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Organization for Artists

As small businessmen and women, whether we like it or not, we have to be incredibly organized to do our jobs.  As creatives, that may or may not be our biggest strength, but we have to find strategies to be as professionally organized as we possibly can in our entrepreneurial careers.

We wear so many hats as small creative business owners that it can sometimes feel completely overwhelming, exhausting, and even demoralizing.  There’s just so much to do, and so little of those duties actually involve the creation of art, or the furthering of my craft.  And I mentioned this before, I’m not doing this alone, I have a spouse in the business with me.  How much harder it must be for those of you who are doing all of this alone?  The sickening part for me is the knowledge that there are some of our number who seem to be able to get it all done, and apparently with eaze.  What have they got that I “ain’t” got?  What’s wrong with me?  It’s not that I’m envious of their success, but what is it about me that requires so much more work to achieve the same level of organization?

Well, I’m here to tell you today that it doesn’t matter at all where you’re starting from.  It really doesn’t.  The time to start is now, and the right place to be is precisely where you find yourself at this very moment.  So, what’s the first step?  That will depend on where you are on the journey, but I think a great place to start is to do a quick inventory of what systems you already have in place, and figure out if they’re working for you.  Once you’ve got that list completed, add to it all the things that you’d like to be doing, or that you know you’re not yet doing, to make your business organization better.  Doesn’t have to be a sophisticated list, but give it some real time.

While that list is percolating in your brain, take an assessment of your physical workspaces.  Do you have a dedicated place to do your business work, or is everything done on the dining room table?  If you have to move dishes, paint brushes, or laundry in order to sit down to work, the answer to that question is probably no.  Fix that.  Make sure you have a small table, a corner of the room, or an empty closet to set up your business operations.  Make sure you can do everything for your business management from that space.  Have a computer, printer, paper, a pair of scissors, a stapler, pens, pads, tape, etc… at the ready.  Do you use a file folder system?  Have your filing cabinet close by, and don’t block it with the exercise bike.  You need to be able to file, and retrieve files as your work progresses.  Do you have a calendar, either on paper or online?  I’m not concerned if the space is a bit junky, as long as you have what you need within reach.  If you find you’re having to get up from your workspace to sharpen a pencil, or paperclip a document, your work space needs some updating.

Once your workspace is organized, you might want to do the same with your creative space.  Having an organized space helps immeasurably with morale as well as productivity.  My guess is that we could all use more of both those things.

Let’s get back to your systems inventory list.  You’ve jotted down that you have a really good website, and you’re doing very well on advertising online and through social media.  You have a growing customer list, and you produce a really cool newsletter monthly like clockwork.  You notice that you are really bad at keeping track of mileage, and that you have receipts and papers in stacks all around the office.  You pretty much are aware of what is in each stack, but if someone came in and moved things, you’d be lost.  You also find that you spend a lot of time recreating statistical information that you did a month or two ago.  Oh yes, and all of your artwork is titled and photographed, but every time there is an open call, you seem to recreate all the data for each artwork, as well as your artist statement and bio paragraph.  You also fear the passing of each quarter because you know you will have to report your Sales Taxes, and it seems like every four months you’re starting from scratch.

Great, now that list may grow and shrink as the weeks go by, but this exercise gives you a really focused approach to creating the organizational systems you need.  Remember too that most of these systems can be created without investing in loads of online subscription services.  People ran businesses very effectively before there were lightbulbs, so don’t fall for all the hype.  Those folks are in business too.  Having said that, don’t ever underestimate how automation can hugely impact your efficiency, your organization, and your sanity.  I hesitated for years starting my business because I didn’t know anything about accounting.  I bought Quickbooks and hired an accounting firm, and all that angst went away.  Granted, the accountants are the largest monthly expense I have after rent, but if they doubled their fee I’d still pay it.  No only do they take all that workload off my desk, I can relax knowing that someone is watching my back, and my fear of getting arrested by the IRS has disappeared.  Maybe it’s me, but I’d hate to be in the prison yard explaining to all the other inmates that my crime was a faulty spreadsheet, as if my embarrassment would be my greatest problem in prison.

So I am a firm believer in hiring out, and automating any system that will increase my professionalism, and give me some of my time back to create art.  So I pay an accountant, who also does my taxes, I pay for Quickbooks, a crm system for my newsletter and customer database (Flashissue).  I subscribe to a legal cooperative in case I need some legal help (LegalShield), and have all of the productivity software applications… Photoshop, Lightroom, Premiere, Dropbox, etc.  and I use Google’s “Drive” every single day.  I also use ArtworkArchive, which has saved me countless times with organizing artwork, collectors, and exhibitions and open calls.  I seriously don’t know what I would do without ArtworkArchive.

You may know that I spent 30 years as a librarian, which makes me keenly aware of the importance of organization to doing my job.  But I’ve also learned that it’s easy to get so involved in creating systems that you can spend more time on maintaining the system than on doing the artwork.  Keep an eye out for that trap.  If you are spending more time organizing your art than creating your art, you’ll need to back off a little.  These systems are there to help your business, not dominate it.  Remember that you’re in control of these organizational tools, and if they’re not helping, they should be abandoned for other systems that do help.

I think that’s particularly true of programs you pay for.  There is a tendency to let the program dictate how you run your business.  Or you may spend weeks trying to understand all of the features of a subscription service, when only using part of its functions would be more than enough to meet your organizational needs.

Whether you address your business needs with paid online subscriptions, hired consultants, or do it all by hand in a ledger book, realize that you do need to be hyper organized in running your creative entrepreneurial business.  Remember that it’s the creative part of your business that is your passion, not the record keeping.  Find effective strategies that can remove some of the barriers to doing that work you love, and get back to making beautiful things, because that’s what will sustain you after all.

In our quest to branch out seriously into social media marketing, Bogdan and I are starting something new.  I already do a weekly blog (as you may have guessed), but I also do a weekly vlog, and a video podcast.  We’ve now started a weekly live show called Art Chat with John & Bogdan.  It’s 30 minutes every Thursday morning at 11:00 central time on Zoom.  Stop by and visit sometime, we’d love to meet you in person.  If you can’t make it at 11am, don’t worry, we record the sessions and post them on my YouTube channel.   I’ll put the link below.

Join me next week, when we’ll talk more specifically about ideas on organizing your record keeping.  I know, I know, exciting stuff, but you’ll have to wait.  Have a wonderful week, and I’ll see you soon.


creates a community, a conversation, between creatives in all sorts of fields at all sorts of levels.  We want to discuss what we’re learning, what we’ve experienced, and whom we’ve met in our journey of running a freelance creative business. John Bishop is a visual artist living in Houston, Texas. His work is largely abstract, and explores how to turn mythic, archetypal symbols into individual experiences allowing us to see them in a new way, with fresh eyes. His work can be seen online, or at his studio at Silver Street Studios, 2000 Edwards Street, Studio 108, in Houston.

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