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How to succeed in artistic business - weaponise self knowledge, with your friends


Prosperity for sole trader artists is about some business knowledge pumped up with a good dose of empowerment. Enter Monica Davidson, expert and veteran.
How to succeed in artistic business - weaponise self knowledge, with your friends

This artist is a sole trader. If something doesn't change soon, he will explode. Image: Oh Yeah Wow.

Monica Davidson is one of those workers in the arts who claims to have never had a proper job. She has been a self-employed cub reporter, a cameraperson, a writer and a filmmaker for many years, and did a Masters in Creative Business at AFTRS which allowed her to reflect on her survival tactics, and the problem of prosperity. Or the lack of it. 

This description is familiar to anyone selling their creative services or their output. Versions of these problems occur all over the world. 

Now Davidson runs a company called Creative Plus Business which holds courses in many fields of imaginative endeavour. 'It isn’t that hard to solve the problems and learn from your mistakes,' she said. 'The problem is where to start, and these workshops are about exactly that - where to start.' 

She has been involved with creative communities all over Australia, in Perth, Sydney, Adelaide, AFTRS and Tasmania. Her programs run for a day, or for three days in succession. She has been impressively useful. 

Now she has been invited to run a one day course by the Australian Society of Editors in Victoria, supported by the Skills/Business Support program at Film Victoria.  Although this version was created for editors, it is meant to cover all the screen sector, and is useful to freelance creatives in any field. 

'I work across the whole of the creative industry but because my own creative practice is as a filmmaker I have a special affection for people who work in screen. When you are talking about financing, business practices and money it doesn’t matter what your creative practice is - we are all in the same boat.'

She admitted that she is on a crusade. 'I think for me there is a big picture and then a small picture,' she said. 'The big picture is that there is incredible value in the creative industries and it is a growing part of our economy and it is a really important part of our everyday lives. 

'Although I see the creative industries growing, individual people are told they have no value, or they are being underpaid or are offered contracts that don’t favour them. That is really the big picture.

In a way Davidson is talking about power. The Guild and Union sectors are deeply involved in changing the balance on a technical level, but many of the key transactions occur between individual creatives or small outfits, and large employers who can say, ‘Take it or leave it.’

So Davidson is trying to empower the artists in this kind of transaction. ‘More personally and on a micro level', she said, 'I am basically going back to and helping thirty years old Monica to not make the mistakes I was making then.

‘I did not understand my rights and responsibilities as a freelancer. I did not know how to negotiate contracts. I did not know how to be paid properly, or understand how to market myself properly.

‘We can all learn from our mistakes, and we are not in competition with our colleagues. When the tide comes in, all the boats rise together. The basics don’t change. If you know how to become a better contractor you will always be able to use those skills. Your responsibility as a sole trader is to know how to play the long game. You are probably in this for the rest of your life.’

More details on the ASE website.

About the author

ScreenHub​ is the online home for emerging and experienced Australian screen professionals.