by seanlow on February 2, 2016

I spoke this morning on Periscope about commissions in creative business; specifically non-transparent commissions. The topic is such a hot button, I thought I would also write about it again here.

I have long been out there saying how much I am against commissions where the client is unaware of the practice and has to pay the price by getting less for their money than they otherwise would without the commission. That much has not changed in the perfect world.

What has changed is my acceptance that we do not and cannot live in a perfect world. The practice of non-transparent commissions is pervasive. In the event world, it is almost impossible to find a name player who does not engage in the practice. In the interior design world, “trade discounts” are the worst kept secrets at any vendor of hard goods. And on and on for other industries.

Here is the thing: until we create a better mousetrap, the practice will live on. Rather than vilify those that engage in the practice, I am going to choose to take another approach. Yes, there are those who are enormously greedy and do not care who suffers so long as they get theirs. There is no point in talking about reforming these folks. Instead, I am going to presume the vast majority of creative businesses in the practice of taking and receiving commissions, transparent or not, are attempting to make what they need to make to support their businesses.

If you need, in general, 20% on your projects but believe the market will only support charging your client 10% and receiving the rest in commissions, so be it. The point is that we as creative professionals have not been collectively engaged in education and transformation, both to the client and within our industries. You can say that it is because we are invested in the way things are, that it is easy or maybe a bit of both. It makes no difference, the urgency to change just is not there. Yet.

Until clients understand what is necessary for a creative business to create its art and appreciate the value provided, the commission practice will continue. If you want for the practice to change, you have to offer a compelling alternative.

In the event world, I very much applaud what folks like Marcy Blum and Valerie Gernhauser are doing. Marcy with her EPIC Collaborative Course to show the power and value of what an ultra sophisticated planner can and should do in the ultra-luxe market. Valerie with her Sapphire Sessions – trying to teach wedding planners across the country how to charge their true value.

Valerie owes a debt of gratitude to Tara Guerard who has long been transparent about her business practices and has set the mark for what wedding planners ought to be charging (i.e, between 20% and 30% of a budget). You need only look at the vitality of the Charleston market and the strength of the players there to understand my point. Tara had a huge hand in establishing the value provided by wedding professionals and the market benefitted. Great work paid as great work begets great work by many great artists. Social media amplifies that statement exponentially.

If creative businesses can get paid what they need, the power of commissions diminishes. The power will disappear when the information economy becomes the ultimate gatekeeper.

We can rail all we want at the practice of non-transparent commissions. However, when it looks as if a client is paying substantially less to a commissioned player, it is almost impossible to compete if those in the game refuse to acknowledge its existence.

The way out is not shame. The way out is a better educated client on value and process. Even more, the way out is a better mousetrap. Those with the power to garner commissions have to be able to see opportunities to use that power to generate more than they can with commissions. We all have to be invested in figuring out what that is and showing the way there.

The beauty of the world we live in today is that great work is its own reward as bad work is its own demise. If you suck, paying a commission is not going to help you. Such is the power of our information age. And that is what has changed in the six and a half years since I wrote my first post on commissions. You might have to pay a commission to get in the door, but you have to stand on your own two feet to stay there.

That changes the game. For everybody. The question is, what are we all going to do about it? Not as a question of good/bad, but as a way to become ultimately self-sustaining beyond anything the commission structure presently offers. Translation: time has come to create a better way and we all need to get to work.

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What Are You Worried About?

by seanlow on January 26, 2016

Here comes that time of year again. 2016 looks good but the proverbial phone is not ringing enough. Money is running low –   holiday hangover, taxes coming due, deposits spent. Water is rising and you worry you are going to drown. After all, that prime date, time for the plum project, pending business deal are all still open. Hey you cannot eat potential anything. And you are getting hungry.

Clients, specifically awful, soul-sucking clients, smell panic and worry better than sharks smell blood. Their money looks greener than anyone else’s because you can see it, taste it, even touch it. Bird in the hand right? Hearing a yes and watching your bank account rise is there to ease your worry. Every year you tell yourself you will not go down this road, but oh the temptation, the “need” to take care of things. This time will be different. Without the worry, you can work on getting the “right” clients and they will magically appear. Just like the confidence fairy.  Ouch.

The best part of all creative businesses is that they are entirely based on the irrational. I cannot say it enough. No one needs what you do. No one. And yet, if done well, a client’s want feels like a need – to both of you. The point is to honor the irrationality of creation and stay there. When you go down the rabbit hole of worry, you look for the way out and rationality, delusional as it might be, looks like the way. So you take business that does not fit simply because it takes irrational worry away. Circular logic to be sure. You need money, so you compromise your integrity to get it, convincing yourself that, when you have the money (which is not real by the way), you will have your integrity back. Yeah, not so much.

Of course, if you are starting out, you do what you have to to make your way. Practice, desire to find recognition, sheer hunger, lets you do things seasoned pros might not touch. We all walk through fire if we want it badly enough. This post is not for you. We will call you three years and younger creative businesses.  Keep doing what you are doing so that you can stand up and be counted much sooner than later.

If your creative business is older than three years, a) congratulations you have made it longer than most start-up businesses, and b) time to put on the big boy/girl pants. You can stand in your own light or you cannot. You have to be able to be paid for the art you create in a manner that is self-sustaining or you need to go away.  Sorry not sorry for being so blunt.

The concept of a starving artist has no place in creative business. The key to great work is great work. Great work requires that you serve your own muse first and foremost. The intrinsic why of your art and your creative business. You get paid for the why and your process is built around it.  Integrity has no trap doors, no rationalizations for the irrational, just faith that great work borne of a process iconic to you and you alone will be its own reward. Only talk to the clients that matter. It does not mean do not talk to everyone, just sing the same song regardless of who is in front of you. The clients who care are those that will sustain your art and your creative business. They are also a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Worry is contagious. We all catch it and it sucks. We know it is fruitless and yet we all persist. I am not here to tell you to stop. I can worry with the best of them.  Let all those much wiser than me guide you there.

Just worry about something else, something that will make a difference to your creative business: whether or not you are being true to yourself, your art and your creative business. Worry that you are not being irrational enough. Do you know matters most to your clients?  How far are you going to communicate your value? Is that how you are paid? Is it truly what you need?  Can you sing your song ever purer and more confidently?

Tomorrow can never take care of itself if you are busy selling it out for today’s worries.


What Happens When Your Clients Are Morons?

January 20, 2016

Here is the thing.  For the most part, clients of creative businesses are smart.  Really really smart.  They have made their way enough in the world to be able to afford the services of a creative business.  Yes, there are varying degrees, but the ability to hire a creative business is evidence of success – […]

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January 13, 2016

So you run a creative business.  However you came to the decision, just hanging out your shingle is enough to show your willingness, your gumption to go your own way.  The question then is how deep does your desire go?  Mike Tyson is really well known for saying that everyone has a plan until they […]

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What Matters?

January 8, 2016

A New Year.  Transition into hope.  The prayer to leave behind what is broken, nourish what breathes life.  Answers to both are there if only we choose to look.  The beauty always comes in the unexpected, the unknowable, unforeseen moments that define us.  Gratefulness is the ability to relish the moments without distinction or judgment.  […]

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December 2, 2015

I have a daughter in fifth grade and a son in third.  They do much of their work on IPads now.  If they have to go old school and use actual pencil and paper, often times they just take a picture of their work and turn it in digitally.  And yet they still have to […]

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What Do You Give And Why?

November 6, 2015

There is no such thing as balance in creative business.  Balance is equilibrium, one point on the continuum where opposing forces are offset equally.  In a world of fluidity, balance is an illusion.  Literally, you would have to be recalibrating your art, your process, your life daily, hourly to maintain it and to what end?  […]

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Desire, Determination and Faith

October 29, 2015

If the opposite of what you tell me about you, your art and your creative business cannot be true, you have just told me nothing and wasted my time.  My design business prides itself on incredible creativity, service and attention to detail.  Seriously?  What design business does not pride itself on creativity, service and attention […]

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What Is Your Word?

October 22, 2015

I am perpetually fascinated by a creative business owner’s elevator pitch.  Most start with the obvious – I am a [you fill in the blank – designer, photographer, architect], then move on to a specialty – high-end residential, luxury destination weddings, commercial work, then, maybe, comes the style statement – my focus is modern, or […]

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Atonement and Intention

October 7, 2015

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of talking to many wedding professionals in Los Angeles as part of Honeybook’s Hive Educational Series.  Really a wonderful event and an awesome experience. Originally, the talk was supposed to be about how to get your groove back for your creative (and, in this case, wedding) business.  […]

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