Behind The Scenes

by seanlow on 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 the behind-the-scenes created for a specific audience, whether for a particular kind of client or business. I can appreciate that from a media and entertainment perspective. From a purely business perspective, however, it is an opportunity lost.

To paraphrase Seth Godin, talking only to those that matter is all that matters. With our ability to communicate infinite and free, content is not the issue, relevant content is. Enter Jeff Antoniuk.

Jeff is a brilliant jazz musician and has a terrific business running jazz groups for avid adult jazz musicians in the Washington, D. C. area (mostly amateur but some semi-pro members too). He has begun teaching music entrepreneurs how he has created what he has created so they can start their own jazz group business. It is all based on the specific community of avid jazz musicians, both amateur and professional, who live to play (and maybe teach) jazz.

Recently, Jeff got offered to be a part of a jazz group that will perform Tchiakovsky’s The Nutcracker set to jazz (ala Duke Ellington) in front of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Jeff will be playing alto, tenor and baritone sax for the performance that will have many solo spots. He has decided to create a Facebook live video series, archived on Youtube documenting his preparation. Although he is a professional musician, he has not played the alto or baritone sax for years. So quite a journey to relearn the instruments, learn the music and get ready to play on a very important stage in six weeks time.

Here is the point: 99.9% of people will not care about watching Jeff get ready for his performance. The videos are highly technical and if you are not an avid player, you will get bored quickly. I know nothing about music and, were I not a fan of Jeff’s, I would have clicked away pretty quickly. However, the video series is not for people with a passing interest in playing music generally or even jazz specifically (definitely not for me) and Jeff knows it. The videos are for those musicians to whom playing jazz is everything.  Instead of talking to the audience to make sure they understand as most teachers would (music or otherwise), he stays at the level of players who can appreciate his process. So far 23 people have subscribed to his Youtube channel in the week or so he has been doing the videos (there are 3 so far).

Teeny tiny, who cares you say? I say he has 23 people that matter, several of whom he says he does not know at all in his very large circle of fellow musicians and students.   Maybe more will subscribe, maybe not. The point is that Jeff has defined his community and they have responded to say that they want to be included.

What opportunity lies ahead for Jeff with this series? Who knows? What I do know is that his business – teaching jazz groups and teaching teachers is sure to benefit directly. Then there will be what he cannot yet see.

Of course it takes courage to expose your creative process, to let the world see an unfinished, flawed product. You have to be vulnerable and that vulnerability can be very hard on the ego. Raw vulnerability is so eminently watchable.  Move beyond mere watchabilty though and towards only your specific community. To take the risk that your specific community might reject you and what you hope to organize for you and your art. This is the risk of creative business. Using the tools available to say “I built this for you.” is easy. Being willing to say and be okay with: “This is not for you”, that is where the work is and where all the rewards lie.

If you were willing to be fearless in this way, what would your communication be then? If two of the wrong clients left because of it, but only one of the right one showed up, would that work for you, your art and your creative business? If it does not, please look yourself in the mirror and ask what exactly it is that you are doing. If it does, keep going and go further every day.


Do What You Have To Do

by seanlow on 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 need to do are often two different things.

Many, many times a creative business can make more (often, much more) by doing a whole lot less. Simplest example: if you do 100 projects today at an average price of $2,000, you make $200,000. If you do 50 projects at an average of $4,100, you make $205,000. More money for half the work. Except money might be lumpier – you might make more but it will not feel like it since less projects means less absolute payments. And let’s face it, managing cash sucks. Not all of us have a great controller that will tell us when we cannot spend the money in the account. Oh, and you are bored doing just 50 events. You need to flex that creative design muscle and 50 projects just does not cut it.

It is actually a bigger conundrum than you might think. To lose the 50 projects means you have to build a creative business that only talks to the 50 projects that matter (i.e., the ones paying you more than $4,000). That is a different language and it takes an incredible amount of focus and effort to stay true to the message. If you can get 100 of the “right” clients, fantastic. Likely is, though, you will not and certainly not immediately.

So there is a vacuum between the “should” and “need” for you, your art and your creative business. Ignoring either guarantees its power relative to the other one. Do only what you “should” and the desire to have more projects or the illusion of more money will grow larger every day. Ignore the “should” and you will go broke in every sense of the word.

Live the “should” but honor the “need”. Do the things you need to do to give yourself the freedom to fully embrace the “should”. Go do 15 projects that do not fit, will not make you any money, but will not kill you either. Indulge the crazy because it is not going anywhere anytime soon. Just do not delude yourself that it is the path. It is not and will never be. “Should” will always be the right answer and “need” will be there to embrace the should until you can allow yourself to let it go. You might never be able to let it go for whatever reason and that is okay. Call it the price of doing your creative business.

Conscious containment and acceptance is what matters here. Defend the existence of the need to no one but keep it where it belongs. Never make it relevant to the actual business, only what you need to move the business forward.

Appreciate that giving your need its due runs counter to every piece of rational business advice you will receive. Making more doing less IS the right answer. Who cares. If allowing your need to exist will keep you sane enough to allow for real growth in every sense of the word; if it eases your fear about the should, so be it. Use it. Whatever gives you the strength to live your, your art and your creative business’ deepest truth, I am all for.

Yes, please work to embrace the new reality you seek, the new language you speak, the story that fits best. Truly, there is joy in the reality that tells your, your art and your creative business’ best story.  Honor the process to get there though. We all do things we have to to bring ourselves to the place that will shift us. Your creative business is no different.


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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Is Personal Communication Dead?

September 13, 2016

Personal communication demands a personal response.   If you take the time to write or call someone, they should respond reasonably quickly and personally. There is something about the digital world that has, ironically, removed the necessity of real conversation. Maybe it is because we are bombarded in an exponentially increasing manner with someone trying to […]

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Two Sides Of The Trade

August 25, 2016

Creative business is different. Sure, you all provide things at the end of the day. Photographs, furniture, flowers, lighting, food. However, it is never just about the thing. Think about toothpaste. No one at Proctor and Gamble is moved when they see someone buy a tube of Crest, let alone brush their teeth with it. […]

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Do You Believe Your Story?

August 18, 2016

Whether you charge a million dollars for your art or ten dollars, do you believe it is worth it? Why? Just so you know, I can disprove every rational argument you make as to why you are worth it. Look how much you get for the money. I can get it for less. We are […]

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Are You Willing To Be Left Behind?

August 9, 2016

Ten years ago, the IPhone (and all of the smartphone technology behind it) did not exist (at least not on a consumer level); Facebook was two (in 2005, News Corp. bought MySpace for $580million – it was supposed to be Facebook – not so much, today it ranks 1945 for web traffic); Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, […]

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How Human Are You Willing To Be?

July 22, 2016

In 1988, my brother, 10 months younger than I, died. He was 20, my very best friend, full of life and dreams, a free spirit to my intensely narrow, driven nature. He fell from a roof. Gone in an instant. The end of his life shaped mine forever more. I became more driven, more intense. […]

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Who Defines Success?

July 13, 2016

Your creative business did exactly everything you promised. You executed flawlessly, there were no hidden anythings. Yet your client was underwhelmed. The “Wow” they wanted did not appear in their eyes. Was the project successful? Who gets to decide? Does it matter? Easiest question first, of course it matters who gets to define what success […]

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Will You Ever Acknowledge Your Blind Spots?

July 7, 2016

Hubris is a bitch. If you have even a modicum of success in your creative business, you might live in the notion that your way is not just the best way, but the only way. You might perceive the world order as defined by your own version of success. You hear those with other worldviews […]

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