People view artists as folks who exude ingenuity, creativity and passion, and whose brains are buzzing with a billion ideas all at once. However, what some don’t realize is that artists are entrepreneurs too, and the skills that are acquired and practiced through the arts can also be applied to business (and vice versa). Perhaps nobody knows this better than Chelsey Paterson.
At the age of 23, Chelsey founded her first business Model Citizens, a designer resale boutique in downtown St. John’s. After years of blood, sweat and tears, the store achieved widespread success and national recognition. Last year, Chelsey sold the business and now works in business education and entrepreneurial development – but the lessons she has learned along the way have stayed with her. She will share some of these lessons during an interactive seminar through Business & Arts NL later this month.
Recently, Chelsey took some time to talk risky business, the value of teamwork and the must-have business skills that every artist needs.
Business & Arts NL: In this day and age, how important is it for artists to have an entrepreneurial mindset?
Chelsey Paterson: It is incredibly important for artists to have an entrepreneurial mindset, but I also think that entrepreneurs can learn a lot from artists. A common thread between art and entrepreneurship is risk. When an artist completes a new work, walks into an audition or when the curtain rises, they are inherently taking a risk. Putting something brand new into the world and being open to feedback is the foundation of entrepreneurship. Managing and evaluating risk and return is something that we will discuss in our upcoming session.
Having an entrepreneurial mindset involves more than risk and reward- there is an understanding of the consumer and finding solutions to their needs. In art, you cannot always consider the satisfaction of the consumer as the artist’s work must be created for art’s sake, not for the consumer’s taste. However, there is merit to understanding the consumer, not to create for their wants but to create work that will be impactful for the consumer. That understanding can give another layer of depth to work.
Business & Arts NL: Some may think that because they don’t have a business degree, their business skills may not be up to snuff. What advice/recommendations can you offer them?
CP: In my experience, most entrepreneurs do not have formal business backgrounds. That is generally a good thing. As an entrepreneur or an artist, your product, service and/or craft is the most important thing. Chances are if you are a business expert, you do not have the necessary skills or certifications to be an electrician or a dancer. As an entrepreneur, what you offer your clients is the most important part of your skills set, not whether you have a B.Commerce degree, unless you are by chance starting an accounting firm.
Anytime I meet an entrepreneur, I always ask them to do a skills inventory. Also, I get them to rank a list of entrepreneurial duties in the order of enjoyment, not necessarily knowledge. If you enjoy social media, then you should make it part of what you do as an entrepreneur. If you are terrified of taxes and all things CRA, we need to hire a good bookkeeper. Many entrepreneurs waste time and money doing things they hate or are uncomfortable doing to save money (like bookkeeping), but the question I always pose is a simple economics question: What is the opportunity cost of doing that task? Are you displacing time spent selling, creating or making money? For example, if your billable rate is $80 an hour as an electrician, should you spend three days doing your taxes? Are you actually losing money by doing it yourself when you could be working as an electrician?
That brings me to my point: teams are everything. As an entrepreneur of any stripe, you must assemble a team to help you bring your business to life. Bookkeepers, accountants, graphic designers, social media managers – all of these experts will help you do things right the first time.
Business & Arts NL: What are some of the most important entrepreneurial skills that artists should have in their “tool box”?
CP: To my point above, a good team is essential. Also, good connections with industry associations such as Business and Arts NL is essential to collaborating. In terms of tangible tools, the internet is an amazing place, filled with incredible tools built to make owning and operating businesses easier. Use programs that make your life easier, not harder. And the Google suite of products is totally amazing.
Workshop – Creative Entrepreneurship: Exploring the Intersection of Art and Entrepreneurship
Date: Monday, September 26 from 9am-4pm
Location: St. John’s City Hall, Foran-Greene Room
Price: $30 for Business & Arts NL members/$45 non-members. Registration is required.
For more information on Chelsey’s workshop, click here.