The Classic Rant
So, you want to be a professional henna artist? 
by Catherine Cartwright Jones 
self employed as an artist craftsman from 1969 to 2004 
Present DBA, The TapDancing Lizard 
© 1999 

This is the Part Time 
Henna Artist's Business Rant.

When you have done henna for a while, doing it well enough that people have started offering you money and calling you up to do it, you may begin to consider seeing if you can earn a little regular money at it. 

When is it time to start advertising for clients?  

If you have hennaed beautifully and are improving rapidly, and have a few months experience with different skins, different parts of the body, and are getting consistent results, you can go forwards a bit.  Don't be in a rush to make money, because with henna, experience is the best teacher, and you'll need a LOT of experience to not make mistakes.  You can learn to do henna in a day, but to perfect your henna art takes a lifetime of learning!  Start small!  It is truly terrible to make mistakes in a big expensive setting (like a huge rock concert, trendy shop or festival setting), but forgivable to make mistakes in a small place, at a small price. 

How do you get people to come to you for henna? 

Start by ALWAYS having your hands wonderfully hennaed, and always having henna with you. Be charming, talk to people, and offer a little TINY henna FREE. (When you're sitting at a party, dorm lounge, park, breach, outside on a lovely day.... be sweet, be friendly, and just go do it!) (I said is frequently illegal or uncool to charge in such places)  Let them fall in love with your henna. Let then know where to find you when they want more! (When they want more they can pay.)  Always have a purse full of business cards.  If you can afford to do color copies with a lovely picture of your henna and business info, pin up flyers everywhere you can think of (well, every place that’s legal to do so).  Let people know you exist, and what you do. If you're GOOD, your henna and your pictures of it will tell your story! 

Look on bulletin boards for concerts, raves, and events

Call up the phone numbers of the organizers and see what the vending fees and arrangements. Set a goal of doing one event every week. Start with small inexpensive events. Make your mistakes at the small places. When you have more experience, go to the larger events. When you start to do events, and not just having people come to you for the occasional henna ... you need to switch over to the "business rant" rules. As long as you're very, very small time.... cash only, no place of business, no can get by without real business practices. 

For an excellent model of part time business practices.... 

Think about the way a part-time high school or college supplier of recreational pharmaceuticals goes about establishing and maintaining a clientele. Many of them have excellent business sense.... small free samples, cordiality, keeping a very low profile, relying on word of mouth ... this is very good for beginning and maintaining little part time henna business. (There is a crucial legal and ethical issue in the "happy candy" line of work though that many of them overlook, and thus at some point, their business, life and everything else comes to a screeching halt). (Henna artists need not fear being arrested in their underwear.) Other than that, the "purveyor of small pleasures" model of part time business is very instructive. With a little luck, you will have, by word of mouth, a group of happy henna addicts who MUST have their henna fix every weekend. But, where should you meet your henna addicts, and how can you attract more? 
A college situation, or a relaxed workplace, or a large circle of friends is ideal for a very small part time henna business. Word of mouth is always best for getting a part time business going.  It makes your business grow slowly enough for you to do your learning and experimenting, so you will become a better artist.  When you are regularly busy, and it gets to the point that you need to buy supplies wholesale, be a vendor at shows, have a business name, start to expand and grow and even depend on henna to help pay your bills.... THEN you need to think about henna as a business rather than a pleasant profitable hobby, wherein the Business Rant applies. 

When you are confident that you can do a good job on anyone without running into trouble, think about setting yourself up a weekend business as a henna artist.  Think about festivals, a table at a nail parlor, a henna salon in your house, or some regular place of business.  This will require setting up your business as outlined in the "full-time rant" but without committing yourself to leaving your day job.  Henna is very suitable for a part time business! 

Going beyond occasional cash-in-hand henna work?  
Read on to the "full time business rant" and use the business rules that apply!  
Good luck!  
Here are the next steps! 
This is The Full Time Artist's Business Rant, 
in Four Part Harmony

There are two reasons to begin a business of your own in the arts, Love or Money. 

You may begin a business if you love art and want to do it a lot, and want to make money at it.  
This works, but often not very well, because once you've done something a few thousand times for money, and experienced all the difficulties that go along with doing business, the thing you once loved accumulates a lot of emotional baggage and it's not much fun anymore.  Love is not a particularly good reason to begin a business.   Love is an excellent reason to keep your art business part time, or as a hobby. 

Two, you may begin a business because you NEED MONEY!  
A sudden change in circumstances that forces you to find a way to make money to survive with whatever skills and resources you can muster in a hurry is an excellent way to begin.   Impoverishment is a great motivator and clarifier of thought.   Most artists I know who are making a full time living in the arts are there because they lost their steady job and found themselves desperate to pay the bills.  Dire necessity forces an artist to make more realistic business decisions, and work much more effectively than would usually be the case. 

If, for whatever reason you find yourself in a position to earn money as an artist, you will need to take care of several things which artists are unaccustomed to doing.  These things are absolutely essential, and if you don't do them, you will not stay in business long.  You must do your bookkeeping.  You must have all your legal permits and banking arrangements in order.  You must have no complications in terms of health or personal relationships.  You must be boundlessly energetic, intense and highly motivated, with a strong ego and undauntable will.  You must be unquestionably excellent in your art.  You will need a reliable car.  You must have an answering machine.  You must have no difficulty making decisions. 

Do the numbers of what you need to earn.  

Add up all your monthly expenses.  Double that.  (Things screw up.)  
Add up what you can reasonably expect to earn in a month's art business, minus all the expenses.  Divide that in half.  (Things screw up.)  In your grimmest, most pessimistic evaluation, will this work?  It takes at least $750 a week to support a middle class family of four comfortably. If you pace yourself to earn double that, the money should even out to where you just squeak by.  Always put 10% off the top of your earnings aside for hard times and emergencies.  

If those numbers really don't line up, 
do your art business part time and make peace with some job that pays the bills.  Actually, it's a little easier to bear a dreary job that pays the bills if you have a little business of your own where you maintain your sanity and do something creative. 

Every single day, without fail, you must record your expenses and income.  
It does not matter very much how you do it in a small one-person business, as long as you understand everything you have written down.  What makes your bookkeeping system good enough?  If you can find any expense, any receipt, and any income amount in less than 20 minutes, your system is good enough.  If you cannot tell someone how much you spent on travel, or on supplies, or how much you earned in any particular month in the last 5 years within 20 minutes...your system is NOT good enough.  Use a notebook, or use software, but USE it and use it daily!  Keep records of everything.  Keep the records orderly.  

If you've never kept books on a business before, 
go to a big bookstore and ask to see books on home businesses.  Buy one or two that seem to make sense.  Bookkeeping software is a wonderful thing, and not difficult.    Bookkeeping is tedious, like flossing your teeth and doing the dishes, but it is crucial.  If you don't have well-kept books, when you get audited by the IRS or try to improve your financial situation at the bank, you will go down in flames.  Never, ever, throw away a receipt.  Any receipt you don't have will be the one that someone behind a desk will absolutely require to approve you for some loan or audit, refund or bill. 

Buy receipt books.  
Use them.   Either get purchase order books and invoice books at your local office supply store, or use your bookkeeping software to create them.   When you order supplies, make out a purchase order with a number.  When you sell something, give that person a receipt.  When you do henna at a party, write up an invoice for the person paying you. Have them sign it when you are paid.  Keep ALL of these in meticulous order.   Most artists find this oppressive and tedious, but your tax auditor and bank loan manager will adore you for it.  It may help you get yourself into a more stable business situation, like a mall kiosk, if you have a provable track record of sales. 

Get legal and stay legal.  

Visit your local city hall
and see what permits you need to have a home business. Get them.   See what paperwork you need to file to have a name for your business.  Do that.  Go to your bank and set up a business account.    Keep all these papers where you can find them.  File your returns on time.  Find out what liability insurance you need for a business in your state and get it.   If you want your business to grow and stay afloat, you will have to have these things and keep them up to date. 

Make sure what you're doing is safe and legal.  
Make sure you HURT NO ONE!  No quick profit is ever worth a lawsuit for pain and suffering!  Are you considering using black henna? 
Every day, without fail, make at least one of the ugly phone calls that you have been avoiding. 

What is your payback for all this bookkeeping and permit holding?  
As an artist running a home business, a world of thumbing your nose at the IRS will open before you!  You will legally be eligible to deduct from your income part or all of the following as legitimate business expenses:  mileage allowance when traveling, food allowance when traveling, accommodations when traveling, other transportation expenses, your mortgage, rentals related to business, insurance, all your supplies, costumes, books, internet access, banking expenses, utilities in your home, all the purchases you make that can conceivably be regarded as business related, phone line, home repairs  or improvements if they can be related to your business, computer upgrades, promotions, festival fees, business lunches with other artists, commissions, donations to non-profit organizations ... and you can get quite creative with this as long as you can make a bullet-proof paper trail that implies that the expense was part of your business.  

In short, virtually every year that you are in business as an artist-craftsman, you can arrange your legitimate deductible home business expenses to very nearly cancel out your income, and you will pay little or no income tax on your earnings.  If you do this and have children, you can receive low income-related benefits such as EIC, and later your children will be eligible for outstanding grants and scholarships based on financial need as they enter college. 

The IRS WILL audit you every 5 to 7 years.  
The IRS deeply fears and loathes home businesses.  Be ready for them.  If you have magnificent, bulletproof bookkeeping, you can win your audit.  I did. Twice.

Running a home business can put a strain on your health 
You will need to be boundlessly energetic and enthusiastic, and working about 70 hours a week for many weeks on end as your business grows.  There is no sick leave in a artist's home business.  You have to be producing your art, or no money comes in.  Take care of yourself!  You can get health insurance for yourself as self-employed, but it is expensive and may be difficult to find if you have any pre-existing conditions.  If you have a health problem, you may need to stay with a "straight job” and do your art part time, unless you can get good medical coverage from your spouse's job.    A pregnancy can be an excellent reason for you to go into a home arts business, so you can both have an income and be with your child, but it is unwise to put your pregnancy and child at risk with no medical care.  Be as sensible and well advised as you can in terms of combining mothering and business.  If you have not been pregnant and had children before, you may underestimate the time and energy required to manage infants and business in the same space.  It certainly can be done, and done wonderfully, but it is NOT EASY! 

Running a home business can create strains in your personal relationships.  
Spouse, lovers, and children can become very jealous of the time you spend on your business, and can become very inventive at creating distractions to draw your attention back to them.  People often do not understand that being at home doing art is for you serious employment.  If people continually interrupt your work, to the point of reducing your productivity and money, set firm limits in terms of time and space.  You may find it useful to have "business hours" or a "business space" and make it clear to people that you are at work, and are not to be bothered until you take a break.  "Business space" and "business hours" are also useful in making YOU leave business behind you when it is time to be a spouse, lover, or parent.  

It's very easy to become totally consumed by your art and business, and to drag it around physically or mentally with you always.  This will annoy the hell out of all the people who love you.  Learn to separate yourself from your arts business, and remember to set it aside as you prefer other people to leave their business at the office too. 

To succeed in your art business, you will need to get visible and stay visible.   
Find out how to get into festivals, concerts, street fairs, open markets, mall kiosks, coffee houses, spas.....anything that looks promising.    Sometimes you can find out by going to the place and asking, or try the local city hall or chamber of commerce, state arts commission, or Internet.  Get the application forms.  Send them in on time.  Make sure you have an excellent presentation, simple enough to be understood at a glance.  Your biggest investment in time and resources early on in your business will be in making sure people know you exist, and presenting yourself well.  Take clear, beautiful, uncomplicated slides of your work for festival applications.  A great looking website with beautiful pictures of your work is very helpful!   Subtlety, cunning, complexity and mystery in these presentations is a bad idea.  The arts world is very competitive, and you need to get people's attention instantly, and hold it. 

The business managers of the places where you hope to do business may know little about your art and care less about it.  You will have to market yourself aggressively and concisely.    Go for every bit of public exposure you possibly can.  Every time you are out, you must look charming, be eager and cheerful, and be, yourself, a work of art.  You are selling yourself as much as your art.   

If you can get out in public with your art 40 weekends in the first year, you will be well on your way to either being a success in business, or you will have found out that this way of life is not for you. 

All contracts must be in writing. 
This protects you.  There are books and software with lovely sample contracts for all sorts of occasions.  Have a look at them!  You may not have thought about copyright, model release forms, billing, delivery, and bookings for parties and such, but you may need to think about them soon! 

To endure in business, you will need patience and a vast sense of humor.
Ever worked with the general public before?  This is not a terribly clever species, and henna often brings stupidity right to the surface.  See: Gryphoemia.  Gryphoemia is an inevitable affliction of henna artists.  Be prepared!

Keep little cards with your business info on it with you at all times.  
Always keep your hands beautifully hennaed.  Never pass up an opportunity to promote yourself, short of being a real pain in the ass. 

When you talk to artists similar to yourself, ask them what works, and what doesn't work. 
If they are honest, open and helpful, they are wonderful people and try to keep them as your friends.  If they are secretive and unhelpful about business, they suck.  Ignore them.  Karma will take care of them. 

When you chose festivals to attend, try to get maximum exposure for minimum expense.  
In your first year of work, your well-kept books will show you those that are the most profitable venues. Aim for situations where your fees bring back 10 times as much in sales.  That will help your cash flow a great deal.  The most expensive festivals may not be the best moneymakers for you. In henna art, particularly, you are limited by the number of hours you are hennaing, rather than the inventory you can bring, unless you can arrange to do both.  Every business-artist will find a niche.... search diligently for it, then work it for all its worth!  It is very difficult to guess what venue will be the best moneymaker for you.... good instincts may help, or cast whatever household oracle you have at hand.  Seeking auspices of one business project by casting an oracle is as valid as trying to forecast what will happen by any other means.  Personally, I prefer the I Ching, and the edition published by Asiapac is particularly helpful.  Most artists I know have small household shrines where they offer modest bribes to deities, to better their chances of business success, and to relieve themselves of the strain of worrying unnecessarily about circumstances they really cannot control. 

If a festival or business situation begins to suck and waste your time beyond reason, pack up, leave and cut your losses.  
There are some situations wherein it is truly useless to keep trying.  Don't spend time or money accomplishing nothing. 

If you find that festivals are the best place for you to earn money as an artist, establish a bank account and put the fees for each show away in that account for a year, as you do shows.  Show fees can be cash flow headache.  The sooner you establish a fund for this, the better.  Show fees also cause problems for your regular bank account because the promoters can wait months before they deposit the check...and cause you a sudden overdraft if you've forgotten about it! 

It is very useful to make the banking arrangements to accept credit cards. 
When you have improved in your art enough that you can do larger jobs and charge more, you can improve your sales hugely by accepting credit cards.  Keep excellent books for the first year, and go to the bank where you have your business account and ask about accepting credit cards.   They will want to know how much your average sale is, and your rate will be based on that.  It will cost you to do this, but most art businesses triple in sales when they accept credit cards, because you can encourage people to choose a much more expensive piece of artistry.  If people can only spend on you the cash they have in their pockets, they will spend very little.  Visa and MasterCard are by far the most useful cards to accept. 
It may not be all that crucial to have business capital to run an arts business.  If you have very little money, you spend what you have very, very carefully, and that is an excellent thing in business.   

Earn as much as you possibly can.  
Spend as little as you possibly can.  

Businesses that depend on inventory, manufacturing or importing require more capital, and the strategy for running those businesses is very different than running a business based on your artistic output.  If you must go into debt to finance your business, do so at the lowest possible interest rate, and pay it off immediately.   A henna artist's business is similar to the strategy of a performer.... where money is produced by time spent doing the art rather than accumulating objects and selling them.  

If you are a henna artist, and not carrying inventory, it is important to have lots of hours hennaing, at as little expense as possible.  If an artist is producing works and then taking them to a festival, it is often far more profitable to travel with samples and take custom orders than to travel with inventory and pray that the stuff sells.  Take plenty of photos of the work you have done.  That is your resume.  People will order from you if they can see that you've delivered well in the past. 

Consignment is a great way to get no money fast.  
In 30 years of business, I found exactly one gallery that paid honestly and promptly for consigned goods. 

 If you want to take your henna business the direction of importing and distributing, that is an entirely different matter, and requires very different management skills.  If you are expanding your business in a way that will require investment, loans and inventory, you may need to talk to someone experienced in managing business and finances, or read books on such.  Business and money management is not a difficult game, but you do have to know the rules.  Importing, also has rules, and you will have to learn to love your bookkeeping, permits, phone and paperwork in ways that a single henna artist would not.  I never expanded my business beyond the one-artist, one-home-business, no employees point, so I can't offer much advice on major business growth. 

Learn to be very firm about collecting money that is owed you. 

Decide what you want out of your business.  
Do you want adulation, time with your kids, money, security, and control over your own time, job satisfaction, independence, or relief from boredom?  What do you want most?  Structure your business in the way that will deliver what you want most, best.  Decide what you want your business to be in 5 years.  Figure out how to get to that point in 5 years.  Write these things down and re-evaluate them once a year. 

Do not fear making decisions.  
Being wrong is no big deal, but being indecisive is a killer.  If you must decide between artistic integrity and making the mortgage payment or feeding your children, go for the money.  You can have artistic integrity AFTER the mortgage check clears the bank and the children are fed. 

Failure is a bitch.  
Failure in your own business is an expensive bitch, and can be overwhelming and depressing.  However, misery is not very useful.  When you have, for whatever reason, gone down in flames with bounced checks, a disastrous show, wrecked art, or abject humiliation ... allow yourself one hour to hide in the bathroom crying, then stop and evaluate the situation.  Does this disaster require a lawyer, a policeman, a bail bondsman, a physician, a paramedic, a mortician, a coroner's inquest or a priest?  If it does, things really suck, and you should call for help.  Does this disaster simply require a large infusion of money, time or apologies?   If that is all that's needed to repair the damage, it's is not a very big deal then, and you can sort it out, though it will be painful and take some doing.  

Never avoid dealing with disasters.  
They fester and go septic if you do not take care of them directly.  The faster and more honestly you confront difficult situations, the easier they are to get through.  Cultivate a circle of friends who have also been artist-businessmen.  You'll quickly find out from them that not only are disasters and failures inevitable, but that they can be dealt with, and most of them are not a very big deal.  If you must go into debt to cure a disaster, seek professional debt management advice.  Money is difficult only if you do not understand it well. 

Success in your own business is a magnificent high.  
Allow yourself one hour of feeling insufferably pleased with yourself.  Treat yourself to something nice that costs no more than $25.   After that, get a grip. 

Don't trust anyone farther than you can throw them if there is money involved.  
This doesn't mean you have to be paranoid and evil tempered ... it just means that you must get everything in writing, and keep all your papers in order.  Arguing over money is very tiresome, broken promises leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth, and true rip-off artists turn up where least expected.  Don't trust in people's good intentions and generosity.  Put everything in writing and keep your eyes open. 

Never risk what you can't afford to lose. 

I ran a home business as an artist for 30 years, and in many years it was the sole source of income for a family of four.  In nearly all other years, it was still equal to or more than other sources of income.  It was never boring. 
Other useful stuff for henna artists: 
Get Insurance if you're going to work at festivals!  Many larger festivals will require proof of insurance before you set up!  

and ... 
just in case you're thinking of using "black henna" 
..... go read everything HERE!

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