Most creative business owners are people pleasers. After all, 99.9% of creative businesses are in the happy business. You, your art and your creative business exist solely to bring joy to your clients. Even on the commercial side, the aim is to help a business client achieve what they seek through your work, not destroy it.
In the name of go along, get along, sometimes (well, too many times), you agree to what is exactly opposite to your and your creative business’ self interest. Delay three months without changing anything? Sure. Show another design for no additional cost? Whatever the client needs to feel comfortable. Let a vendor you do not know or trust work alongside you? What could go wrong with Aunt Jane next to you?
Even worse are those artists who refuse to be the leader for fear of being perceived as a dictator. I mean if you want to talk about the couch before we have established paint color, I suppose that would be fine. Whatever you need.
We have all been there. You feel like you are doing right by your client (and maybe even employees, vendors and colleagues) by keeping your opinions on mute. Accommodation, we all think, is the grease to the wheel, makes the process that much easier and endears everyone to us. Except it does the exact opposite. Every time.
The reason is simple. You are the artist and the expert. Your credibility is directly correlated to your willingness to stand for what you believe, educate everyone on the impact of your accommodation and resolute as to its cost. Oh, and not because it is in your contract, but because it is in your contract for a reason. You have to give teeth to the reason, not words on a page.
Aunt Jane might be amazing but you do not know her and cannot trust her until you know she can deliver what you need her to do at the level your client demand of your creative business. If your client would like for your creative business to use Aunt Jane, it will be $10,000 for you to analyze her business. By the way, $10,000 is not made up and would be the LEAST amount of money I would charge a client to evaluate a vendor I do not know to use on one of my projects if I were in your shoes. For those that think this is nuts, value the impact of Aunt Jane’s failure on your creative business both for the particular client and beyond to your reputation, the alienation of Aunt Jane’s competitor you are not using, and the scathing review of everyone other than your client viewing Aunt Jane’s failure (i.e., potential clients, employees and colleagues). That is not even counting the amount of work you would need to do to actually vet Aunt Jane’s business.
It is not about being perceived as good or bad, accommodating or difficult, it is about being confident in your own ability to produce great art on your terms. So instead of quieting that pit in your stomach when someone throws the inevitable curveball, realize that the pit is a sign that you need to seize opportunity. The opportunity to demonstrate your expertise, share your opinion as to why it needs to go this way, AND the cost of not going this way. Because if you miss the opportunity, it is not just gone, it is its own pain. Every moment you do not act the expert is a moment that validates the idea that you are just a member of the audience, not the star (or co-star) of the show. The proverbial loose thread if there ever was one. There is no saving it for later (when it really matters?). Each time you remain silent in the name of being a team player makes it that much harder to ever assert yourself, you artist’s vision, your true expertise. Never ending pain that only ends when the project does and sometimes not even then.
Your art and your creative business exist because of your talent, your vision, your expertise, your voice. This is what your clients actually pay for, not to be their friend or to give them the power to make decisions they are not educated enough to make. So go make great art, your way with your voice heard as loudly as your expertise runs deep. Amateurs need not apply when you are expected to be the professional in the room.