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Today, there are many ways to start your own business in a creative field, not just as a side gig. While once the opportunities were limited by industry gatekeepers or even the ability to be in a geographical location with a thriving scene, the online landscape helps you to navigate these hurdles. Whether you specialize in music, video, podcasting, or visual art, you directly access audiences, industry leaders, and resources.
But these things aren’t guarantees of success. It still takes a distinct amount of work, focus, and luck to rise above the competition and make an impact. To put yourself in a position to do this, you’ll need money. Whether this is to pay yourself a salary so that you can devote yourself to your activities, or finances for specific projects, it can be difficult to know how to secure these funds. This is particularly the case if you are just starting out.
Let’s take a moment to review some of the ways you can fund your creative business ventures now and as you start to gain a following.
Merchandise and Licensing
Many of the methods that creative entrepreneurs can utilize to fund their ventures are dependent upon having established a reputation or an audience. Unfortunately, when you first start your business, these are things you’re unlikely to be able to take immediate advantage of. When you’re beginning a new creative venture, such as a freelance photography business, you’ll certainly benefit from ensuring you have the right equipment to help you succeed, alongside training and skills to excel in your field. However, you’ll also need to engage with business resources — chief among them a business plan — that should include early, diverse sources of income while you build that all-important audience and reputation.
For most creatives, this will involve treating your creative product as a commodity. You have to find ways to be able to sell your output to as many people as you can at prices that the majority will be able to afford. For visual artists and some musicians, this could include merchandise options. Sell prints of your photography or artwork, apparel featuring your graphic designs. There is an increasing number of print-on-demand e-commerce platforms such as Redbubble and Threadless that provide free stores for artists to upload images and ship directly to consumers.
As the profit margins tend to be relatively small in merchandising, it can also be wise to supplement this with other forms of income. For both visual and audio creative entrepreneurs, licensing can be a good option. This involves selling limited rights to use your content for commercial purposes and tends to be most lucrative if you deal directly with marketing agencies and large businesses. However, this can take time to achieve. An alternative option is to use online stock image licensing services, or musicians can use licensors for film and video like Uppbeat and Epidemic Sound.
Throughout history, creative careers have rarely been self-funded. Rather there’s always been a need to find those who engage with the work artists produce enough to be willing to provide creators with funding. While there doesn’t tend to be the same system of patronage as would have been familiar in centuries past, there is some semblance of that approach you can use to fund your projects.
Platforms like Patreon and Ko-Fi have emerged to provide a sustainable way for audiences to regularly donate small amounts of money to support artists. This isn’t transactional — though many creatives choose to provide exclusive content to patrons — meaning that funds go directly to support creative ventures. However, these are generally more successful if you have built a solid social media following. Indeed, live streaming via your channels, either showing some behind-the-scenes footage of your work or as creative content in themselves can help to garner patron donations. It’s important to follow best practices to ensure you can convert more patrons and keep growing your follower base — streaming consistently, and keeping content engaging tend to inform your success.
While moving to patron platforms may well be more successful in your second year of business, one form of patronage that can be helpful straight away is commissioning. There is more inherent value in personalized creative work than in prints, merchandise, or licensed work. Therefore whether you create music, make videos, or paint portraits, make a section of your website clearly dedicated to the process of requesting commissions. Make sure that you post frequently on your channels that you are open to requests, and how they can contact you — if possible, post examples of recent commissions you’ve undertaken to show what you can provide at various price levels.
For many small creative ventures, you won’t be seeking traditional investors or bank loans. Rather, particularly if your company runs from home, you’ll be seeking funding from online sources. Over the last decade or so, one of the most popular ways to approach this is through crowdfunding campaigns. Unlike the patron system, this usually targets specific projects — which can be effective when you are trying to get backing for a large work such as a movie or a video game.
In small creative businesses, this can be the most practical way to get production or distribution costs taken care of. You are pitching directly to your consumers, and in many cases, they are simply paying in advance for the product that you intend to make. However, while this seems simple, if you don’t follow some essential crowdfunding steps it can get out of hand. This includes making certain you don’t overwhelm your audience with extraneous information, and keeping your funders engaged with regular updates on the campaign. Staying organized is an absolute must, too. If you’re unable to follow through on your campaign promises, this can damage your reputation and trust with your followers.
Funding a creative business is not always easy, but there are some effective approaches. Licensing and merchandising can provide small amounts of passive income while seeking patronage can encourage your followers to contribute to your overall operating costs. When it comes to individual projects, crowdfunding can be successful, but you have to approach it with a focused, organized attitude.
By Indiana Lee, BOSS contributor