The Family Art Business: Can it Really Work or is it a Recipe for Disaster?

On reality shows like Restaurant: Impossible, viewers often see families get into trouble by working together. It can destroy sibling relationships and marriages. Can families work together without killing the art, the business or each other?
May 17, 2012 - PRLog -- Most people keep their work and home lives separate as much as possible. Even some entrepreneurs who run their businesses out of their homes would never imagine getting the family involved. With family businesses comprising 80 to 90 percent of all business enterprises in North America (Family Business Review, Summer 1996), it seems that a majority of business owners see an advantage in working alongside spouses, siblings and children. In fact, many art businesses thrive when they keep it in the family.

How do they make it work? Some find it helpful to designate specific areas of the business where each family member can do what they do best.

Well-known coastal artist Paul Brent and wife Lana Jane have worked together for many years, to great success. “Lana Jane and I have really been a working partnership since we married,” says Brent.

“She left her former occupation and joined our art licensing company formally in 1992. We feel it works out best for us because we have separate duties, I am the artist and artistic director and she handles the business end. We do our best to keep each other informed about our respective parts of the business and take time off from business for time together and with family and friends when business is put aside momentarily."

Some artists work with family members sporadically, or during specific events. Tara Reed of relies on her sister at the annual art licensing show SURTEX. Reed says, “My sister has become an integral part of my business at SURTEX. This will be the 8th time she has helped in my booth and my clients now ask if she will be there when I talk to them about the show.”

She also says that, “Having her help is like having another "me" in my booth - we have similar personalities and she is really invested in my success.  It is great to count on her help - being a solo-preneur is hard enough without having to work a booth alone too!"

Other art businesses, like Sparky Firepants Images, even use the business to educate their children. Company founder David Billings is bringing his teenage son to New York City and showing him what it’s like to set up and run a trade show booth at SURTEX.

“There are so many lessons involved in running a business. Budgeting, logistics, and customer interaction are only a few,” says Billings. “My kids can learn firsthand what it’s really like to start up and manage an art business. They can’t get that experience in school.”

There are drawbacks to letting kids work in a family business, Billings admits. “It’s great when they see our successes, but it’s kind of scary when they see the struggles. It can be uncomfortable for me being exposed that way, but I know there are even better lessons that come from our failures.” he says.

Billings’ wife Jenni also works in the business. Similar to Paul and Lana Jane Brent, the Billingses each have their separate areas of the business to work in. David focuses on the art and company vision while Jenni handles the accounting and administrative tasks, all from their home.

“It can get a little crazy switching from business mode to handling our kids’ issues,” David says, “We’re still learning how to balance it all, but the bottom line is that it feels good to have someone I trust working with me.”

Founded in 2007, Sparky Firepants Images is a family-run business that designs art for greetings, textiles, toys & games, stationery, and housewares. The company will be exhibiting at the upcoming SURTEX trade show from May 20-22 in New York City.
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Tags:Art Licensing, Surtex, Entrepreneur, Small Business, Family Business
Industry:Arts, Business, Family
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