Consider The Source

by seanlow on April 26, 2016

I am basically tone deaf. I love joking with my kids about how awesome of a singer I am. They laugh every time because of how silly it is. I literally thought my son was using his own creation when he talked about his head voice and his chest voice. And I am a better singer than visual artist. My wife thought our then 4 year old drew a dog I drew when my daughter asked me to.

Asking what I think about an artist’s art is about as useless as it comes. I know less than nothing and my answer is beyond uneducated. And yet I am asked about it all the time. Go figure. We are all human and we all want to transpose trust where it is close enough. You help me with my creative business so you can help me with my creativity. Not so much.

I am a sponge for information. I am thrilled to be part of Editor-At-Large’s LA Summit next Monday, yes, to be able to talk to and meet amazing design professionals, but mostly to learn from the other speakers who are talking on topics they spend their careers working on – contracts, licensing, editorial, etc. We all need to invest in ourselves and hearing the wisdom of others is how I find the deepest reward. The corollary though is that I run away from ancillary discussion. If the marketer wants to talk to me about process from my point of view, not a marketing point of view, I will actively not listen.

Consider the source.

Own what you know and what those you are talking to know. Do not transpose. Survival is no arbiter of success, just a willingness to endure more pain than others. Cockroaches have been around for millions of years. A creative professional that has been in business for over twenty years, who has an awful website, a worse process and absolutely no social media presence is less than useless when asked or offering an opinion on anything internet/social media related. My guess though is that she is speaking at a conference near you very soon.

People can certainly be smart on more than one thing, just not all things. Moreover, the way other creative business owners do things may or may not work for you. Nobody has THE answer. Why? Because the only right answer is the one that works for you, your art and your creative business. The best piece of advice I got when becoming a new parent was to listen to everyone and then ignore the ones that do not matter. No different with creative business.

Please do not lock yourself into your own bubble though. Question everything. Learn from as many different places as you can. Learn from those who have invested their entire being into the subject. Ignore those invested in being right. Focus on those that are just invested.

Every creative business owner I have ever met has the wisdom to share their gift. They are blessed with a talent very few of us have and sharing it makes us all better off. However, very few business owners fully grasp that they can be sustained in every way (financially, psychically and spiritually) if they give meaningfully and purposefully to those that care. Listening to those with the answer they are not qualified to give will never get you there and will likely take you much further away from yourself, your art and your core creative business. Instead, find those who demand of you, your art and creative business to be authentically, outrageously, fundamentally you.  As with your art and its stage, the rest will take care of itself.


Everything matters in creative business. How you dress. How you talk. Where you go (hey it is a digital world). And, yes, how you write (even in a digital world).

However they happen, we all get into ruts. We answer questions the same way. Get into the same arguments with clients. Find ourselves in a perpetual ground hog day we have no idea how to get out of. The definition of looney tunes – doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. I call them verbal tics.

The answer is in the details. Client asks what do you charge. You answer. They say, “Wow, you are expensive.” You say, but here is what you get and how much I will do for you. They say, “Wow, you are still expensive.” You panic and start negotiating.  Maybe you get the client, maybe not. Either way you lose, you just turned creativity into a commodity.  What if, instead, you said, “I am not expensive, I just cost a lot of money.” And for those of you who would like to be provocative you could add, “and if you cannot understand the difference, I am not sure we are a good fit.” What comes after that will be a real dialogue of what you will create for the amount you charge. Not stuff, art.

Another fave: after telling you their exhaustive list of wants for their project, a potential client tells you their teeny tiny budget relative to their wish list. You then say that, based on what they want, you cannot do it for their budget. Here is what you just told your potential client: you are a moron, you do not know what things cost and I am here to educate you on your stupidity. Shocker, they dig in and stick to their number. Nobody likes to be told they are stupid. Ever. Instead, why not talk about yourself, your art and your creative business. “Your project sounds amazing and right in line with the work I love to do. My projects (exclusive of my fees and associated expenses – taxes, shipping, storage, etc.) usually run in the range of $X to $Y. You can certainly get what you desire for your budget. Unfortunately, it is not a budget I feel comfortable working with as I would not be able to do the level of work you would expect of me and I would expect of myself. I would be more than happy to refer you to someone who might be able to meet your budget or we can work together on a minimum production budget we would both feel good about and go from there. We can always go up if you like, but we will not need to to make your project spectacular.” Distinction with a huge difference.

You have to pay attention to what you are saying without saying it. Do you honor your clients? Your art? Your creative business? Do you act with integrity – walk the walk, not just talk the talk? By the way, walking the walk does not mean lie down, it means to respect your clients and yourself, your art and your creative business’ process. Sometimes respect means, in the nicest, sweetest, most polite way, you tell your client to f-off for being inappropriate. Your show, not theirs.

In the spirit of saying things just because or because everyone else says or does them, here are my top three pet peeves for creative business speak. Yes, in order, an I wish they would all evaporate from our creative business lexicon yesterday:

Full Service. We are a full service “____________” (you fill in the blank). As opposed to the self-service, sort of do-it-yourself shop down the street? If a client says “I just need”, they do not need a creative business. A creative business, ahem, creates. Specifically, it creates what a client cannot. You are not a helper, you are an artist. Act like one and do not apologize or remind someone that you are full anything. You just are.

Package. You are not an all-inclusive hotel. The notion of saying “Here’s what you get” sucks. See above. You are an artist. They get your creative business to create incredible art for them in the best way you know how. Telling potential clients they get what everyone else gets is exactly the opposite of what you want your clients to think.

Lists of Services. In the same spirit of number one and two, giving me a list of what is included when a client hires your creative business starts a negotiation you do not want to have. “So I see you will be on site for 8 hours with your silver package but 10 with your gold. We want the album that comes with the gold, but only want you for 8 hours, what is your price then?” Good luck with that. No list of what a client gets is ever going to make (or even help) them understand the power of what you are going to create for them. The power of your art and your creative business has to be communicated intimately. Meaning human being to human being. It IS personal. There is not a full service, package list of services that will get around that.

Sweat the details, understand what you are saying. Say it with intention and direction. The dialogue is there for you and your creative business first, client second. Pretending it is the other way around does not help anyone. You are the guide and you are there to transform. Clients are seduced by what you and your creative business has done for others, but they leap when they can see what the guidance and transformation will look like for them.


Clearing The Pipes

April 4, 2016

Until you know exactly what it feels like to be true to your art and the essence of your creative business, no change will be effective. You have to strip away the gunk in the pipes before you can talk about what water needs to flow through it. The gunk are all those things that […]

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Add A Zero

March 10, 2016

What does it mean to be fearless? To be confident in your gifts as an artist? Capable of transforming those who commission you and your creative business to do just that? Add a zero. What happens then? For most of you, the narrative of impossibility takes over. “I could never get that much.” My clients […]

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It’s Not About You. Or Is It?

March 1, 2016

As he is wont to do, Seth Godin wrote a great post a few days ago about what triggers trust. I love the two issues he sees: The trustworthy person or organization that fails to understand or take action on the symbols and mysteries that actually lead to trust, and as a result, fails to make […]

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The Power of Story

February 25, 2016

Bill Baker defines storytelling as “an exchange of meaning shared from one person to another for a purpose.” “For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.” Hemingway’s (supposedly) shortest story. It means something to you because of your life experience and what you imagine it to be. For most, it speaks of tragedy. Some, however, may just […]

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From Fertilizer Comes Flowers

February 17, 2016

Overcoming adversity is the testament every successful person on the planet shares. Until you get knocked down, you have no idea what it is to get back up. Such is the beauty of life. However, that is not my focus today. Instead, I am writing about when the new version of you, your art and […]

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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 […]

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What Are You Worried About?

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 […]

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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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