The Lean Art Business Canvas 2021
Choosing a career in the arts is a great business option today and it can be highly profitable.
The business model for artists in 2021 is not cookie cutter.
I created a tool called the Lean (Art) Startup Canvas as a way for you to win in business.
You simply plug in your own metrics and business demographics.
No doubt you’ll have to work hard, get back up every time you get pushed down, and teach yourself to smile through self-doubt when it come along.
If you can stand all of that, you can definitely turn your passion and talent into profit.
But no matter what, you still have the job of getting your art business off the ground.
That’s why I took a hard look at how to best help you do that.
In my year-long search for answers, I started studying small startups. That’s when I remembered the Lean Startup Canvas from a few years back.
I used it for my own startup, in fact, back in 2013.
But after pulling it up and looking it over again, I realized it could be used for artists (my very favorite people).
It just needed some adjustments.
With that knowledge, I created the “Lean (Art) Startup Canvas”.
The Lean Startup Canvas vs. The Lean (Art) Startup Canvas
Below is the Lean Startup Canvas created by Ash Maurya. It was designed specifically for the tech entrepreneur who wanted to start a business.
Ash modeled it from the original business model canvas, but made changes that are iconic today in the tech industry.
He streamlined the entire business startup process to meet the tech startup needs by taking into consideration several things.
- Tech startups usually have little to no capital.
- They have very few people on the team.
- They need key developments to happen in order to succeed.
The simplified model he came up with included only the components needed to become profitable in the shortest amount of time.
The Lean Startup Canvas:
Since art businesses, like tech startups, are also made up of small teams (usually one person), and they start with little to no capital and they require key developments to succeed, I knew the lean startup model could apply.
Let’s look at how it differs.
The Lean (Art) Startup Canvas:
I designed the Lean (Art) Startup Canvas in much the same way with one main difference.
Each component has a different definition that fits the art startup specifically.
These components are required for art startups to be most successful.
Will this tool help artists increase the odds they’ll succeed at business?
Yes, I think so.
Is it supposed to make art business foolproof?
Of course, nothing is risk-free, but it can reduce the chance of failure and improve the chance you’ll be profitable and innovative.
For artists to think of their businesses as a startup, notably the tech startup, is a good move in today’s world.
The lean process can be used similarly.
In fact, there is a helpful “feedback” loop that gives entrepreneurs a process for testing whether they will continue being successful.
I’ve created one for artists too.
First, let’s take a quick look at the process.
It’s called The Lean Startup Feedback Loop by Eric Reis:
Now, let’s look at the Lean (Art) Startup Cycle:
Here they are compared side by side:
And since the tech world has already put tons of blood, sweat and tears into understanding what a successful startup lifecycle looks like, then why shouldn’t the artist entrepreneur learn from them?
Artists can embrace and iterate their businesses the way tech startups do.
Now I’ll show you how the two business startups are alike and how they differ.
Then, with the Lean (Art) Startup Canvas tool, you can move forward setting up your business for success.
We can see the comparisons if we look closely.
Ash’s startup canvas model includes:
- unique value proposition
- unfair advantage
- customer segments
- key metrics
- cost structure
- revenue streams
The art business canvas model includes:
- want or need
- ultra value proposition
- epic advantage
- ongoing tasks
Let’s look closer at each key metric.
Problem vs. Want/Need
With an art startup, the first metric to address is the most important. It is the want or need.
Other types of businesses look first at solving a problem for the buyer. They find out what the customer struggles with or wants to solve.
For example, Post-It® Notes solved a simple problem for people who needed to remember or communicate.
Art is different.
Art is more often the answer to a need or want.
It is a way to meet our need or want for entertainment, enrichment, fulfillment, joy, understanding, enlightenment, etc…
It can, however, solve a problem too.
That problem can be pain.
Music and visual arts, for example, can provide distraction from painful life events, healing for stressful experiences or even a fix for boredom.
Art can also solve the need to give. People purchase art in all forms to give to others as gifts.
So, problem vs. want/need is simply a way of looking at how you think your art will be used by the consumer.
Answer this: “What need or want (or problem) will my work fulfill?”
Solution vs. Fit
The solution for other types of businesses is their product.
Using the Post-It Note example above, people had a problem remembering or communicating easily, so a product was needed in the marketplace to fix it.
Post-it Notes was the solution.
Your artwork or talent is not so much a solution as it is a “fit” that fulfills the want or need.
A solution fixes a specific problem.
A fit is the match between what you offer and a want or need.
Another example would be the cell phone.
Cell phones are a solution for people looking to communicate, shop and get information from anywhere.
A fit is different.
A fit is when a patron or fan chooses your particular talent over another for a specified reason.
That reason is because it matches an appeal such as style, genre, aesthetics. It could also match their narrative such as background, nostalgia, history, location, story, etc…
It “fits” their need or want through appeal or narrative.
To explain it further, Reggae music is a fit for those who enjoy a heavy four-beat rhythm of drums, bass guitar, electric guitar, the “scraper”, the Jamaican English accent and/or culture and so on.
Your task is to clearly define your work or talent.
By defining it, you squash ambiguity and become the “fit” for your tribe.
Unique Value Proposition vs. Ultra Value Proposition
The definition of unique is one-of-a-kind.
The definition of ultra is extreme.
The difference is that you’re going to define your value with high focus so it is ultra clear, void of vagueness.
You’ll define it so clearly that your fans and patrons (customers) will know the exact words to use to describe your value.
By that I mean, you’ll show them specifically what’s special (even when your work appears to be similar to other works in the market).
You’ll use specific nouns, verbs, adjectives and phrases to explain it.
Your job in defining your value is to relay how much your art form ties into your customer’s narrative and thus their decision-making process.
The more common unique value proposition (also known as unique selling proposition) is
- the product’s benefits
- how the problem is solved and
- how it differs from the competition
On the other hand, an ULTRA value proposition as defined in the Lean (Art) Startup Canvas is the value of your talent in comparison to someone else’s as perceived by the customer.
In a nutshell, it is the reason why they make the decision to choose you over another artist.
The burden of proof is solely on you.
And to prove this value, you must state the benefits, your experience/background/history and how the features of your work can be distinguished from competitors.
You then give a reason why the buyer should take an action.
It is essential for your business growth.
Unfair Advantage vs. Epic Advantage
It can be difficult to figure out what your advantage is.
Let alone your EPIC advantage.
So, let’s take a look at how to determine it.
First, an advantage is either easy to copy or not easy to copy..
And it goes without saying you’re trying to establish an advantage that is very hard to copy.
These would be things like patents, first-to-market, IP and so on.
However, most artists are creating works through methods that have been used before.
Therefore, even though your work is proprietary, it isn’t patentable (I’m guessing) and your style, genre, methods, etc.. can and will be copied.
That doesn’t mean you aren’t unique.
It means that all of the art forms such as painting, singing, drawing, photography, sculpture, and so on have been done before.
So, your epic advantage has to be something else. It has to be something that in combination with your product is epically unique.
Your epic advantage as an artist is tied to who you are, where you come from, what you’ve accomplished, what you’ve experienced, your depth, your service, and your vision.
It’s your brand on the whole.
And in order for people to notice your brand and find it epically unique, you have to communicate it to them.
Most of us don’t want to tout our own accomplishments, our special training, our rare knowledge or uncommon experience, but in the case of the artist, it’s what gives you the epic advantage.
Write down specifically everything that makes up you and your talent.
Keep in mind your journey, your demographics, your methods of creating, your background, the materials you use, your experiences, your education, your awards, your unusual offers, your trials and tribulations, your partnerships, your struggles, all of it.
You’ll win big once you meet the need or want of your customer with your own combination of brand + work.
That emotional value is what you’re going to capitalize on.
“…an understanding of the target consumer and what we call a “branded proposition” that offers not only functional, but also emotional value. Over time, the emotional value create(s) a buffer against functional parity.” Marc de Swaan Arons
To explain further, that means that even when other artist’s offers are similar, yours will rise above the rest if you’ve established an emotional value.
“Consider simple, long-standing concepts like (1.) embracing technology, (2.) connecting emotionally and (3.) evolving with consumers. No matter your industry, no matter your product, these time-tested techniques will serve any brand well.” – Aviva M. Cantor – 99 Designs
Customer vs. Fan/Patron
Average shoppers are looking to solve a problem.
Fans and patrons of the arts are doing something a little different..
A fan or patron is driven more by passion in tandem with emotion.
It’s what fuels their need or want.
Understanding how passion and emotion sells allows you to unlock a higher growth and revenue stream for your talent.
Keep in mind that building passion and emotion where there was none before may be part of your sales and marketing journey.
And with that, understanding the fears, desires and motivations of your fans and patrons (the things that move your tribe on a deeper level) will help you touch upon those driving emotions.
For example, being Earth-friendly might be an important part of your buyer’s persona. And if that matches you, find every way possible to share how you have fully adopted an Earth-friendly process and lifestyle. Connect solidly with those people.
Tell your story and you will awaken the fears, desires and motivations of your most loyal future fans and patrons.
Key Activities vs. Ongoing Tasks
Key activities are measurable actions you take to track your business.
Those might include Google Analytics and Google Adsense, for example, to check traffic and income.
Key activities are needed for every business.
But I call them Ongoing Tasks because they are slightly differently.
I use the word “ongoing” as a reminder to you that there are things you need to be doing:
As long as you want to be in business, you’ll need to continue doing them.
Very small businesses (such as art businesses) will have only one person to run all segments of these tasks.
Using an organized method to track all necessary functions is essential to avoid going out of business (which we DON’T want you to do).
You can use the Art Business Planner Bundle (available soon) in fillable format to set up your own art business task needs.
NOTE: It comes in two versions. Version 1 is filled with ready-made tasks. Version 2 is blank for you to customize.
Channels vs. Mode/Means
Channels refer to how businesses reach customers. Traditionally, these were through commercials, print advertisements in magazines and newspapers and snail mail.
Over time, these channels evolved to include email, social media, online ads, blogging and so on.
Channels are best described as:
“…the path that companies use to get people in the door.” Paula Soito
I’ve altered that piece of the Lean (Art) Startup Canvas to become Mode and Means.
Mode and Means refers to a two-way street.
Mode is how fans and patrons will come to you.
What mode of “transportation” will they take to get to you? Will it be offline or online? Will you reach them physically (in person), as well as virtually with online advertising or social media?
It’s important to think through your customer’s journey.
Walk the path you’re asking them to take.
Is it easy? Is it clearly lit?
Traveling your customer’s journey allows you to see and remove as many barriers as possible.
Means is how you plan to deliver your work to them once they find you.
By what “means” will you transfer ownership over to them.
If you create physical works, will you ship it or will they retrieve it or will you offer both?
If it is virtual or downloadable, what method of delivery will you use? How will you ensure the quality and security of the delivery of your product? How will you protect your IP? Will you give lifetime access?
Walk BOTH paths.
How was the trek to get to you? How will the delivery of your work go out to them?
Cost Structure vs. Costs
The difference here is minor.
Cost Structure refers to a framework rather than simply throwing it all into a single category. Create a list for both Fixed Costs + Variable Costs = Total Costs (FC + VC = TC).
The 2 column framework can be segmented into categories such as shared commission, raw materials, and so on. It lays out all expenditures into categories.
Since there are usually less expenditures for tiny businesses, a list works well.
The common items on both lists could include:
- Supplies (paint, clay, tools, etc..)
- Resources (small business development, classes, subscriptions, etc…)
- Rentals (studio, equipment, etc…)
- Work Flow (business apps, email client, etc…)
- Marketing (printed flyers, Google Ads, social media campaigns, etc..)
- Hired Help (Fiverr, an in-person assistant, web designer, etc…)
- Facilities (Pop Ups, fairs, galleries, co-working spaces, utilities, etc…)
- Of course your list may be different, but this gives you a starting point.
Tracking your expenses is not only responsible, but it is a driving factor in determining your hourly worth on top of the valuation you give your work.
Remember, you are running a business as well as charging for your work.
Take into consideration the cost to run your business. It’s smart management.
Revenue Streams vs. Revenue
Again, this is a framework vs. a list.
These are essentially the same thing, but rather than overcomplicate it for your small business, simply make a list.
How will you make money?
What are all the revenue streams you plan to use to bring in profits.
Some of the most common ones include:
- Direct sales (selling your work)
- Bundles (combining works for a discount)
- Promotions (seasonal, occasional or event discount sales)
- Rentals (renting out your work)
- For Hire (promoting yourself for hire)
- Subscriptions (creating subscription offers)
- Affiliate (selling other products that relate to your business)
- Collaborations (bringing in revenue through collaborations)
- Venues (joining with galleries or venues to share percentage of sales)
- Donations (accepting donations – sometimes tied to charity)
- Licensing (licensing your work or talent)
- Advertising (earning through ads)
Overall, taking time to lay these out gives you a leg up.
I’ll leave you with some additional questions to answer as you set up your business for success:
- Will I need help temporarily or consistently? If so, what skills do they need to have? Where will I find them? What can I afford?
- Is my studio space sufficient? Is it set up for me to produce works comfortably and efficiently?
- Should I do my own accounting? If so, what tools do I need to set up to track my business accounting?
- How much time and energy am I willing to put into my own business? What is the max I’m willing to put in?
- Will I keep or get a day job while I get off the ground? Will it prevent me from giving the business sufficient attention?
All the pieces can come together.
Use the Lean (Art) Startup Canvas as a guide.
Technology disruption like Uber, Snapchat, Airbnb and a million others have become the norm.
And there are some things we can learn from them that apply to the art startup too.
The Lean (Art) Startup Canvas can be used as a core building block for art business when starting out or even when taking an existing art business to the next level.
The art and tech worlds DO, in fact, resemble each other as you can see.
By following models like the Lean Startup Canvas, we can take away benefits that work with all types of modern businesses and their consumers.
What are your thoughts?
As always, wishing you the best,