Making the Leap to Full-time Artist

Making the Leap to Full-time Artist

Wishing you could leave the corporate world and just make art all day? Before you make the switch to a full-time artist, it’s time to take inventory of what you have and what changes when you will have to make in order to execute this career change. This post outlines things to consider before taking the leap.

Benefits: An obvious change from the day job to the full-time artist will benefits. These will likely be your responsibility now that you are self-employed. Getting health insurance will be a large priority, but consider if you also want vision, dental, or other insurances.

Other benefits like a 401k or 403B will be on your shoulders, which are hard to overlook if you plan on retiring at some point in your life. While you can easily open an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) and contribute money, you can only contribute $5,500 per year. You can also open a Self-Employment IRA which is a pre-tax retirement account and contribute up to 25% of your income. Educating yourself on how to offset the benefits that a day job can offer is important.

If understanding employment laws, taxes and finances sound outside your area of expertise, then plan to spend money on an accountant, financial adviser, or lawyer to help, or reconsider this career transition.

Relationships: Your success as an independent artist will depend on building relationships between other artists, businesses, and collectors in the community. Before you make the leap, you should already have this infrastructure in your career. Networking and professional correspondence will be a daily part of your creative new day job. Be prepared to reach out to others to build relationships, pitch your art, and find collectors.

Revenue Streams: Think about how you are going to be bringing in multiple streams of revenue. In addition to being able to focus on your art, you need to think about what else you’re willing to do or create to bring in revenue. There will be a point in time when money gets tough and you will have to consider doing or making work you probably are not excited about:

  • Commissions or work for hire
  • Teaching workshops or classes
  • Being a teaching or resident artist
  • Public talks and public speaking events
  • Mentoring or coaching
  • Creating merchandise of your art
  • Collaborating with local businesses to expand where you sell art

One big question to ask yourself is: Are you already generating the income you need annually as an artist to sustain your lifestyle?

Motivation: It takes lots of time and creativity to continue to move forward with your brand and creative identity. You need to be comfortable expanding your skills and know-how and when to hustle. Expect to spend more time and work in the studio for less income the first few years. Expect to work longer hours to launch your career or working more days out of the week when things get busy. While balancing the demands of your creative job, you also need to find self-motivation and direction which can be difficult when you reach a period of creative blocks or lack inspiration.

Understand that you will be your own boss and as cool as that sounds, you are also your own: PR person, administrative assistant, lawyer, marketer, producer, motivator, human resources, financial manager, grant-writer and negotiator.

Planning this Transition: If you already don’t have safety nets, financial projections, and the sustainability to make an easy transition from the day job to being a full-time artist, then head back to the drawing board. A good planner and self-employed artist will already be generating the income, have the company systems set up, and can easily make this transition. Spend time planning before executing this transition, you should have systems already set up for the following business management and finance topics:

  • Be able to manage and review finances
  • Pay for Insurance and understand risk management
  • Save appropriate amount for taxes: sale & use tax and self-employment tax
  • Proactively reduce debt
  • Maintain a budget and generate multiple revenue streams
  • Pay yourself a salary

When times get really tough, are you willing to get a small part-time job that pays minimum wage or return back to a day job?

The Day Job: If you are making this transition because you’re tired of being told what to do, you don’t like the corporate world, or you’re miserable at the day job, this is not the reason to transition to a full-time artist. I repeat this is not a reason to become self-employed. You’re core values most likely don’t align with your current role and focusing some time and energy on finding a new job, updating your resume, and finding a career coach is a better route to go.

There is a difference between having a day job that’s a bad fit and running a small business by being a full-time artist.

If you think you can make it work, then it’s time to stick it out a bit longer in preparing for this transition. If you are spending considerable time trying to convince others how you can pull this transition off, you’re not ready. If you are also doing this to prove a point, or to demonstrate that you are indeed an artist, you are setting yourself up for failure.

If you know you can make it work: then go for it, you got this!

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