Sure, it's great to be the one calling the shots, but it also means you've got a lot more to worry about—and fewer people keeping you accountable. Suddenly, you're responsible for everything from marketing to finance to administration, and it can be overwhelming.

Being the boss is tough, but it's also a great opportunity to learn and grow. You can use your creativity and determination to overcome any obstacles, and to build a sustainable career as an artist entrepreneur. And remember, if you want to achieve success, you'll likely need to "burn the bridges" and focus on your goals. This may mean making difficult choices, but it can also help you to take your career to the next level and ensure a sustainable future as an actor.

Burning the Bridge

"Burning the bridge" means focusing on your goals and cornering yourself into making the necessary choices in order to achieve them. This may mean taking risks and stepping outside your comfort zone, but it can also lead to strategic, fun, and fulfilling experiences. For example, instead of taking on yet another bartending gig between projects, why not put all your time and energy into growing your creative career, including a more stable secondary income stream? Yes, it may require dipping into savings or seeking out other resources, but it also means that you won't have an "out"—you'll be committed to making your creative career a success. Your literal survival will depend on it.

An entrepreneur who truly believes in their offering won't let anything stand in their way, including distractions. Sure, making a living from something other than your art may be a necessity, but if you don't "burn the bridge" and focus on your goals, you could end up stuck in a cycle of the same approach that hasn't been working. 

Even though we often think of artists as esoteric amoebas whose heads are in the clouds, I fully believe we can use our creative, emotional minds and hearts to build out businesses even better than a muggle. So don't be afraid to take risks and make bold choices—you've got what it takes to build a successful business, and you're ready to tackle the challenge head on!

Curious about working with us? Sign up for a free consultation, and find out about our one-of-a-kind curriculum.

Sign Up For a Free Consultation