Maria Brophy


  • and make good money doing it!

    ‘Strategies for a Successful Art Business!’
business of art

Five Magic Words that will Transform an Artist into a Powerful Business Person

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If I had a dollar for every time an artist said to me “I don’t have a business mind,” I’d be posting this while lounging on my yacht off the Mediterranean Coast right now!

Anyone can develop the basics of business. 

You may never become a master negotiator, but you can learn simple tricks that will allow you to run your creative empire like a business, without the struggles that many artists suffer.

Recently I consulted with an artist who complained that a client who commissioned him for a painting got the art, but never paid.

When I asked why he gave the client the painting without payment, his answer was:

The client wanted to pay me in 30 days.  I agreed.  But, now it’s been almost a year…

If you are an artist, this has happened to you at least once (and please, share your experience in the comments!)

If it has not happened to you, you might be wondering how an artist would get in this predicament.  Here’s a common example:

A fan says “I love your work and want to have you paint something for me.”   You are flattered, and immediately drawn into the creative excitement of the project.  You spring into action, brainstorming ideas and interacting with the customer.

The next thing you know, you’re madly drawing sketches, and the energy is flowing out of you.  But, you haven’t yet handled the business end of it.  You didn’t give them a price quote, nor did they even agree to pay you for your work.

And this is where it can go from being a fun, exciting project to a complete bum-out.


I have a simple solution, and if you implement this one tiny phrase into every business interaction, your life will literally change.  It’s that dramatic.

The phrase is “THIS IS HOW I WORK”

Before putting your heart and soul into a project for a client, you first must lay out the rules to them. 


YOU should be creating your business rules, not your clients.  Your customers are looking to YOU for guidance on how to work with you.  Tell them!

You don’t walk into a car shop and say “fix my car and if I like it, I’ll pay you.”  They tell you how THEY work, and you follow their rules.  This is how every business is run.

Determine your own business rules as to how you will work with customers.

How?  Start with the basics.   You can borrow my rules if you’d like, see them below.


When a customer shows interest in commissioning a project, always say this first:


When you say the words “This is how I work” immediately the customer is given a signal that:

1 – You are an experienced professional

2 – You have policies and rules in place that all of your customers follow

3 – You have expectations of your customer

Your customers WANT to be told how things work with you; it gives them confidence in you and it lets them know what to expect. 

Here’s how most of mine or Drew’s conversations go with a new client, BEFORE the work is started:

This is how we work

First let’s talk details so I can get an understanding of what you want. 

Then I’ll provide you with a written price quote. 

When you are ready for the work to get started, we will need a 50% deposit.  Then the sketch process begins, and we will email them for your approval. 

Once the sketch is approved, the painting gets started.  We will email you progress photos. 

The final balance is due at completion, and then we will release the art.”

THIS IS HOW I WORK – These 5 magic words generate:

Confidence, Positive Expectation and Professionalism.

Just this one little phrase implemented into your business conversations will transform YOU into a more powerful creative entrepreneur.

Please, share in the comments your experiences with business deals gone good or bad, and if you think these 5 magic words will help you!

Maria xxoo

PS:  Watch this video I did with Ryan Rhodes of #IAmAHero where we talk about the 5 magic words and other powerful creative entrepreneur ideas!

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24 Comments Five Magic Words that will Transform an Artist into a Powerful Business Person

  1. Reg of

    Helpful post– I started doing this myself when I was starting out and getting screwed by clients who took AGESSSS after the project to pay up. Now I start by sending them a project agreement outlining my terms, deposit scheme, limitations to number of revisions, etc. I withhold the final files until the balance is paid. So, problem solved.

    I only do this for personal clients though. I find that I can’t quite pull this off with corporate clients as they have their own contract and these companies have finance departments who will only get you the payment until after the project is complete (which sometimes takes months). I don’t know if that really is the norm, or I don’t have enough clout yet to demand for a downpayment from a company with set protocols regarding payment before starting commissioned work.

    Any thoughts?

  2. John O'Grady

    Yes, it will help Maria and I for one am going to use it. I have a commissioning page on my site that clearly states how I work that means a contract with part funds upfront. The client is paying for a completed piece of art, which incorporates my hours of of working on a piece- time is money

  3. shari sherman

    I LOVE this post! I have never gotten burned where a client didn’t pay, but I have had the experience where terms weren’t clear, and they just thought they could add elements and elements to a painting without thinking that the price was going to reflect that. Clarity is key!! This is how I work…is awesome! Also, having a little sheet with this info is helpful! Thanks, as always, Maria for the great info!

  4. Deanne Pace

    Thanks for this great article! I haven’t sent out product without receiving full payment, but I have spent many hours designing and discussing projects for potential clients that never came to fruition – until I wised up!

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  6. Lauran Childs

    That’s so true about a project getting the creative juices flowing! Recently I was asked to do some live painting for an interesting project and immediately ideas sprang into my mind that I was longing to execute. The live painting fell through, or a rubbish reason in my mind (see blog) – and would you take a deposit for live painting? I’m thinking I should. Anyhow i ended up painting the idea and it turned into ‘Healing in Theta’ which I’m very happy with, but I’ve learnt before you ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS have to take a 50% deposit. There is a lot of lack of respect for artists for some reason, people wouldn’t dare to mess around lawyers or doctors, for example, the way artists are often messed around.

  7. linda

    Yes, I’ve definitely been burned. I thought that I was cautious, after working a few small jobs with a client… to be able to trust them. Then a bigger project with payment after the fact seemed okay. But they disappeared… sigh!

    1. Dennis Panzik

      Yep, That’s the rules I follow. Every once in awhile, things go different and I don’t follow those rules, and everytime I get burned when I don’t follow those rules exactly. It’s interesting how so many seem to try to put one over an artist.

  8. sylvia

    Thanks so much for the 5 magic words, I’ve been an illustrator for years and have only been burned once. (portrait which I’ll never attempt again.) A potential client contacted me by phone after speaking with him in person to discuss a mural he wants for an adoption agency, I was delighted, at the end of the conversation as we said good bye, he said “thanks so much for your volunteer work, then hung up. I couldn’t believe it, no way I gave him that impression. Would it be better to call him back or email to let him know, “This is how I work” Thanks,


    1. Maria Brophy

      Sylvia, wow, that’s surprising that he assumed it was volunteer!

      I would do this: I’d call him back and be completely up front. Let him know that you don’t do volunteer work, and that the cost will be $XXXX. He may not have the funds, and that’s okay, but he just might be able to get them.

      Make sure you get 50% up front before you buy the supplies.

      Good luck!

  9. lacey

    Hi there Maria! Thank you for all the great advice! I too have stumbled into the pit falls of saying, ” I am a creative kin and bad at business”, treating art as a hobby, rather than a career. Done with that… I am a business woman that supports myself off my craft! Hiiii ya. After some time I realized a business mind requires a backbone, systems, guideline and deadlines. I really breathed a sigh of relief to read your systems and a breakdown for mural pricing. I will be the first to admit of having trouble with putting a value on my creativity aka pricing work, whether its an individual illustration pieces or a large format mural, and now moving into branding for businesses.
    I’m trying to figure out streamlined “pricing methods” to keep the business side simple as can be and saving the energy for the actual creating of art!

    I have 2 questions for you! The first is in regards to BRANDING for small businesses.
    Does the price vary when dealing with business BRANDING/brand identity…
    (in which they may use the design for many purposes EX: business cards, website, flyers, menus, social media etc.). Does the price different when they use it for brand identity VS a mural or a hung piece of art? Is there a system you use for “branding”?
    I know its a whole different ball of wax when someone buys your design to reproduce. or royalties for a design to be reproduced and sold. (ex:textile design for clothing co.) I’m trying to learn the ways of branding for a business.

    Secondly, when working on an individual illustration piece. how do you go about pricing?
    Hourly, supply cost, time, sizes etc. I find my run in with that “formula”… I work really fast, if I am working for $50 dollars an hour and it takes me 3 hours, where others it would take 6. its $150 VS $300. I’m wondering other successful methods for pricing for personal commissioned illustration work. Hourly has bit me in the butt when I worked at my normal(fast pace) and walked away with half the money.

    1. Maria Brophy

      Dear Lacy,

      Thanks for your comment, and for your questions.

      Here are my thoughts:

      ou Does the price vary when dealing with business BRANDING/brand identity…
      (in which they may use the design for many purposes EX: business cards, website, flyers, menus, social media etc.).

      My answer: Typically, if you are creating artwork for a company’s brand (logo, etc.), you would charge more, and you would transfer the rights to them, as they need ownership to their brand identity. Usually, a person or company would specialize in artwork/design for branding.

      Your 2nd Question: When working on an individual illustration piece. how do you go about pricing?
      Hourly, supply cost, time, sizes etc.

      My answer: Don’t charge by the hour, but by the project. Make sure you are charging adequately, and it will work out for you.

      By now, you should have a good idea of what it takes to complete a project. Make sure you charge more than what you think it will take, so that there is wiggle room in there for projects that take longer than usual.

      Most professional illustrators do not charge by the hour, but by the project.

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  11. Omega Zumpano

    Hi Maria, thank you for this post. A client I’ve worked with before recently asked for another piece. The first piece I did for her was 1/2 cash and 1/2 trade for her service. Now she expects the same 1/2 & 1/2 exchange for her second piece. I don’t want to do that though. I am having trouble navigating this and finding the appropriate words to use while maintaining my sweet relationship with this wonderful person.
    Suggestions? Thank you!

  12. Gregory Wellman

    It’s heartening to know that I am already doing what you advise (almost to the letter!) I always always ALWAYS get a deposit now NO MATTER WHO it’s for, and even if you are doing something at a low price figure. One of my best clients (a couple) used to commission me to paint every house they lived in, and as the husband was regularly head hunted by companies they moved a lot! When they went from the UK to Chicago, they paid for my flight and put me up, and I painted that one too. They always paid the deposit and the final payment as agreed. Then they moved to Orange County to a large house. Again I was invited, and stayed for two weeks. We had become friends and maintained a good business relationship. They even hosted a portrait party where I gave a talk to their friends and secured a few commissions. I helped out around the house and with their three boys. I painted their house in oils from photographs once back in the UK, and sent it via UPS, which was about US$180. This time however, I hadn’t asked for a deposit. I paid the courier charge too. It was Them. Not a problem…. Until they never paid. And ignored my emails. Screened my calls and never picked up.. Changed email address. Ignored my letters. I lost out on around $1200, which luckily was offset somewhat by the other commissions and the free accommodation, so cut my losses. But it was pretty shocking! I have never worked out what happened, and I’m more sad that it ended a seemingly great relationship.


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