The Problem With Flexibility

by seanlow on June 18, 2013

The seeds of demise for your creative business are almost always borne in the generosity of compromise.  Harsh right?  You come from a kind, open place.  You just want to get/do the work, have the project go well and let your art stand for itself.  If you have to wait a little bit for that payment, give more than you said you would, lower your price a teensy weensy bit just this once, so what.  Were it no big deal, but it is.

Like spider cracks in your windshield you can barely see, gather enough of them and eventually the glass shatters.  Integrity is easy in theory or in the text of your contract.  What matters is whether you are willing to walk the walk as much as you are willing to talk the talk.  Would you stop work on a wedding two weeks before if you were not paid?  Sue a client for stealing one of your ideas?  Refuse a potential six figure client who wants it for less, even if infinitesimally so?  If you have a million dollars in the bank, your answers might be, of course.  What if you needed (or were desperate) for the money?

The value of your process is directly proportional to your commitment to it.  Sometimes flexibility is warranted and necessary.  The wedding, site design, interior design, photography session has to be rescheduled/cancelled because of major illness or a hurricane.  When instances of humanity are called for, we should all rise to the occasion.  However, when someone decides to challenge your process, well, just because they can, yours is to say no, never, not going to happen no matter how seemingly insignificant.

In the end, all creative businesses are trivial, which, of course, makes them integrally important to the value of the lives they touch.  We would all have survived if the Beatles never existed, War and Peace never written, Gone With The Wind never made.  However, we are all indelibly changed because they did.  Such is the value of art.  It is this seeming conundrum that too many creative business owners get caught in.  To your clients, it IS actually brain surgery, vital that they are moved by what it is that you do.  Otherwise, why do they need you?  Do not get lost that no one needs what you do, the very fact that clients WANT it is enough to make your dignity and that of your creative business paramount.

If you are willing to send the message that says, “Do not worry about it, it is okay, we can work around it”, you invite risk into your business and disrespect right along with it.  The only way it would not is if it were abundantly clear that you are going to be paid (outrageously) for your flexibility.  I rarely, if ever, see that happen.  Most often it is an exercise in sucking it up.

Integrity matters when it is hard, when you have to fight for it, when you just might look like an a__hole for sticking to it.  You are tasked with creation, to go beyond expectations and to tap into the underneath of relationship and emotion.  You have to do what you do, how you do it if it is ever going to work.  The only player that can change the game in this situation is you.

Creative business owners, as a rule, are people pleasers.  We want to be liked, to be perceived as nice, kind, giving.  Guilty as charged.  However, when the people pleaser part of us gets in the way of the gift we are meant to share, we need to tell the people pleaser to sit down and let the alpha dog roll.  Yes, much easier said than done.  However, if someone told you that the future of your creative business depends on your ability to stand tall in the moment, maybe not so hard.  The irony is, the more and earlier you stand tall, the less you will actually have to.

{ 1 comment }

1 Mary Swaffield June 18, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Sean – as always, well said. I think in particular within the wedding industry we feel a certain obligation to be flexible – partially because of the prevailing societal perception that we are “con artists”.

I do think that some flexibility is required – but perhaps it becomes more of a negotiating tactic? When clients as me for more, I usually can respond with “ok, but that means you’ll get less of ____” or simply provide a quote for the extra service/time etc.

It’s interesting, because I think that this industry is marred with bending over backwards to please our clients – and so when I do business with a company that isn’t flexible, I’m somewhat taken aback… but only for the second it takes me to realize that they are just defending the integrity of their art/service/time.

At the end of the day, I think it’s a matter of communication, and managing expectations. I know that I personally have drastically changed my initial meeting with clients to ensure that I am direct about what I can do for them and what I can do for an extra fee for them.


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