Updated: Jun 6, 2020
So you love the idea of creating with kids and want to open your own art studio? Take it from someone who ran a studio for five years and then ultimately had to sell it. If I could do it all over again, I would do so many things differently. Yes, passion is a given. But I'm going to get REAL with you.
Buy the space. There is a reason why I put this first. Sure, renting seems like the easier way to go, and I realize that it may not be possible for everyone to buy a space. But if you can swing it, or get an investor, buying a space is ideal. Dealing with the overhead of renting the studio while actually running the studio is difficult. Owning the space gives you more control, and you'll have more options like renting out areas and creating income in multiple ways.
Do your research. Location can make or break your venture. Be sure your located in a central area that can serve as many neighborhoods and young families as possible.
Decide what your studio is all about and stick with it. You can't please everyone. Trying to be everything to everybody is a recipe for disaster. Your energy won't be focused in the right places, and in the long term you might end up being less profitable in the areas in which you'd like to be. In my case, the gray area for me was birthday parties. The set up, the clean up, the customer demands, and the constant hustle ... those parties wore me down and caused me to burn out. Even when I had an Event Planner in place. I found myself stuck and financially dependent on parties, and I wasn't even enjoying them. So stick with what brings you joy and rely on those areas to make money.
Network with anyone and everyone. It's so important to create relationships with the community, schools, non-profits, and other businesses in your area. Get involved with business groups, talk to your neighbors, and build trust and rapport with anyone who might be interested in or able to support your studio. Find common ground and places where you fit together, then help each other grow. These relationships are key.
Hire a diverse team that wants to see you, and your business, succeed. Who you hire can make or break you. I always felt that it was important to hire instructors who had a different skill set than mine. Having a team filled with the same kind of people who all have the same interests, abilities, and skillsets isn't going to help you grow your business. But it's also important to have clear guidelines for all of your instructors so they know exactly what you expect and how the business is going to be run. Your team should want to see you and the business do well! So set up a trial period, be clear with your expectations, and keep it professional. Employees who you also consider to be good friends could take advantage of you as a boss and your business' bottom line. This happened to me, and I realized, much too late, that I should've been more clear with my instructors and handled things on a more professional level.
You might be living the dream, but you're still going to have bad days. In the end, it's still a business. And in any business, things are going to come up that are unpleasant, frustrating, time-consuming, and physically, emotionally, and financially draining on you and your family. You're going to have to deal with the hustle, which can definitely get the best of you. Be sure to take a break and ask other professionals for help when things seem impossible. Join a small business or networking group or just step back and take a breath. Like everything in life, you're going to have some ups and downs. Be patient with yourself.
Structure your time. When you own a business you're pulled in a million different directions. Plan out chunks of time for specific tasks. Take an hour in the morning to return emails, an hour for planning and prepping classes, an hour for ordering supplies, etc. If you can, assign some of these behind-the-scene tasks to others.
Keep your supply costs low. This is the hardest thing for a studio owner to do! My best advice is to research wholesalers, be aware of sales, and use coupons when you can. Sometimes people in your community will donate items, so don't be afraid to ask for things. Have a supply cost in mind when pricing out your classes, and let instructors know what those costs are so they can plan accordingly. Try to re-use supplies for multiple classes and encourage instructors to keep supplies organized. This will be a huge help when it comes time to re-order. If you have one special class where supply costs are a bit higher, consider adding a kit fee or a supply fee to the cost of the class. That way parents can see the difference between the cost of instruction and the cost of supplies.
Focus on quality over quantity. It may make your prices a little higher, but keeping class sizes manageable and giving artists a memorable, engaging experience will go further in the long run and yield repeat clients.
Always take the high road. Customers are going to be unhappy. Other people in the industry will copy your ideas. Someone will badmouth you on social media. Never let it get you down. Never bring yourself to their level. Just keep moving forward.
Always educate and inspire. To do this well YOU need to continue to educate yourself and be inspired. Network with artists, other studio owners, museums, colleges, galleries, and anyone else that can add value to what you're offering. And on a regular basis, create on your own as well as alongside the kids that come into your studio. This will help you understand what drives your students, it will keep your creativity fresh, you'll come up with better class offerings, and the kids will appreciate you sitting down with them to create. After all, isn't that why we open a studio in the first place?
Best wishes on living your dream!