Business ideas
8 min read

How to Start a Profitable Museum Business [11 Steps]

Learn how to start a profitable museum business with our 11+ step guide. Discover key strategies and tips to attract visitors and increase revenue.

By Nick Cotter
Updated Feb 02, 2024

image of a museum business
This page may feature products from our affiliate partners, which could influence the products we discuss due to potential compensation. Despite this, our evaluations are impartial, based solely on our independent analysis. The content here is intended for informational purposes and should not be seen as legal advice. For professional guidance, consulting with a legal expert is recommended.
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1. Perform market analysis.

Performing a market analysis is a critical first step when planning to start a museum business. It involves researching and understanding the current market conditions, the audience you intend to attract, and the competition you'll face. Here are some essential aspects to consider:

  • Identify your target audience: Determine the demographics, interests, and behaviors of potential visitors.
  • Analyze competitors: Study existing museums to understand their offerings, pricing, and visitor experiences.
  • Assess trends: Look into current and emerging trends in the museum industry, such as interactive exhibits or virtual reality.
  • Understand the local economy: Evaluate the economic environment of the location where you plan to establish the museum.
  • Survey potential visitors: Conduct surveys or focus groups to gather insights on what people expect from a museum experience.
  • Review regulatory requirements: Be aware of any legal or cultural restrictions that may affect your museum.
  • Estimate market size: Estimate the number of potential visitors and the revenue they could generate.
  • Consider partnerships: Explore opportunities for collaboration with schools, cultural institutions, and tourism boards.
image of a museum business

Are museum businesses profitable?

Museum businesses can be profitable depending on the type of museum, its location and attendance, as well as the types of products and services offered. Nonprofit museums rely heavily on donations and grants, while for-profit museums depend on ticket sales and other income sources. Regardless of the ownership structure, successful museum businesses must be well managed to maximize their potential profitability.

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2. Draft a museum business plan.

Drafting a business plan for a museum involves outlining strategies for attracting visitors and managing collections. It's important to focus on both the educational and financial aspects. Essential components include:

  • Concept and Theme: Define the focus of the museum, whether it's art, history, science, etc.
  • Location and Facilities: Describe the physical space, exhibition areas, and amenities.
  • Collection Acquisition: Plan for sourcing exhibits, artifacts, or artworks.
  • Financial Planning: Include budgeting for operations, exhibitions, and marketing.
  • Outreach and Education: Develop educational programs and community outreach strategies.
  • Revenue Streams: Identify potential revenue sources such as ticket sales, grants, and donations.

How does a museum business make money?

A museum business typically makes money through admission ticket sales, souvenir and gift shop purchases, facility rentals, and memberships. Depending on the size of the museum, the target audience for a museum can range from tourists and locals to school groups and families. For instance, a small local museum focusing on the history of a particular city may target local families as their main customer demographic. On the other hand, a large world-renowned museum may cater to international tourists and school groups studying art history. Additionally, other revenue sources such as corporate sponsorships, grants, and donations can also provide income for a museum.

3. Develop a museum brand.

Creating a strong brand is essential in defining your museum's identity and distinguishing it from others. A well-crafted brand communicates your museum's mission, values, and the unique experiences visitors can expect. Follow these steps to build a compelling museum brand:

  • Define your mission and vision: Understand the purpose of your museum and its long-term goals. This will guide your branding efforts and ensure consistency across all channels.
  • Identify your target audience: Know who your museum is for and what they are interested in. Tailor your brand to speak directly to their values and interests.
  • Develop a unique value proposition: Clearly articulate what makes your museum special and why visitors should choose it over others.
  • Choose a memorable name and logo: Your museum's name and logo are often the first elements people will encounter. Ensure they are distinctive, easy to remember, and reflect the museum's focus.
  • Create a consistent visual identity: Use colors, fonts, and imagery that align with your museum's personality and values. Consistency helps in building recognition and trust.
  • Establish a voice and tone: Decide on the language and style that matches your museum's brand. Whether it's formal, educational, playful, or innovative, it should resonate with your audience and be used consistently across all communications.
  • Build an online presence: Develop a website and utilize social media to share your brand story, engage with your audience, and promote your museum's offerings.
>> MORE:

How to come up with a name for your museum business?

Coming up with a name for a museum business can be a challenging task. First, try to think of words that are related to the type of museum you plan to open. Consider the themes you’ll be exploring and the missions you want to set. Brainstorming with friends and family can also help come up with ideas. Secondly, research what names other museums have used and find out what kind of response they’ve gotten. Lastly, pick a name that is memorable, appropriate to your mission, and conveys the feel of your museum - something that will spark curiosity when people hear it.

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4. Formalize your business registration.

Starting a museum is a complex venture that requires careful planning and legal formalities. One of the essential steps is to formalize your business registration to ensure compliance with all regulations and laws. Below are the bullet points to guide you through this critical process:

  • Choose a business structure that suits your museum's needs, such as a nonprofit organization, corporation, or LLC, and understand the tax implications and operational requirements for each.
  • Register your museum's name with the appropriate state agency to protect the name and ensure it's not already in use.
  • Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS for tax purposes, especially if you plan to hire employees or apply for grants.
  • File for the necessary business licenses and permits which may vary depending on your location, the size of your museum, and the types of exhibits you plan to showcase.
  • Apply for tax-exempt status if you're establishing a nonprofit museum, by completing and submitting IRS Form 1023 or 1023-EZ.
  • Ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and any other relevant federal, state, and local regulations.

Resources to help get you started:

Explore crucial materials designed for museum entrepreneurs, providing market trends, operational best practices, and strategic business growth advice:

  • Museum Association Publications: Offers a range of resources including studies, reports, and professional articles on best practices and emerging trends in the museum sector. Visit Museum Association
  • American Alliance of Museums (AAM): Provides comprehensive industry insights through reports, professional development tools, and a curated newsletter for museum professionals. Explore AAM Resources
  • MuseumNext: An ideal source for innovative ideas and networking opportunities, offering articles, conference information, and a newsletter focused on the future of museums. Discover MuseumNext
  • National Endowment for the Arts Publications: Offers research publications and news that support museum management and sustainability efforts. Check out NEA Publications
  • International Council of Museums (ICOM) Publications: Delivers studies, guidelines, and reports on international museum standards and practices. View ICOM Publications

5. Acquire necessary licenses and permits for museum.

Starting a museum entails complying with various legal requirements to ensure the legitimacy and smooth operation of your establishment. It's crucial to acquire the necessary licenses and permits, which may vary based on your location and the type of exhibits you plan to showcase. Below is a guide to help you navigate this step:

  • Research Local Regulations: Contact your city or county government to understand the specific licenses and permits required for a museum in your area.
  • Building Permits: If renovation or construction is needed, apply for building permits to ensure compliance with local zoning and construction codes.
  • Business License: Obtain a general business license to legally operate your museum within your municipality.
  • Fire and Safety Inspections: Schedule inspections to acquire certificates of occupancy and fire department permits, ensuring public safety.
  • Specialty Permits: If your museum will feature live performances or serve food and beverages, additional permits such as a liquor license or entertainment permit may be needed.
  • Nonprofit Status: If applicable, file for nonprofit status to gain tax exemptions and eligibility for certain grants and funding.
  • ADA Compliance: Ensure that your facility complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for accessibility permits.

What licenses and permits are needed to run a museum business?

A museum business will typically need to obtain several licenses and permits in order to legally operate. Depending on the state, some of the required permits may include a business license, health inspection permit, fire inspection permit, building permit, zoning permit, sign permit, and other local or state permits. Additionally, some museums may need specialized licenses or permits to exhibit or sell certain artwork or items.

6. Open a business bank account and secure funding as needed.

Starting a museum requires careful financial planning and management. A crucial step in this process is opening a dedicated business bank account and securing the necessary funding to support your operations. Below are the key actions to take:

  • Research banks and financial institutions that offer business banking services and compare their fees, services, and customer support before selecting the one that best suits your museum's needs.
  • When opening a business bank account, be prepared to provide your business registration documents, EIN (Employer Identification Number), and personal identification.
  • Consider applying for a business credit card to help manage expenses and potentially earn rewards or cash back for purchases related to your museum.
  • Explore funding options such as business loans, government grants, and private investments. Present a solid business plan to potential lenders or investors to show the viability and financial projections of your museum.
  • Engage with local community organizations and philanthropists who may be interested in supporting cultural projects through donations or sponsorships.
  • Look into crowdfunding platforms to raise funds from a broader audience interested in the arts and culture sector.

7. Set pricing for museum services.

Pricing for museum services should reflect the value of the educational and cultural experiences offered. Consider varied revenue streams such as:

  • Admission Fees: Set tiered pricing for adults, children, seniors, and groups.
  • Membership Programs: Offer annual memberships with benefits like unlimited visits and special event access.
  • Special Exhibits: Charge additional fees for special exhibits or interactive experiences.

What does it cost to start a museum business?

Initiating a museum business can involve substantial financial commitment, the scale of which is significantly influenced by factors such as geographical location, market dynamics, and operational expenses, among others. Nonetheless, our extensive research and hands-on experience have revealed an estimated starting cost of approximately $$227,000/month for launching such an business. Please note, not all of these costs may be necessary to start up your museum business.

8. Acquire museum equipment and supplies.

Starting a museum involves careful planning and acquiring the right equipment and supplies to ensure the preservation, display, and security of your collections. Here's a guide to help you identify and procure the essential items needed to run your museum smoothly and professionally.

  • Display Cases and Pedestals: Choose high-quality, secure display units that complement the size and type of your exhibits.
  • Lighting: Invest in professional-grade lighting that enhances the visibility of your exhibits without causing damage.
  • Climate Control Systems: Ensure the longevity of your collection with HVAC systems that maintain consistent temperature and humidity levels.
  • Security Systems: Protect your assets with advanced security cameras, motion detectors, and alarms.
  • Inventory Management Software: Keep track of your collection with a reliable digital cataloging system.
  • Conservation Supplies: Stock up on archival materials and conservation tools for the upkeep and repair of artifacts.
  • Interactive Displays: If your budget allows, incorporate interactive technology to engage visitors and enhance their experience.
  • Gift Shop Merchandise: Curate a selection of themed merchandise to support the museum's revenue stream.
  • Office Supplies and Equipment: Don't forget the basics like computers, printers, desks, and chairs for your administrative staff.

List of software, tools and supplies needed to start a museum business:

  • Collection Management software:$300-$1000/year
  • Website Design/Hosting Package: $100-$500/year
  • Showcases and Display Cabinets: $200-$1000 each
  • Label Maker: $50-$100
  • Security Camera System: $250-$2000
  • POS System: $500-$2000
  • Signage and Advertising Materials: $50-500+ depending on number of pieces and scale of advertising
  • Computers/Tablets/Printers: $200-$3000+ depending on number of pieces and types of devices
  • Lighting Equipment: $50-$2500+ depending on size of museum and type of lighting needed
  • Insurance Package: Varies widely, prices dependent on location, size of museum, and types of items in collection.

9. Obtain business insurance for museum, if required.

Securing the right business insurance is a critical step in safeguarding your museum against unforeseen events and liabilities. It's essential to consider the various types of insurance that can protect your investment, your employees, and your collections. Below is a guide to help you understand the types of insurance you may require.

  • General Liability Insurance: Protects against claims of bodily injury or property damage occurring on the museum premises.
  • Property Insurance: Covers damage to the building and contents due to events like fire, theft, or natural disasters.
  • Professional Liability Insurance: Also known as errors and omissions insurance, it can cover claims arising from professional services or advice provided by the museum.
  • Workers' Compensation Insurance: Required in most states; covers medical costs and lost wages for employees injured on the job.
  • Commercial Auto Insurance: If the museum owns vehicles, this insurance covers accidents involving those museum-operated vehicles.
  • Umbrella Insurance: Provides additional liability coverage beyond the limits of other policies.
  • Specialty Coverages: Consider insurance for artifacts and exhibits, which may require specialized fine art insurance to cover their full value against damage or theft.

Consult with an insurance agent who specializes in museum or non-profit organization insurance to ensure you have comprehensive coverage that meets your specific needs.

10. Begin marketing your museum services.

Marketing your museum is crucial for attracting visitors and creating a reputation. A well-crafted marketing strategy should highlight the unique experiences your museum offers, and engage potential guests across various platforms. Here are some steps to get started:

  • Develop a Brand Identity: Create a memorable logo, color scheme, and a consistent message that encapsulates the essence of your museum.
  • Launch a Website: Build a professional website that includes information on exhibits, opening hours, ticket prices, and upcoming events.
  • Social Media Presence: Utilize platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to share engaging content, behind-the-scenes looks, and interactive posts.
  • Networking: Connect with local businesses, schools, and cultural organizations to promote your museum and create partnership opportunities.
  • Public Relations: Reach out to media outlets with press releases about special exhibits, events, or unique stories related to your museum.
  • Marketing Materials: Distribute flyers, brochures, and posters in community centers, libraries, and tourist information spots.
  • Events and Workshops: Host unique events and educational workshops to draw in different audiences and provide added value.
  • Email Marketing: Collect email addresses to send newsletters, special offers, and updates to encourage repeat visits.

What licenses and permits are needed to run a museum business?

  • Collection Management software:$300-$1000/year
  • Website Design/Hosting Package: $100-$500/year
  • Showcases and Display Cabinets: $200-$1000 each
  • Label Maker: $50-$100
  • Security Camera System: $250-$2000
  • POS System: $500-$2000
  • Signage and Advertising Materials: $50-500+ depending on number of pieces and scale of advertising
  • Computers/Tablets/Printers: $200-$3000+ depending on number of pieces and types of devices
  • Lighting Equipment: $50-$2500+ depending on size of museum and type of lighting needed
  • Insurance Package: Varies widely, prices dependent on location, size of museum, and types of items in collection.

11. Expand your museum business.

Expanding your museum business is a critical phase where you build upon your initial success and reach a broader audience. This involves enhancing your existing offerings and exploring new opportunities for growth. Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Develop new exhibits and interactive experiences to attract repeat visitors and new demographics.
  • Forge partnerships with schools, cultural institutions, and tourism agencies to create educational programs and group tours.
  • Invest in marketing and advertising campaigns that target local communities as well as tourists.
  • Enhance your online presence with virtual tours, an engaging website, and active social media profiles to connect with a global audience.
  • Introduce membership programs offering perks such as discounts, early access to events, and exclusive content to foster a loyal customer base.
  • Expand your gift shop with unique merchandise that reflects your museum's brand and exhibits, providing an additional revenue stream.
  • Consider opening new locations or pop-up exhibitions in other cities to tap into new markets.
  • Seek additional funding through grants, sponsorships, and fundraising events to support expansion projects.
  • Regularly collect feedback from visitors to refine and improve the museum experience continuously.