Ideally, every creative business should only take on projects that befit the stage the art is meant to be seen on. Translation: only do good business. Juxtapose this idea with the very notion that mouths need to be fed, bills paid and lights kept on. Throw in the mix seasonality which almost every creative business I can think of has and the path to the summit is very narrow indeed.
Here’s the thing: a mouse on wheel, at some point, has to stop running. Do you slow to a trot, then a walk and then hop off? Or just hop off? My enormous preference is that if you are doing bad business, stop. Today. Endure the pain and come out the other side. However, methadone exists for a reason. Quitting cold turkey for some is impossible, too painful and could even kill you. Then again, methadone itself is addicting. It all comes down to the same question in the end – are you committed to change or not? Weaning only works if you are willing to be weaned. There is just no way around it, bad business causes pain, both in the undertaking and the stopping.
So what is bad business? Generally, one of two things (or, disastrously, both): taking on the wrong work or making less than you need to feel good about your next project.
Harder one first: doing what you do not do is such a slippery slope. You talk yourself into working on the small project because it is good money when you need it most. Except you do not do small projects. Or the opposite, you take on a whale, stretch beyond yourself because the dollar signs look so good (an illusion if there ever was one). Inevitably, you fall down if only because it is just not what you do and the clients receiving this work will NEVER appreciate what it is that you actually do. You and your creative business have almost no chance for success and even if you do well, what is it that you are actually succeeding at? The very business you do not want.
Margin integrity. You have to get paid what you need to feel good about the next project. If you are filling the gaps in your seasonality by discounting, what does that say about the work you take in season? Are you that disciplined to make sure a project that is discounted 15% in the off-season is priced at a premium in-season? Hotels and fixed providers (i.e., companies that have a product to sell that is capped as to volume) have it easy. They have the benefit of a finite resource. How about an interior designer, a florist, a musician, anyone that can take on that next job? What about when your calendar is not yet booked for the high season and you get nervous? Still have that discipline to price at a premium?
I get the criticism all the time. If I price appropriately, no one will hire me. Hmmm. I hear it this way: if I ask for the money I really need to run my creative business, I will not have a business. You might be right and if you are, you do not have a business today. Running on the wheel will not make it any less true tomorrow. Time in business does not justify charging what you are worth. Talent, process, integrity and conviction in what you stand for and provide does. So take the methadone if you need to, keep the filler business. Do not lie to yourself though. Seasonal or no, if you make the money you are supposed to make (i.e., do good business) with clients who respect, even admire, your art and artistry, you will be able to stop doing bad business. Period. Believing otherwise is not only what keeps you in the rut, it is the rut itself.