Trying To Find Your Feet

by seanlow on July 22, 2014

I am fascinated by the parallel of my and my family’s move from New York City to Northern California and the feelings so many creative business owners deal with every day.  A story my friend and amazing interior designer Danielle Colding told me recently comes to mind.

Danielle and a friend were vacationing in the Caribbean and decided to take a day trip to a neighboring island by small boat.  On the way, in the middle of the sea, there was a puppy swimming.  All alone and just swimming.  Not panicking, swimming.  Land was not visible where the dog was found.  And yet there he was in the boat’s path.  The owner of the boat picked up the dog and decided to keep him.  A sign of great fortune he said.  The dog was happy to be out of the water, sure, but he did not go crazy according to Danielle.  Quiet gratitude was closer.

Were that I could be the dog.  Were that we all could be the dog.  Swim just to swim because there is nothing else you can do.  Faith that what will be will be.  Not that it will all work out in the end.  Better chance the dog found its way as an appetizer for a shark as it did the boat.  No, lose the notion that the future can be controlled and just do the work.

Creative business owners convince themselves that they can manifest the future.  New website, social media efforts.  Thinking about how they can stand apart; how they can appeal to the widest possible audience.  It is all about being desperate to see the shore and to say “Aha, there it is, we have to go that way.”  Who cares if there is fifty miles away and you will never make it.  Mostly, the panic and unwillingness to just swim means you, your art and your creative business become in service instead of service.  The conversation bases around “What can I do for you?” instead of “Here is what I do.”  Question instead of a statement.  Chameleon instead of champion.  Of course, you need input from your clients, but they came to you to be guided, not the other way around.

I suppose the question is – is swimming enough?  When there is nothing else to do but swim, the answer is easy.  Swim or die.  Except the reality (illusion?) is that there are always places to go, plans to be made, strategies to implement.  We convince ourselves that swimming with the goal in mind will get us out of the water faster.  It will not and, thankfully, cannot.

Swimming purposefully, with integrity, doing what only you, you art and your creative business can do is truly the only option.  Empowerment is in the intention.  The determination not to so much find joy as to live it.  Yes, you have to delight your clients.  You do it with commitment, quiet gratitude, confidence that you have some incredible to offer.  Just by swimming.


Stress and The High Season

by seanlow on June 16, 2014

This is the time when most creative businesses are right in the middle of it or coming to the end of the peak season.  Late Spring/Early Summer is just that time of year when creative things happen.  Homes get designed and completed.  Weddings happen.  Photographs are in peak demand.   Regardless of whether it is going to be a good or great year, tis the season.

So how do you handle it? Are you trying to plot the course for the future?  Or are you in head down, get the work done mode?  Somewhere in between?

And what happens when the rush ends?  Do you collapse?  Start to worry about what is coming next (i.e., if there is enough business coming up)?  Obsess over what went wrong in the rush?  Fix everything (or nothing) before the next one comes?

Add to this the stress of our personal lives – for parents of school age children out there – it is end of school madness.  For me, throw in a move to Northern California after a lifetime in NYC and the stress factor goes to the moon.

Four thoughts then on what stress, high season and its effects can mean for your creative business.

1.  It is all bigger than you.  I have had to learn this one the very hard way, control freak that I am.  Sometimes it really is just about chopping wood and carrying water.  Doing great work for the sake of the work and the work alone.  Along the way, note the details – how clients felt, reacted, shared as they moved through your creative process with them.  Sure, what did they not like, but far far more important is what they did.  Under a to-do list that is beyond you, do what matters to you.  Either allow the rest to fade away or have faith that those who desire it most will fill the void.  Nature abhors a vacuum (one of my favorite ideas).  If you simultaneously create the vacuum by knowing your own limitations and refuse to fill it, others will step forward one way or another.  Yeah, so much easier said than done, worth the effort nonetheless.  There is tremendous freedom in acknowledging you need help.  Not just help to do what you no longer have time to do, but help to lift you higher than you ever could on your own.

2.  Create game film.  Nothing gets changed in the middle of a performance.  Tweaks sure.  Substantial change? Never.  Add to it most creative business owner’s memory of what went wrong dwarfing what went right.  The recipe is then to only fix the problems, not celebrate the successes.  Of course, problems need fixing, but only AFTER successes are celebrated.  Not a hint of woo-woo (or, in this case, rah rah) here.  Your creative business gets paid for its successes.  For the most part, clients are rooting for you and are heavily biased to say you did really well.  Who really wants to say that the house you designed sucks? You are in the create happy business after all.  If you truly did create happy for your clients, your work should be to figure out how to do more of THAT first, minimizing the bugaboos second.  We are all really terrible at having a memory if we do not write it down.  The look back filter almost always starts with what could have gone better.  Use your IPad, carry a clipboard, a notebook, hire an assistant, just take notes.  Notice the minutiae, what went right.  When you look back you will be able to see it and work from there.

3.  Strategy matters.  Even if you are in the middle of it all, you always have to come from a place of self-awareness.  You have to know the why of your art and your creative business.  Never forget what you, your art and your creative business stand for.  You can always hone it later, but you can never ever abandon the ethos of your creative business for the sake of getting the job done.  Being overwhelmed is what it is; what it never is is an excuse to do anything other than act with integrity to your art and creative business.

4.  Take a breath.  Perspective demands distance.  You have to leave it alone and shut it down.  I can obsess about the head of a pin and get trapped there too.  We all have to take a proverbial walk to find the road ahead.  Get yourself there however you have to – “I need a break”, “I am exhausted”, “I have earned it.”, “I need time to think.”  When you are there though, leave it all behind.  Just like change never happens during performance, it does not happen during stillness either.  Stillness entertains possibility, not the other way around.  From possibility, you can manifest something other.  To get there though, you have to allow for stillness, a quiet mind that can absorb it all.


Expansion and Innovation

June 1, 2014

I am in Bachelor’s Gulch Colorado awaiting the start of Engage! 14 Bachelor’s Gulch.  Engage! is the brilliant brainchild of Rebecca Grinnals and you need know that it is the only conference for luxury wedding professionals that matters.  While the information and speakers are terrific, the point is community.  A time to come together without [...]

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Pain and Change

May 8, 2014

Painless change is an oxymoron.  All change in business is painful.  You are giving up the known for the unknown.  No matter how hard your current situation (save the extremes of abuse/unethical/criminal etc.), moving to another reality is always fraught with uncertainty.  For creative business, the uncertainty is a double force for inertia. Why?  Because [...]

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Identifying Wrong Clients

April 23, 2014

I have a client that was asked to present for a potential engagement for a corporate event (for sake of confidentiality, type of artist has been omitted).  Rather than put together a standard capabilities response with canned “here is why we are good” examples, she decided to ask some questions that were bigger than the [...]

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April 11, 2014

I have seen it time and again.  You say one thing about your art and creative business but the underneath tells a different story.  We are all about relationship with a ruthless contract to follow.  We only care about providing you with the best value (i.e., least expensive option) and charge a percentage.  Or, my [...]

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Messing With Success

March 31, 2014

Business is good for creatives.  Clients are commissioning more and more work.  While nothing is certain in this world, things seem to be pretty stable, even growing.  Many of you are just enjoying the busyness.  And, fair enough, it has to feel pretty good to be busy.  So why mess with it? The best time [...]

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To What End?

March 4, 2014

Why are you in your creative business?  Usually the answer is something more than just making money.  For the vast majority, if it were about the money, you would be better served getting a job.  Regular paycheck, less stress, easier hours.  No, you are in your creative business for something other.  Could be to practice [...]

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Every Last Dollar?

February 11, 2014

Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.  I have talked about pricing many times – about getting paid what you need, understanding margin and risk and the difference between subjective and objective.  What I have not talked about is the amount of work associated with extracting the largest premium for your art as opposed to consciously [...]

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Your Legacy

February 5, 2014

When you stay at a great hotel, what do you remember?  The décor?  The food? The service?  Since Valentine’s Day is coming, what do you think will be the highlight of your dinner out?  The food?  The lighting?  Conversation?  How about your trip to the dentist? Think about the millions upon millions of dollars spent [...]

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