Fancy Words And The New New Thing

by seanlow on December 21, 2016

I explained what delusion was to my nine-year old son today. On the way to school, I asked him to prove to me why the grass was actually green. My daughter says because everyone knows it is green. I said I do not believe what everyone says. My son says that the UV spectrum can scientifically prove that it is green. The scientists are wrong.

Delusion is unshakeable faith in the face of reality, the refusal/inability to acknowledge that you do not know what you do not know. That said, every great entrepreneur is a little bit delusional. Despite overwhelming odds against you, you leap. And the very best of us get knocked down and leap again (and again). The trick is to know when your delusion is, well, delusional.

Enter fancy words and the new new thing. As you go searching for the new new – Social Media Site, PR/Marketing Strategy, Technology Solution, even Business Guru with the best recipe for success in this new new world – you move further and further away from what lies underneath. Creative business is still, wait for it, wait for it, a business. Creating art for a living looks different than, say, selling toothpaste, because it is. But, at the end of the day, how you go about selling art is grounded in fundamentals just like selling toothpaste. The biggest one is the one I see broken over and over again: create value and get paid for the value when you deliver it. You pay for a tube of toothpaste before you use it. It helps clean your teeth and freshen your breath. You buy it again when you run out. Notice the value is in the promise to help clean your teeth and freshen your breath. You pay for that promise. Then, when the promise is kept, you will likely pay again for the same promise despite others trying to get you to buy their toothpaste.

For creative businesses, tell me what your promise is, deliver on the promise and get paid for it, when (or just before, depending on circumstance) you deliver it. There are no freebies. If you offer something but do not get paid for it when you deliver on the offer, it is not free, it is worthless. If you cannot care enough to get paid for it, why should your client care about it at all? Every. Single. Designer. that does not get paid something when he/she delivers a design is guilty here. The delusion thing – you just cannot understand why your clients drive you crazy over design continuously. Yet you refuse to charge for it when you produce it. Hmmmm.

All of which leads me to contracts.

Contracts are the lifeblood of every business, especially creative business. Specifically, your contract is meant to map out what your relationship with your client looks like. What their job is (to pay you and make timely decisions) and the job of your creative business is – to create and, most times, deliver the creation.

I am perpetually frustrated when I read contracts that are filled with important legal concepts and obviously written by expensive counsel but are devoid of any common sense – who does what and when.

So how about some work every creative business owner can do to improve their foundation and set the stage for an even brighter 2017? Define your contracts in the following manner in the following order: What does the project cost to produce? Who does what and when? How much does your creative business get paid and when? Who owns what after the work has been done and you have been paid?

Project Cost – You may not know what the final cost of production is going to be, but you have to know what the minimum is and, hopefully, what the range will be based on what the client is seeking. Doing what you do costs a certain amount to execute – different for every creative business sure, but absolute for each creative business. There is an amount you are not willing to go below. Know it, own it, live it and put it in your contract.

Scope of Work – who does what and when? For some creative businesses, they are part of a team of creatives; for others, they drive the bus; and, for still others, the client is also a team member. Regardless, it is YOUR job to spell out what your creative business is going to work on and when AND to spell out what it is not. Everyone – clients, employees, colleagues – all have to be on the same page – no better place than your contract.

Your Price – Notice that your price is third on the list. I mean really – if clients cannot afford what it is that you do and do not agree to the work you are going to do and not do, what does it matter what you cost? In the context of what the project’s production cost is and what your creative business will and will not do, you can discuss your price to create and then execute the production of the creation (again, if applicable). Clients more than deserve to know what they are paying for and when; in fact, far more than how much they are paying.  Literally, this is the ethos of your bargain and all of it needs to be in your contract.

Who Owns What – you are all artists. You create for a living. Those creations have value beyond the specific project. Photographers know the value of their image better than most creative businesses. If it is your creation, it is up to you to protect it if you want to retain its value. File a copyright if necessary. Better yet and also, put a clear and legally enforceable section in your contract that spells it out. This is where you need a good lawyer to most.  Make the investment.  The value of ideas will only grow into the future. Your choice to embrace and own the value for your creative business now or kick yourself in a few years time.

You can certainly adopt all of the new new elements that come your way. They are awesome tools and, in so many cases, game changers. Just do it in the context of an ever stronger grasp of fundamentals and the foundation underneath your creative business, never in spite of them.

Happy happy holidays.


What Comes Next?

by seanlow on November 28, 2016

I have been gone from the blog for a while and I am not sure why. Perhaps it is about what has happened in America’s politics or that other business matters took over. No matter the reason, I just felt like I needed to step away to consider what comes next. For me, for creative businesses, for the United States, for all of us.

What I have come to is this: I have no idea, none of us do. The Serenity Prayer has been screaming at me, as I am sure it has for so many of you. That said, it still sucks when I have the pit in my stomach that comes with change and an uncertain future.

I am a liberal, a student (literally) of Elizabeth Warren and believe in the ideal of a nation that nurtures and protects diversity, equality and a global community. That said, I respect those who believe in self-determination and autonomy espoused by conservatives. What I cannot abide as a man, a husband, a father, a son is to be complicit in a world where “other” is normal state of being. I am so with Charles Blow on this one.

What I have come to in my own small way is this: Art will forever change the world. The stronger creative businesses are, the better they will be able to serve as the voice of change. Art is itself intolerant, outrageous, transformative. We all have clients, patrons and serving their vision does not mean compromising ours. In fact, quite the opposite.

Whether you are horrified or elated by the turn of events in the United States, it cannot matter in the context of your creative business. Yours is to do the work so that you can have your voice. Use the fruits of your voice however you choose. Just do not give up your voice.

The absurdity of the cake maker refusing to serve gay couples on moral grounds (cheap press notwithstanding) is the same as a performer refusing to perform at President-elect Trump’s inauguration. The work is the work and, unless you think it a way to garner a market for those who share your beliefs above all others, let it stay there.  But if you choose to go there, appreciate that you are marketing first and foremost, not taking a stand.

I realize many might vehemently disagree with me here, that is fine. My point is only to say that your work, your creative business gives you a voice, the stronger the business, the stronger your voice. And I do have to say, I was once firmly on your side. Principals over business. Then came Preston Bailey.

Preston has done business with many (yes, many) clients that are among the worst perpetrators of human rights in the world. Regimes that would stone him and his husband to death for their relationship and their identity. So why do the work? His answer: because it is his stage and if he can show beauty and what is possible from someone like him (a black gay man) perhaps there can be a shift. And if not with them, then with those that can see what can be possible. It is about the work and it ends there. And Preston is by far not alone here – count almost any designer of note (graphic, event, fashion, interior) and they will likely have done work for clients whose personal politics and beliefs are directly contrary to theirs.

History is literally littered with patrons of art who are less than scrupulous. Ahem, the Borgias to name just one. Doctors operate on murderers all the time. You are not your clients.  I am not complicit in hate if I help a creative business that creates for bigots.

So what comes next for me? All that has come before, except with more conviction. Help make creative businesses stronger, more deeply committed to their story, to fully understand why they matter – to all of us. And to make sure they get paid what they need to create ever better work.

Art matters, today more than ever. My work is to make the megaphone forever bigger.  I will do the work and just leave it there, that is more than enough for me.


Behind The Scenes

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 […]

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Do What You Have To Do

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 […]

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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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