The Art Biz ep. 139: Your Decision Filter

Every day you are faced with new opportunities.

Should you invest in social media advertising? Or should you focus on being more consistent with your posts? Or maybe devote your time to learning how to use Pinterest more effectively?

Should you approach galleries to represent your art? Or organize a series of open studios? Or enter that show that seems like a long shot?

Should you create an online workshop to teach what you know best? Or double down on selling your art?

They all sound great! You’ve seen them work for other artists. You start shoulding on yourself.  There is so much you should do! So much you want to do!

How do you decide?

copper hanging mobile Antje Roitsch | on Art Biz Success
©Antje Roitzsch, Moon Shadow. Hammered copper mobile, 20 x 15 x 15 inches.

In this solo episode of The Art Biz, I want to talk about your decision filter: How you make decisions about what projects to take on and where to spend your time, energy, and financial resources.

If I could wave a magic wand and make one part of my business easier, it would be around making decisions. Specifically, I’d like to have to make far fewer decisions than is required.

Seriously, I would call upon the goddesses to remove this burden from my daily operations. Pleeeeeez. Now. 

But why should I get a pass? The whole world is grappling with decision fatigue. I recently read that we make as many as 200 decisions per day about food. Just. Food. Two-hundred decisions.

That’s exhausting! If we can’t decide what to eat, then how can we expect to have clarity about the potential of new opportunities like those I mentioned in the opening?

We all have a trusted process for making decisions, whether or not we’re aware of it. At the end of this article, I’m going to reveal something that has helped me enormously when making decisions.

But, first, I want to share my list of 8 criteria you might consider before making a decision about whether or not to take on a new project or steer your art business in a certain direction.

I previously had 6 criteria, and have to give a nod to Katie Hunt, who, in episode 138, gave me a couple more good ones to add to my list.

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Kerry Schroeder acrylic painting | on Art Biz Success
©Kerry Schroeder, Released. Acrylic and graphite on panel, 52 x 52 inches.

Here are my 8 considerations for taking on a new project. 

Your task or project doesn’t need to—and won’t—meet all of these criteria. It would be weird if it did. But they are all things that can be considered.

Maybe just 1 or 2 of them is enough for you to say Yes to something or to write it off completely.

1. You understand WHY you are doing it.

Make sure you have a reason to devote time and energy to a project. This has the most weight of all criteria.

Your Why needs to be authentic to you, not you shoulding on yourself or taking on a project because of fear of missing out.

Why do you want this? What might it give you in the end?

2. You are willing to devote the time and energy to it.

Now that you know your reason, you have to ask whether or not you are willing to devote the time and energy.

At the beginning of the artist planning sessions, I ask students to add up how much time on their calendar is currently spoken for. This is an eye opener for many. Then, after they have created a plan for the upcoming months, I ask them to estimate the time their tasks would take.

The artist-planners begin to realize that they aren’t accounting for vacations, down time, or artist dates, let alone actual time they need to spend in the studio.

Yikes! You can see that this is a problem.

If you aren’t working with a coach or someone who is asking you about such things, you have to do it for yourself. Only you know what your priorities are and where you’re willing to negotiate your commitments.

©Kathryn Hansen
©Kathryn Hansen, For Lease. Graphite pencil on paper, 7.5 x 9 inches.

Notice this criterion is that you are willing to devote the time and energy, not that you have the time and energy.

You will never have time. And there will never be the right time. To add another complication, we always overestimate how much energy we think we have and underestimate how much time a task will take.

You have to know, based on your decision-making process, that you are willing to make this project a priority.

By example, at the time of this writing, I am preparing for the first member mixer of my new Art Biz Accelerator coaching group and community.

I’m absolutely thrilled with the group we have together so far, and I also know that there are others who will be joining in the future. They had major life commitments that would have prevented them from fully participating as an Accelerator member right now. They’re going to take advantage of the fact that they can sign up at any time and join us later.

They weren’t willing to devote the time and energy to this program.

It takes some higher level thinking for artists to get to this point. To understand the kind of control you must exert over your life and schedule. And to not give into a fear of missing out but, instead, to trust your decision filter.

I can’t be upset that they didn’t join me now because this is exactly what I’m looking for in members of the Art Biz Accelerator. Members who are accepting responsibility for their lives and art careers. They’re curious, open to new possibilities, and thinking strategically about their next steps.

Quick aside … If you feel like you are just taking the same business courses over and over again, take a look at the Art Biz Accelerator and see if this coaching group is something that could be helpful and is something you’re willing to devote time and energy to.

Acrylic painting Carlos Schmitt | on Art Biz Success
©Carlos Schmitt, Intermit. Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 inches.

3. You enjoy it or are excited about starting.

The right plan should inspire you to jump out of bed and get to work.

You can’t enjoy every task on your plan. Hopefully you will enjoy most of the process or at least appreciate the potential benefit from doing the work.

Enthusiasm, while it may wane over time, can give you a hefty dose of momentum toward progress.

4. You have the systems in place to support it.

Or, you can make the creation of the support systems part of your plan.

You want to make sure you’re setting yourself up for success. That you have processes and technology and people in place to help you implement your plan.

For example, if one of the projects you’ve defined for yourself is to create an online course, but you don’t have a social media following or email list, you’d be wise to have a different focus project for the foreseeable future. Work on becoming a credible expert on your topic and building a following so that you have people to sign up for your course when it’s ready.

Then you need to consider what is required of teaching an online program of any kind. Technology! So much of it. There’s the teaching platform itself, but then the components for delivering it: the student outcomes, lesson writing, and video production.

And don’t forget the customer service required. What kind of payment processing will you use? How do you follow up with new students to make sure they feel welcome and confident with the lessons? Are you going to be the one to respond to technology problems from students?

By all means, start creating that course, but maybe your current project is something different—a system or part of a system that will support the success of it.

©Deanna Krueger
©Deanna Krueger, Oceanus. Acrylic monotypes on recycled medical diagnostic film (X-Ray/MRI film), staples, 45 x 63 inches.

5. You are already doing it and are seeing results.

Or, you’ve done something similar in the recent past and it worked well.

After you have implemented a project, consistently over time, are you benefiting from it? I talked previously about enjoying the project, which might be considered a benefit. But what I’m talking about here are measurable benefits.

Are you selling more art or enrolling more students?
Are more people visiting your website or signing up for your email list?
Are you attracting more followers?

All of these are benefits that can be measured. Dig into the numbers to see what’s working.

When we get results, we are more likely to enjoy the task and improve at it, which is why it’s so important to track progress and results. 

6. It plays to your strengths.

I don’t want you to only take on projects that are easy for you. There’s no fulfillment in sticking to what comes easily or seems less scary.

But I do want you to recognize your strengths and use them. Don’t jump on what everyone else is doing. It might not suit your personality, talents, or ultimate goals.

Here are some examples of playing to your strengths (or not).

If you are good in person and enjoy meeting new people, think about spending more time at live events like art openings. Working behind the computer screen is necessary, but, in this instance, you could really move the needle if you’re there in person.

If you love to write, consider starting a blog or publishing articles.

If you love to collaborate, bring artists together for a group exhibition, open studio tour, or holiday sale. On the other hand, if you are absolutely hopeless at staying organized and have no intention of getting help to keep you on track, then don’t initiate collaborations that have many moving parts. With a disorganized person at the helm, the logistics required will lead to frustration for all involved. Especially you.

If you don’t mind being in front of a camera, take advantage of the power of video and think beyond YouTube or Instagram. Maybe send personal videos to collectors or students.

Priscilla Stadler cheesecloth | on Art Biz Success
©Priscilla Stadler, Fragile City: Sandstone and Brick. Hand-dyed cheesecloth, 64 x 96 inches.

7. It has potential for the biggest long-term payoff.

You are pretty sure that if you commit to this and stick with it, you’ll eventually see results.

Nurturing relationships with galleries, collectors, consultants, and curators falls into this category. It will always pay off to give a little love and attention to the people who can buy from you or connect you with others to do the same. You don’t want to allow those relationships to grow cold.

Likewise, if you want to put a lot of energy into teaching, you would be well advised to spend more time developing videos for YouTube than posting to Instagram. Why? Because people go to YouTube to learn and YouTube is second only to Google in the search engine game.

I’m not saying you have to choose between YouTube and Instagram. I just want you to think of the long-term payoff and YouTube’s powerful search engine wins this round.

On the other hand, you might need to consider …

8. It has potential for the biggest immediate payoff.

You really need fast results and can sense promise in a particular direction.

The great pivot of the 2020 pandemic was an example of this. A lot of artists lost income and needed to replace it fast. They looked for projects that had a higher opportunity for an immediate payoff. Or just projects that satisfied them while in lockdown.

There is nothing wrong with needing to speed up potential results. Life happens and we need money. Fortunately, we’re our own bosses and can make these decisions.

That’s it. My 8 criteria for taking on a new project.

You can apply these criteria to both the project and the associated tasks that need to be done to complete the project—deciding for yourself which ones have more weight for you at the moment.

Remember: You will never have something that meets all 8 criteria.

©David Paul Bayles
©David Paul Bayles, Falling Tree #15. Photograph.

How much weight you give each of these is up to you. As much as you might be uncomfortable in the role, you are the decision-maker in your art business. You must be able to discern what is right for you rather than relying on someone else to choose for you.

One criterion is not necessarily more important than the rest, although I believe you always need to have the first one (your Why) before going forward. Other than that, you get to assign the level of importance to each one.

I have a little share here about bringing all of this together in order to make a final decision.

I have dipped my toes into studying the Human Design system. From my Human Design reading, I have learned that I make decisions by writing or talking. To myself or to others.

It made so much sense when I saw this on my Human Design chart. I can look back on key moments and situations in the past when the clarity came through writing or speaking.

Now I know I need to write in my journal or talk with someone else: a colleague, client, team member, or my husband. Weirdly, the other person doesn’t have to say a thing. I only need to articulate it.

I can’t tell you how helpful it was to see this tendency of mine confirmed.

According to Human Design, there aren’t a lot of people who make their best decisions the same way I do. The majority of people make decisions by trusting their gut. Others sit with the question and feel into it over time.

Fascinating stuff. It’s been so helpful to know my design, how I find my way through the world, how others, including clients, are wired, and how I relate to others. I know it’s not for everyone, but if you’re curious, you can go down the Human Design rabbit hole by visiting JovianArchive.com. If it’s your first encounter with Human Design, I encourage you to get a professional reading of your chart.

As an aside, I am a Projector for those of you who know about Human Design.

And even if you know how you best make decisions, there is still much to consider when you’re faced with a new opportunity. You have to have the facts even before you can call upon your gut, trust in how you feel over time, or, like me, discover through writing or speaking. You have to have the input, and that’s why you use the 8 considerations for taking on a new project.

This article was first published January 31, 2018. It has been updated significantly, with a podcast episode added, Original comments have been left intact.

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48 thoughts on “The Art Biz ep. 139: Your Decision Filter”

  1. I like how you stress combining doing what gets results & doing what you enjoy. Different kinds of marketing come more naturally to different kinds of people, and complement their art more appropriately.

  2. I really like this post. This is the kind of question I always ask myself feeling being pulled in one too many directions. Being consistent over a time period is a great advice.

    Thanks!

  3. My biggest obstacles: consistency over time, and making a useful contact list (since in fact most people on my list are not not actually interested in art at all).

    Other obstacles exist but I think these are the two most frightening ones.

    1. Patricia: You know after being with me for so long that the people are on your list because they support you. And each one of them knows about 150 other people. Don’t ever discount them.

  4. The idea of doing an email list terrifies me. Everyone says it’s the one most important thing but it feels so direct, so personal. How do I know that anything I might have to say will interest anyone? To just pop up in their inbox like that?

    On the other hand I am far too comfortable with Pinterest and Twitter… it can suck up a whole day if I’m not careful…

  5. I don’t know. It feel like I’m being intrusive. Someone can chose to come to a blog or a Pinterest board, but I feel very self conscious about appearing in their inbox.

    But it may be that it is because my main selling platforms (Etsy, Ugallery) don’t have a way for people to sign up to be on an email list so I’d have to manually collect their emails to even see if they wanted to be on a list. So it feels more like spamming than if they signed up themselves.

    Can you tell I have all this angst around this subject? Every time someone mentions email lists I have this sick feeling in my stomach. 😛

    1. Kerri, I SO hear you re: email list. I finally set up Mail Chimp when I was doing Art Biz Accelerator, and I’ve sent out about 6 emails a year last year. It gets easier and easier, trust me.

  6. Hi, Alyson, I started a blog a number of years back, but only post a few times a year. I also have a facebook business page. In the interest of focusing my marketing time, I am thinking of discontinuing the blog and doing more entries on my business page. What do you think?

  7. Hi, Alyson,
    Thanks so much for your reply, that makes sense to me. What if the content on my blog post winds of being exactly the same as a facebook post? IE: developing content and then posting it in two places?
    Thanks so much!
    Leslie

    1. Leslie: You post to your blog first and then share it on Facebook via a link and a little comment. Chances are slim that people will see it more than once. If they do, they’ll just ignore it and move on.

  8. I haven’t found my ideal mix yet. Last year I upped my presence on Pinterest a lot, just to see if it worked. I kept it up for 9 months. It was a lot of work, not that fun, and it didn’t bring me any more traffic or other goodies. So this year, I’m focusing on YouTube instead. Instagram will come along as well. I have my blog, newsletter, facebook etc. But not as many platforms as I did pre 2016.

  9. Wow talk about timely — am in Accelerator workshop, working on goals, and marketing mix and your email pops in (the Universe is nudging me YET AGAIN). I was most struck by getting rid of things you despise doing. I have one big one that has never made sense for the way I like to sell and communicate and that is juried exhibitions. Just never liked applying and dealing with the whole concept. For me at this stage it is a despicable. I have always sold using other ways, from get go, not a lot, but there was always a return from online sites, social media posts, meeting people, networking with non-artists, sometimes it just popped in my lap by talking to my neighbors. But gosh darn it I punished myself by applying to those juried shows because that is the traditional way to go. But frankly I am far from traditional and I know people, sales, client relations, marketing and I LOVE sharing and promoting my art. So the media mix was there all along — and will be adjusted since I have read your blog. Who needs to have the negatives of doing what they despise just because its always been done that way. We are all unique and different. Thank you so much, Alyson!

  10. You nailed it on the consistency point Alyson. This is a massive issue, because artists see results over time only if they remain consistent. Results are a great motivator, but patience is so important. I also worry about social media as an end in itself. We cannot trust social media as a business solution. This mostly leaves me with blogging (effective if done with SEO in mind) and person-to-person marketing (the best kind).

  11. A very good example of effective marketing is what you do with Art Biz Coach. I regularly delete tons of emails from sources I thought I would be interested in. Sometimes I put yours aside, but always read within a short time. I am not ready to invest, but I see the value in what you do for artists, and will likely at some point do so. The tidbits of free stuff are very helpful and keep me on your list. Thanks for popping up in my email box regularly.

  12. I spent four hours on Saturday setting up emails to go out this week to my list and afterwards I said “how exhausting, what was the point? etc. etc.” Well, I got two sales this week as a result – a result of consistency over time and doing a *little* bit of something I don’t love. Worth it if I see results!!

    1. Hi Michelle, I need to regroup and get going on, both painting again and promoting in ways I haven’t done before. What did you send in your email lists that got you those sales? How many emails did you send out? Congratulations on your sales AND on your resolve to doing that little bit that saw results after all!!! Kathryn Broland

  13. Good post, Alyson. I struggle with marketing terribly. I have a website: http://www.denicepeters.com and I contact galleries on occasion and do some local shows and enter national competitions. That’s about it. I really hate email marketing, blogs etc. I have some youtube in progress videos. So, of course I don’t see much advantage from any of it.

  14. Hey Krys, I’m in accelerator too!
    This year I am devoted to becoming more consistent on my blog and e-newsletter (and maybe sending out snail mail if I can get addresses). And going to more in-person events. Though I am kind of interested in exploring how I can leverage pinterest because I use it as a resource myself.

    Consistency over time is exactly why I have not made a Facebook artist page. I post art stuff publicly on my personal page including re-posting from my blog. I’m on several social media (mostly to see what is up) but I find I need chunks of time away, and at this point I just can’t see posting several times a day! let alone weekly.

  15. First of all…thank you SOOO much for including my drawing on this post…it means the world to me as I am such a huge fan of yours and your advice has strongly impacted my business!! Secondly I agree with everything you said here. Facebook and referrals are where most my business comes from, but I started on Instagram last year and I also do Pinterest, newsletters, and blogging. I mix it up on every platform…so each one is different and fresh and that way I don’t bore of it as I have to be creative even when it’s the same drawing I post…I’ll do a video of it for Instagram or show my cat next to it for Facebook, etc. This makes it fun for me and the people who follow me!!

  16. I recently finished my website, so now the task of marketing really begins. I am using mail chimp for my subscriber list, but noticed you mentioned sending postcards (an idea I love) — problem is I am only harvesting emails not street addresses. Is this a mistake and should I correct this? I assumed that people would be reluctant to sign up w more than an email…
    http://www.rhondalynch.com

    1. Hi Rhonda, I have been wondering that myself. Perhaps just straight out ask with something like “If you want to receive occasional postcards of my art include your street address.” I think something like that is what I am going to do.

  17. ALYSON,
    such a perfect topic…..consistency seems to be key yet I am hating FB and see little results in expanding…I really NEED to be better at Instagram…I love it but it’s far bigger than Hashtags and posting. Stories and layout with tools that look like a pottery barn book.
    Your points of summary are spot on! Thank Heavens for Alyson. Next, shake hands and mail…
    some print. I love meeting clients. But WHEN can I paint??? Oh, and my google page is so
    messed up…who can I seek to get help for this? Or…choose a new, not common domain?
    Thanks Smart good looking boss lady.! Listening. Vicki

  18. Alyson,
    Thank you for addressing this topic! Wonderfully informative and I am neighbors and friends with Kerry Schroader! Yesterday, I sat down to do my monthly workshop email that I have been doing for the past 6 years! I was stymied by it because I had so much other news to report and felt the pressure to do another blog post, etc. While I have benefited some from sending out montly workshop emails, I have noticed that my master list of 1,700 performs much better when I send out a new blog post or share tidbits of shows and sales. While this isn’t my favorite task because of all the updating of the website, new blog post, artwork and exhibitions, I want to put my time and energy for the “workshop” email, into a newsletter that de-emphasizes the workshops and emphasises my art more. Is this a good idea? Thanks so much for posting this! Elise

  19. My marketing is a combination of what I find inspiring, what it inspires me to create, and how messy my studio gets. Somehow I seem to get good response to the messy studio pictures. Maybe people like it when I reveal that I’m actually human…

  20. I really struggle with marketing, and I’m learning to give myself a little gentleness on this front. How is it we expect ourselves to be good at sitting quietly alone in a studio AND doing the polar opposite? We just have to practice, I think. I just opened a show, and I mailed invites to all my VIPs, and emailed my list, and sent press releases and more press releases to local papers and on-line mags. It was a well-attended opening, but I had zero press. At least I tried, so I feel pretty good about that. Next time, I won’t leave the press releases to the last two weeks. I’ll start sending them weeks before the show, and keep sending them. This is SO far out of my comfort zone. But I’m finding I get more comfortable the more I do it.

  21. “Making good business is the best kind of art.” ~ Andy Warhol

    For me, art and design are evolutionary processes, takes experimentation. The same is true for business. Trial and error.

  22. Its refreshing to find someone saying do what you like instead of just grinding it out. It’s very important to love what you do. I admire your courage for taking chances and mixing things up, god knows that can be scary.

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