Your Art Career Part 4 - Going It Alone

 Your Art Career Part Four – Upskilling

Computer, abstract background, cover image for art career blog
Part Four - Going It Alone...

In the fourth instalment of my latest series looking at your career in the creative arts, we dig down into the skills that you need to be a self-employed or freelance creative in the 21st Century. We also discover the skills that businesses rely on when hiring that you will have to bring to the game when you are working for yourself.

 This week’s big question?

One of the big questions we need to ask and hopefully go some way to answering this week, is whether we can we learn anything from other businesses and employers in general about how we should be tackling the challenges of running a creative business in the midst of a global pandemic and beyond?

What are the critical skills needed for any business to be successful in some of the toughest times ever, and are these businesses responding differently today than they did pre-pandemic?

material art, craft supplies, artwork, artwork in frame, brick wall,
Art Supplies by Mark Taylor - One of my latest artworks!

How the industry changed…

If you are thinking of joining the millions of creatives who have taken the leap to go it alone, or you are an existing creative looking to figure out what skills you might need to build on to continue running your creative practice as a business,  it might be worth getting some context around exactly what we know has changed over the past twelve-months so that you can decide if you need to upskill, and if you do need to upskill, in what area you need to focus your learning on.

I think it’s fair to say that everything has changed in an industry where physical brick and mortar galleries and stores have been labelled during global lockdowns as being non-essential, and whilst art fans might disagree with art in any way being labelled as non-essential, these really are unprecedented times, but what we haven’t seen is art showing any signs of stopping. 

There do seem to be way more people turning to the creative sector today than ever before, and buyers, even the ones who aren’t necessarily buying at the moment, are still turning to the sector for their creative fix.

To coin the cheesiest pandemic phrase ever, these really are unprecedented times. Shows and exhibitions have been cancelled, and there are a lot of independent artists who have been left out of pocket and left scrambling to figure out alternative ways to connect and engage with their audience, often using the most creative ways imaginable to stay relevant. 

Many creatives have been looking towards widening their portfolio to offer more and more so that they can appeal to a wider range of buyers, some have reduced output to focus on the markets that are still around.  

The biggest pandemic change for most businesses was the video conference. Initially, the zoom meeting became the new go-to exhibition, but even in the past few months, I’m getting the feeling that people are genuinely tired of this kind of experience.  People seem to be becoming a little detuned to the message, it’s an intensive experience when you repeat it over and over, and I think most of us are a little zoomed out right now.

As a human race, we just weren’t prepared for a pandemic, and I’m not so sure any of us had a plan other than to turn to the most obvious and relatively quick and easy technologies to keep in touch. On one hand, we have seen an acceleration of the acceptance of transacting and communicating online, but on the other hand, we only really had one response to pretty much everything at the beginning of the pandemic and that was to turn to video conferencing.

While conferencing platforms are useful, so useful they have saved many businesses from going under, but I think we also need to be much more creative in how we communicate and engage. We need to figure out better ways to communicate in a post-pandemic world, and as we really have no clue as to how long social distancing measures will go on, we can’t run the risk of people and ultimately, buyers tuning out because they’re tired of tuning in. That could be a real issue, those who spend most of their working week communicating in front of a screen might very well decide to turn that screen off come the weekend.

tennis ball, tennis racket, fabric art, landscape, surreal,
Anyone For Tennis by Mark Taylor - Another new creation!

What the pandemic has done, is to make online much more relevant even beyond the video conferences. Platforms such as Etsy have become the trendy space to buy handmade crafts and art, where at one time, the big transactions that people are making today were solely the reserve of the physical gallery space in pre-pandemic times.

That’s a good thing, we’re finally seeing the legitimisation of buying art online and that’s something that many of us already working in the creative sector would have been thinking as being impossible for at least another half a decade or so, but, I think we do need to be cautious and ensure that this legitimisation doesn’t become a fleeting trend due to people tuning out because they’re becoming tired of not so much the message, but the manner in which the message is delivered.

This enthusiasm, or rather the sudden need for online everything has also raised the digital bar. If you could get away without having a website and a social media account pre-pandemic, you can’t get away without having one today. So when we think about the new skills we need to run a business in a world that is hopefully soon to be emerging from the pandemic, getting much better at digital has to be high on the list of new skills that you need to master as a post-pandemic business owner.

Suddenly, our websites have to compete with websites created by entire web development teams, and it’s tough, really tough when you are a solo business owner with a limited budget and one pair of hands. Whilst we have access to the exact same tools that professional web development teams have access to, we also have to factor in the learning that needs to be undertaken to make use of them and let’s not forget the ever spiralling costs associated with everything that we creatives do, whether it’s updating a website or buying creative supplies.

Outside of the online space, those in the creative sector are having to become much more entrepreneurial and much more focused on engaging with their markets, some of which may have disappeared entirely as a global pandemic hasn’t just been felt through the loss of life, it has put a real squeeze on the purse strings of one time art buyers too, and let’s not forget the digital divide, even today, not everyone gets regular or indeed sometimes, even any access to the internet.

There will be many who might not be currently able to afford the luxury of art when they absolutely have to find the money to purchase the proverbial essential widget, or put food on the table, or keep a roof over their head and so the list goes on.  Empathy is rapidly becoming an essential skill in business and particularly when dealing with your buyer and collector base who might suddenly not be collecting or buying.

On a deeper level, the empathy we need to master is about defining, understanding, and reacting to  the concerns and needs that underlie others’ emotional responses and reactions, it’s also a skill that absolutely can be learned, but first, we need to become much better at communicating with the market and way better at listening.

So while we work out what skills are needed to find new markets, we also need to develop skills that mean we don’t forget our old markets, skills that might include becoming better at communicating, or marketing, or whatever else is needed to ensure that those buyers we once had eventually return and we continue to retain the buyers who are still around.

It’s really a lot less simplistic than that, there are many other variables at play but none of them change this one single truth, the markets for artists and creatives have changed with maybe the exception of the ultra-high-end gallery markets. Travel restrictions might have made some of those high-end markets more challenging, but a multi-million buck Matisse is still very much a multi-million buck Matisse. What most artists and creatives have to focus on today, is that the markets that serve the majority of working artists are very different from the million-plus-buck Matisse market and they’re markets where money matters more and are more susceptible to change. 

It’s not all bad news, there have been some positives and new markets have begun to emerge in some sectors. Ultimately, people are still buying art, they just might not be the exact same people as before, and they might not be popping up in the exact same places. Some artists will have found new markets, others will have lost markets, so we now need to add yet another skill to our toolbox that will once again give us the ability to rediscover and find our tribe once again.

What skills do we need to run a business today?

If like me, you have spent any time reading any number of the countless articles online that suggest the top five or ten things that you absolutely need to be doing differently during a pandemic to make your business successful, what you might have found is that most of those articles have been pointing out the obvious and it’s mostly stuff that most creatives will already either be doing or will quickly figure out for themselves, there’s nothing that feels different at all.

None of the magic wand solutions I have recently come across, provide me with a warm fuzzy feeling that they’re anything remotely like a magic wand, they’re things we absolutely need to be doing, but I think we also need to be doing much more, the creative sector has always been a tough gig, I think we’ll need more than a handful of tools moving on.

Most of the articles I have been reading have mentioned the need to get better at digital, most of them also mention becoming delivery oriented, and they all seem to focus on better planning or motivating the workforce.

I’m not convinced it’s quite as simple as that, whilst those are important skills, we can plan, build better websites, go for a walk to find some motivation, all we want, but unless we follow any of that up with affirmative action, I can’t see how we move forward. Besides, for most creatives, the workforce count is usually one and it’s harder to become motivated when you are charged with motivating yourself.

That’s not to say that planning doesn’t play a role, nor that any of the other suggestions won’t be helpful, but they will be much more useful if we combine them with the skills that are already proven to be the skills that are needed to operate a successful business in the 21st Century.

What worries me most about many of these online one-pagers of advice are that they’re taken as being the five or ten or however many things that will save the day and the focus shifts to only ever doing those things. The creative business is about much more than following five or ten simple steps, it always has been.

What I think might be the better approach is to not forget the other hundred and one skills that were already needed pre-pandemic to run a successful business. Sure the life preserver is welcome in a storm, but I think I would much rather prefer to know exactly where the lifeboats are too.

fabric art, landscape, blue mountains, framed, brick wall,
Blue Jean Mountains by Mark Taylor - More new artwork!

We need to look at the employment data again…

Whilst most businesses won’t be openly sharing what their business intelligence is telling them about what skills are needed in a pandemic and post-pandemic world for fear of also giving away an advantage to their competitors, most businesses are already showing their hand as to what skills they think they need without even realising it.

When a business posts an advert to fill an employment vacancy, they’re also listing the most desirable skills that the candidate should have. This is a really good indicator that allows us to figure out how businesses are thinking they should be responding to the pandemic and the economic uncertainty that comes with it. If other businesses are focussed on doing something very specific to engage their market, I think we really need to be doing whatever that thing is too.

A Quick Word About The Data…

Once again, as with the data over the past three articles, I looked at UK data sets but this time focussing on job posting analytics that identified the key skills that businesses were on the lookout for across all occupations and all industries between December 2019 and December 2020.

The total number of job postings was some 54.87million, but the number of unique job postings equated to only 10.69million. Why the discrepancy? Most jobs are posted multiple times in different places, so the posting intensity is 5:1, or 5 job postings for every job available.

How does this compare to your territory? Once again, the data sets from other countries aren’t as accessible to me as the UK one that I use is. Some countries collect data in a similar way to the way, data is gathered in the UK and some countries and regions might have their own version of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) or a similar entity within government that collects and collates the data so that it can be interpreted in the right way.

Some countries and governments publish this data online, but it’s then often aggregated by third-parties which isn’t always accessible, and this data, regardless of its country of origin or its source is generally on the expensive end of not cheap to access, but this is also where we get the business intelligence we need, directly from the proverbial horse’s mouth which is generally a much better way of finding out the reality.

The data I have been using throughout this series is modelled through a top-end commercial employment market intelligence tool that uses a range of structured and unstructured data sources to formulate a series of economic projections, it also comes with a high-end price tag, but needs must, and that’s another reason why I had to select only one region-specific tool.

Whilst the data is UK centric, the anecdotal, and in comparison, a small volume of formal data from other regions and territories that I could find, and from literally pouring through more than 300 overseas job postings manually, I began to get a clear steer that broadly similar economies in geographically disparate locations wouldn’t be too different. Skills needs are often more similar than you would think, regardless of where the skills are needed.

Some quick back of a stamp maths and I could work out that job postings in similar economies were coming out at a similar kind of 5:1 ratio that I mentioned earlier. However, I will caveat this with, that this was a manual process and it was a small sample in comparison to the UK data set I have been using.

Also, you need to bear in mind that I’m not as efficient at sorting through complex data as an algorithm that has been constructed for this purpose would be. It would have been nice to have access to a similar economic modelling tool for other territories,  but, for the proverbial starving artist who writes a non-monetized blog, it is what it is, but I think what has been identified in terms of skills needed, is roughly on a par with everywhere else.

In terms of the broader employment market outlook, there was a slight alarm bell that began to sound when I looked at the most recent 30-days of job posting activity here in the UK. There were fewer job postings overall (across all industries and occupations) whilst it isn’t unexpected, it is definitely a sign that the short-term employment market economy isn’t performing brilliantly. That’s not really something that you would especially need a data set to figure out, but the data does confirm it and I suspect, if I had run the same queries previously, that would have been an emerging trend over the previous articles too and right the way through 2020.

What I wasn’t able to do was to work out whether the same decline was definitely being seen in other territories, but my hunch is that it probably is given where we’re all at with the pandemic and collating anecdotal evidence on platforms such as Reddit and LinkedIn, amongst others, does seem to back that up, but again, not in the numbers you could draw a firm conclusion from so it is very much a best semi-educated guess but we all know times are tough.

A good example to highlight this lower UK job posting activity was that the number of unique job postings on February 20th 2021, was 21.2% lower than the number of jobs postings on the same day in 2020. Every one of the thirty days up until the 20th February showed a similar decline in job postings using the same comparison.

employment data analytics for the UK 2021
We can also see from this that jobs were advertised for an average of 31-days.

Again, no real surprises here, and remember, this data set went much wider than the creative industry and included every industry from the available data set, not just the creative sector which I have focussed on in previous articles. What this week’s dive into the data demonstrated more than anything else, was that the overall employment market has declined, although the creative sector is still broadly on track for a long-term rise in demand for creatives.

The data also showed the gap between last year and this year wasn’t becoming wider each day during the period I looked at, so there does seem to be an element of stability in the market, even if it currently paints a slightly bleaker picture than it did last year. The increase in demand for creatives, whilst not a sharp incline involving hundreds of thousands of new openings is at least a gentle stroll up a moderately challenging hill, right the way through to 2027.

Figure 2: 10 days of job posting activity in 2021, compared with the same 10 days in 2020.


Job Postings compared to previous year data
Job Postings Compared to the previous year... worrying decline but stable.

As an aside, the numbers we see across the broader employment market in themselves, might also go some way to possibly explaining why it’s more challenging to sell artwork today. It doesn’t take either a rocket scientist or economist to figure out that way too  many people are feeling the pinch of the pandemic in their pockets.

Not only have many people lost their jobs, companies are definitely not posting anywhere near the same level of new jobs to replace the ones that have been lost. Suddenly, the data isn’t just showing us the skills that companies are asking for, it’s giving us a more specific view of how the markets for the majority of working artists could be being adversely affected and how they might be affected for a little while longer.

In simple terms, if buyers don’t have the money, they’re generally not buying art because art doesn’t solve the same kind of problems that the proverbial widget might.

However, this week isn’t about the jobs neither is it specifically about the economic outlook, I’m in no way close to being an economist, but I absolutely know that as creatives, we need to continue to find our tribes and we need to bear in mind that once we find them, they might have very different buying behaviours to the behaviours they had before, even their tastes might have changed. I know mine have as I have been looking at more art from more places online in the absence of an open gallery or museum.

So this week, it’s about identifying the skills that we now need as independent creatives to run our businesses beyond the five or ten things that some online channels are suggesting are the handful of skills that are going to save us.

What’s the data saying?

Top Hard Skills Needed by Employers…

Skill, Number of Job Postings identifying the skills needed

Auditing, 417,333

Accounting, 344,147

Nursing, 339,167

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), 300,551

Agile Methodology, 298,123

Business Development, 294,313

Warehousing, 259,777

Mental Health, 255,449

Selling Techniques, 221,255

SQL (Programming Language), 214,447

Customer Relationship Management, 199,397

Forecasting, 190,941

Personal Care, 190,571

Risk Analysis, 190,099

Financial Services, 185,407

Procurement, 173,120

JavaScript (Programming Language), 172,875

Data Analysis, 162,275

Budgeting, 159,951

Python (Programming Language), 157,228

Project Management, 154,557

Automation, 154,329

Learning Disabilities, 153,723

New Product Development, 147,143

Customer Experience, 142,754

Association Of Chartered Certified Accountants, 139,457

Advising, 136,997

Numeracy, 136,644

Amazon Web Services, 132,401

Pharmaceuticals, 129,181

Supply Chain, 128,188

Service Delivery, 126,681

Business To Business, 126,056

C# (Programming Language), 125,123

Risk Management, 123,388

Personal Protective Equipment, 123,358

Autism Spectrum Disorders, 122,895

Software Development, 121,778

Strategic Planning, 121,229

Rehabilitation, 119,545

Restaurant Operation, 118,934

Purchasing, 115,277

Microsoft Azure, 115,085

Booking (Sales), 114,310

Software Engineering, 110,044

Stakeholder Management, 107,172

Account Management, 103,514

Job postings are collected from various sources and processed/enriched to provide information such as standardized company name, occupation, skills, and geography and covered the period between December 2019, and December 2020 and covers all occupations across all industries. Primary Source, Economic Modelling.

What we get from the hard skills…

Out of the 50+ million job postings, remember, those postings only advertised 10+million jobs, the skills listed were ranked as appearing more often. Further down the list, when you get to the lower tens of thousands, you can expect to see hard skills such as graphic design, product design, and other creative skills.

If you remember the numbers from the previous articles, they will be relative to the number of creative positions being advertised. So whilst graphic designers might be in demand, as a proportion of the total employment landscape across all industries, the numbers will be relatively small because it’s a smaller sector than say, a sector such as healthcare.

Most of these skills also apply far more broadly across multiple industries and whilst not every skill will be useful in the creative sector, we can see how businesses who are also in the position of rediscovering their tribe are looking to tackle the challenge.

abstract tree artwork
Happy Summer by Mark Taylor - Available Now!

There are a few surprises on the list of the hard skills and some not quite as surprising skills needs that have been identified. Business Development and sales always seem to be more in-demand whenever the economy is struggling, perhaps because we’re trying to leverage new markets. I saw a lot of this back in 2008/2009 too. If a business is struggling, often they will hire more salespeople to hopefully make more sales.

Selling technique is an obvious area we need to focus on, we need to apply new techniques if old ones stop working, and there’s an interesting one around automation. We perhaps need to begin thinking about automating much more as creatives because we are in a busy industry and even more so when we are in it alone. But, bear in mind, that automation is about much more than scheduling your next sales tweet.

Companies are looking more and more towards chat-bots  which are finally becoming sort of useful, even if I don’t particularly like them, so when we think about automation we need to focus on very specific enterprise automation and what that could mean in the creative sector.

There’s much more of a focus around digital and web-based skills, I think we kind of grasped that one early on in the pandemic but supply chains and service delivery, are two skills that really stand out to me. I need to improve my supply chain particularly the post-that-Brexit thing that happened over here, and I am seeing much more of a need to deal with people placing direct orders rather than the more typical online orders previously where I wouldn’t necessarily be involved in the sale, I think that’s telling in itself and we’ll come back to that a little later.  

Strategic planning isn’t really new but it’s a new concept to a lot of first-time business owners, in that they often forget to do it, or they do, but it’s really not that strategic. Business to business is a key area that has real potential for creatives and I’m getting a sense that more businesses are beginning to focus on the customer experience, something I have written about countless times before on these pages and it is something that people will doubtless, be yearning for after more than a year of online-only transactions.

So in terms of hard skills, we can begin to build up a nice little picture of the direction of travel for businesses who are looking to recruit, but what about the soft/common skills?

mountain abstract art with rust effect
Surface Rust by Mark Taylor - Also available now!

Top Soft Skills Needs Identified by Employers…

Skill, Number of Postings identifying skills needs

Communications, 2,614,882

Management, 1,948,404

Customer Service, 1,245,274

Sales, 1,228,857

Enthusiasm, 946,449

Leadership, 779,568

Planning, 755,144

Innovation, 721,619

Teaching, 708,235

Detail Oriented, 706,023

Self-Motivation, 637,060

Operations, 554,732

Problem Solving, 494,516

Research, 450,133

Presentations, 433,672

Interpersonal Communications, 408,168

Basic Math, 358,308

Microsoft Excel, 357,854

Influencing Skills, 304,076

Time Management, 288,959

Infrastructure, 288,052

Microsoft Office, 283,415

Teamwork, 257,549

Mentorship, 248,878

Verbal Communication Skills, 238,042

Resilience, 227,409

Written Communication, 221,643

Computer Literacy, 216,531

Professionalism, 215,557

Negotiation, 210,669

Training And Development, 204,576

Decision Making, 195,641

Compassion, 192,527

Microsoft Outlook, 190,460

Coordinating, 181,991

English Language, 181,737

Sourcing, 172,323

Integration, 158,349

Proactivity, 157,127

Microsoft PowerPoint, 155,794

Self-Starter, 151,686

Prioritization, 149,118

Governance, 148,923

Troubleshooting (Problem Solving), 144,130

Writing, 142,957

Consulting, 142,272

Empathy, 133,604

Hospitality, 131,821

Accountability, 122,561

Construction, 121,657

What we get from the soft skills…

I think, above anything else, I am getting a sense that most of the common/soft skills are going to be skills that every creative, especially self-employed creatives, will already have to some degree and once again, the focus is squarely on customer service.

If we have any of those skills already, it becomes more around how we refine those skills and in what order of priority we refine or build upon them. These softer skills mostly with some obvious exceptions reflect tasks we perform every single day, but what’s really telling, is in how these skills are now being ranked in terms of their importance.

We need to be much better communicators and I think this goes much further than social media because social media is in itself, a soft skill that shows up in a number of data sets under its own heading and quite a way further down the list. I think it also goes beyond social media in that social media isn’t the amplifier for business that it once was, and there have been a lot of people who have transitioned away from using the various platforms of late. 

Word to the wise here, never let politics, conspiracy theories, or anything that gets delivered in the news or personal opinions get in the way of good business. If your buyers are on social media, regardless of your political leanings or beliefs, you need to be on social media too, but we also have to be much better at engaging and communicating with those who are still sticking around.

Perhaps the unsurprising skills are the ones we need to pay more currency to, there’s a strong emphasis on customer service so we really do have to become better people, people, and empathy, as I mentioned earlier, is a skill that employers are looking out for which confirms to me that we need to be much more focussed on having plenty of it when it comes to running a business.

abstract Art
The title of this is "SOLD" which confused a few people who thought they could no longer buy it!

There is one more thing that surprised me while I was carrying out this piece of research, and it was that when I ran the same queries for the previous three years prior to the pandemic, the skills that employers made more mention of in their job postings, were very similar in each of those previous years. What has changed is the order of priority for some of the skills that they are identifying in the job postings. Empathy, for example, was much lower on the list pre-pandemic.

In short, whilst businesses are definitely responding differently to the pandemic, they’re not focussing on having some magical skill set or a handful of skills to make their response. It is a combination of every skill they mostly already had that will guide a business through the choppy waters of a pandemic, with a real emphasis now on developing better people skills.

Enhancing the way we do business…

It’s becoming clear that the skills that are now being asked for in job postings are skills that put more of a focus on things like building relationships, growing a web presence, building robust business development practices and there’s a growing emphasis on becoming more strategic.

The real stand out skills do seem to be much more focussed on being better at communicating and focussing on customer service, perhaps the two staples of any business and they’re usually skills that artists and creatives mostly already have, it’s simply a question of how well those skills are used and whether there is room for improvement. 

I think during and post-pandemic, in order to win the business, I revert back to my long-standing advice that I have given on this website over and over again through the past half a decade or so, and that is to make sure that you continuously refine those skills so that you are at least one percent better than the alternative choice.

How to develop those skills…

The harder question to answer is what does it really mean to be a better communicator or better at dealing with people, or better at the other things we need to be better at?

Maybe it’s some kind of self-development or a course that we need to participate in to improve or refine our knowledge, but before that,  I think, whatever we need to be better at, begins with having a lot more confidence in your own ability and casting the inner critic to one side.

You can have the best ideas and the best strategy ever, but if you can’t land them perfectly and land them with confidence and clarity, those ideas are much less likely to get noticed, and I think that’s true with a lot of the skills that we routinely use.

I can attest to confidence being a learnable skill too. There was a time when I was maybe the world’s least confident person, and to be honest, I’m still the world’s least confident person, but the learnable skill is in recognising that you really do know what you are doing and having an objective or outcome in mind when you are explaining the idea. There’s a really simple way to gain clarity and that is by asking yourself whether your objective is to inform or empower.

Other people skills I think we can pick out of the very long list of essential business skills, is the ability to listen better. That’s not just about listening to what is said by your potential market, but also listening even more intently to what’s not said. 

The more you know about your market, the more confidence you will gain and you will be able to draw the audience out by asking better questions. Once you begin to ask better questions, you can then begin to level up the relationship-building skills that have been identified in so many of those job postings too.

What else should we focus on?

I’m a big fan of having a mentor, I’ve mentored a number of artists over the years and have always relied on having a mentor for myself, recognising that none of us has all of the answers can be massively empowering.

I’m also a big fan of having a mentor who focusses only on accountability, someone who can provide the occasional prompt or reminder that you need to have something completed, someone who can challenge you when you haven’t completed that task you promised yourself you would complete last week. You will always go further, faster if you are intentional about moving forward, sometimes we just need to be nudged in the right direction, particularly when we work alone because it is so easy to become distracted and even easier to talk ourselves out of doing something.

Another consideration and one that we have so often talked about on these pages is networking, and in particular, how any networking you do has to be smart and strategic rather than an exercise in either what networking can do for only me, or to collect business cards that you will store somewhere and never again pick up.

Networking where both parties can add value to each other is the only kind of networking that is worth spending any time on. If everything is one-sided, it’s not networking, it’s simply the hope of a shortcut without the effort and it rarely ever works and if it does at least initially, it’s never sustainable.

When we talk about networking, it’s usually with an eye on a beneficial relationship that’s transactional but it doesn’t have to be like that at all. A network of your peers, where each can be supportive, bounce ideas around, provide the occasional nod of appreciation, talk about what is and isn’t working, that’s the kind of networking that is way more valuable to every party than the traditional networking where the relationship is made with getting the gig in mind.

Purple sky with boat on the beach
Adrift Under A Glowing Sky by Mark Taylor - Available from my Adrift Collection

Whilst there are a few skills here that don’t really play a huge factor in the skills needs that businesses are necessarily advertising for, skills such as being able to network should be in the toolbox by default. I cannot think of any business that can survive without at least an element of networking and as the world is evolving rapidly, the pace of change is too much for any single person to keep abreast of.

Post-pandemic, I truly believe that people will want to engage more, and when we consider how the creative sector is evolving through this leap towards platforms such as Etsy, we can also see how buying behaviour is already changing.

If I had to put a finger in the air and try to predict how buying behaviour might change the way we connect with our markets, looking at the skills needs across all sectors as I have done for this article, I might be minded to suggest that we haven’t quite seen all of the changes, we are going to see as a result of the pandemic just yet.

I’m reasonably confident given the skills needs we have been seeing throughout this article, and indeed, this series, that we’ll see people begin to look for human interaction as part of that online experience as we emerge from lockdowns and the absolute requirement to do everything online. So I think we ought to be cognizant that the online model whilst it won’t go away or be fully replaced by an offline model when the world eventually reopens, it will need businesses to think about how they build interaction and engagement into what they do online in order to provide a richer experience that will entice new markets in and keep existing markets interested.

turquoise Sky, empty boat on ocean
Adrift on Turquoise Waters by Mark Taylor - Another work from my Adrift Collection

It’s safe to say that online won’t go away post-pandemic, it’s convenient so it will stick, but as creatives, we might need to think about doing something other than reverting to the video conference default. What that will be is a little more challenging to predict, but I think as a starting point, hybrid business models that flip online and offline and pull it all together into a seamless experience will be the way things eventually go, I also think the technology needs to catch up a little before it happens.  

That is likely the way that video conferencing will go too. If we look at what has happened with video conferencing over the past couple of years and specifically over the past twelve months, we are already seeing a disaggregation of services where you don’t have to rely on having a particular video conferencing technology installed on your device, you simply accept an invitation and the video displays in a browser window. The conferencing platform is just a delivery mechanism that users don’t necessarily have to see.

The calendar becomes the disaggregation layer, all the user needs to really know is when to be in front of the computer to open a link, they don’t always even need an account. So if we convert that into something that could be used in a hybrid delivery model for our creative businesses, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see websites emerging with built-in video conferencing, where the website becomes the virtual equivalent of a physical store complete with staff.

Imagine, a virtual store where you get to speak to real people face to virtual face, just as you would if you walked into a physical store, or a gallery and all without a chatbot in sight.

Now that’s essentially a hybrid model that provides a  much richer experience, and maybe that’s where the skills need is beginning to emerge. You need to be great at customer service, you need to be great at communication, sales, and have empathy, and you need to become much better at digital and I also think that a model like this is going to be challenging to get right but the rewards for anyone who cracks it could be huge.

So working on these additional skills that we now need to run a business in a post-pandemic world, also means that we are building skills to take advantage of services when current technologies become more and more disaggregated to provide those seamless, rich, interactive, personal, experiences that buyers will be yearning for and robotic chatbots can’t provide. AI will never be better than the humans programming it, and machine learning can’t learn empathy in the same way that humans can.

super Moon over forest, artwork, brick wall,
Night Walk by Mark Taylor - One of my recent works, also available now!

Build those skills!

There are hundreds of skills that we rarely ever notice we have when we run a business. I sat down and listed a page full of skills that I didn’t have before running a business but now use every day, and I have to say I was shocked, and maybe even a little bit proud of myself. The skills I have today have mostly been developed not through any formal training or education, but from collecting experience.

As I mentioned earlier, skills building is as much about believing in yourself as it is studying some academic program, I would go so far as to say that building your confidence is the number one critical skill you need because confidence can really get you through anything. We need to deal with the inner critics who are adept at shutting us down whenever we dare to try, and we need to embrace our own vulnerabilities, because they’re the very birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.

Beyond that, once we have that confidence in the bag, we can stop flying under the radar, and I have a feeling that is exactly what so many small creative businesses do, subconsciously engineering staying small, because small is comfortable, it doesn’t draw attention, it stops us sharing our best or weirdest creative work, more than that, it also doesn’t sell art.

If you are looking for five or ten skills that will transform your business, I think you might be well served to stop looking, I think the real skill moving forward is to develop your confidence, stop being small and be open to the way things are changing. You got this!

Next Time…

To wrap this series up, in the next article will be looking beyond the data we have been focussing on up until now, and we will be thinking about widening the portfolio to meet new markets. I’m pouring through other data sets with an eye on discovering the art and creativity that is currently in vogue with buyers.

For those who noticed that I haven’t been around as much for the past few weeks, apologies! I don’t think I have ever been quite so busy as I have been recently, and I have been attempting to catch up on some much-needed rest from this glass back I seem to have developed. Thanks to everyone who has reached out and a special thanks to those who have continued to purchase my work, I am still as humbled today whenever any of my pieces sell as I was on the very first day of my professional art career more than three decades ago.

So, if you have any tips for your fellow artists, need any advice, or just want to say hi, feel free to leave a comment. If you find this article useful, maybe others will too, so please feel free to point people towards this site! Keep an eye and an ear open for an upcoming Podcast with my good friend and fellow artist, Joshua Greer from BAM VFX - also check out his YouTube channel and be awesome!

Until next time, stay safe, stay well, look after each other, and absolutely always stay creative!

Mark x

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger and live in Staffordshire, England. You can purchase my art through my Fine Art America store or my Pixels site here:   and you can purchase my new works, special and limited editions directly. You can also view my portfolio website at

If you are on Facebook, you can give me a follow right here,  You can also follow me on Twitter @beechhouseart and on Pinterest at

If you would like to support the upkeep of this site or maybe just buy me a coffee, you can do so at my Go Fund Me link right here

Any donations received are used to ensure I can continue writing independently for independent artists. I self-fund this website through my art sales on Pixels and Fine Art America, so any donations through Go Fund Me take the pressure off and allow me to carry on writing independent articles to support independent visual artists, the price of a coffee really does make a huge difference!


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