Setting up a Business:  Before we can get to making sales, it is important that you set yourself up as a business. You can get away with not doing this for a little while, but once you start taking sales on a regular basis, you must register yourself as a business. Here’s a good place to start: How to Start a Small Business in a Few Hours. Here are a couple pieces of advice:

Get your Employer Identification number (EIN).

An EIN is the federal tax number used to identify your business. You don’t need an EIN unless you will have employees or plan to form a partnership, LLC, or corporation.

But even if you don’t need an EIN, get one anyway: It’s free, takes minutes, and you can keep your Social Security number private and reduce the chance of identity theft, because if you don’t have an EIN, your SSN identifies your business for tax purposes.

Note: If you’re using an online legal service to set up an LLC or corporation, don’t use it to get your EIN. Instead, apply online at the IRS website. You’ll have your EIN in minutes.

 Get your business license.

Your county or city will require a business license. The form takes minutes to fill out. Use your EIN instead of your Social Security number to identify your business (for privacy reasons if nothing else).

 Get a business bank account.

One of the easiest ways to screw up your business accounting and possibly run afoul of the IRS is to commingle personal and business funds (and transactions). Using a business account for all business transactions eliminates that possibility.

Get a business account using your business name and EIN, and only use that account for all business-related deposits, withdrawals, and transactions.

Pick a bank or credit union that is convenient. Check out your local credit unions; often they provide better deals than banks.

Selling your work: There are a number of venues and methods in which to sell your work. Each medium has its own ways around the problem of thinking about art as commodity. It is easier for some than others to view work in this way. If you have any aspiration to “make it” as a full time artist, it is a good idea to abandon any kind of pure or poetic thinking on this subject. Unless you are independently wealthy, you have to do something for money. Some of us can find ways in which to make our art habit work for us , making the practice of art the sole source of income. This is incredibly difficult to do- but it is not impossible. Whether you make a living through grant funding or through art sales, your art is still the commodity. It is very helpful to come to this realization.

So where and how can you sell your work? What we are taught in school is about galleries. Typically a gallery works as agent. They do a lot of the work for you, by keeping the lights on, the doors open, advertising your show, collecting sales tax (we will go into detail about this on another post) etc… The best galleries have a group of collectors, and do a lot of leg work to get your work sold. In return, you pay them between 40% and 60% commission. If you have a good gallery, this is well worth it. If you don’t well….

There are also art, craft and design fairs from small town to large city.  There are often booth fees, and unexpected expenses in this, but you gain a huge amount of exposure to a very broad market. You also get to keep all of what you sell. If you choose this route, be sure to register with each new state you plan to sell in. Each place has its own sales tax laws and you will need to pay sales tax to each new place.

Take a look at this article on wholesale versus retail. This is  a very important distinction. Also in this article, you will find an indication of some of the venues you might explore: craft fairs, galleries, trade shows, corporate representation etc.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg. I recommend trying some of each of these things. Think about who your audience is and go from there. Where are you most likely to encounter your target audience. Aim high!

Creating an Invoice: An Invoice is a bill presented by a seller to a buyer. *Read through the information on the link!

It’s a statement of what goods or services have been supplied and how much is now due in settlement of the transaction between seller and buyer. It tells your client or customer how much they now need to pay for what they have received (or are about to receive) and how to pay it. It’s not a receipt.

Invoices should contain information about:

  • you the artist
  • your billing address
  • your client or customer
  • ​their taxable address
  • your UTR (tax. ref. code)
  • the tax date for the product or service rendered
  • description of the artwork provided or artistic service rendered
  • the sum due
  • statement of terms for payment

Taking Payments: There are several ways in which you can take payment for art. First and foremost, open a bank account dedicated to your art business! Keep it separate from personal finances! You can take cash or checks easily. These can be deposited into your bank account with ease. However, fewer and fewer people carry cash or checkbooks around with them. It’s a good idea to get yourself a system which accepts credit cards. I strongly recommend that if you plan to make online sales as well as in person sales, that your system integrates easily. There are a couple places you can start. Often, if you bank with a larger national bank, you will be able to purchase a device for taking credits cards through your bank. Chase for example has a device which connects with a mobile device and makes payments directly to your account. This method cuts down on fees that others like Square charge, but I’ve found those devices to be a little glitchy. Square is easy, and the fees are relatively low. You can set up sales tax for each state you are selling in, and you can integrate it with your website. Do your research.


Finding Your Target Audience 

A target audience is the demographic of people most likely to be interested in your product or service. If you own a plumbing company, your target audience is property owners, both commercial and residential. If you own a toy store, your target audience is parents, grandparents, and anyone else with children in their lives.

Other examples of target audiences include single men in their 20s, tweens, working mothers, retired seniors and dog owners. In some cases, the target audience becomes very narrow-focused. For instance, if the product is a pricey Italian men’s business suit appropriate for up-and-coming Wall Streeters, then the market audience is single men in their 20s who live in New York City and earn over $200,000 per year.

It’s a little icky to think about groups of people in this way but gaining an understanding of who is actually buying your work will help you to tailor your marketing to maximize your efforts. It’s lovely to sell to you family and friends, but this is a little market, and a really easy on to tap out.

In order for people to “buy into” a product or service, they need to relate to the tone and content of the message. By striking a chord with someone, a personal connection is made, and trust is established. Let’s say the goal is to sell a product to working mothers. The advertising methods might employ digital and social media platforms and may have an energetic and empathetic tone.

Now, are you stuck? If you want to get a little more scientific about it there are some methods you can use to go about starting on the Pricing your Work post.

31 thoughts on “Sales

  1. I learned how to make an invoice and why it is important to make an invoice when selling work. My question is does making an invoice apply only when you are selling the work directly to a buyer or do you make invoices when you are selling through a gallery or at a craft fair do you need to make an invoice for every single item sold?

  2. almost all of this was new info for me but I gained a step-by-step way of setting up a small business. I am still a little confused on the different ways of how to go about finding ones target audience; is it something that becomes more specific over time? trial and error? both?

  3. One thing I learned was to separate your business banking account from your personal banking account. What I have a question about is that is it better to open up more than one business bank account or keep it down to one?

  4. If an EIN is a number that is used to identify a business, does this mean that I form a business with another artist under a single EIN, or would we both need to have our own unique numbers?

  5. Nearly everything mentioned in this post was a learning experience for me, as I had no clue what a EIN was. I didn’t know a business licence was even thing, although having separate banking for ones business and having a personal account does makes sense.
    I’m curious if someone would need another EIN if they are apply for two businesses–say if the first bussiness doesn’t pan out–or if it’s a one time thing?

  6. I had no idea EINs existed, let alone how important they are. If I plan on selling my work straight out of school should I get an EIN now or wait until I’m more established in my practice?

  7. I found this article to be very insightful, as I didn’t know the first thing about starting a business before reading this. An important part of being an artist is accepting that your work might not be for everyone and I was fascinated by the section on targetting an audience. Something that I wonder now is where the line is drawn between making your content relatable and making artwork for yourself?

  8. EIN are something new to know along with the link to how to start a small business in a few hours. Two questions came up such as that is how you start but are there sites that tell us how to keep it going? I was wondering on terms of hiring people how to see who wants to be hired? Where should we apply ourselves to be one of those people?

  9. Previously I had heard of invoices in relation to other professions but it was helpful to see specifically what to include in one. I was also unaware that you have to register in each state you plan to sell in. For example if you sell at craft fairs and are moving around. So i was wondering what the process is for registering?

  10. I did not know the majority of the information in this reading but what surprised me the most was that my social security number had to be used in business if I don’t get an EIN. One of the many questions I still have is whether or not I can keep a singular bank account if I am just selling my work on the side.

  11. Previously I had heard of invoices in relation to other professions but it was helpful to see specifically what to include in one . I was also unaware that you have to register in each state you plan to sell in. For example if you sell at craft fairs and are moving around. So i was wondering what the process is for registering?

  12. I love the idea of the EIN; keeping the business and personal aspects of my life separate makes things easier to manage and track! This reminds me a lot of the social media distinctions we talked about as well. I also enjoyed hearing that a bank can provide a card scanning aperture. Working within the same system instead of having to link a Square to an account is reassuring to know that sometimes I can do everything in the same place!
    I have several questions about registering to sell in other states. How long does it take to register? Is it free? What am I registering (my EIN?) in this case and who am I registering with?

  13. It’s so helpful to learn how to manage our business and finance, especially about how to find your target audiences. But finding target audiences could take a long time and a lot of energy if you only work with galleries. And for digital artist, it seems like there is no way to sell your work at any place…Would that be possible to sell your video artworks online or in galleries?

  14. i learned that you should get an EIN instead of using your SSN to avoid identity theft.
    question: how should we try to price our work for sales, as a new artist, without interrupting other artists sales ?

  15. I didn’t know what an EIN was until now (although I’m still not that clear about it). I didn’t think about creating a separate business bank account for art sales although that makes sense. Right now I think my main focus should be building up my body of work/products before i venture deeper into sales.

  16. I never thought of getting a business bank account. I will look into that once I’m ready to start selling after school. I’ll look into getting a Square. I’ve seen it used before and it was pretty quick and nifty.

  17. There is a lot to unpack in this post, so much so that I wish this was a full year class. This was a nice introduction to essential business practices for an artist. There were many new aspects that I was introduced to, that I probably should of have been common sense, like business bank accounts, business invoices, and EIN. Being that this is all new to me I have a ton of questions. For starters, how do you go about taxing your work, are you supposed to keep track of each sale, will you have to fill out some form with this information. For invoices, where in the world are you supposed to get a UTR or other information. Can you make an invoice on a word document, do you always need an invoice? Additionally, a lot of this is for a more established artist and not yet applicable to us. However, it is important to start establishing some of these practices. Instead of a business bank account, could I just open another checking account? Does it cost money to open a checking account? Also, I know this class is not about graphic design, but I really want to learn how to efficiently brand and advertise myself, unfortunately, commercial visual communications are incredibly week at Alfred.

  18. Is there a certain way to find your “bread and butter,” like a tried and true method, or is it pretty much just a shot in the dark until you find it?

    Is there a way to judge whether selling on certain platforms are worthwhile, like Etsy, or even craft fairs?

  19. This is an excellent place to start and one of the best pieces of advice is to just get started. My fear is how much it actually costs to get a business up and running. All of this sounds great, but how much money should I be saving before diving into this? How many months of expenses should I have saved before expecting to actually turn a profit?

    These are hypothetical questions because I’m sure it is all individual circumstances but, I was wondering if you had any resources or advice?

  20. I never considered how to get a small business up and running. I found this brief post to be informative. I especially liked the section about where to sell, comparing galleries and craft fairs, because I attend a lot of art and craft fairs and have always considered that a possibility.

  21. Understanding your target audience can be really important. My mother has been a craft artist for her entire life. She spent many years working through the indie craft markets like renegade, but she eventually priced herself out of that marketplace and had to make the conscious choice to move into the high-end art fairs where the market could afford what she was making.

  22. This was all topics of information I’ve heard of, but never did research to figure out how it applied to me. I never thought about the possibility of wholesale and it was very helpful to have a checklist of paperwork to sort out before starting a business. What is the best way to figure out who your target audience is?

  23. I feel I am experienced enough in sales to recognize or have dealt with most of this information. The EIN information was new to me, and I am now curious as to how my business licensing is set up. In general, I have found a way of managing sales at the scale I have thus far. I am sure as my work shifts, and my name and business become more of a livelihood than a hobby, keeping up with sales and finances will become increasingly complicated. Can you about “finding your market” in class? How do you know what venues will be right for your work? When you are selling work and things aren’t going well with the particular market, how do you go about assessing if the question, “Is it me or the Market?”

  24. I have yet to actually sell my work in a professional setting, so a lot of this information in foreign and confusing to me. Even after reading this article, I feel as if it is too much for me to take in. Even when learning about the existence of EIN and business licensing, is there a first step that emerging artists should do first?

  25. When do you think is an appropriate time to get a business license? now? after graduate school? If I have a small business license, can i write off supplies i use while in school? Are there any risks of becoming a small business if you think you will take a loss for several years?

  26. There’s a lot of information that I had no idea about, like EINs and sales tax licenses. Do all of these rules apply if you’re selling your art through a site like Etsy? What makes you a business where you need to register for all of these things?

  27. I had never thought of making a separate bank account for business. This would make everything so much easier to manage. If you make a separate business account are their ways to attach that account to your personal account? So if I sell a piece of work and want to use that money to buy personal items I could transfer that money easily out of one account to another?

    • yep- if you have both accounts at the same bank- it’s super easy to move money around between accounts. Just make sure that all your spending comes from your business account.And yes- you can transfer funds from that account back to yourself. What you are ultimately as an artist is a small business person. The best form of small business s called a pass through entity. This way- all your profits are your own and you are only taxed one time.

Leave a Reply