Free Is Free

by seanlow on April 11, 2017

So let’s lay out an all too common scenario. Your favorite project length for your creative business is four months. You happen to be slow at the moment and for the next month but busy down the road, four months from now. The same client comes to you and says they have identical projects, one for a month from now, one for four months from now. However, the budget for the one coming up is $5 and the one four months from now is $10. All extraneous factors aside – repeat client, possible marketing potential, etc. – what do you do?

99% of you would say, “Hey, were not busy now so why not take the $5 project, it is $5 we would not have had. And the $10 project is a good one for the right money.”

For those of you who recognize this as being completely backwards and radioactive to your creative business, you can stop reading now. However, for those of you who think I am out of my mind, take a breath and read on.

The power of creativity is what you, the artist, the creative business owner says it is. If you are willing to define creativity based on relative demand for your art, you are literally turning over the decision of what you are worth to someone else.   Why oh why would you ever do that if you did not have to?

Even more, what it takes to do your best is absolutely a function of time. The more time you have to design, prepare and then ultimately produce a project, the better. Sure, some of you are great crammers, but cramming does not a business foundation make; only definable, reliable process does that. If it usually takes you four months to complete a project well, shortening the time has to be more expensive, not less. Your business process is an accordion. An accordion stretched looks nothing like an accordion compacted, except it is one instrument. You can stretch or compact your process but the steps NEVER change. Your creative business does what it does best, how you and your staff choose to do it to create and produce your best art. End of story.

Creative business is not a manufacturing business so do not treat it like one. You do not own a factory that needs to be put to use to generate value, meaning the more you use it, the better. Yes, some of you have staff, even assets that need to be used. Okay, but giving away the most valuable part of any creative business, ahem, the creativity, in the name of using the asset is fools play. The plane is not going to fly anyway, the hotel room will not exist regardless of anyone occupying the beds, the machine will not run even if there is nothing for it to do. Not for your creative business anyway. Leave the use it or lose mentality to those capital asset businesses that require the model to sustain them.

Instead, focus on value and what you, your art and your creative business need to do the work the best way you know how. This has nothing, I mean nothing, to do with how busy you are or are not at the moment.

Oh how impractical Sean you might say. Am I really going to turn this work away when I am literally doing nothing? Maybe not, but at least acknowledge that you will then no longer have control of your value and own the price you will have to pay for that. Given the scenario I set out above, please acknowledge that the real price for the first project is $40. You need four times the resources to do a job in one month as to do one in four. Arguing others might not be busy either (and therefore cheaper) only compounds the issue and does not solve it. All creative business has intrinsic value or it does not. Your goal is to collectively defend that value, not look for ways to help your client destroy it.

And for those of you who want to say I just do not understand seasonality, fine. However, what if instead of saying yes in January to a February project you said yes in August instead? Those clients willing to honor and respect all that you and your creative business do to create and produce your art deserve to be rewarded, not the other way around.

{ 1 comment }

1 Liz Robson April 21, 2017 at 12:04 pm

Great article – I thought you were mad when I started reading this but now totally get it! I’m looking to start up an Event Management business & this is great advise….thank you!

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