Arts Entrepreneurship Daily Tips

Jim Hart, Director of Arts Entrepreneurship at SMU has been urged by Theatre Communication Group (TCG) to post tips daily about arts entrepreneurship, through the national conference that is happening in Dallas now.

Here is today’s Tip: How to Create a Niche, by Jim Hart:

Attend Empowering the Artist-Entrepreneur, lead by Jim Hart:

In yesterday’s Arts Entrepreneurship Tip/s, we looked at how to create a niche in the market from an inside/out approach. We looked to our personal interests, talents and skills and worked with our imagination to synthesize those into a singular project or business.

Today, we will explore an outside/in approach to niche building by looking to what may be missing or what “gaps” may exist in the market.

  1. Presuming you are looking to your community of choice, what cultural offerings presently exist in your medium? Ex. What kind of theatre companies are there? What are their mission statements? What audience demographic do they appeal to? What’s their principle aesthetic they create around? List those figures of influence who built and/or run those organizations. Remember that most people like to talk about themselves and receive recognition. Ask them how they did it. Ask for advice. They can now be absorbed into your network on some level.
  2. Now that you understand what currently exists in your community, what is missing? If we know our theatre history, we know what may be possible. This said, remember that all ideas began at some point. Consider looking to neighboring communities of size and ask yourself what they are doing that your community is not. Ex. It seems most large communities have a Shakespeare festival. Does your community have one? Is there an audience there for such an entity? Is there a potential donor/support base? If so, you have now perceived a market gap and if you work to fill it, you may create a niche.
  3. Look nationally. Study what is happening within your medium on a national level. What are the players, the leaders, the companies doing? How did they get there? What are the common threads? Are they for-profit? Are they nonprofit? Are the sole-proprietorships? Understanding how their businesses are legally declared to the US government will help you understand how they are structured.
  4. Many in the arts rush to apply for 501c3 status (nonprofit). Consider exploring a for-profit structure, such as a LLC that has a social good impact. Such a structure is commonly thought of as “Social Entrepreneurship”. The classic example is Tom’s Shoes, where the company sells one pair and gives a pair. While considering a for-profit business structure, explore but partnering with a 501c3 to access non-profit only grants. This is called Fiscal Sponsorship. Check out to explore more on fiscal sponsorship.

Note: is a great and easy to use service for setting up legal entities.

Summary: Look for the gaps in your community of choice. What is not offered? What are others not doing? Is there audience for such a service/product/offering? If so and you are into the idea, you have opportunity to possibly fill the gap and create a niche. Consider varied legal structures and weigh the costs and benefits of each. Remember we live in a litigious culture (America) and Limited Liability protection, as is found with a 501c3 status, LLC or Corporate status, can protect your personal assets in the event of an unfavorable lawsuit verdict. They may get your business, but with limited liability, they won’t also get your house.

Limited Liability is a legal structure that the U.S. government provides, along with Bankruptcy as a possibility, to encourage entrepreneurs to take risks and build jobs. Remember this when feeling the impact of risk assumption.

Jim Hart is the Director of Arts Entrepreneurship at Southern Methodist University (SMU).

Attend Empowering the Artist-Entrepreneur, lead by Jim Hart:

Check out The National Center for Arts Research and the remarkable work by Dr. Zannie Voss of SMU:

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