The Right Kind Of Business

by seanlow on October 31, 2014

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.

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Breathe Deep and Say Yes

by seanlow on October 21, 2014

Art transcends its medium.  No creative business sells a product or service.  Not really.  They sell meaning, emotion, desire, fulfillment.  If your creative business understands the depth of connection formed, you will inevitably be asked to move beyond yourself and the current state of your art and creative business.

Breathe deep and say yes.

Of course, there is someone out there that could do an excellent job at what you are being asked to do (i.e., for events, a designer asked to plan; an architect asked to do interior design, a still photographer asked to direct a movie, etc.). You might even have relationships with a lot of them.   Call the artisans and have them help.  Redefine your vision of how your client sees you.  Sure, you can stay true to what you do and, for many of you, that might be enough.  Just for a second though, contemplate what is keeping you from saying yes.  Fear?  Yes, you will be terrified of falling down in an area you do not focus on.  And, no, you will not catch up to the masters of that area in a moment or even a lifetime.  Worry about alienating the artisans whose art you are asked to provide.  Hmmm.  Still missing the point.

Trust.  The confidence your client has in your creative business’ ability to understand her vision, to “get” her, is transformative.  If what you can do is to be the defender of that vision, an advocate of the story to be told, why shouldn’t you be responsible for all of it?  You are being seen as the gatekeeper.  Honor that.

What I am ABSOLUTELY not saying is to do it by yourself.  You have no right to practice what you are not expert at, certainly not at your client’s expense.  Bringing artists and artisans you know will respect what is to be delivered – the meaning, relationship and value – into the fold is entirely appropriate.  The beauty of the Internet age is the abundance of talent and our ability to communicate with each other.  Resources are truly global, conversations intimate.

Reconsider your role.  Today you might be the gatekeeper.  Tomorrow another artisan.  What would the world look like if collaboration were the norm, resources fungible? Trust created by another to be valued for the opportunity it creates for everyone?  Today we see trust in another as a threat to our own validity, especially if ours does not rise to that level with the client.  Such a shame.

Invest in trust everywhere – yours first and supporting those around you.  The pie is beyond big enough.  Allow for the possibility of what could be as you focus on building the trust generated by another as much as you do on your own.  It is the essence of the digital age – wealth created is based on integration.  Most certainly your value remains as the artist you are.  Trust and a spirit of expansion though makes your art the seed, far more than the tree.  Know where and how to turn to manifest expansion.  Your community will take you as far as you want to go.

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Finding Yourself

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The best part of any business, creative business in particular, is that it is a journey of self-discovery.  Yes, you get to have your artistry and art front and center.  You share your vision of what is beautiful in the hope (knowledge?) that your vision will resonate with your clients.  Making your art and your [...]

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What Matters

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Trying To Find Your Feet

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Stress and The High Season

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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 [...]

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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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