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

by seanlow on 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 plans into motion, people decide to invest in themselves and the wheels of creativity start to turn.

For those of you enjoying a booming resurgence of inquiries, better than awesome. I hope that you are up to the challenge of speaking the new language I spoke of in my last post. Investment not cost. However, for those of you who are not meeting the internal expectations you have for yourself, your art and your creative business, this post is for you.

First and foremost, we have all been there. As important, this is a moment and it will pass. Your choice is to see it as an indictment or an opportunity.

As Marcy Blum will more than confirm, if you gave gold medals for worrying about the future of my and my clients’ businesses, Michael Phelps would not even come close. So this work is very much a daily exercise for me, a practice, a challenge to see the world from a different lens than indictment. Indictment means that you are convinced you are doing something wrong. Your marketing is off. You have to fix your website, social media, your clothing, your smile, your car. Your pricing is too high (no one ever thinks it is too low). You made someone mad. And, my favorite, you are not doing enough. If you just hustled more, then all would be better.

Of course, some of those indictments may very well be true. By all means, work on them. However, change your attitude. Silence brings opportunity for introspection. How can you be more exposed? Go further in all that you do? Consider that the answer is not to trend to what everyone else is doing, but to be more radically you. To be very specific about things, I said that no one ever thinks their price is too low. What if it was? If you go to a fine restaurant and expect your favorite dish on the menu to be thirty-five dollars, because that is what fine restaurants charge for a dish like that, when you see the dish for fifteen dollars, you are not inspired, you are nervous. What should cost thirty-five dollars cannot cost fifteen. Ever. So if your art and your creative business is that featured dish at a fine restaurant and you are charging fifteen dollars, when the phone does not ring, the answer has to be to get more expensive, not less. The power and courage to go there and raise your prices in spite of (and/or because of) the silence is directly related to your willing to see the silence as opportunity.

Doing something because you have nothing else to lose is never a long-term answer. Do not kid yourself to think that closing your eyes and leaping is your version of considering opportunity. Just indictment in another outfit. Usually, at your earliest moment, you will revert back to what you were doing before you leapt. No, opportunity is allowing you, your art and your creative business to be where you are. To see the story each element currently tells and challenge yourself to tell it better. Find conviction in the story’s purity, diligence in tending to the vision and humility in where you and your art belong in the story.

Nobody knows the future. The phone may never ring again. However, given your track record, it likely will. The real question you need to ask, myself very much included, is which version will answer when it does. Perseverance is not courage or conviction, only a willingness to suffer as we all must. Courage and conviction is to see opportunity when the lights are out. Faith lets you believe they will come on again. Persevere in what you know is your and your creative business’ best self today. That, for me anyway, is its own reward. Hopefully, it will be for you and your creative business too.

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