1. Make a good product
If your product isn't well-designed, well-made and unique or special in one way or another, you will have an uphill climb trying to sell it. Work that has these qualities is work you will be proud of, and your customers will want to join in your enthusiasm for the work by buying it.
2. Research the market
Having any successful business requires constant research about the kinds of product you sell, appropriate pricing, trends, production and technology. For your business plan, you also need to write about your market and how your product fits into it. Resources include trade publications and organizations, local, state and federal government statistics, visiting shows and galleries, talking to other artists, and searching the internet. Many libraries have small business centers/resources that will help you find what you are looking for.
3. Write and regularly update your business plan
Take the time to soul-search, crunch the numbers and write a good business plan. Even if you don't expect to apply for loans or seek outside investors, going through the exercise will give you realistic expectations about the costs and benefits of having your own business. It will help you determine the nature of your business, what your selling opportunities are, and determine what kind of products you will make.
4. Invest time and research into creating branding for your business
Put some time and effort into coming up with a good business name, designing a logo, and having a "personality" to your brand. Make sure all collateral material is well-designed and has a consistent look. This provides a visual identification for your business and implies overall professionalism and that you take yourself seriously as an artist.
5. Make sure your communications are effective
If you are an artist, the work is the most important thing. But marketing your work takes time and is a necessity that can't be ignored. If you have limited time, make sure that your efforts reach as many people as possible. Social media, e-newsletters and using your website as a viable tool will give you the biggest bang for your buck.
6. Look at customer service as an investment
Do whatever you can to make your customers feel good about you and your product. They are paying your bills, after all! Time invested working through problems and prompt response when they have an issue or question are very cost-effective ways to build your reputation as an artist and good business person. Make sure your policy about returns and repairs is spelled out on your website or printed in a brochure when you make a sale. Have a plan about how to deal with difficult customers.
7. Know when to do it yourself and when to pay someone to do it for you
If you need help with accounting, PR, photographing your work, building your website, consider whether you should do it yourself or pay someone to do it for you. Ask yourself:
A. If I do it, will the result be professional quality?
B. Would anyone ever pay me to do that task?
C. Would I be able to do it as quickly as a pro?
If you answer "yes" to at least 2 out of 3, it may be worth it for you to do it yourself (depending on how much time you have). If you answer "no" to two or more, you should pay someone else to do it for you. You will save time and money in the long run.
8. Always use best business practices
Know about and adhere to business licensing, taxes, permits and regulations in your area before you start your business. Most government agencies have made it extremely easy to manage sales tax, etc. online. Talk to other artists or small business organizations if you need help in any of these areas.
9. Don't be afraid to invest in yourself
Artists don't always take themselves seriously as a business so they don't spend money on things that fall under the category "cost of doing business." Examples include not having business cards, a website, not investing in business basics like a fax machine or separate phone line. All of these things are worth it because they save time and show that you are truly a professional. If you don't take yourself seriously professionally no one else you!
10. Rotate your products
Don't get locked into making the same old thing year in and year out. You will lose even the most devoted customers if you aren't offering them variety in what you produce. A good rule is to rotate out 20-30% of your product lines every year and rotate in 20-30% new products.