Owning Who You Are Today Is Everything

by seanlow on August 22, 2017

I was having a fascinating conversation with Maria Bayer last week. If you are in the wedding business and do not know Maria, you should. Her sales techniques are terrific as they are based on selling your intrinsic value as both an artist and creative business. Fantastic stuff.

We were talking about The BBC Collective and the types of creative businesses I most enjoy working with. My answer: if we are on a scale of one to ten, one being a start-up and ten being the artist at the very top of his/her game, my focus is on six to ten. I work with creative businesses that have established themselves (usually at least four years old), been through at least one boom-bust cycle, made it through and have a decent sense of themselves and what the future might hold. Sixes are at the beginning of the spectrum, nines and tens at the height.

Maria did not let me off that easy. She noted that a six is not a nine so what is the difference in what you do for the six as opposed to the nine. In both cases, it is getting creative businesses to honor who they actually are.

For the six, it is letting go of the training wheels that got them to where they are but are now ballast to a balloon yearning to fly. A quick example would be a designer (Event or Interior, either is fine here) that is simultaneously doing projects at $30 and $75. $30 is where they got their start and what they still consider their bread and butter. $75, though, is their jam. At $75, there is enough there to really dig in and shine with the work that they do. $75 clients love them and appreciate what it is the designer’s work offers them. The $30 clients are more of a means to an end because the budget is just not there.

Of course, telling the six level designer to drop the $30 client is the easy part. The hard part is the resistance and working diligently to create a statement as to why ONLY doing $75 business will actually increase everything – sales, profits, reputation. That is the thing about trap doors, when it gets tough or scary, knowing the trap door is there, even if you do not use it, stops you from moving into and through the tough and scary part we all must face on the path to self-awareness. Self-awareness as an artist, creative professional and business is inhabiting only the skin that you have earned the right to live in.

Nines, on the other hand, most times lose the idea that the right amount matters. It is one thing to make half of what you are supposed to make when that half does not cover the rent, it is a whole other thing when it does. This is cancer and it is just about the only thing that can kill a nine, and, just like cancer, it is far too common than any of us need to tolerate.

Another quick example, if a designer (again, Interior or Event, either work) needs to make between 25% and 38% on a project and that project is $10 million, then the right amount the designer is to be paid is between $2.5 million and $3.8 million. To be clear, the right amount is what the designer needs to charge based on her business, the industry’s expectation and, most important, her client’s expectation of what someone of her caliber (talent, experience, breadth of business) should charge.

Truly, numbers are numbers to me. They do not have emotions, relativity, or context. They are what they are. The air your creative business breathes is not free and all things need to be considered. Money just happens to be the most expedient measurement, although not the only one. So when the nine creative business owner comes to me and says that if she does not take the job for $2 million she will lose it, my response is: “you never had it to begin with and, if you did, you should not want it. If you take it, you will be on the road to a place of compromise and confusion you will regret and likely never be able to come back from without extraordinary pain.” But it is $2 million dollars! Literally, I do not care, $2 million is the wrong number. The designer’s fee needs to be at least $2.5 million or she has lost before she ever starts.

This is the slippery slope for all artists. If nines do not act as they should, fall in love with $2 million as if it is enough, we all suffer. False comparisons will abound and the industry will be limited because those who must be beacons willingly choose to dim their own light to accept good enough. Yes, I am all about making sure that does not happen to nine creative businesses and undoing it if it does.

The distillation is this: once you have an inkling of who you are as an artist and a creative business, my work is to help you shine the light ever brighter, both today and towards tomorrow. Even more, my work is to help you ignore yesterday as it no longer matters if you choose to shine differently and brighter today.

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