If I went back in time to my college years, a time when my bills were covered by student loans and my parents, the first change I would make is finding a business class. I did have access to the owner of a small business before and during college—my uncle Neil who ran a heating, plumbing, and electrical business—and could have asked him all kinds of questions about running it. Foolishly, I didn’t.
Back then, I looked at a trade like plumbing as something someone else did for a living. That’s not for me, I thought. I’m just helping to make money during the summer or during winter break. I missed the opportunity to learn how any small business should and shouldn’t run, and that ignorance led to me making a series of bad business decisions for myself when I started acting.
Without going into too many gritty details of the financial pitfalls we face when starting and growing a career as an actor, I will say briefly that I have spent far more auditioning and acting than I have earned. FAR MORE. But that in itself is not a mistake or a huge problem, unless you’re relying solely on acting to support yourself. Much of the time, I was.
In examining the error in my ways, I came up with a list of decisions I could share with others who aim to work as actors professionally. In creating a whole workshop based on this list, I expanded the language to include virtually all artists, from actors to photographers to designers. In the workshop, I ask attendees to write and share their answers to 10 basic business decisions. Then we discuss their responses and I can guide them to more productive thinking, if necessary.
It’s fascinating to watch in a group setting because you see common ground shared between people of different ages and interests. They learn from each other and they give so much to each other. I highly recommend taking the list I am about to include here and sitting down to do the exercises with someone you know.
10 BUSINESS DECISIONS EVERY ARTIST MUST MAKE
DECISION 1: What do I want to do precisely?
-In 60 seconds, write your answer in one sentence, using your reasons for reading this blog post as your guide. Be specific. For example, there is a difference in working as a commercial actor and a film actor. You can do both but each one involves its own process of decision-making.
DECISION 2: What does it look like exactly?
-In 2 minutes, draw a picture of you doing the thing you want to do. Think of it like a still shot of a scene or a single frame of a film. Consider the setting options and the people involved, and include some form of action.
DECISION 3: What stands between me and my goals right now?
-In 60 seconds, write down 3-5 obstacles that may be in your life today. These could be tangible obstacles or perceived ones.
DECISION 4: How does my geographic location affect my plan?
-In 2 minutes, write 2 sentences, one highlighting perceived advantages of your location as it applies to your plan and one highlighting disadvantages.
DECISION 5: How can I identify people who can help me?
-In 2 minutes, list 3 people you currently know who you believe could help you in any way, small or large.
DECISION 6: How do I communicate my needs to others?
-In 3 minutes, write 2 sentences you would use to ask others for help. The first sentence should state the goal. The second sentence should pose the question of what kind of help you’re looking for from that person.
DECISION 7: What initial or additional training is necessary?
-In 2 minutes, make a list of any classes, workshops, private coaching, or other instruction might be necessary, in your opinion right now.
DECISION 8: How do I qualify people as resources for training?
-In 2 minutes, develop a list of 3-5 questions you could ask a potential coach, teacher, or trainer to get a clearer sense of their qualifications.
DECISION 9: How will I support myself or contribute to the expense involved?
-In 3 minutes, develop a list of possible funding sources for yourself. Consider all options, including income from work, loans, potential grants, etc.
DECISION 10: How will prospective clients/customers/referral people find me?
-In 3 minutes, write a list of 10 ways you can spread the word about their goal, relying on social media, face-to-face interactions, and anything else you can imagine.
Once you have responded to these 10 questions, solo or with a partner, let me know what surprising discoveries you made while doing the work. Feel free to comment on this page. Then, share your discovery online with a link to this blog post so others can take the same steps you did.