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The Art of Entrepreneurship: Master of None Artistry

The Art of Entrepreneurship: Master of None Artistry

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The Art of Entrepreneurship: Master of None Artistry

Being an entrepreneur means different things to everyone. For some, it can mean being a scrappy business owner starting in a garage but eyeing a downtown office one day. For others, it just means being their own boss.

For Jessica Erhart, it means painting.

Erhart, who markets her work as “Master of None Artistry,” is a South Dakota-based artist and teacher. Like many other entrepreneurs, Erhart, an army veteran, found herself on the path through circumstance.

“After retiring (from the army), I struggled with PTSD, anxiety, depression, and MST. I turned to art as a therapeutic tool to tune out my thoughts and let go. I started making work, and my husband, also a veteran, encouraged me to sell,” Erhart said. “I got a sales tax license, started a Facebook page, and signed up to be a vendor at a local coffee shop that was having a small pop-up market. I sold $500 of my work and decided that day this was going to be my new job.”

Erhart said she made art in school and that it was something she always aspired to, but after she joined the military, she had no time for it.

The journey from army to artist wasn’t a direct line – Erhart did need a little push to make the leap. Part of it came from her husband, who she said encouraged her interest in art, but Erhart, like all entrepreneurs, had to reach her breaking point for herself.

“I got a part-time job a little bit after I retired, but that was like my last straw. I didn’t want to work for anyone else,” Erhart said. “I needed an outlet because I needed to feel useful for something, so I started painting.”

Erhart said she’s always been a stickler for the rules, so she got a sales tax license first thing, just to make sure she wouldn’t later run afoul of any state or federal regulations for selling her art.

She founded her business in 2020 and spent the next two years selling her work at pop-ups and art festivals. Even then, she said she considered herself to be a hobby artist. Once she decided to pursue art as a profession, she had to up her game.

“I had to present more professionally. I had been selling in little pop-up tents, and my husband would make things for me to be able to display my art, which was as nice as it could be for a hobby artist,” Erhart said. “The more I’m in the world of art… when you start getting up there, it’s all about presentation. People who are going to spend a lot of money on art, all they need to do is like the work and think, ‘She looks professional. I don’t mind giving her money.’”

Like any good business owner, she had to find her niche, something to set her apart from the competition and give her a unique signature. She settled on alcohol ink painting, with a focus on wildlife imagery.

The popular concept of living as an artist likely starts and stops at making a painting and selling it, but there’s much more to it, Erhart can attest.

“Find out where you belong in the art world and where you’re going to sell your work. Learn from those experiences, take the money you make, and put it back into your business. You want to make money so you can keep doing these things but eventually it’s going to get to a point where you have to do something you’re not capable,” Erhart said. “That’s why I got a business loan.”

In 2023, she connected with a representative of the Veteran Business Outreach Center, who helped her prepare everything she needed to secure a loan from the West River Economic Development Center.

Erhart said that having those connections to call on and being brave enough to take a few risks are essential for anyone trying to make a living as an entrepreneur.

“One of the best things you can do (as an artist) is talk to other artists. Apply or an art festival, even if it’s only one a year, then go talk to established artists, ask what they do, how they got started, and copy the parts of it that work for you,” Erhart said.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t network with whoever you can – real estate agents, other business owners, restauranteurs – everyone has something to offer.

“You can find ways to advertise yourself without having to spend money. If you’re an artist and you know real estate agents… okay, do they do staging? How would they feel about using your art in staging a home? Or small business owners, coffee shops, or restaurants – can you hang your work in their establishment?” Erhart said. “Even the financial people. It’s like, ‘hey this is what I’d like to do, how do I get there? Can you help me come up with a business plan? Help me crunch numbers?”

Never be afraid to ask questions, Erhart said, even if you think it will make you look dumb.

As for how she sees herself – artist or entrepreneur – Erhart said both. Her drive is the same as any other start-up founder: she has to put food on the table, and she’s doing it the only way that makes sense for her.

“I was not able to retire from the army with full benefits. I was medically retired, I don’t get the monetary retirement from the army. I’ve got benefits, my family is covered with insurance but I don’t get money. I’m 100% disabled from the VA, and my husband as well. That’s what we live on,” Erhart. “After the work, we put into the military, our body degradation, we don’t want to give out time and our effort to someone else, so we put it into our family.

“While recognition is outstanding, if I do well as a business and learn as an artist, eventually, those pieces will fall into place. I’m not applying to be awarded anything. I’m applying to festivals where I can make money.”

Her other piece of advice for people looking to work for themselves is to deal with the problem right in front of them. There’s no benefit to looking down the road if you’re dealing with a flat tire.

“My goals are attainable. I don’t set lofty goals, I try to do one thing at a time. There are a lot of things I have to wait until I do one to deal with the next,” Erhart said. “That’s just how it goes.”

Your Turn

Taking action is the only way to make your business dreams a reality. Like Jessica, start where you are and focus on the immediate next steps. Break down your startup journey into manageable tasks and commit to making progress every day, no matter how small.

So ask yourself, in the journey to self-reliance, what’s first on your to-do list? In the comments, let us know one action that you can take in the next 24 hours to bring your business idea to life.

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The Art of Entrepreneurship: Master of None Artistry

The Art of Entrepreneurship: Master of None Artistry

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