5 Reasons You’re Not Making Enough Money in Your Art Business

When your income doesn’t match your aspirations, it’s easy to blame everyone but yourself.

But my students and clients understand that you have to accept 100% responsibility for your results when you want to be successful.

With that in mind, let’s look at 5 reasons why you may not be reaching your income goals.

1. You’re out to lunch.

What I mean by this is that your head just isn’t in the game. You enjoy making art, but you aren’t quite committed to turning it into a business.

©Elva Robinson, Running in Circles. Acrylic on canvas, 14 x 11 inches. Used with permission.
©Elva Robinson, Running in Circles. Acrylic on canvas, 14 x 11 inches. Used with permission.

The thought of the work required to run a business, or even the thought of finding out what might be required, is more than you can handle. So you ignore it.

It might not always be this way, but until you confront the truths about making money from your art, it ain’t gonna happen for ya.

2. You’re out of mojo.

We have all been in this dark place. The Universe rudely cuts the source of energy and magic that has been propelling us along.

Sometimes it happens after an opening or after a show comes down.

Other times, it’s because we’ve been working too hard on staying busy when we should have focused on working smarter.

Regardless of how it came about, you gotta have some mojo in order to increase your income.

You need to work our way out of a mojo funk – that’s the key: steady steps, one at a time. Keep working. Don’t give into it.

3. You’re out of focus and out of bounds.

It’s hard for most people to ignore the distractions of modern life.

The kids grab for attention. An elderly parent needs you. A spouse interrupts you. And don’t even get me started on electronic distractions, which boil down to a raving fear of missing out on information.

You can’t control all of the distractions, but you must erect boundaries wherever possible.

When you repeatedly say Yes to the distractions, you are saying No to your art, your business, and your career. You are saying that the distractions are more important than all of those things.

You are forgetting about the big picture. You’re forgetting your Why – your purpose.

©Kate Browning Word, Courtship 2. Mixed media collage, 9 x 12 inches. Used with permission.
©Kate Browning Word, Courtship 2. Mixed media collage, 9 x 12 inches. Used with permission.

When you want to make more money, you have to be brutal with your time and attention.

4. You’re out of practice.

It takes a lot of energy to build up momentum.

You need momentum for studio work as well as marketing. And, when it’s gone, you have to start all over again.

When you take extended breaks from making art, marketing art, and showing art, you can’t really pick up where you left off. You have to spend an enormous amount of energy to restart.

You’re out of the practice of making money. Jason Fried explains:

Making money takes practice, just like playing the piano takes practice. No one expects anyone to be any good at the piano unless they’ve put in lots practice. Same with making money. The more you practice the better you get.

5. You’re out of touch.

Have you been ignoring trends? You’re working so hard on the minutiae in your everyday world that you don’t see things have changed.

Maybe your gallery is no longer selling for you the way it used to or your website looks like it was created in 2009 (because it was).

Snap into the present! Being oblivious about what’s going on around you is costing you money.

Another way to be out of touch is disconnecting yourself from the very people who have asked to hear from you. You are, literally, not in touch with them.

It’s not a good situation when you have to reintroduce yourself to the people who have purchased from you or signed up for your list. You’re leaving money on the table in this situation.

Your Turn

What’s standing in your way of making more money in your art business?

Shadow Separator

Instead of being out to lunch, out of mojo, out of focus, out of practice, and out of touch, wouldn’t you rather be IN? In focus, in touch, and in a group that supports you and your goals?

That’s what the Art Biz Inner Circle is all about. Read all about how we can work together to get you results.

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31 thoughts on “5 Reasons You’re Not Making Enough Money in Your Art Business”

  1. I’m out of mojo. Just put up and finished my largest show yet. It was so exciting. There’s about a week left till the show comes down and no sales despite lots of positive feedback. I just about killed myself getting everything done for the show – finished 18 paintings in 3 months. I’m out of money in my account and had to borrow money near the end. Out of steam, money and creativity. And not sure what to do for the future.

    Reevaluating everything.

    FYI, asking an artist to do math for your question to be sure I’m a human is a cruel thing to do. haha!

    1. I posted the most on Instagram with frequent progress on the paintings, on Facebook I did cropped in sneak peeks and posts from Instagram. I emailed, and sent out a postcard. My gallery does press releases, postcards and frequent emails before and during the exhibit.

      5 painters in the show and only 1 small painting sold and that was the week before the show. This is very unusual for my gallery.

      I did a painting demo at the gallery the week after the show. Promoted that on social media, so did they. Steady crowd but no sales.

      You had commented on my FB post asking me to email you how it all went. I emailed a few days ago with more info than this. Im sure you’re extremely busy. I know there were things I should have done better. I’m just not sure what my next move should be.

    2. Just in case anyone is wondering about my situation, Alyson didn’t leave me hanging. After an email with her, I did what she told me to do and within 17 hours I sold a painting – as a DIRECT result of what she told me to do. It was so instant, it creeped me out. Thank you, Alyson!!!

  2. My big issue is fear – fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of success. I struggle with taking leaps of faith when it comes to my business.

    I work hard to keep Dory’s advice in mind – just keep swimming.

  3. What’s standing in my way? To some degree, all of the above.

    A message that’s been coming to me from different sources recently (from the Universe?) is “Do less to accomplish more.”

    Which means I need to have down time to clear my mind and refresh. I get most of my inspirations when I’m NOT at “work.”

    While the do-less-to-accomplish-more message applies at least indirectly to all five points you make, it’s especially relevant to #2 and #3.

    Thanks, Alyson, for this direct, tough-love post.

  4. I always thought that my art would sell itself. But that is not the case. So yes all of the above are hindering me in selling art, but #1 would be at the top of the list. Thanks Alyson for all of your wonderful thoughts. Sometimes it takes many different perspectives at the same issue to take action.

    1. Re the confusion, Anita, it may be worth the effort to journal about that.

      And I’d phrase it differently. Not “who I’m trying to sell to” but “who would love to see or live with my art.”

  5. I’m originally from New Zealand and currently live in Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia. I paint in oils and sometimes use an acrylic underpainting to block in the design. Have set up twice at a local monthly arts and craft show which is run in conjunction with a general Sunday market. A 3 x 3 metre space costs $25.00 for 5 hours of viewing time. Found out people going to these events have deep pockets and short arms: they can’t reach their wallets. Had numerous positive comments on my work but no sales. Yet paintings donated to a local charity group have raised between $205.00 and $585.00 at auctions and raffles for the charities supported. Have promoted my work on Facebook and have a very positive following. Had a gallery on “the Gold Coast” look at my work and was told you need to win a few art contests/awards to “get your name out there” and then we can handle you. BUT they wanted an initial 90% commission until I begin to sell then the commission would drop to 40%. Currently concentrating on 8 paintings to enter in a local Arts Festival being held in February next year. Prize money ranging from $5,000.00 to $500.00 for the various sections.

  6. Distractions, I have to many, that’s I this week I’ve been making a very straight forward daily calendar of what I will get done each given day in my business, from painting to marketing… with giving myself weekends off to refresh and get “me” and lazy time. Starting next week I will be on the new set schedule, I’m refreshing my business goals, plans and future, looking forward to a new week, a new start and hopefully some new clients!

    1. I can relate to this Kim! If I put something in my diary I do my best to make it happen- even though I might be tired, it might be raining and I know my husband is sitting in the car waiting, off I go! That day lead to my biggest sale ever of a handlettered design! So worth the effort. All the best with your next clients, Helen. (Hobart, Tasmania.)

  7. We have always maintained that one of the most important elements in one’s business is knowing how to properly price one’s work. We took advice from a barrister at Gray’s Inn in London in the 1970s. He basically said that you must find out the highest price of your competitor’s goods or services in the market, and then price your own goods or services higher than that. It’s the opposite of what you would otherwise think. We put this into operation immediately, and in all these years, we have never looked back. Of course, the proviso is that you back this philosophy up with the very best service.

    Your points 1 to 5 above are assumed to be fully and totally non-applicable to you. That is, you are doing what comes natural to you, you have the required love for your work, you are disciplined and undistracted, you are energetic enough to get back into the flow after a break, you keep your mind clear to be appropriately cognisant of the changing needs. This usually means early to bed and early to rise, no pollutants into the body, eg alcohol and drugs. Basically, it’s to lead a clean and disciplined life. This is the first rung of the ladder for a successful creative business. If you can mostly satisfy these things, the forces will get behind you and support you in whatever you do. You have to trust this!

    A business is a very subtle thing. It is an organic being, which ebbs and flows according to very many factors. To get in touch with your business is to get in touch with yourself, because your business, or the expression of your creativity, is you playing out your life. And life is no mere tiddly-winks, it is a serious affair, it is YOUR way back to finding yourself.

  8. I used to be very good at building my contact email list but have noticed in recent years that people are reluctant to give me their information at shows. I’m not sure if it’s my approach of having the guest book out for people that isn’t working, or if I’m just not asking enough because I have had more refusals recently. Kind of stumped there.

    1. Hi Jenny,

      I think it is the changing digital environment – whereas getting the emails was once a novelty – now we are all being bombarded by an onslaught of them –

      so people are becoming more careful with their inbox

  9. I have really been struggling with the question “should I keep going with my art?” I have a wonderful artist friend that has been doing this for over 40 years and she tells me all the time that I am one of the most creative people she knows. But like many others I’m not selling and it’s getting depressing. I feel like there is something I’m missing. I also have tremendous fear about failing and succeding.

    I was just on a trip and we went to many art galleries and museums and my work is just as good and sometimes better than what was on display and that made me even more depressed. I am terrible at selling myself I always discount my prices.

    I listened to the webinar last night and it gave me hope. Also reading all these comments makes me realize I’m not alone in these feelings. Thanks everyone for all of your insight. It really helps today.

  10. I guess mojo, because I got sick and had to recover for over a year, then once I actually *had* recovered I had gotten used to not hustling all the time and just…kept not doing it. Now it’s been three years. I’ve been productive in making art but came to a halt when it came to actually promoting it and putting myself out there. I only came to the conclusion that that was the reason yesterday. Your blog is giving me some real motivation to get back on it again. Thanks.

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Your Artist Mailing List: Rethinking + Assessing

Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

Where can we send it? 

To ensure delivery, please triple check your email address.

You’ll also receive my regular news for your art business.

Privacy + Terms