March 4, 2021 | Alyson Stanfield

How to Increase Your Productivity and Creativity with Art Business Systems

I am the queen of systems.

There is a reason why my signature program is the Art Career Success SYSTEM. I believe that when you take the time to put in place easily repeatable steps to do a certain task or implement a project, you free your mind and calendar for the more creative pursuits of the studio.

You have a better organized business and life. You are more productive, fueling the creativity you need in the studio.


Music by Wildermiss

What is a System for Your Art Business?

We often think of the technology that we use as a system, but the technology is just a means to the end. It’s a tool we use for a specific step (or set of steps) in part (or all) of the systematic process.

My definition of a system is this …

A system is a series of clear steps or procedures for accomplishing a specific task. It could be a task that you do regularly (weekly, monthly, or quarterly) or one that you do infrequently but know that you’ll need to repeat in the future.

lofty places soft pastel archival pastelboard davis mountains artist lindy cook severns Art Biz Success podcast blog systematizing your art business
©Lindy Cook Severns, Lofty Places. Soft pastel on archival pastel board, 16 x 20 inches.

You can create systems for almost everything in your art business. As I said, I have even developed a system that helps your entire art business run smoothly. The Art Career Success System gives you a reliable structure that you can turn to at any point in your art business and career. And return to again and again as you evolve.

I think of this program as a complete ecosystem that holds together the meta-systems within the various spokes of your business.

Examples of Business Systems for Artists

You might benefit from any of these meta-systems within your art business.

  • A system for following up with your best prospects and supporters so that they don’t get lost in your ecosystem.
  • A system for shipping artwork, including packaging, insurance, and tracking.
  • A system for publishing a newsletter—from storing ideas to writing the first draft to scheduling it to be sent.
  • A system for when you have completed an artwork. Consider what you want to do with a finished work: photograph it, add it to your inventory, post it to social media, and perhaps ship it.
  • A system for accepting commissioned artwork. What is your process for onboarding collectors who commission work? And how do you accept payment and keep them informed?

[ See episode #68 :: Procedures for Art Commissions with Sema Martin ]

Benefits of Reliable Business Systems

Torso 19-10 23 x 7 x 7 inches Terra cotta, terra sigillata, and travertine sculpture inspired by Word Dance Theater© Claire McArdle sculptor Art Biz Success podcast blog systematizing your art business
©Claire McArdle, Torso 19-10. Terra cotta, terra sigillata, and travertine, 23 x 7 x 7 inches.

There are 3 benefits to implementing solid systems in your business.

1: Systems leave less room for error.

With a reliable system, you know exactly what needs to be done and at what point. You’re less likely to skip a step or forget a detail.

I know I need a new system or to tweak an existing one when I’ve missed appointments, deadlines, or can’t find what I need. I know something isn’t working when I’m wasting time and getting frustrated.

You might need a new system if you’re not sending the monthly newsletter you promised to send. Or if you frequently miss show deadlines.

2:  It’s easier to ask for help.

A well-documented system means that anyone you hire or ask to help can read and follow instructions from day one.

If you have clearly identified all of the steps in a system, anyone should be able to read the directions and step in to help.

More likely you are working solo without any assistance. In this case, you’re writing instructions for future self. It might be a moment when you’re trying to meet a tight deadline and can’t remember how you did something 6 or 8 months ago. But because you have a system—and have clearly documented the steps—you’ve got nothing to worry about.

The system brings you peace of mind while also making you more consistent with how you run your business.

Consistency leads to trust because people understand they can count on you.

3: You don’t have to think!

The decisions are taken care of for you. You don’t have to use too many brain cells or calories. This is my favorite reason for systematizing as much as I can.

You save precious brain cells because you know exactly what to do. There’s no guessing or wondering. All you have to do is repeat the steps you have already outlined.

Lynda Fay Braun Release From Form photo based digital painting photographer Slow Dance Series dynamic fluidity Art Biz Success podcast blog systematizing your art business
©Lynda Fay Braun, Release From Form. Photo-based digital painting, archival ink on Hahnemuhle 100% rag paper, 20 x 30 inches.

How to Identify a New System to Support Your Art Business

To create a new system for your art business, ask the following 5 questions.

  1. What do you want to happen?
  2. By when does it need to happen? Or, how frequently does it need to happen?
  3. What do you need have/acquire/learn to make that happen? And/Or … What tools and technology will you use for the process?
  4. Who do you need to enlist to help?
  5. What are the exact steps needed to make this system hum?

Let’s look at those one at a time.

What do you want to happen?

Be very clear about what you want to accomplish or risk spinning your wheels and making busy work for yourself. Examples of this kind of clarity would be:

  • I want to pay my bills on time.
  • I want to send a monthly newsletter.
  • I want to make sure my inventory is up to date.

vogel totentanz etching handmade leather bound book letterpress bird dance of death alphabet book Sarah Horowitz Art Biz Success podcast blog systematizing your art business
©Sarah Horowitz, Vogel Totentanz. Handmade artist's book with etching, letterpress, and sewn binding, 6.875 x 5.5 inches (6.875 x 11 inches open); etching size 2.5 x 2.5 inches. Photo by Dan Kvitka.

By when does it need to happen?

Or … How frequently does it need to happen?

Without a timeframe, your system is just a series of steps floating in the ether.

  • I want to pay my bills by the 5th of every month.
  • I want to send a newsletter on the third Wednesday of every month.
  • I want to update my inventory during the even months of the year (February, April, June, etc.).

What do you need have/acquire/learn to make that happen?

And/Or what tools or technology will you use for the process?
  • I need to add bill payment reminders to my calendar.
  • I need to select a more robust bookkeeping platform.
  • I need to set aside half a day every month to work on my finances. I’ll use Shopify reports and Google Sheets.
  • In order to make sure my inventory is up to date, I need to schedule a photo shoot. And I’ll use Artwork Archive for my inventory.
  • I need to make sure my website is updated before I send a newsletter each month. I’ll keep track of needed updates in Evernote.

Drawing das stachliges dickicht the thorny thicket sumi ink mitsumata paper 29 by 55 inches Sarah Horowitz Art Biz Success podcast blog systematizing your art business
©Sarah Horowitz, Das Stachliges Dickicht (The Thorny Thicket). Sumi ink on mitsumata paper, 29 x 55 inches.

Who do you need to enlist to help make sure this system is a well-greased machine?

Much of the time, you'll take care of all the moving parts within your system, but it's important to acknowledge the steps within your system that rely on someone else to get done.

  • I need to hire a new bookkeeper.
  • I need to make sure the babysitter can take care of the kids during my half-day financial review.
  • I need to ask my accountability partner if she can proofread my newsletter before I send it.
  • I need to contact my photographer to make sure she can meet my deadline.

What are the exact steps needed to make this system hum?

This question gets to the gist of the entire system. Define with great clarity the individual steps required to make the system something that you have complete faith in.

  • Make digital and paper files for receipts at the beginning of every year.
  • Keep copies of all paper receipts in file according to month.
  • Download all e-receipts to digital files and organize by month.
  • Review bank and credit card accounts on the 5th of every month, and schedule payments.
  • Maintain notes for bookkeeper in shared file.

On the Art Biz Podcast in March 2021

Stormy Sky 32 x 11 inches Monoprint on pigment infused organza © Linda Snouffer botanical printmaker printmaking from Prairie Art Series Art Biz Success podcast blog systematizing your art business
©Linda Snouffer, Stormy Sky. Botanical monoprint on pigment infused organza, 32 x 11 inches.

Coming up I’m talking with two artists about the systems that they have put in place to help them run successful art businesses.

Artist and professor Jennifer D. Printz joins me for episode #79 to discuss how she compartmentalizes the different areas of her life to stay sane.

Then in episode #80 I talk with Betty Franks about how she organizes her day and workflow to keep up with all of the sales she has been generating.

Finally, in episode #81 I’ll be back for another solo episode that dives deeper into the individual steps you need for a reliable business system.

When to Implement a New Business System

I don't usually give homework on the podcast or blog, but it seems appropriate here. It's this: Consider where in your art business you need to implement a new system.

To start, remember to look at areas of your business that are breaking down.

Are you missing important and promised deadlines? What’s going on when that happens?

What is difficult for you to find when you need it? What do you spend too much time looking for? Maybe it’s an art tool, a digital or paper file, or an email message.

When do you get frustrated?

What is it for you?

Art Career Success System

Remember that the Art Career Success System is available to give you the structure a growing art business craves.

Whether it’s finding venues for shows, writing your artist statement, creating an editorial calendar, or growing your audience, you can find the answers in the Art Career Success System. If your art business foundation is on shaky ground, or if what you have is no longer serving you, be sure to visit ACSS.com to see everything available to you in that ecosystem and the meta-systems it contains.


Music by Wildermiss

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