The Happy Business

by seanlow on February 21, 2017

Creative business is the happy business. Even if you do commercial work. You exist to transform. You transform by surprising, delighting, energizing, inspiring clients with what you intend for them. They live in the afterglow once your creation comes to life.

So why oh why would you ever make the business of your creativity pure drudgery? Or worse, boring, stiflingly rigid with nonsensical agreements that do nothing for your business or your clients? You wouldn’t you say? Were that true, I would happily be done writing. Instead, I see a sea of packages, form agreements, boilerplate everything and I literally want to scream. I can only imagine what your clients feel.

Since 2017 is the year of challenges from me so far, here is another one: if you must use packages, you are only allowed two (high and low) and the high package must be AT LEAST three times as expensive as the low one. Also, if a ten year old cannot understand what they get for their money and why they should pay for it, start over. You have to be able to define what your creative business stands for at every level. You packages support your definition, they, themselves, are not the definition of value. No way around it, you have to do the work to define why your creative business is worth what you say it is.

Speaking of why a client should pay for what you offer, do not forget about when you offer it. Time is relative and has relative value. For pure design, time is a silly measure of value. Flux Capacitor Issue (not linking, I have given the example many times and I will talk for a half hour to the first person who explains what I mean in a comment). However, production of any design is a measurable event and can be estimated as to who and how much is needed to effectively produce the creation. For production, getting paid for your and your creative business’ time there makes total sense.

The point is: your creative business offers different things at different points of a project. Stop getting paid as if you do one thing always. It does not mean you have to change the method of payment calculation (i.e., flat fee vs. hourly), it just means you have to clearly define the value proposition that exists at the particular stage of a project. Ahem, the value proposition needs to make sense. Or you can let your mind-numbing package do the work. Your choice.

Next, quit making the final promise and instead focus on checkpoint promises. Who cares if clients will love it in the end? A) Of course they will or you would not have a business; and B) even if they do not, what will you do about it then, the proverbial pooch will have already been screwed. Instead, give your word about the next step, give it again, then keep it.

Here is an example: production budget. You say that the project will cost $10,000 to bring your creation to life. They agree. You present your vision (without prices).

During the presentation, you affirm that the production budget is $10,000. Client agrees. You sit down with client to go over production budgets. It is $10,000. Promise kept. Then move on to the next promise. Maybe when a certain element will be finished. All the way until the end of the project. Incremental promises kept along the way make the final one inevitable.

Beware the cruel temptress of getting it done. It is too easy to just let it all slide, to just focus on getting the project finished. Everything in the name of moving on.

Slow down. Evolving relationship, deepening trust, building investment are the foundation of transformation. Let your business be creative. It is there to support your creativity, not be the hurdle you and your art need to overcome to find success. Invest in the intimacy that matters – being the steady hand in the face of uncertainty. You need your business to be a reflection of that steady hand and the only way to do that is to have it be a reflection of who you and your art actually are. Make sense and make promises. Then keep them. No better recipe to create happy than that.

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Be The Most In Your Category

by seanlow on February 14, 2017

So we are going to step it up today. I have offered a few challenges so far this young year – lose line item pricing, refuse to allow anyone to refer to your work as anything other than an investment. And while not easy, these challenges are specific actions that do not require a deeper understanding of your creative business per se.

Now it is time to roll up your sleeves and look closer at your creative business, understand your community and where you and your art belong in that community. Here is an analogy to get you going.

Say you want to start a high-end restaurant. You know from eating at other high-end restaurants in your city that entrees range from thirty to forty dollars. Since you are new, your instinct might be to price underneath the typical high-end restaurant at, say, twenty to twenty-five dollars. You might even have a little (or a lot of) success and a few years later your prices are still twenty to twenty-five dollars. You convince yourself you are a high-end restaurant, despite wanting to get to that next level. Each time you try though you just cannot crack the thirty-dollar level for an entrée. What to do?

Of course, this is the story of soooo many creative businesses. I call it the Venus Fly Trap of luxury. You are lured into believing that you are high-end, when you really not (at least not in the way that you think) and then chase after that elusive goal missing all that you have created. Sucked in, you, your art and your creative business become exhausted by the chase, stuck in the fly trap.

Own who you are today and be the best there.  Then, if you want to shift, invest in what it means to be in that other place and refuse to be defined by what the past has brought you.

Back to the restaurant example. You were NEVER a high-end restaurant. When you price above or below a category, you are NOT in that category. Period. Why? Clients cannot understand the relative value you offer. Nobody wants to do business with an amateur. We want to deal with those artists who know their work and their craft and can bring us the transformation we seek. Whether you are in business for a minute or twenty years, the transaction is the same: transformation for money. Where that transformation sits (high-end, luxury, accessible luxury, ultra-luxury or mass) is up to you and your vision for your art and your creative business. Still all about transformation though.

Let’s break it down. Own who you are today. That means know your category and strive to be the HIGHEST priced business in that category. If restaurants with twenty to twenty-five dollar entrees are considered a step below high-end, fine. Own that space and try to move every entrée to twenty-five dollars. Of course, to raise your price you will have to define the extra value you are offering to justify the increase. It could be as simple as stopping to offer the very thing your clients never want. For instance, if you are a local photographer who never travels, stop saying you will do destination work.

To be very clear, I am telling you to look at your current category, hone it and then raise your prices to be what you think are the highest for that category. Today. Even if you have booked five clients at the old price yesterday. Raise your prices (telling a better story to those that care) today. You are going to give me a list of reasons why you cannot do that today (or the moment you have finished your analysis of your category) and my answer is I don’t care, do it anyway.

Now, the harder challenge and something you actually cannot do today. If you truly want to move to the next level, you have to do the work to redefine yourself to be there. That includes not just charging the appropriate amount for the category, but more importantly redefining your value to belong at that level. For the restaurant, perhaps it means a new chef, better ingredients, a redefinition of service. For event designers, it might mean actually investing in design, hiring those capable of producing visual art in a way you have not needed to before.

Getting to the next level might mean creating a mechanism where those who cannot afford and/or do not want to afford the work, learn to never show up in the first place. A little safety tip: going to the next level is going to be really hard and really scary. You have to be committed to what it means to you, your art and your creative business to live there. By definition, it means that you have to give up all or, at least a huge part, of what you have become. You will be uncomfortable and you may crawl before you ever have the chance to even walk. Here’s the rub though. It is almost impossible to go to the next level until you are the highest price in your own category.

Think about it. If you are not the top in your zone, why should we ever believe you belong at the next level?  We do not and we should not. You might find after doing the work (i.e., raising your prices to the top of your category TODAY) that you are happiest here after all. Awesome. Rock that role. We need you there to be the leader that you are, with an ever rising voice.

However, if you still want to go higher, now you are primed to see the path that lies ahead. Leap with eyes wide open because you must. Just do not kid yourself into believing that telling the next level your current story will ever work. It will not. To leap you must know that you have to tell tomorrow’s story today.  A daunting task if there ever was one, but compelling for those that know they must take it on.


When The Phone Does Not Ring

February 7, 2017

If you have been in business for a while (i.e., more than 3 years), you come to have expectations about how and when the proverbial phone will ring. For many creative businesses, that time is now. Holidays are done and we are looking forward to Spring coming next month. This is when corporations put their […]

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Make One Change

February 1, 2017

We all have visions of a better self. Better art, better business, better clients. We imagine that we will do what it takes to get to wherever there is. Grand statements are thought about and sometimes even made. The shiny new website, social media platform, office, even a new graphic look can be enticing as […]

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Please Do Better

January 25, 2017

As I am sure it has with just about everyone reading this, politics and what is happening in America has consumed me and made me really contemplate what is to come. Some of you see positive in what is to come, others not. I am firmly in the other camp. Apart from standing up for […]

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Fancy Words And The New New Thing

December 21, 2016

I explained what delusion was to my nine-year old son today. On the way to school, I asked him to prove to me why the grass was actually green. My daughter says because everyone knows it is green. I said I do not believe what everyone says. My son says that the UV spectrum can […]

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What Comes Next?

November 28, 2016

I have been gone from the blog for a while and I am not sure why. Perhaps it is about what has happened in America’s politics or that other business matters took over. No matter the reason, I just felt like I needed to step away to consider what comes next. For me, for creative […]

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Behind The Scenes

October 20, 2016

We have all seen behind the scenes work by creative business owners. Countless videos, television shows, articles and even books of how a particular project comes together, be it an event, a home, a show or even a photograph. We, the audience, love to see what it takes to make “it” happen. Rarely, though, are […]

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Do What You Have To Do

October 11, 2016

We are all a little bit crazy. We have our tics and quirks that make us, well, us. You can probe the depths of your crazy in a therapist’s chair. Doing work on yourself is always fruitful. But there you are. For creative business owners, it means that what you should do and what you […]

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The Next Level?

September 27, 2016

One of the worst things I hear almost daily from creative business owners is: I want to take my creative business to the next level. Usually it means they want bigger, more expensive projects. Wait, you say, sounds like the exact thing every creative business owner should hope for – do bigger, bigger, better[?]. And […]

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