In the last episode of 5 Minutes on Creative Entrepreneurship I talked about the maximum earning potential for creative entrepreneurs. While creatives don’t go into business to make a killing, we still want to be well compensated for the value we deliver to clients. But while making good money from our work is great, that’s not the only reason we’re in this business. We’re drawn to creative entrepreneurship because we love the work, as well as whatever financial rewards it might deliver. But when we combine our love for the creative process with the realities of running a business, that joy can soon turn into sinking grief.
Creative entrepreneurs are often victims of their own success. Once we accept a project we get drawn into the work, and we’re driven to maximize the potential of every opportunity, regardless of a project’s budget constraints. Another way of putting it—we chronically overdeliver. This makes our clients thrilled, but it always shaves away our profitability. Thrilled clients lead to great word of mouth, delivering more clients with low budgets and high expectations. And we repeat the cycle to our own detriment.
Most other businesses don’t suffer from this problem. A contractor builds houses based on a buyer’s budget. They don’t add extra floors or additional bathrooms just because they think it will make for a better house. Creatives need to learn how to operate by business constraints. If we don’t, all joy we have in being creators will soon be drained by financial pressures, mounting deadlines, and impossible client demands.
When creative entrepreneurs treat the business side of creativity as an afterthought, or push business matters to the side because they don’t like dealing with them, they end up creating the very problems that end up undermining their joy in the work they love.
Creatives avoid business tasks because they enjoy the creative part so much more, but long term neglect of business fundamentals will end up eroding the pleasure of creative entrepreneurship. If creatives would only embrace the business side of their work, and master business fundamentals, this would end up securing and preserving the parts they love.
I’ve been walking the path of creative entrepreneurship for over thirty years. The first decade of my experience was typical of most. I loved the work but dreaded dealing with cash flow, talking to my accountant, struggling with payroll, and keeping projects on track and on budget. I hated having to balance my checkbook and forecast revenue. But when I reflect on all the struggles of those early years, I can trace most of them to mistakes that were entirely avoidable, if only I had known how to manage my business properly, and if I had given regular attention to these matters.
A well run creative practice creates an environment where creativity can thrive and the creative process can bear the most fruit. A chaotic and stressed out business environment kills creativity. So do yourself a favor, and start building basic business disciplines into your creative practice. Learn how to manage your books and your cash flow. Get control of your projects and schedules. Cultivate the skill of accurate estimating. And make sure your marketing is delivering sufficient opportunities to keep your engine humming.
If you want to kill the joy killers that are undermining your creative practice, but don’t know where to start, pick up a copy of my book, Blazing the Freelance Trail, Professional Practices for Creative Entrepreneurs. In it I introduce you to the main aspects of the creative business model: your money, minutes, marketing and management and I walk you through some new tools and processes you’ll need to run a successful creative practice.
You can find Blazing the Freelance Trail on Amazon in print, Kindle, and audio. Make that investment in your business, and your business will preserve the joy of creativity that got you into this career in the first place.
Until next week: don’t let the business of creativity overwhelm your creative business.