Whether an independent artist or an emerging arts-centered group, the initial business startup steps are the same. Excluding art groups that launch as federally recognized tax-exempt entities (i.e. 501(c)(3)), there are basic procedures that should be undertaken. In speaking with various arts groups and individuals, I've realized that some basic essentials are missing, but can easily by reconciled:
- Register as an appropriate business entity in your state
- Develop a solid accounting system
- Register with Performance Organizations
- Invest in contract literacy
Determining the appropriate entity for your craft will depend on how you do or plan to do business. A business can be structured as sole-proprietorship, corporation or anywhere in between. Be sure to closely review the options available (e.g. tax structure, liability) to ensure you establish the best entity for your craft. Among some of the important reasons to establish an appropriate entity are ensuring your ability to procure appropriate banking, hiring of employees and limiting the risk exposure (important to note: adequate insurance assists here as well, but that's not my forte so I won't step on any toes).
Oftentimes, the importance of adequate accounting is overlooked. Accounting can be setup through a simple excel sheet or through a detailed software program with an accountant. Whatever the choice, establish a reliable accounting system. This will assist with budgeting, identifying financial needs/projections and tax filing (for both tax write-offs and liabilities).
The arts is an ever-changing mechanism, especially in light of this digital age. As such, upon establishing yourself or group, it's important to register with Professional Organizations (e.g. Design – American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), Music – Broadcast Media, Inc. (BMI), Photography – American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), Producers – Producers Guild of America (PGA)). These organizations educate and keep you abreast of current movement in your industry. Additionally, some organizations protect creative and financial rights.
And, as it relates to protection, contracting literacy can be your best friend. Solid forms are of great importance. Ensuring that agreements are in place for your habitual activities is a good way to avoid miscommunication and heartache. But, even more important is understanding essential terms of contracts. You won't always be able to bring your own contract to the table and you may not always be privy to a specific contract, but you can know essential terms to help lessen risks (note: a good attorney can be handy).