Why Artists Need Mentors – and How to Find One

You have always been creative. Your instinct is to express your ideas visually as art or craft, and you have worked hard to develop your skills. You’ve started making sales and look forward to building a business.


Then, you begin reading about business development, and realize you need to understand how to price your work correctly to make a profit, develop a marketing plan, understand buying cycles, and a million other things from taxes to insurance. Your eyes start to glaze over and you feel like an idiot.

You’re not an idiot. You just have a certain set of skills which you can do very well (making art) and are lacking others (business management). This is the primary reason for the high rate of new business failures.

Since most art schools do a notoriously poor job at educating students about the realities of the marketplace, it falls on the shoulders of artists to get this knowledge elsewhere.  If you’re lucky you might find an art residency opportunity or an assistant teaching position, but they are few and far between.

Books, workshops, seminars and lectures are essential parts of the education process. However, two incredibly important factors really determine the success of creative entrepreneurs – surrounding themselves with a supportive community and finding a mentor.

Mentors come in many forms and specialties. They help you understand the business process, your part in it, and how to set and reach your goals. Here are some suggestions for finding one:

1. SCORE  – The Service Corp of Retired Executives is a volunteer organization which matches retirees with new entrepreneurs, and has over 13,000 mentors available to help business owners of all types.

2. Guilds – All over the country, guilds exist to support artists and craftspeople in their local regions. Discussion groups, events and mentors may be available to teach artists how to grow and thrive as new business owners. Check for your local guild on our Resources page.

3. The Arts Business Institute – although ABI has been putting on workshops around the US since 1994, we understand the importance of ongoing support, personalized to the individual. We offer mentoring services from our faculty members, whether or not you have attended any ABI workshops.

4. Referrals – Ask other artists to refer mentors they have worked with in the past. Also get in touch with state arts organizations, or even art supply resources, who come in contact with the community frequently and may be able to refer a mentor.

5. Meet-ups and networking groups – Small business networking is a very big phenomenon. Mastermind groups can provide an intensive experience within a small gathering of dedicated professionals who help mentor other business owners by sharing their expertise.

6. Small Business Development Centers. These groups are defined as “partnerships primarily between the government and colleges/universities administered by the Small Business Administration and aims at giving educational services for small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs.”

Mentors can be of assistance in the following ways:

  • The offer a personalized approach, specifically focused on your individual needs.
  • They are impartial, and can honestly give you their appraisal of your current product line, the market you are pursuing, what is working in your business and what needs more development.
  • A mentor has the experience to advise you on issues you will face when working on new challenges to take your business to the next level.
  • Mentors should assist you in focusing on your “long-term goals” and your interim goals, plan out steps and work backwards to what you need to do today.
  • You are accountable to your mentor for taking action and following through with planned business development activities. And when you hit a bump in the road, your mentor is there to act as a sounding board.
  • Many mentors specialize in technical assistance and advice you can’t get elsewhere.  Find a retired manufacturing executive or shop foreman and learn how to become more efficient.
  • Mentors can be excellent sources of referrals, and can offer new ideas and strategies you hadn’t considered.

Have you worked with a mentor? How did that relationship help you? Have you considered mentoring others?

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  1. Thanks for this. I haven’t even thought of a mentor for my business, but it’s a great idea. Going to check out your resource list.

  2. Wow, another great article. I have been a member of a cooperative art gallery for almost 18 years and we have a mentor program for our newest members. They hook up with one of us older artists for the same reasons as in this article. Our membership commitee also helps applicants with pricing and other concerns for the beginning artist / business person. A co-op gallery is a great beginning for a new artist. Especially if that person has not worked retail before.

  3. Great ideas for artists to learn from a mentor, and possibly someone not in the art profession. Always helpful to get an outside perspective. Thank You.

  4. I’ve tried mentoring. It didn’t work for me, I think, because the people that wanted my help, wanted it for free. They wanted a lot of help for free. I’m a working artist, and had planned on a couple of hours a week. The last ‘want to be artist’ wanted full days. After 6 hours of her picking my brain, and telling me when she’d need another full day, I decided I wasn’t very good at the business part of this.
    It taught me people do not appreciate “free”. Or respect you. Or consider you as having a life also. lol
    I’d love to be able to do this, and pay my bills, and do my art. Maybe I need a mentor.

    • I think it works for me because I often seek out my mentees… I can’t advise people that have a low skill base, are completely unfocused or just to early in their careers. I prefer to help with “one problem” at a time… we can’t be all things to all people. sometimes the best advice is to suggest that the artist find a left-brained business partner or supportive life partner! It’s a hard job to listen for 30 minutes and then take all that information and drill it down to just three solutions. Try not to overwhelm your mentees… make them do the work before you go to the next step. That’s what a long term mentor/mentee relationship is about… slow step by step guidance. ;}

  5. Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you penning this write-up plus the rest of the
    site is really good.

    • Thanks so much for your kind evaluation. Mentors can make such a huge difference for artists, which is why The Arts Business Institute offers ongoing mentoring and coaching services.

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