How to turn your art into an income

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“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”Annie Dillard

Nowadays, it’s common for people to turn their art into a career. Some are fortunate enough to land a full-time job that allows them to utilize their natural talents. Meanwhile, the rest of us are stuck seeking ways to earn extra cash from our art while working 40 hours a week, raising a family, running errands and completing household chores. In other words, making time for your art is a tricky business.

So what’s the secret? Everywhere you look, inspiring individuals are selling their painting for profit, or crafting for cash. And yet most of us feel as though we’ll never achieve the success necessary to quit our day job. As with everything, the key is persistence. Personally, I like to believe it’s not possible to fail at something that you pour your entire heart and soul into. It’s just a matter of setting your eyes on the prize. Let’s take a look at a few things you can do to achieve those goals.

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Stop looking at your art as a “hobby”

In order to successfully market your art, you have to start viewing it as marketable. Unfortunately, most of us are trained to categorize our art separately from our profitable skills. Many brilliant artists don’t list “painting” on their resumes, because it’s not viewed as a transferable skill. This mindset leads us to believe that our art is nothing more than an extracurricular – a way to pass the time in between practical, productive activities. But we need to start blending those ideals.

Start by changing your language. When you talk about your art, replace words like “hobby” and “pastime” with “work” and “business”. Even if you’re just starting to sell your product, it’s beneficial to build yourself up by attributing worth and value to your art rather than dismissing it as trivial. It’s also constructive to make the shift from “I want to be” to “I am”. Instead of telling people that you “want to be an artist”, tell them that you are an artist. Because you are!

The next step is to create an environment that inspires work rather than play. It’s fine to keep it fun – that’s what art is all about, after all – but if you truly want to earn money, you need to strive for a level of professionalism that stretches beyond cutting paper snowflakes from the comfort of your bed. Set aside an area of your home as your work space. Try to avoid common areas like the living room and the kitchen as these locations tend to contain distractions. Instead, turn the spare bedroom into an office or invest in a room divider to create a makeshift cubicle. Then fill it with items and supplies that inspire you! Buy a small filing cabinet for orders and invoices, a calendar to mark important deadlines and, most importantly, the tools you need to create your product.

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Prioritize

Once you believe that your business endeavor is legitimate, it’s time to make time for it. The harsh reality is that in order to turn your art into money, it has to take priority in your life. You will not – I repeat, will not – achieve success if you only spend 30 minutes every other day thinking about it.

If you’ve been contemplating turning your art into cash for more than a year, it’s time to take some serious action. Planning is great, but it’s easy to use it as an excuse when, in reality, you’re spending far too many hours watching TV and not near enough time working toward your end goal.

In an article titled Make Time, writer Ximena Vengoechea states that “[m]aking time is about deciding what matters. There is only room for distractions if you let there be.” Take a moment to ask yourself how you spend your days. Write it down, if that helps. Then start to prioritize. Decide what activities can go, and begin organizing all your spare time. Create schedules and set deadlines. If you find yourself trying to justify certain “time wasters” (i.e. “Watching TV helps me unwind so that I can focus on my art), be honest with yourself and determine whether your reasons are actually valid. If these activities are holding you back from achieving your end goal, then it’s time to rethink their value.

This is probably the biggest challenge people face when making the transition from “art for enjoyment” to “art for profit”. Particularly if you’ve spent years creating art just for the fun of it, making the switch into a more business-oriented mindset (which entails time management practices and discipline) is a difficult obstacle to overcome. But it’s not impossible. Start slow, and work your way up toward a stricter routine. Eventually, you’ll find that sitting down at your craft table, keyboard, etc. comes more naturally than binge watching Netflix.

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Stay disciplined

It’s easy to fall off the wagon. At some point, you’ll look up and realize it’s been over a week since you picked up a paintbrush or engaged with customers on social media – and that’s okay. As a business owner (yes, that’s what you are), you have to learn to forgive yourself for slipping up every once in a while. Business owner or not, you’re only human.

The key is to rein it back in. Make up for lost time by logging a few early mornings to catch up. Backdate some extra blog posts or ask for help from friends and family. If you start feeling overwhelmed, take a breath. This is going to be challenging, but it isn’t meant to make you detest your art, so find a happy medium and learn how to thrive on that pressure that you’re inevitably going to feel.

Discipline becomes a lot easier when specific goals are in place. It’s easy to overlook key aspects of business management when you’re not even sure where you’re going or what needs to be done in order to reach that destination. This infographic by Ryan Robinson succinctly outlines how goal setting can help. Writing down short- and long-term objectives is difficult for some people and might even seem useless for others – but I assure you, it’s necessary.

Editor’s note: Ryan’s infographic also contains a wealth of other tips for those of you struggling to start your own business while juggling a full time career.

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Learn to say no

When you work for an employer, you can’t just skip out on work when a friend asks you to hang out. Now that you’re self-employed, you need to maintain that same level of discipline. Sure, being your own boss has its perks. You can set your own hours and even take a long weekend every now and again. But it’s important not to get carried away by the freedom of it all.

On the flip side, being a business owner (especially where your passion is involved), can quickly become all-consuming. You might find yourself turning down social invitations so you can spend more time working, and that can also be detrimental. So learn to say no to your work, too. If you can’t remember the last time you spent an evening with your spouse, make time for your relationship. Can’t recall the last time you took a shower? Strip down and bathe, for goodness’ sake. There needs to be balance.

“The trick to staying sane is defining the non-negotiable,” writes Caitlin Sisley in her article The Elusive Work Life Balance: 7 Ways to Avoid Burnout. “Everyone has something precious in their personal life – whether it’s attending your kid’s rugby games, having Taco Tuesday with your partner, or doing yoga twice a week. Which of these things are essential for your own fulfilment and happiness?” Once you’re able to define these “non-negotiables”, it’ll become easier to use the word “no” accordingly – and only then will your business prosper!

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Believe in yourself

If you’re one of the many artists working to turn your art into an income, keep going. With enough time and dedication, you will eventually succeed. Be prepared to encounter a few “non-believers” along the way, and learn to let their negative comments roll off. At the end of the day, this is your business – your life. And only you can make it happen.