The 4 Things Every Working Artist Needs to Do First
Being an artist who makes a living is tough.
Here at our firm, we see two types of artist-clients: a group that comes before bad things happen, and the other group that comes after they have been burned. Over the years I have found that there are four things each artist can do to prevent being in the second group.
1. Find Your Team
I think a great goal for humanity is that each person does what they are best at. For you, that means creating meaning, joy, and beauty through art. It likely doesn’t mean that you know all the tax law or business details. That is why you need a team. At the very beginning, find an attorney and an accountant. This is the backbone of your team. I cannot express how much the advice of these two people will help you as you grow.
Pro tip: when you find one you click with, ask them for recommendations for the other.
2. Set Up Your Business
If you are taking money (or trade) for your art, you are a business in the eyes of the government and must think of yourself as a business. “But I don’t really sell all that much,” you might say. Doesn’t matter. The state and federal government (think IRS) presume that you are a “Sole Proprietor” and will treat you as such. And usually, being a sole proprietor is not a great idea. Much better is being a limited liability company (LLC). For more info than you could ever want to know about LLC’s, check out our blog post here.
*Don’t know what to do to be an LLC? Stay tuned for a special series on LLC’s for artists coming to the blog soon.
3. Keep The Money Separate
No matter what type of business you are, you need to make sure your business expenses are separate from your living expenses. If not, the IRS calls this “co-mingling” and bad things could happen like losing your liability protections. The base level is to get a business checking account. These are inexpensive (or free at some banks) and can really help you keep your expenses separate.
4. Don’t Stick Your Head In The Sand
This note is good for life, but especially your business. If you get a letter from the tax authority or anyone else that looks scary and concerning, go tell your team immediately (see #1). Things do not go away on their own. Never.
Of course, there are well more than four things I would recommend, but this is a great set of things to think about as you are getting your art business up and rolling. Plan ahead and you will never have to call me after everything goes wrong. Life is so much more fun that way.