Many creatives have dreams to grow their practices. Part-time freelancers dream of going full time. Full-time freelancers dream of building long-term stable careers. Some ambitious creatives desire to establish their own growing firm.
Growing any business is hard work. But the creative business model is particularly challenging. Not only because of inherent difficulties, but also because most creative entrepreneurs lack the business training and advisory resources that other kinds of startup founders can access.
One of the barriers that often prevent creatives from achieving that next level of growth is the downward pull of ignoring opportunity costs.
Why Opportunity Costs Stifle Growth
Whenever you take on a project there are costs involved. Larger projects require the participation of a number of distinct skills. If you were to produce a lengthy video, for example, you would need to involve light and sound specialists, producers, title designers, animators, and others. Budgeting a project like that would require you to assemble a range of estimates. These are all costs that factor into such an opportunity.
But even if you’re not involved in a large project like that, smaller projects that you can execute entirely on your own still involve a cost: the cost of your time. And that cost, while softer than hard costs like contractors, or materials, is still a real cost. When you close on a new project you owe that time, and once sold, you can’t sell it to someone else. Nor can you use it for your own purposes.
Investing Time in Growth
Growing a creative practice requires a significant time investment, particularly in your marketing. Building a marketing platform gives you control over new business, enabling you to find great clients that will pay you what you’re worth. But if you’ve already sold most of your time, at rates that only allow you to subsist rather than grow, when will you find the time to make real progress?
It’s a bit of a catch-22. You need better clients that pay better so that you can afford to devote more time to the business itself. But until you spend that time, you get forced into tight cash flow situations that motivate you to take on yet more underpriced work.
How To End the Opportunity Cost Cycle
You need to break out of the cycle of selling all your time at rates that don’t permit room for growth. Breaking the cycle will not work itself out over time. If you don’t change something fundamental, that next level of growth will always be just out of reach.
Growing a business—any business—involves risk and sacrifice. This is inevitable. At a basic level, until you start seeing results from time investments you make in marketing, you’re just going to have to spend extra hours. Startup founders of all kinds have to endure the early days of growing by the sweat of their brow. But you can’t keep a startup pace forever. Worse, you don’t want to waste all that extra energy by working hard in the wrong direction.
And so when you are ready to make that leap, and pour your energy into growing a business that will provide rewards for your future, make sure you spend it on the right things.
Time for a Shameless Plug
I wrote my book, Blazing the Freelance Trail, exactly for the purpose of guiding early-stage creative entrepreneurs as they move from part-time freelance to full-time, or full-time into a small firm. Likewise, my podcast, 5 Minutes on Creative Entrepreneurship, charts out what the path to growth looks like for a creative.
While these resources can’t do the heavy lifting for you, they can ensure that when you start pouring out your effort, and taking those risks, that you’re investing them the right way.
And if you need personal guidance, I’m just a phone call away.