The Three Changes That Matter

by seanlow on October 26, 2017

None of you sell the thing you create.  No creative business does.  You sell the process of creating the thing.  The experience, the journey, the story of creation matters far more than the thing.

Lauren Grove wrote this post about the death of the wedding industry last week.  She could just as easily been writing about interior design, fashion, photography, just about every industry in creative business.  I will not comment on Lauren’s argument or whether her solution is accurate or not.  What I will say is that it begs the wrong question.  The very notion that you cannot tell the difference between good art and great art is a fast and easy way to overgeneralize and therefore excuse the hard work of saying, “I made this for you.  People like you buy, use, engage things/services/people like this.  I did not make it for these people and that is ok, they are not my people.” Huge nod to Seth Godin here.

If someone can “side hustle” her way into competing with you who have chosen to do it for a living, it has nothing to do with price, it has everything to do with the notion that your creative business “losing” to the side player is doing everything to hide.  Contract looks the same, website looks the same, services same.  Take pictures away and you cannot tell the difference among businesses.  It is just not good enough.  Not that it ever was mind you, but living in the shadows is easy when the light sucks.  When there is nothing but light in the digital age, there is no place to hide.  Stand for something or, rightfully, go away.

The three changes all of us can and must insist on, then, are entirely based on the last sentence.

To stand for something you must: 1) know what that something is and why it matters to both you and your client; 2) how that something drives you and your creative business to do what you do and how you go about doing it; and 3) your willingness to ignore anyone who does not appreciate (i.e., highly value and pay for) 1) and 2).

What that something is is your design statement — what kind of art do you create and why do you create it.  Listen to Rick Bayless talk about Mexican food — how steeped he is in the culture, history, geography of Mexico and how it fuels him to honor the tradition in his cooking and yet make it his own.  The passion, vision, education, experience of the artist matters.  Nobody ever should be allowed to say “I like to create pretty things” ever, ever again.  If you are willing to take a client’s money to create art for them, they deserve to know what you do matters most to you as an artist first, business second.

Your vision as an artist then dictates everything your business will do — how much you will work, what you need to get paid, when you need to get paid to do it, and, of course, how much you need to produce your best work.  This is value delivery.  Get paid when you deliver the value YOU care about.  Getting paid can be dollars or it can be a decision or it can be both.  There is no one size fits all and if you do not understand the value you wish to offer and to who, no method of payment will work.

The last change is most important.  If you are willing to compromise 1) and 2), then you have nothing.  The reason is profound to me and hugely insulting to all potential and actual clients.  If you say yes to everyone, then you really do not care about anyone because everyone is the right one.

The idea that everyone is the “right” one belies the very definition of what is to be human — our innate desire to express ourselves as separate, individual, unique.  While we may listen to, wear, read, watch similar things, we are not the same.  Each of us matters as the very person we are.  We may care generally, but we love specifically.  The art you create and the creative business you run are the very embodiment of the best of us as humans, our essence to be, well, us.  Not them.  Us.  A celebration our our own individuality.

So no compromise to 1) and 2).  Ever.  That said, only yes on your terms, never no.  As artists and creative business owners, you must have faith that your art will transform those who you create it for as you set about the journey of creating it.  While you need not be your clients to create amazing work for them, you must be able to empathize with them, to attempt to see what they see and believe that your art is what will fill the need they most desire.  What it means is that yes on your terms actually sings the song of those that can most see themselves in what that yes represents.  You must ignore the rest.

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