You’re a Creative and you know that in order to be happy you must build a viable career as such. For you, this could mean something “practical” like a freelance service such as commercial photography, graphic design or a corporate functions band. Or you might be sticking to your guns and trying to figure out how you can make it as a “pure” artist: perhaps a sculptor, a jazz soloist, or a writer of literature.
This means you have to build a real business around your creative talents. Trouble is, sometimes that feels like exactly the kind of thing you were trying to avoid by being creative in the first place.
The Art of Practical Creativity
I know the feeling. I am both a “practical” and a “pure” Creative. I have a career as a creative marketing freelancer, which involves writing copy, creating content (blog posts, visual content) and making websites for my business clients. I also am a compulsive musician and writer, a maker of “art for art’s sake”. I intend to get back to selling more of these creations too, but for now my commercial focus is on the marketing output.
Via my “practical creativity”, I have avoided the dreaded day job for 5 years now, through lean times and fat, and this has had everything to do with tenacity. Yet despite my firm resolve and work ethic, I often struggle because I do not naturally enjoy thinking “inside the box”. I would rather dream a little dream and strum on my guitar thanks very much.
My wise Uncle Tony, a dreadlocked music-freak extraordinaire, once very quotably said that this is because “people become musicians because they want to drop out, not drop in”. This is pretty accurate: Creatives become Creatives because we are, at heart, escapists who want to fly away on a magic cloud of sparkle dust, not spend our days with our noses thrust to the grindstone (or towards a spreadsheet, as it were).
No Business Savvy, No Creative Career
But needs must. No business savvy, no creative career; off to work for the man you go. Nothing like a cubical to bring it all back home.
Or you can find ways to stay inspired about business. Here’s three ways that I think about business to stay inspired when I’m finding it all dreadfully dreary and oppressive. Maybe they will help you too:
1. Business as an Animal
Sometimes the need for money just leaves me cold. I have no passion for money in and of itself. But when I think of my business as an animal, and money as oxygen for the animal, it makes more sense to me.
Without oxygen, the organism dies. So the animal needs to breathe. “Breathing” in this case, means attracting revenue. I don’t want my poor animal to die, so I focus on money for a bit so that the furry critter I have created can go about the things it really loves to do. Of course the ultimate goal is for the animal to be able to breathe independently of my daily efforts, i.e. for the business to make money without my daily input.
2. Business as a Band
Spreadsheets, meetings and budgets might bore me silly, but the idea of standing in front of a crowd of people, authentically expressing myself as I really am? Call me a show pony, but that appeals to me. So recently I’ve been finding that if I treat building my business as if I am putting together an awesome band, it’s a lot more fun for me.
When you’re in a band, you don’t try to do everything. You choose your instrument and you leave the other stuff to the other people in the band. If you’re the guitarist, you leave the keyboard to someone else. If you’re the drummer, you leave the vocals to the singer (unless you’re Phil Collins).
I have always been the front man of whatever bands I have been in. I never saw the appeal of hiding behind the drums. However, other people prefer these roles, just to the side of the limelight. So this is how I see myself now, as the singer of the-band-that-is-my-business.
I don’t try and play all the “instruments” (graphic design, bookkeeping, etc.), I leave that to other people “in the band” and get on with what I like to do and do best, which is to directly communicate with the “audience” in an authentic way.
3. Business as a Masterpiece
I recently heard Derek Sivers, of CDBaby fame, describe his business as a masterpiece. He said he got to a point where he felt it was finished, or at least that he was finished with creating it and needed to set it free.
I have always liked that about music, that you get to a point where the recording is “finished” (in so much as these things ever are) and you put it out there into the world and let it go. Then, if it’s any good, it takes its place in the hearts and lives of those people who discover and become fans of the masterpieces you’ve created. I know, because they write and tell me, that a load of people are still listening to music I made with my friends back in the mid ‘90s. That blows my mind, because we set those labours of love free a loooong time ago, but they live on.
I like this idea of thinking of my current business as a masterpiece, that I won’t have to be making it forever. While I am making it, it takes extreme dedication, finding and creating all the elements needed to make it “just so”, chipping away at the marble block, removing what “isn’t David”. But at some point it is going to be done, and it won’t need me anymore. Or maybe, one day, I will be done with it, and put it aside “unfinished”. That’s ok too; artists don’t always finish their work. Sometimes a work is just a step on the journey towards the real masterpiece.
So when the grind seems a bit arduous, and I have to do things I don’t feel like doing, I think of the business as a whole, as a single creation. I visualise it as something that will, when it’s cooked, be a thing of great simplicity and beauty, but that will not get created without fastidious attention to the fiddly details and a lot of hard work, just like any painting, album or novel worth its salt.