Art of the Start – Advice from Artistic Entrepreneurs

Aspiring artists are essentially aspiring entrepreneurs – both are passionate about their art or idea, ambitious dreamers, and dedicated to their work. However, artists tend to think of themselves as anti-business, but to be a successful artist, focusing on the business side is just as important. TrendVenture gave a group of aspiring self-employed artists the opportunity to meet and learn directly from founders and business owners to hear the reality of being an entrepreneur in the arts first hand.


During the 14th Annual Self-Employment in the Arts Conference, TrendVenture took a group of college students and entrepreneurs to explore arts in entrepreneurship in the local community of Naperville, Illinois. The tour took the students on a two-hour hands-on experiential opportunity to speak directly with business owners and artists about the realities of owning a business, learning how they can pursue their passion by finding creative ideas and opportunities in unexpected places.

Self-Employment in Arts is a non-profit organization housed at North Central College and brings together emerging student artists from across the nation to provide resources and connections to make them successfully self-employed. TrendVenture connected a group of their conference attendees with a variety of artistic entrepreneurs in Naperville, ranging from culinary arts and photography to fashion and design.

Here are the top 3 tips for aspiring artists and entrepreneurs shared from the generous insight of the business owners during this event.

1) “You are a professional as soon as you get paid, so act like it.” Megan Drane, Founder of Firefly Nights Photography

Megan Drane is an internationally award winning photographer and owner of Firefly Nights Photography. She found herself as an entrepreneur by surprise and has learned a lot along the way, especially the importance of valuing your art, services and yourself. Megan advised on treating your art or service as a business from day one. She said, “You’re [considered] a professional as soon as you get paid [for it], so act like it.” Focusing on your target market and valuing the worth of your work from the start by treating yourself like a professional artist is important to the long-term success of your business.

2) “Keep your costs low.” Kellyn Machacek, Founder of Baubles by Maclyn

Kellyn Machacek built her business, Baubles by Maclyn, on over 25 years of expertise in the jewelry industry. With a background in psychology, she also started her business unintentionally. Kellyn shared how a strong understanding of the competition is important, from business models to branding. She explained the importance of standing out from the competition and protecting yourself and your business. This includes the cost it takes to produce your products or services. As a business owner, you need to keep your costs as low as possible to ensure that you can price your products or art at a level that will support you and your business. Although this does not mean sacrificing quality, it does demonstrate the significance of sourcing and wholesaling to make sure you can stay competitive.

3) “You’re your own boss.” Terrell Cole, Founder of Dark Horse Pastries

After years leading kitchens across the nation, Terrell Cole followed his passion and launched Dark Horse Pastries. As the Executive Chef, Terrell not only heads up all of the baking and catering orders, but he also runs all aspects of his business, from marketing and promotions to managing staff. There are pros and cons to running your own business, and as he said, both sides come down to the fact that “You’re your own boss.” Entrepreneurs have the luxury of deciding their own schedule and doing what they love every day, and not having a boss tell them what to do. Yet as an entrepreneur, your fate is left totally up to you – you instead have to wear all hats and do more work in all areas of your business to bring in customers and pay employees. Terrell advises that good leaders “always ask for help” and to hold themselves responsible for failures, while they “praise the audience” and their team for successes.

The road to becoming a successful artist requires persistence, dedication and passion, just like traditional entrepreneurship. Artists are entrepreneurs and should view themselves as such to achieve their desired success.