by seanlow on April 11, 2014

I have seen it time and again.  You say one thing about your art and creative business but the underneath tells a different story.  We are all about relationship with a ruthless contract to follow.  We only care about providing you with the best value (i.e., least expensive option) and charge a percentage.  Or, my fave, customer service is our priority, except the answer is do not worry, it will all work out.

There will ALWAYS be disconnects between your professed truth and the reality of you, your art and your creative business.  Such is the nature of the beast in an ever-evolving world.  However, the work has to be to constantly identify the disconnects if only to hone the value your creative business delivers.  The very idea that you do what you say, act as you imagine yourself to be, deliver the why of what you do first and foremost is exactly what clients pay for.

So how to go about the process of alignment?  Easy to say, crazy hard to do.  Ask yourself why you do what you do?  No platitudes – because I love to create/design/photograph/plan – only how you want to change the world.  That is what artists do after all.  Then look for the why everywhere in your creative business – how you answer the phone, in your contract, in your production process, and, obviously, in your final product.  One of my favorite examples, interior designer, Vicente Wolf.

Vicente is an intrepid global traveler.  His philosophy is to cross boundaries and bring the world into his designs.  His designs mix culture, eras and styles to make a unique statement.  Vicente wants to change the world by making his clients aware of all that he has seen in his travels.  Seeing globally in your environment (the one Vicente creates for you) is Vicente’s why.  I have written about how Vicente lives his why and how his entire business is structured around it.  As with all of us, his is a work in progress, but he is very far down the road.  Here is the link to my post on Vicente’s blog.  I wrote it three years ago but it is as true and relevant today as it was then.

I am a stickler for process, details and alignment because your creative business tells a story.  Too often that story is not the same as the story you are trying to tell with your art.  No one can tell two stories and hope to build trust.  By definition, one of the two stories is not true no matter how much you would like it to be.  Clients, vendors, employees and colleagues can smell it when you tell two stories.  It breeds distrust and distrust is the cancer of all creative business.

Creative businesses sell a leap of faith.  Finding alignment is an investment in trust.   With it, your creative business can take your art anywhere.  Without alignment and trust, your creative business will forever be the tether to your art’s balloon.

Tell one story and see where that takes you.


Messing With Success

by seanlow on March 31, 2014

Business is good for creatives.  Clients are commissioning more and more work.  While nothing is certain in this world, things seem to be pretty stable, even growing.  Many of you are just enjoying the busyness.  And, fair enough, it has to feel pretty good to be busy.  So why mess with it?

The best time to do anything in business is when you do not have to.  Borrow money, trim staff, hone your message, your core values.  Fortune gives you the opportunity to question everything, not validation that you were right all along.  More important is the very idea that, for most creative businesses, projects take a substantial amount of time.  Decisions today will impact your business next year.  You are literally setting the stage for what 2015/16 is going to look like in the next several months if you have not done so already.  A better future, where your creative business is more resilient than it is today depends on your willingness to embrace change when it does not appear that you need to.

Let us take borrowing money as an example.  If your creative business is and has been solidly profitable for the last few years and looks good for 2014, why would you borrow money?  Certainly, it is never easy to get a lender to say yes even in the best of times.  But if I told you to buy property insurance to make sure you are protected if something were to happen to your office/shop, you would easily see the value.  No difference here.  Look at your Line of Credit/Loan as insurance against dips that might come along.  No one will want to give you money when you are in a dip, only when you are strong.  Since you are strong now, go get the money as I do hope you have humility to know you may not always be.

How about trimming/replacing staff?  Everything evolves and success tomorrow is predicated on those who most want to live there and not what yesterday afforded.  Being able to keep everyone busy is not the same thing as looking to improve your team.  A thriving business is a great time to attract those that want to take the success further.  Dead weight does not get reborn or ignored, it just gets tolerated.  You owe it to yourself, your art, and your clients to believe, fervently, in the upward spiral.  Nature abhors a vacuum and if you allow yourself to create the void by jettisoning dead weight, vitality will be its replacement.

Honing your message/your core values?  Who are you and what do you do? This is a never-ending question.  And it gets to Why.  Why you do what you do is everything.  The result of undertaking this work now is a deep presentation of value to you, your staff and clients alike.  You will know what your clients pay you (the most) for and you will be uncompromising in the effort.  With wind at your back, it is (or should be) easy to refuse business that will damage the boat.  Saying no not only to obvious misfits but also to the marginal yeses allows those who want to be all in with you, your art and your creative business, to, in fact, be all in.  Now is the time to eat only the best apples.  Letting go of a known thing is never easy, a bird in the hand for sure.  However, making room for only the best, purest distillation of you, your art and your creative business will be its own reward far beyond today.


To What End?

March 4, 2014

Why are you in your creative business?  Usually the answer is something more than just making money.  For the vast majority, if it were about the money, you would be better served getting a job.  Regular paycheck, less stress, easier hours.  No, you are in your creative business for something other.  Could be to practice [...]

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Every Last Dollar?

February 11, 2014

Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.  I have talked about pricing many times – about getting paid what you need, understanding margin and risk and the difference between subjective and objective.  What I have not talked about is the amount of work associated with extracting the largest premium for your art as opposed to consciously [...]

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Your Legacy

February 5, 2014

When you stay at a great hotel, what do you remember?  The décor?  The food? The service?  Since Valentine’s Day is coming, what do you think will be the highlight of your dinner out?  The food?  The lighting?  Conversation?  How about your trip to the dentist? Think about the millions upon millions of dollars spent [...]

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Success and Hard Work

January 28, 2014

Happily, I am hearing that the outlook for creative businesses in 2014 is very good.  For some, too good, so much work that the creative business cannot handle it all.  Running parallel to the success is our culture’s validation of overwork.  We presume that the ultimate rewards go to those willing to work longer and [...]

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The Power Position

January 27, 2014

Seth Godin’s blog post today, “…Different People Differently” got me thinking.  In the post, Seth argues that now we must talk to each person differently.  No more mass marketing or singular message.  Treat the chess champion differently than the star quarterback.  Know what makes someone tick and make that the conversation. “[The digital age] is [...]

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What Is It Worth?

January 21, 2014

Put aside notions of what clients will and will not pay for.  It is an exercise in mental masturbation anyway. Now ask yourself what YOU would pay for each part of your creative business.  Do it with percentages.  What is your reputation/experience worth?  Your ideas?  Your production?  The end product?  Once you have assigned percentages, [...]

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January 13, 2014

I was recently introduced to the work of Simon Sinek and his ever-popular 2010 Ted talk: Start With Why (has over 14 million views).  Simon’s basic premise is that great leaders, great businesses start with why and work their way out to how and then to what.  Not the other way around.  Of course, I screamed [...]

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Earning It All

January 7, 2014

You deserve nothing, but you have earned it all. Where do you go with the statement?  Feel like somehow your effort entitles you to rewards?  Do you get angry at the notion that you deserve nothing? I love a new year because it is the beginning, a chance at redemption, a prayer that things will [...]

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