Breaking The Model Vs. Redecorating

by seanlow on May 9, 2017

New website, new prices, new contract. Some creative business owners believe that when they embark on these missions, they are breaking the model, not just redecorating. They are wrong.

The IPhone really is not all that different from cell phones that came before. Cooler and more functional sure, but not that different. Add in apps though and now we are in another realm. Exponential third party functionality growing exponentially every day. The premise that a phone itself could be both a product and an annuity generated by third party participation was and is groundbreaking for any piece of technology.

If your creative business is premised on what others are not, maybe you are breaking the model. However, if you are just redefining what you (and everybody else) already does with fancy words, you are not breaking anything but rather putting a shiny coat of paint on the same house.

A note: both are really important efforts. For instance, if you change the way you price to get yourself the money you need to do the best art you can create, awesome. Maybe that is going to hourly from flat fee or percentage from flat fee. Works for me if it works for you. However, if you do the same thing you have always done, the same way you have always done it, just with a different price (even if calculated differently) you have not broken anything, just dressed up better.

Breaking the model means redefining your risk so that the change is a reflection of the redefinition, not vice-versa. Translation: get paid for what you are all about. If you are all about design, get paid for design. All about production, get paid for production. So if you are all about design but do not charge a design fee, charging a fee actually makes sense and is, ironically, a better reflection of your current model than the way you might be doing things if you do not charge for design. Changing your price to be a reflection of an underlying shift in your creative business, that is breaking the model.

Breaking the model can and should be even more fundamental though. It should mean changing the ENTIRE value proposition you offer so that you approach your creative business in a radically new way. Literally, see the world from a different perspective and build your creative business accordingly. Up will be down and down up, but it will all make sense given a fresh perspective.

Let’s look at what my client Jeff Antoniuk has done in his approach to teaching music to adult jazz amateurs.

The basic approach to teaching music is just like any other form of education. There is a goal, an endpoint, an achievable metric. There is a done. Take a class, private lesson or other form of education and there will be an end. And for so many musicians, this works well. However, for the narrow band of fanatics, it does not.

At a certain point, for the fanatical adult amateur jazz musician, incremental change is what is hoped for.  Like the scratch golfer that obsessively takes lessons hoping to shave a stroke or two off his/her score. For these fanatics, done sucks. So along comes Jeff to ask what does the world look like for these adult amateur jazz fanatics if he erases done?

Well, everything. Instead of focusing on done, Jeff has to focus on perpetual engagement, community and passion for the music. For his business, it means consciously NOT squeezing the most out of a student but rather engaging in a significant ongoing investment. The promise is to engage for years, not months, and seek a commensurate investment. Jeff’s students are worth between seven to ten thousand dollars EACH to him over four to six years versus those that same students that might be worth maybe a thousand or so over six months. Oh, and fanatics need community, so students learn in groups. Each group has four or five students. And the more groups, the better the community. Why not ten to fifteen groups? If you see the world from the eyes of the fanatic amateur jazz musician, bingo. Not so much if you are determined to live the status quo, since you do not fundamentally believe in continuous anything.

Here is how that plays out. Jeff gives away technical training to students since his mission is perpetual engagement. Fellow music teachers cannot understand why he would ever do that. Hopefully, Jeff, through his teacher training, can teach some teachers to see the world as he does and spread his idea to better serve adult amateur jazz fanatics in communities around the globe. To do that though, these teachers have to see the world through an entirely different lens. Easier said than done since they have been indoctrinated to do the exact opposite — they learned by getting done because that is all there was before Jeff.  Is it worth the effort?  Of course, creating, serving and spreading a creative community always is.

I am certainly not asking all creative businesses to break their model. I am only asking that you consider what the world, your world, would look like if you did. Maybe you will not like what you see and then please redecorate always. But if you can see the possibility that might exist if you lived in a different lens, leap. After all, it is why you decided to make a living as an artist in the first place isn’t it?  We all need fresh eyes for our creative businesses, now more than ever.

P.S. I did an interview with Molly Klein for Benetrends Financial and I am really proud of my answers. Here is the link to the interview.

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