10 Ways to Ruin Your Art Business

How many of these are you guilty of?


Colored pencils


1. Don’t consider what your audience wants. Create whatever interests you – but do not expect that what you want to make and what people want to buy are the same thing.


2. Guess on prices. You aren’t sure of your expenses (and you might be a little afraid of how much they are anyway.) So you price your work at what you think “the market will bear” with no true knowledge of whether you are making any profit.


3. Don’t pay yourself for your labor. If you aren’t paying yourself, then you have a hobby – not a business.


4. Assume that if you build a website, they will come. Launching your own website is a great idea. But that’s just the beginning, because then you have to publicize your site to attract visitors. If that doesn’t happen, your art exists on a tiny little virtual island that nobody will see.


5. Show your work online – with no prices. Do you think that members of the public will see your art online and call you up to find out how much you want to charge them for it? Not likely.


6. Apologize for your work. If you lack confidence and suspect that your work is not really “ready for prime time,” work on your skills, don’t apologize for them. If you feel that you can’t really call yourself an artist, then others won’t either.


7. Ignore your existing customers. According to the Small Business Administration, it’s 65% easier to make a sale to someone you sold to in the past. If you never contact the people who have purchased your work, you leave all those sales on the table.


8. Focus on busy work. Spend all of your time on small details (like surfing the internet and posting on social media) instead of doing the hard work of structuring your business to create consistent income. This will ensure that you never really get off the ground.


9. Fail to plan. The old saying, “Failing to plan is planning to fail” is very true. If you don’t know where you are going, how will you get there?


10. Avoid action. Simply taking action, on a consistent basis,  is one of the most essential parts of starting and growing any business. No action means no business.


These are just a few ways that Artists sabotage their businesses. How many others can you think of?

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  1. These are so true and I fall in the category of quite a few. I’m working on correcting that. This is an eye-opening post, thanks!

    Jaime Haney

    • Jaime, it’s a pleasure to hear from you. Yes, many artists (and many businesspeople of all stripes too) fall into these categories. No one is perfect – but as long as you are working on your art business, you can make progress. Best to you.

  2. I think #1 on the list is a biggie. How do you do that without selling out?

    • RoByn, If you have a body of work inspired by your vision, that you do not wish to change to appeal to clientele, find a way that your work as it is intersects with what others may want. What is your theme? Who reacts to it? Who has purchased from you in the past?

      Develop a profile for your target customer, and you will be able to begin creating a road map to reach them.

      We offer lots of information on exactly how to market to your target customer in our E-course “Marketing for Artists and Craftspeople” on this site.

  3. Thank you for sharing this eye-opening information! I know I am guilty of several of these business killers. My biggest stumbling block right now is publicity. I can’t afford to pay for publicity yet, nor can I afford to expand my website to showcase the large variety of items that I make. I am not sure how to correct these, but appreciate the help.

    • Donna, thanks for commenting. You actually don’t have to pay for publicity! Contact local magazines, newspapers and blogs to tell them your story and try to get an interview. That may bring you plenty of exposure without having to spend a dime.

  4. Loved this article. I would say that I used to be guilty of many of these things a few years ago…but I give myself pep talks regularly…believe in my products that I love…and have seen first hand that if I love making something- it shows…and others will appreciate it too!
    Thanks for the article…it’s always nice to have a check list to keep yourself on track!

  5. I agree with no 4. online sounds like easy until you landed your feet into one 😉

    • That’s true – but all businesses need continued marketing. Whether online or offline, you need to let people know about you!

  6. I’m kind of stuck in a catch-22 at the moment. I want to boost sales to be able to invest in my business, but I feel like I need to invest in my business to boost sales! My cash flow is pretty much nil and I just don’t know which direction to focus my attention – small craft shows where I sell maybe 1 or 2 pieces, but get my work in front of people and hand out business cards in the hope of generating online sales, pool my resources and efforts into refining my display and collateral and saving up for much higher booth fees at one or two big shows a year, or laser in on the internet with a great web presence and online marketing. I wish I had the time and money to do all 3 at once!

    • Debra, You are right – dividing your time between several fruitless efforts won’t move your business forward. Choosing one direction and making a commitment to focus on it persistently will help you.

      What’s the right choice for you? You may need some assistance here. Do you have a guild that you belong to or a mentor? Or check out our consulting services if you want to work with an ABI professional on this. http://artsbusinessinstitute.org/consulting-2/

  7. I am so excited to be getting back into my art and creating a business has been a challenge only in the way of proper business structure. All the laws and rules can make it very complicated. That can also be a HUGE stumbling block. I know for myself that the fear of the unknown and putting off this type of decision can freeze you up in every way. Thank God I’m working with a creative business coach Nanette Saylor. She is helping me in so many ways. Now I am not putting off the “scary” stuff! 🙂

  8. I handle the business side of my husband’s jewelry designs and I am learning as I go. Lists like these help me refocus my priorities and not repeat the same mistakes I have made in the past. Thanks for contributing so much to my learning!

  9. Great post! Another “guilt” is to set and follow a wrong purpose for yourself, never get anywhere and feel you have failed. Setting the right purpose for your business and structuring your main actions around it will help you to accomplish your goals, and reach that happiness one has dreamed of :).

  10. That’s a pretty good list, my friend! You summed things up pretty well!

    #3 is a peeve of mine. I don’t know how many artists don’t value their time and factor it into their COGS. Working for hours on a painting and selling it for $20 is not wise, IMHO. Your materials and labor cost are valuable, as is the product you make.

    Unfortunately, there’s a lot of art and a lot of artists out there, and it is challenging to develop a market for your works. I keep focusing on improving my product, my paintings, learning and growing as an artist, while at the same time getting feedback from the market place and spreading my name and images around.

    it’s slow going. But I learned along time ago, no successful artist is going to share what is working for them. YOu have to do it for yourself. There are lots of articles on what NOT to do. Very few specific articles about what DOES work.

    So I say, be persistent, stay confident, learn, grow, challenge yourself, and keep planting the seeds of your own success! No one else is going to do it for you!

  11. Great information, thank you for a concise list. Truly valuable

    Best wishes

  12. I find number 7 a huge problem on Etsy. You aren’t allowed to contact past customers as part of a sales campaign and if you do, they will eliminate you from the site. Their fear that someone will conduct a sale that didn’t originate on Etsy and will deprive them of a commission prevents us from offering any promotions to past clients. We lose a golden opportunity for sales. I haven’t found any way around this problem.

    • Create your own website and sell from there. Ive tried selling on there and fine art america and gotten no where so I decided to go it alone. I set up my whole website for like $10 a month and have used social media to draw in clients plus its a way to showcase you and your art exactly how u want to.

      Hope this helps

      • I am with fineartamerica and i had my own website built to front the print on demand section. I haven’t had any sales still but a lot more traffic comes to my website as i work hard everyday to put myself out there

  13. Very nice post. I have dreams one day of starting a photography business. I am a stay at home dad and I am working on my photography skills and hope to get them up to par by the time both kids are in school. I still have some time since the youngest is 2 1/2 but I have been looking down this road. I enjoyed your post and would like to see more like this if you don’t mind sharing your experiences.

  14. A simple and perfectly clear list of everything I’ve done wrong at one time or another. I still obtain from posting my prices but I’m considering changing this.

  15. I think being able to charge a fair wage for your time is one of the hardest things. I’m not talking crazy money but like $10-15/hr
    I’m nearly fully booked for the year but am not yet at the point where I CAN charge a fair wage for my time and still remain booked (ie my market is not able to bear that price for my product) I spend 20-36 hrs per piece and last year barely made minimum wage if that most of the time. Hard to make it a business when you can’t live on the proceeds 🙁

    • Diane, I would challenge you to think not in terms of hourly wage, but in pricing your art at it’s value. Artwork varies widely in price, of course. It is more than the sum of its parts. As you understand and communication the added value of your work, and present your portfolio to the right audience, you command higher prices. Many articles on this site deal with added value, pricing, branding, marketing and presentation. Take a look and consider whether you are thinking correctly about how you price your art.

      • Thanks for the reply. It is pencil/graphite art. Much of the articles here deal with more physical art that has a wider audience and wider pricing ability. back in the 80’s 90’s it seemed flat art was a big seller and prints sold super. Now flat art seems to have taken a big back seat and prints, especially limited edition ones, no longer sell well (even great well known artists). I got into the art again after a 20++ year absence to attempt to bring some added income into the house, only to find the market is very very different now. I am probably a minority here but I don’t do the art because I love it, I restarted it because I needed to and a “living wage” (ie net profit) is important. Likely that is heresy here but fact

  16. I agree with your comments. I have been an artist and artist rep for over 25 years, artists should stick to creating art and let pros promote it for them. 🙂

    • Completely disagree with you, Dan. Artists should understand their value, be able to speak about their art, and know their marketplace. The entire thrust of what we do at ABI is educate artists about business matters, including marketing and sales. Our workshops are popular because artists know it is important to empower themselves in their own businesses, not to pay somebody else to do the marketing and sales end of things.

  17. Great article! So easy to make these mistakes with so many things to balance. It’s important to be reminded of these points and make corrections while continuing to move forward.

  18. One massive one which i am currently struggling with is believing the company i am working toward approaching will say no before i have even tried. I am working on my mindset and making sure it is in the right place before i approach anyone to maximise my results.

    Taking no action due to fear of rejection is the worst! sometimes i hate feeling defeated before i have even begun. The reason for the recent bout of self doubt is down to how i view the company i want to approach. At the moment i feel they are up on a pedestal, and even though in reality i fit because my standard of work is up to scratch and will fit into their company i still think they will go oh no not for us.

  19. What a great “poke in the ribs” this post is. I’ve just started work with an agent and it has really made me look at all of the things referred to in the above post.

    I have been the most productive I’ve been in 15 years and I am finally doing a balance of the things I like to make as well as a definitive product line with my pottery.


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