Entrepreneurialism for artists and writers

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Amy Ng’s online tutorial site “teaches you how to differentiate yourself from the sea of other talents out there.”Amy Ng’s online tutorial site “teaches you how to differentiate yourself from the sea of other talents out there.”Amy Ng’s online tutorial site “teaches you how to differentiate yourself from the sea of other talents out there.”

By Oon Yeoh

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2Amy Ng is a freelance artist. But she’s not just an artist. She is also a publisher and a trainer. The topic of her publications and her training programme might surprise you though. It’s not about art per se. Rather, it’s about business. Specifically, about what artists need to learn in order to make a living out of what they love doing.

In her online store, you can buy e-books with titles like: “Holding Down Multiple Jobs”, “Goals & Success” and “Managing Time”. On her online tutorial website called Work/Art/Play, she offers a six-week, fully online class available to a global audience.

“We’ll teach you how to differentiate yourself from the sea of other talents out there, how to build your presence effectively, how to self-promote fearlessly and how to make money from your art,” says Ng. “Most importantly, we’re here to equip you with skills that are future-proof.”

She promises that by the end of the course, students will have the ability to generate income wherever they go and whatever they do. In order to do that, she had to challenge the way artists think about their profession.

“Essentially, my course teaches artists to become more entrepreneurial, which is an alien concept to many of them,” she says. I understand what she is saying. Most of us would have artist friends, more than a few of whom are “purists” who don’t like to dabble in business.

But as Ng points out, how are you going to be able to continue doing your art if you are struggling to make ends meet? Apparently, there are enough artists who have realised that. She has students from around the world signing up for her course. In fact, enrolment is already full and the next available session is only in 2014.

It’s not only artists who need a dose of entrepreneurialism. So do writers. Newspapers and magazine publishers have taken big hits in recent years. Many are downsizing and a few have actually closed shop. This is happening all around the world. That’s largely because the public doesn’t need newspaper and magazines nearly as much as they did during the pre-Internet days.

Time was when writers could be gainfully employed and happily focused on the thing they do best, which is writing. But these days, with fewer publishers around, being able to write well will not ensure that you are able to make a living.

So, what’s a writer to do? Become more entrepreneurially-minded, of course! This doesn’t just mean learning how to sell your stories. Freelance writers have had to pitch their stories to newspapers and magazines since time immemorial. But what writers are not used to doing is figuring out how to package their stories into multiple formats for multiple platforms.

One writer who has managed to do that is journalist and indie filmmaker, Zan Azlee, who last year embarked on a trip to Afghanistan where he was embedded with the Malaysian troops stationed there.

Zan documented his trip in multiple formats, including video for a documentary, audio for a radio series, and articles for an online column. Not content with all that, Zan is also turning his adventures into a graphic novel, scheduled for publication early next year. All these activities were part and parcel of his business plan even before embarking on the trip.

“All these activities combined would generate enough income to pay for my trip,” he said. “But if I had stuck to just doing one thing – for example, just writing articles or just producing a documentary –  I would not have made enough to  cover my expenses. These days, you’ve got to have multiple skill sets and you’ve got to multitask. It’s like working in a start-up,” he says.

Zan, who began his career as a newspaper journalist, predicts that going forward, becoming entrepreneurial is something all writers will have to come to terms with. “Increasingly, it’s become a necessary survival skill-set for writers,” he says.

Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.

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