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.


1 Navjot Kaur December 21, 2016 at 5:58 pm

“Enter fancy words ………… new world – you move further and further away from what lies underneath.” Well said and so true!

2 Rhiannon December 30, 2016 at 5:33 pm

Great post, Sean! Cheers to 2017.

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