Creative entrepreneurs frequently suffer from feast or famine cycles. You either have way too much work or not enough. The one thing that you can count on, as a creative entrepreneur is that your new business pipeline will never be smooth and steady. Fixing the famine problem is what effective marketing is all about. But how do you fix the feast problem? Granted that’s always a better problem than the alternative, but it is still a real problem. And if you have not thought through how you might respond to an extended feast season, what may at first seem like a dream come true—could soon turn into the nightmare you never expected.
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Creatives often enter onto the path of entrepreneurship by accident. Our motivations are usually to just find creative opportunities—we aren’t thinking from the start about how to build a profitable business. Creative passion, a bit of hustle, combined with talent, and perhaps a bit of luck often lead creatives to success. But since their overall business model was never designed from the get go to maximize profits, this new fuel for growth may end up like a failed rocket launch—sending them careening and crashing in spectacular fashion.
In order to prevent launch failure you need to think through how you’ll handle growth before you hit that moment.
The first thing you need to consider is whether or not you want to grow in the first place. Often creatives feel the pressure to add more clients and projects, not because they’re aiming at growing a firm, but simply because they need more revenue. Such a situation indicates that the real issue is profitability, not capacity. If you find yourself quite busy, but always facing cash flow problems, you don’t need more work—you need better paying work. One of the reasons you need to get control over your marketing is so that the laws of supply and demand will work in your favor. Allowing you to be more selective in picking your clients—favoring those that are willing to pay you what you’re worth.
Another reason you need to maximize your profits, by controlling your marketing, is that if you do hire help, you’ll be facing a huge business challenge that all young businesses face—the challenge of step costs. That first employee you hire comes with a huge step cost. While working at 130% capacity on your own can feel overwhelming, and is overwhelming, 130% is not enough volume for two staff. Not to mention that adding another person comes with its own overhead of onboarding, training, and communicating details that previously you handled internally—thus far more efficiently than you’ll be able to now that you must hand things off to another person.
And here’s the kicker, if you’ve been pushed into hiring simply because you fell into a feast cycle, and you had not yet achieved significant profitability—you did it accidentally, not by deliberate and controlled marketing—you’ll now be in a situation where you need to maintain an even higher level of new business than before, to support two people. But if you have not already factored into your time that necessary 20% for marketing, how will you ever find that time now that you have more work to do, and an employee to manage?
Soon you’ll find yourself doing more management and business development than you’ll be doing creative work. If this was your plan, to become the owner operator of a business whose service happenes to be a creative product, that’s fine—but if you’re just reacting to an extended feast cycle, you’ll start to resent the loss of creative work—having exchanged it for business administration. And your next thought will be to hire a business manager, or account manager, or a new business person—adding yet one more level of overhead. If you make the wrong hire that epic crash will be right around the corner. And if you haven’t been able to figure out your marketing by yourself, what makes you sure that you’ll be able to know how to hire someone else to do it for you?
This is why it’s essential that you learn how to control your marketing well before you stumble into success. You must control your marketing in order to control your profits. And you must control your profits in order to control your time, and especially to control your growth.
Until next week: don’t let the business of creativity overwhelm your creative business.