It’s practically a dirty word in creative circles, and I would be the first to agree. I never had the slightest interest in business – or making money – for that matter. Then I grew up (a little) and realized that I like to eat. Therefore, money did occasionally come in handy. Furthermore, I realized that if I needed money for essentials like food and books, I might as well get paid to do what I love.
However, creative-based businesses are an unusual animal. They tend to dislike playing by the rules as much as their owners/creators. How can you start on the right foot in your creative business so you can keep creating what you love?
Since co-founding an independent press almost four years ago and launching my own freelance fiction-editing business last year, I’ve picked up a few insights.
It’s not just about the product. You’re selling more than a product. You’re selling an experience – the way a person feels when they read your stories, hang your painting on their walls, or tuck their child’s hand-picked daisies into your pottery jug. Make it an experience they’ll want to revisit over and over.
Your business should look different. Healthy creative businesses operate differently than standard corporate environments. There is an ebb-and-flow to creative work that may not be conducive to a 9-5 routine. That’s okay. Find what works for you, a creative workflow that balances productivity and creative space.
Passion is everything. Unlike corporate business, you will not succeed in creative business without passion. Whether you’re selling organic coffee, jewelry, art, music, or great books, you are sharing what you love with the world–and helping them fall in love with it too.
Passion isn’t everything. Passion will keep the train steaming along, but it won’t get far without the rails. Many creatives fail in business not because they lack potential, but because they go full steam ahead without laying the groundwork that will support the business and keep it running smoothly. Do your research and your paperwork, exchange favors with an accountant friend, and make sure your business has a solid foundation.
Your product isn’t your product. Your product is you. Your authentic creative voice is what makes your art unique and sets you apart from the crowd. Your customers buy your products because they’ve connected with your or your art in some way. Don’t be afraid to show what makes you special and unique.
Know what you do – and what you don’t. It’s better to have a very specific audience or customer base. Focusing your efforts helps you stand out from the crowd and appeal to those with shared passions. Don’t be afraid to say no to good opportunities so you’ll have the capacity to say yes to the best options.
Never stop learning. Many creatives get caught in the business side and productivity and forget to take time to keep improving their craft. Collaborating with other professionals, taking on new creative projects, or mastering new skills makes sure you stay inspired and your work remains fresh.
Pursue excellence. Notice I didn’t say pursue perfection. Strive for excellence in your craft, but don’t let perfectionism stop you from taking risks or trying new concepts. Many creatives struggle with the desire to make their work perfect before sharing it with the world, a tendency which, ironically, keeps them from reaching their full potential.
Network. A popular catch phrase among business elites, networking is a big, scary, ambiguous word for most introverted creatives. It brings to mind visions of cocktail hour and stilted small talk with strangers. Relax. Think of it in terms of connecting with communities of individuals who share your passion. Everyone has their tribe–you just have to find yours!
Be you. Believe you have something to contribute, because you do. I firmly believe every person, every creative, has something beautiful and unique and wonderful to bring to the world. You are no exception. Learn from others, but don’t fall into the trap of comparison. There’s truly no one around “who’s you-er than you.”
See? That wasn’t so bad. You can do this. What small steps can you take in the right direction today? This week?