Unfortunately, by the end of the year, COVID-19 was changing the world. The IAC decided to delay the 2020 cohort by a full year, so I patiently waited until May 2021 to participate in this life-changing opportunity.
In this article, I’ll talk about what the Indiana Arts Commission does, how their On-Ramp Creative Entrepreneur Accelerator program is positively impacting artists around the state, how it personally affected me as an indie author, and how I used the fellowship to turn my first novel into an audiobook.
What is the Indiana Arts Commission (IAC)?
The IAC is an agency of state government dedicated to creating a vision of “the arts everywhere, every day, for everyone in Indiana.” To accomplish this, the commission focuses on three primary stakeholder groups in Indiana:
Fifteen commissioners, each appointed by the Governor, serve eight-year terms as they establish the IAC’s goals, policies, grant awards, programs, and its direction for the future. Commissioners represent various areas of Indiana with diverse backgrounds in arts, business experience, and community. They hire an executive director to oversee the agency’s operations and implement strategies.
“To create equitable access to the arts for all Indiana residents, the Indiana Arts Commission is committed to intentional and ongoing engagement with all communities in our state. We will listen, engage, and incorporate diverse people and perspectives into all policies, programs, and services. Being consistently mindful and inclusive of the needs, ideas, and cultural history of the people who call Indiana home, we value and embrace their artistic expression and support them as they advance the arts that reflect their values and traditions. We believe in embracing diversity, championing inclusion, practicing equity, and embodying both the geographic and cultural variety that form the fabric of Indiana.”– Indiana Arts Commission
About the On-Ramp Creative Entrepreneur Accelerator Program
The IAC’s On-Ramp Creative Entrepreneur Accelerator program has two key features: an intensive three-day entrepreneurship workshop and a fellowship worth up to $2,000 to put the business lessons from the workshop into action. Many of the costs to attend the workshop, including lodging and most meals, are covered by the state.
Creatives from all over Indiana gather to learn, network, and grow. The professions may include (but are certainly not limited to): artists, authors, sculptors, poets, musicians, dancers, glass blowers, potters, painters, quilters, weavers, videographers, models, actors, metal workers, etc. Any type of creative profession is welcome.
On-Ramp first started in 2018, and it’s quickly growing due to popular demand. After my cohort in 2021, the program expanded to include six teams meeting throughout the state rather a single team gathering in a central location.
Designed by Elaine Grogan Luttrull of Minerva Financial Arts, On-Ramp teaches entrepreneurship to creative professionals by focusing on smart business practices, developing a community-engaged artistic approach, encouraging networking, illuminating untapped small business resources, understanding taxes, and exploring critical business concepts such as how to:
- Define value
- Identify customers, market niches, and needs
- Create a marketing strategy
- Communicate with ideal clients and customers
- Identify business partners and allies
- Access key resources
- Protect assets
- Manage, track, and report expenses
- Generate revenue
- Plan for uncertainty
Participants take self-assessment surveys three times to track their overall business knowledge, likeliness to take action, control over their business, and overall growth opportunities.
Even a year after completing the On-Ramp Creative Entrepreneur Accelerator program, cohorts retain important lessons and feel much more confident in their overall business skills. Artists who participated in the workshop also showed more resilience through the economic pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic than other artists in the United States.
My Personal Experience Going Through On-Ramp
When I connected with the 2021 cohort, there was something indescribably amazing about all the creative energy in the room. I’ll be the first to admit that creative people typically have a peculiar wavelength. Connecting with strangers can be hard… especially when we try to open up and talk about our passions.
But there was hardly any hesitation. We were all on the same wavelength and comfortable with each other. Right away, we were sharing dreams, experiences, and tips.
The three-day workshop was packed full of great information. The presenter started by saying that many creatively talented people are great at creating art… but not usually great at approaching their work from a business perspective. To that, most of the students nodded, including me.
The main purpose of the workshop was to help us understand how to value our time and work so we could turn our passions into a sustainable career. There was so much information jam-packed into those three days that it took a few weeks for my brain to really process what all it had learned.
I completed On-Ramp just over a year ago. Since then, here is how my business has changed:
- I have a much more thorough understanding of how to register and report sales tax in different states.
- I created my first budget estimate at the beginning of the year.
- My expense and revenue reporting is comprehensive and organized. I’d had a spreadsheet in past years, but now I have a more complete breakdown of my sales.
- I’m actively exploring new ways to engage with my community and teach people about my experiences with self-publishing, On-Ramp, and audiobook production.
- I’ve booked more in-person events and traveled farther beyond my established radius to reach more people and build my base with a grassroots marketing approach.
- Thanks to the advice of a fellow artist in my cohort, I started a Patreon community and am building subscribers to help establish another reoccurring income stream which engaging my closest followers with behind-the-scenes content.
- I’ve become more efficient with tracking my inventory and keeping backup stock. This is still a work in progress as I scale up my business, but I’m working toward being fully stocked and prepared so I don’t have to turn down last-minute event opportunities solely due to not having enough inventory on hand.
- I have networking contacts from the cohort if I need advice. I’ve also been in contact with my Small Business Development Center (SBDC) rep.
- I created a DBA for my business. I’d already registered my self-publishing company LLC prior to On-Ramp, but I had a chance to speak one-on-one with the instructor at the end of the workshop, and I saw a need to establish On The Cobblestone Road as a DBA tied to my LLC.
- This year, for the first time, I was able to start taking owner’s draws from my business to pay personal bills.
A memorable part of the On-Ramp experience was the added bonus of a walking tour to learn about the art initiatives in Lafayette. As a Purdue alum, I was surprised that I didn’t know about the strong art community of muralists from around the world coming to Lafayette to share their stunning talent.
How I Used the On-Ramp Fellowship to Invest in My Business
As soon as I learned about the opportunity for a state grant, I knew that I wanted to turn the first novel in my series into an audiobook.
From a business standpoint, the audiobook market is growing rapidly. According to PW, the Audio Publishers Association’s annual sales survey showed a double-digit increase in audiobook sales for the tenth straight year. APA reported revenue gains of 25% in 2021, totaling $1.6 billion in industry sales for the year. Sci-fi/fantasy was the most popular genre, followed closely by mysteries/thrillers/suspense. Romance had the largest sales boost with a 75% jump in revenue YOY.
From an author’s standpoint, I want to share my stories with as many people as possible. Although I personally prefer print books over any other format, I released my novels as ebooks when they were first published so readers who prefer digital could have access. I also wanted to release an audiobook, but the cost was far outside my budget.
An audiobook increases accessibility. People who have a visual impairment that prevents them from reading print or digital books can now experience stories orally. For busy people who simply don’t have time to sit down and read, they can enjoy an audiobook during their daily commute or while doing other tasks. It breaks down barriers for some, while for others, audio is a personal preference. It truly does change the story when you hear a narrator doing character voices rather than imagining them in your head.
I will admit that, even with the assistance of the On-Ramp fellowship, the cost to produce an audiobook was higher than I anticipated. I ended up investing quite a bit of my own savings on top of the grant to make this project happen… but it DID happen! The audiobook has been released out into the world, and I’m grateful to have partnered with two phenomenally talented narrators who brought my tale to life.
Check out some of the articles I’ve written while documenting my audiobook journey:
- The audiobook cover reveal plus an interview with my two narrators
- An introduction to the audiobook, including author and narrator bios, the book synopsis, audio samples, and details about the virtual audiobook tour that took place from July 12-18
- 6 lessons I learned about audiobook production that I feel other indie authors should know before they get started
Stay tuned… I’ll be sharing more in the near future!
There are days and weeks where I feel like I’m doing so much work but just spinning my wheels and not moving forward.
But looking back on where I was a year ago when I participated in the On-Ramp Creative Entrepreneur Accelerator program, I really have progressed by leaps and bounds!
I can’t speak highly enough about this program. If you’re a creative entrepreneur living and working in Indiana, I absolutely recommend looking into On-Ramp. It will give you the tools, knowledge, and networking connections you need to turn your art into a business.
To the IAC, thank you! It’s such a surreal feeling to release my audiobook to the world, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the On-Ramp fellowship.
Hey, Hoosiers! If you’re interested in the On-Ramp Creative Entrepreneur Accelerator course + fellowship, here is where you can apply for the program: https://www.in.gov/arts/programs-and-services/training/on-ramp-creative-entrepreneur-accelerator/