ARTBITS by Richard B. Harper

VOLUME 6 * * All Arts News On the Web * * May 10 , 2002


      ArtBits always features a calendar of the goings on of Franklin County artists. Check out these events around Franklin County. Each issue includes the entire text of our weekly newspaper column.

      Stop in for the AAC CoffeeHouses at 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month. These gatherings bring new opportunities, gossip, "show-and-tell" and workshops. We come together on the second Wednesday for a booked musical performance and an art exhibit at Simple Pleasures in St Albans. On the fourth Wednesday come to the Kept Writer in St Albans for acoustic Open Mike Night featuring music, readings, and more from the best new artists in Vermont.


      Planning cuts costs
      This column is the second in a three-part series in which we contemplate when an artist is an artist and when an artist is an entrepreneur. Last week, we considered how an artist decides whether or not to "pay to play." Today we look at how an artist can prepare a business plan that leads to commercial success. In the final installment, I will interview some of the artists and performers in our area about the steps they took from their first sales to making a living in the arts.
      Simeon Geigel of the Microbusiness Development Program advocates the importance of business plans. "It is needed if you are going for a business loan," he said. "It acts as your road map of how you will be successful" because it forces you to look at the roadblocks that stall a business. It saves money because you can experiment on paper "rather than in the real world with real money."
      Most artists and embryonic entrepreneurs write a business plan reluctantly. Some think their business is "too small." Some artists think they should not "have to" sully their hands with commerce or to spend money to market their work.
      They are right. No artist has to open a business. Since four new businesses out of every five fail, perhaps no artist should. However, customers don't magically drive to a secluded studio and even fans rarely mob stores for a local band's CD. The All Arts Council has never exhibited an artist or booked a band by plucking their names out of the air. Some business knowledge, planning, and marketing makes it easier to find success.
      A business plan is simply a written outline of your research. It helps evaluate the viability of an idea and to keep that venture on track. It will define and focus on your objective. It will include current information and solid analysis. It is a required selling tool to create relationships with lenders, investors, and even some customers. It will expose the omissions and weaknesses in your planning process. Remember, you are your first investor; ask yourself the tough questions.
      Generally, a business plan includes about 10 sections: an Executive summary, a description of your business and the industry in which it operates, the products you will make and sell, a close look at your market, your marketing strategy, operations, management (or your key individuals and their duties), a timeline, your financial information and forecasts, and a two-page summary of your business, products, marketing strategy, manufacturing process, project costs, and financial needs.
      Here are seven steps to a worthwhile written strategy for an artist.
      1. Write out your basic business concept. If you cannot describe your business in a couple of sentences, you are not yet well enough focused. This vision statement should be a brief, provocative synopsis of your business purpose and goals. Think of it as an interesting way to introduce your art to lenders, investors, and customers.
      2. Describe your own artwork and collect information about all of your competitors. I like to create a spreadsheet that compares your paintings and other products point by point to other artists. If you have no competition anywhere in the world, perhaps there is no market for your art; if the competition is steep, you will need a plan to penetrate the market. Emphasize how you will capitalize on their weaknesses or overcome their strong points. "It's worth understanding who else is out there both to network and to check out the competition," Simeon said.
      3. Investigate the market for your work and build a marketing strategy. Describe in detail the first shopper who will walk into your store. This question forces you to develop customer demographics such as income, educational levels, residence, tastes, and needs. "Advertising is quite expensive," Simeon said. This research and planning lets you target your advertising dollars wisely.
      4.Decide how you will actually make and sell your art. There is a significant difference between painting one oil at a time for friends and manufacturing 500 limited edition reproductions or 1,000 CDs. Redefine your business and show exactly how you will make it work. Art is a specialized market. Stay focused on your particular manufacturing and sales needs.
      5. Decide what you will do and who can accomplish the tasks that you can't or won't. Will you photograph, print, mat, and frame your own limited edition prints? How many employees will you have? Will you need independent representatives? Who will maintain your mailing list? List your own experience, educational background, and special awards, and collect resumes for each person who will work for you. Be factual and avoid hype. You must convince potential investors that you understand what it takes to begin and maintain your business.
      6. Gather your financial information and forecast your operating budget. Do you know your net worth? You will by the time this plan is done. Assess the economic environment. Five years ago, the stock market was booming; now it is groaning. Will that affect your ability to sell art? Build a three-year cash flow statement that includes your capital requirements. Include your appraisal of what could go wrong and how you will handle problems. Want to bet your savings in a game where you don't know any of the rules or how to keep score? That's what happens if you skip this step.
      7. Draw a three-year timeline.
      Conclude your business plan with a two-page summary that recaps your vision, what makes it unique, how you expect to become profitable, and projects your future income. A good conclusion will remind potential investors and partners of the most important aspects of your plan.
      "The best way is to do the business plan well in advance of opening the store," Simeon said. The more detailed and articulate your plan, the more likely it will interest potential investors. The best return on your investment comes from good planning.
      Remember, there are only three ways to build a good business: (1) marry someone who knows how; (2) hire someone who knows how; or (3) learn how yourself.


      Swanton's history is grain-fed. One very visible part of Franklin County's cultural heritage si the twin tower grain elevator at the entrance to Swanton Village. Although the buildings are no longer in service for grain, the Swanton Historical Society wants to preserve their eye-catching links to the past. The buildings could house retail or incubator space, granary exhibits, and even a cultural center for the "homeless" All Arts Council.
      A joint meeting of the Swanton Town Selectboard and the Village Trustees will be held at the Swanton Central School, Monday, May 14, at 7:30 p.m. Officials and area residents plan to determine its fate.
      It will be an interesting discussion about how our history and culture fits with our present.


      The Green Mountain Wind Ensemble performs at the Opera House at Enosburg Falls on Tuesday evening. This select group of student musicians from Northwestern Vermont specializes in the major works of contemporary composers, classical overtures and transcriptions, and traditional marches. Tuesday, May 15, at 8 p.m. General admission is $5.


      This year, we are wandering around the virtual state of Vermont to look at the online homes of arts organizations, galleries and artists, film and theater sites, and musicians.
      AAC director Corliss Blakely, a successful Vermont artist who does have a business plan, maintains a gallery site to show her current oil and watercolor paintings, miniature oils, and limited edition prints to potential customers.


      ArtBits features a quick weekly peek at the bookshelf or night stand of the folks you know in and around Franklin County. That popular feature has a page of its own at the Franklin County Bookshelf here on the AAC site.


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      This article was originally published in the St Albans Messenger and other traditional print media. It is Copyright © 2001 by Richard B. Harper. All rights reserved. Archival material is provided as-is. Links are not necessarily maintained (if a link in this article fails, try or your favorite search engine).
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