How can I be a business manager/agent to the creative people around me?
October 8, 2010 6:25 PM   Subscribe

How can I be a business manager/agent to the creative people around me?

I've been living in Brooklyn for 4 years, NYC for 8, and I have met/know so many brilliant, creative freelance artists. I myself have some creative flair, but am mostly strategic, resourceful, rational and business-minded. I currently work in financial services and am burning out on the endless late nights, unappreciative superiors and clients, and high stress of handling all the requests and transactions that flood my inbox each day.

Meanwhile, many of my freelance artist friends are struggling because they have no idea how to manage themselves. I feel like I would be great at handling the practical stuff that can be overwhelming to a working artist - communicating with clients, negotiating payment, helping find work/jobs and helping to make decisions about what jobs to take and what to turn down, etc. - basically just help people advance their careers and capitalize on their amazing talents.

Does this exist as a job/career? How can I get into it? Ideally, I'd love to work for myself, with people/artists I love and believe in. Does anyone do this and have any advice on how I can too?

By the way - by artists I mean ALL types...performers, filmmakers, painters, sculptors, designers, etc.

Thanks so much, mefi! Anonymous because I don't want anyone at my current job to know I'm thinking about this.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
It absolutely exists as a career, in the entertainment industry at least. Managers work with actors, directors, etc. in a capacity similar to an agent, but managers usually have fewer clients and are more hands-on with all aspects of the client's career. For this their standard fee is 15% of the client's income from the jobs you find them.

As far as how to do it, there is not really any kind of certification that I know of. You just kind of do it. People often start off with a close friend or family member as a client and branch out from there.

I hate myself for using this example, but "E" is Vince's manager on Entourage, and I think the portrayal of what he does (reading scripts, advising what roles to take) is pretty accurate I think.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:39 PM on October 8, 2010

i don't think its possible to do this an a broad range of creative fields. you have to pick one and stick with it.

Why? Because if you are going to be of use to a creative professional you need to have two things: 1) Connections. You need to find them paying work and you do that by schmoozing, networking and generally knowing the people who Know People. And 2) if you want to help people manage their careers better you have to know enough about their career and its environment to know what 'better' is. To take one field for example: Writing. Writing books, magazine, fiction, non-fiction are all dramatically different work environments with drastically different expectations, pay rates and work culture.

So if you want to do this you need to be in a completely different place. Right now you're where the artists are. You need to be where the people who pay artists are.

Do that and you'll be able to succeed.
posted by Ookseer at 6:58 PM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Answering this from the perspective of a freelance writer (close to 2 years now) and someone who started a new business, although I'm in a bit of a technical field and would not identify with the creative adjective, but that is just me (as I reread your post I'm definitely not your client, but these things probably still apply). I've also talked to other freelance pple (writers, ppt specialists, editors) and listened to what they are and are not doing, so I will answer this from both perspectives.

For myself, there are 2 big things that overwhelm me at this point and those are 1) taxes and the billion requirements for reports and taxes (I need an accountant or CPA, so I don't think your background would help for this unless tehre is something you are not telling us) and 2) finding the time to market when I am drowning in work. So far I have found freelance writing is a feast or famine experience, but it could just be me and I am too new to this.

Let's pretend you came to me and offered to help with marketing. I would pay you if I thought that you understood my technical field (key words, nothing in depth) and loved to press palms. I hate that aspect and seriously, would pay money for this. You would need to show that you have marketing skills and know where to find the contacts and perhaps would find the pharma clients (cold call). You could ask for a percentage of the income from the first job (if it were a pharma client, a larger % for the first job is something that I would agree to). Maybe there are other arrangements, but this is just from the top of my head as to what I would pay someone to do. I would also pay for this because I tend to get too busy and don't take time to market when I have too much work so that means several months later I have little to no work. Now that I think about it -- a salesperson.

What other freelancers would probably pay you for - again, marketing. There are simple and easy things to do, as in a really well-developed linkedin profile, a web page, and just emailing potential clients and companies. I've talked to quite a few freelancers, and many don't even do the linkedin or approach other companies -- so if you spent time at the library,you could easily find appropriate lists and offer to approach those companies for the freelancers (email is simple and seriously it lands work). Offer to write them a web page and/or linkedin profile.

Personally I would never pay someone to negotiate payment, make decisions as to what to take or not take, or negotiate with clients --but other pple may need this, I don't know.

How would you find clients. You could go to a networking event at Freelancers Union in NYC and introduce yourself as someone who does the things you want to do -- also, you could show up to SCORE networking events and see if you could leave a card there, too. I also think a blog or even a guest blog post (try to find freelanceswitch -if you write an article for them you can have a link to your webpage) would find these people. You may be able to make money on the side with an ebook, if the info is useful/novel/etc. Actually now that I think about it, ask your artist friends if they would consider paying you for this and go to a freelancers union event and just talk to people (if this is your ideal market, talk to them over us).

Instead of starting out by finding your own freelance clients, you could do a hybrid job in an office for a year or two. Do business development for the company or niche that you want. For med ed companies,this involves writing grants and going on pitches to teh pharma client (and then you would have actual contacts, have a relationship, and have someone that you can call up later on). Or, if you want to focus on the arts, I'm sure it also involves grants and interacting with people who will buy the art. But if you have experience working with that niche, proof that you can acquire (or potential to acquire_) business in that field, along with would definitely have the expertise and Iwould pay for someone who could show me that they have those things.

On preview: nthing Ookseer
posted by Wolfster at 7:23 PM on October 8, 2010

I really think the trickiest part would be negotiating some form of compensation that works for both of you. I mean, are you thinking of doing it on some sort of contingency basis like a writer's agent typically would? If so, talk percentages - what percentage makes sense will depend on whether you're negotiating wholesale or retail prices, for instance. If you're talking about helping them find salaried jobs, maybe look into headhunter business models.

Or perhaps look at it like buying shares in their careers as a sweat equity investor - since realistically, most freelance artists who need your help are unlikely to simply be able to pay you by the hour for your assistance.

Also - have you done anything like this as favors for friends? Do you have any sense of how to actually help them, or any track record of having done so? I'm focusing on the business aspects here for you, but it would of course be key for you to be able to show artists what you're really bringing to the table.

I'm a local to you artist who hates the business management side of things, and have often wished I basically had a partner to handle the stuff that isn't making pretty things. I've never heard of anyone making a career of what you describe, but it sure would be fantastic if you did!

I have more detailed thoughts, but would rather not post them publicly publicly. So, please feel free to memail me or ask the admins to post a throwaway email address for you.
posted by Eshkol at 7:33 PM on October 8, 2010

I don't really have advice, but if you lived where I did, I'd totally recruit you to work for me, because I so need someone like that.

Speaking as a crafter sort, I'd like someone who could arrange the sales part of things. Get me into gallery shows, or whatever other shows, or get my work into stores. If I was doing Etsy, I'd appreciate having someone who does better photography than I do and/or can post new work online for me on a daily basis (apparently you MUST have new stuff daily there), mostly because that stuff takes me hours and I have a day job and either I make stuff or take, Photoshop, and post pics, but I can't do 'em both on the same weeknight. I haven't the faintest idea on taxes, but I think I'd get a professional taxman for that. Anyway, that's all the stuff that totally kills my desire to start my own business--because dealing with that over the years has drained the fun out of crafting for money for me.

Does that help you get any ideas as to what would be needed in one field?
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:03 PM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

What Ookseer said. You need to learn the language of the industry they're in before you can properly guide them. The thing about artists, managing them successfully requires a long-term vision of where they should be in 5 or 10 years. And the only way to know that is to have spent enough time in the industry to know how to get there.

I do what you describe, for photographers/stylists/food stylists. Not to dissuade you at all, but the only problem with what you want to do is that in order to make a career out of it, you need to make money, consistently, to stay in business. This is hard to do starting from scratch, with no connections and no specialization. And these are artists who in general have no money unless they are operating on a commercial level, in which case they either don't need or already have an agent.

Out of all the things you mention - the most difficult is "helping find work/jobs." Everything else kind of takes care of itself but nothing moves without work coming in. If you choose this career as an agent who works on commission, jobs coming in and new clients are the most important part. Experience in sales is a necessity, and carries certain tradeoffs ie the fine line between art and commerce, and total compromise in the face of what is normally considered the realm of idealists. If you choose this career as a consultant, you can bill hourly for your time, but then you don't get to dive into the long term ups and downs of an artist's career that are so rewarding. And people won't hire a consultant unless they have experience.

My suggestion to you is to pick one artistic field and research all the agents who operate there, then go to work for one of the larger (read - very commercial) shops. The truth is that agencies draw artistic types but really need more financially-minded employees. If you get a job there you can start to learn the basics. Otherwise - start at the other end and find work at a magazine, ad agency, gallery, or similar venue that hires artists where you can learn the language of that trade. Some people who work in those places act as mentors to artists, always saying yes to portfolio reviews and offering extremely valuable advice - those people are rare but true gems. You can mentor artists from a position like that.

Once you can speak like the artists and clients, you're one step further towards gaining their trust and mutual respect. That is the only qualification you need, but it takes time and experience to gain.

If you have specific questions about the photo industry, feel free to email the address in my profile.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 8:24 PM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I recommend that you read the memoirs of Andrew Loog Oldham.
posted by ovvl at 8:44 PM on October 8, 2010

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