How to Grow Your Tattoo Business

10 Tips from tattoo artist Niz Carillo by Amanda Peukert

August 3, 2022

So, you want to grow your tattoo business, but you’ve already browsed most of the basic, ineffective advice, right? At this point, you’re probably looking for unique guidance from a professional perspective – a few tips & tricks that you won’t find anywhere else. Well, you’ve come to the right place.

Tattoo artist Niz Carillo has been in the game for over 15 years. Today, he’s the owner and operator of One Drop Tattoo – a successful studio with a growing crew and clientele. As Niz prepares to expand his space for the third time in just five years, he offers up some lesser-known methods to grow your tattoo business.

1. Know the business

“To grow your tattoo business or to grow yourself as a business you need to know your business – know the industry and know what you're getting yourself into before you commit to tattooing. Don’t cut corners.”

Knowing the business of tattooing may seem like an easy task – especially if you’ve been an artist or collector for quite some time – but as the industry continues to expand and evolve, the amount of available information multiplies.

The tattoo industry is not only enormous, it’s ancient as well. There’s a lot to learn. Without a steady source of consolidated tattoo news available, the leg work is up to you.

This means briefing yourself on changing trends, worldwide rules and regulations, the main players in the game, the industry’s history, and so much more.

2. Become an expert on the tools of the trade

“To grow your tattoo business, make sure you’re constantly educating yourself on industry tools. These days, people are so inclined to just go and buy the easiest or cheapest thing that’s advertised. It’s not enough to just know what a machine, power supply, and clip cord are, you need to know what works best so you can do your best work.”

Part of the industry’s exponential expansion has to do with its ever-evolving tools.

From cordless machines to blacklight tattoo ink, the available instruments are not only changing, they’re becoming somewhat experimental. That’s why it’s up to you to know more than just the basics.

This means avoiding taking an advertisement’s word for it – or even another artist’s – and truly trying some of the products yourself (what works best for them may not work best for you). The road to becoming an expert is paved with practice.

3. Expand your network

“Surround yourself with like-minded people in order to grow your tattoo business. Find people who share the same path as you and provide a positive influence. Expanding your network within the industry will introduce you to so many different people worldwide and provide endless opportunities.”

While all tattoo artists obviously have the craft in common, that doesn’t mean they all share the same goals. Make sure the company you keep is highly ambitious and aspiration-oriented. This will ensure you remain motivated and inspired.

What’s more, tattooing takes place all around the world. Widening your circle to include tattoo artists from other countries will not only keep you cultured, it will open doors and give you access to growth and opportunities that can change your career.

4. Use social media, don’t let it use you

“Definitely use social media to get your tattoos out there and network with your peers, but don’t let it waste valuable time. Stay focused.”

Social media is an incredible marketing tool for tattoo artists. Not only does it allow you to create a digital portfolio that, unlike a physical portfolio, can be accessed worldwide, it also facilitates global communication which can expand your network and boost your tattoo business (see: tip #3).

However, social media is also a master distractor, which can hinder progress and also stunt originality. Fortunately, you’re in control of how much time you spend browsing social media as well as who you follow.

For this reason, we suggest formulating an inspiring internet experience by limiting frivolous accounts and treating your social media as a business instrument as opposed to an escape from reality.

5. Don't take from the industry without giving back

“Buy other artist’s prints, show up to art shows, give back when you can. This doesn’t go unnoticed and it usually comes back to you.”

The tattoo industry has a lot to offer – there’s history, camaraderie, a fulfilling career, financial freedom, etc.

But be mindful of accepting the perks of tattooing without actively expressing gratitude and contributing to the craft. Supporting your fellow artists and the industry as a whole is important when growing your tattoo business as it establishes your intentions and outlook.

6. Keep your ego in check

“It’s easy to get ahead of yourself in this industry, so make sure to stay true to yourself and remain grateful. Don’t take this opportunity for granted. I mean, be stern, but also remember: Nobody likes an asshole.”

Now more than ever, tattooing is a celebrity-status career – as it should be. But with the ever-increasing popularity of tattoos and the monetization of the industry by TV networks, it’s easy to lose sight of why you started in the first place.

Keeping your ego in check is important when growing your tattoo business as it allows you to remain grounded and humble. These attributes not only aid in the acquisition of customers, they create a better tattoo experience for everyone involved (clients, coworkers, yourself, etc.)

7. Be smart about your money

“You went through an entire apprenticeship. You did all this work to get where you’re at. Why just throw it all away? Get your money and remember how hard you’re working for it. You’re going to have fun in this industry, you’re going to have all these life experiences for sure, but you don’t want to do it broke – that’s when your tattoo business fails.”

There’s a plethora of money to be made as a tattoo artist. Unfortunately, that’s partly why the industry has become so sickeningly saturated. Regardless, being smart about your money is essential as it often takes money to make money.

Investing in quality tattoo business software is a smart way to stay on top of your funds and eliminate the stress of calculating numbers for taxes, rent, and reports.

8. Always stay learning

“Have books, references, and artwork everywhere, all around you. The internet is cool and all, but you’re just looking at the same stuff over and over again. It’s hard to find anything original anymore. Surround yourself with inspiration and keep learning.”

Learning is the lifeblood of the tattoo industry. From the moment you realize you're passionate about art to the day you do your last tattoo, you’re constantly in a state of education. For this reason, it’s important to keep trusted resources on hand.

Like learning, growing your tattoo business is a constant progression. Every day, strive to be better, acquire more knowledge, and contribute to your own development. Doing this will ensure your tattoo business advances in the right direction.

9. Mind your business

“This is an ego-driven industry which can lead to drama. Don't put anybody down or think you're better than anybody. Just enjoy your work and stay out of the bullshit.”

There are thousands of professional tattoo artists in this industry. That means there are a ton of differing personalities and enlarged egos to interact with – especially as an artist trying to expand your empire.

In order to grow your tattoo business, it’s imperative that you focus on your work without the distraction of industry drama.

10. Have a plan

“Make sure you're ready to rock n’ roll before you even think about getting into this business. So many people jump in unprepared and that’s why they fail. This business is a monster, be ready.”

The glamour of the modern tattoo industry is quite alluring. It boasts images of tattooed beauties, money, fame, and a seemingly secure career path. Unfortunately, that’s not the entire picture

There are struggles innate to tattooing that can be discouraging and scary. Having a solid plan in place – and defining what you bring to the table – is important when growing your tattoo business. This will essentially set you up for success in a saturated industry.

Sure, you may stray from the blueprint as your career burgeons, but you won’t be doing so blindly. Remember: While diving in headfirst is, indeed, one way to learn how to swim, it’s also a damn good way to drown.