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Is there a secret to a happy existence as a creative business owner? Well the answer, as always is yes... no... and a little bit of maybe!
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Is there a secret to a happy existence as a creative business owner? Well the answer, as always is yes… no… and a little bit of maybe. So let’s talk – welcome to The Positive Creatives!
Hello there! I’m Adam! Welcome if you’re new and welcome back if you’re a positive creative regular!
I’ve had a great week and I hope you have too. Last Tuesday I met up with a good friend for a coffee in Manchester. It was so nice to have some social contact again in real life, even if it was from a suitable social distance.
We talked about a whole load of nerdy photography stuff, did some walking around, took a couple of photos and we also chatted a bit about some business plans we both have for this year.
I’ve avoided talking about business on here until now, but I’m going to dip my toe in that murky water today for you and tell you what I believe to be the fundamentals of a creative business where creativity is the reason you’re in business.
I say that because I do know some people who got into a creative business because they thought they could make money from it. So in those cases business is the reason they’re in business.
But I think for most of the creative people I know, they started off doing the thing for fun… then it became a proper hobby, then an expensive hobby, and then people started wanting to pay you for it, and you ended up in business… or self employed… or full time freelance whatever you want to call it. Or even part time. This doesn’t necessarily only apply to people who are full time creative business people.
So yeah that was me – I bought a camera, became obsessed with it, then started wanting to buy better lenses and better cameras and more lenses and more cameras and eventually I ended up in business and it needed to pay my bills and feed my family.
Fortunately it’s now done that for me for a decade and in that time I’ve learned how to run a business around my creativity and with creativity as a constant priority, so in this episode I wanted to share how I do that, and some of the times I’ve been tripped up along the way where business has got in the way of creativity.
I was going to call this episode the secret to a positive creative business but I realised that’s clickbait and I’m not here to make clickbait.
I’m going to tell you the secret.
Even though it’s not a secret.
The secret though, is this. Certainly as far as I’m concerned.
The goal of my creative business isn’t to make me money.
It’s to protect me from having to go back to a real job and a boss. I just need enough money from it to keep me doing it.
I’ll explain don’t worry.
Here’s a story about the moment I knew I needed to control my own life. At this time I was a very keen part time photographer. I’d gone through all those phases I talked about before – obsession into hobby, into expensive hobby, into business. But I still had my full time 9 to 5 day job, and a boss.
I was never very good at the whole having a boss thing. I don’t think many creatives are!
Anyway so I’ve been trying to build my business to the point it could replace my guaranteed salary before making the leap and quitting my job.
But one day my baby boy was poorly. He was too poorly to go to the very expensive day nursery we paid to look after him for 50 hours a week while we worked. I think if you’re listening outside the UK, it’s known as day care…
Anyway, so he’s poorly and so I take 3 days off work to look after him until he’s well enough to go back, at which point I go back to work.
The first thing I had to do was go into a meeting with my boss AND his boss, and explain why I’d had three days off.
It turns out looking after my poorly baby wasn’t a reason they loved. They thought maybe I was being over-protective or maybe I could’ve found someone else to look after him so I could go to work and do my job.
You know in a movie when someone is being talked to but they kind of dull the sound to make it obvious the person being talked at isn’t really hearing what’s being said past a certain point? That was me in this situation.
In my head I was saying ‘you have to get out of here… it’s time to be a photographer… you need to make that work…’ but the other extremely cautious inner voice was saying ‘no but you don’t make enough money from it yet, it’s nowhere near your salary’ and the other voice was saying ‘you should definitely punch these dudes in the face right now’.
Anyway I didn’t punch anyone. I’m a pacifist.
But at that moment I realised I needed to escape the glamorous world of database analysis and programming, and make my creative business work.
So I remind myself of this all the time. I take myself back to that moment when I’m getting carried away, and working too much, or placing too much emphasis on the amount of money my creative business makes.
I remind myself I run my creative business because one day two corporate douche bags told me I shouldn’t have had three days off work to care for my baby boy.
He’s nearly 13 now. Crazy.
So that’s kind of my first fundamental rule of a happy creative business. Remember why you started it.
It wasn’t to make six figures like all the instagram influencers tell you is important.
It wasn’t because I wanted to build a huge social media following.
It wasn’t for any reason – for me by the way, and your reason will be different to mine. It wasn’t for any reason other than to give me some control of my life.
So at that point I quit my job and two months later I suddenly had to run a business.
I’d been having fun up to that point. Anything I earned was spent on new equipment or stuff for the business. It was just a lot of pocket money.
But now I had to make some money like we all do if we’re going to live a full time creative life.
And this is where my next fundamental rule or a happy creative business comes in, and it’s to remind yourself this:
You created this business. You crafted it and made it what it is. You’re in total control of it. So anything you don’t like about your business can be changed. Anything.
I speak to so many people who find elements of their creative business annoying or tedious. As if somehow it can’t be changed.
There are no elements of my business I don’t like. Because I know that if there’s something I don’t like I have two choices. Well maybe three. But I’ll tell you the two first, and then we’ll talk about the third:
The first choice I have is to not do it. This applies usually to things that we do ‘because it’s what the client demands’. So elements of ‘the job’ and I say that in inverted commas, elements of ‘the job’ which we have to do it a way we don’t like because, well, that’s what clients want or demand or need or whatever.
And yeah… I believed that for a long time too. For around 2 years after going full time I tried to do wedding photography the way I was told was the way it had to be done, and honestly I wasn’t loving it.
I felt there were loads of these things that clients want or demand or need, which just didn’t sit well with me, my personality type, or how I wanted my photography to look and feel.
It kind of links back in with last week’s episode about the taste gap. I’d fallen into trying to make work which was totally at odds with my own taste, because that’s what clients want.
It wasn’t until someone told me that it doesn’t need to be this way, that I snapped out of it and started really crafting my business and my approach and the way I worked to suit me first, and then the clients had to fit into that rather than the other way round.
And from that point on I made sure that if there was something in my business where I was choosing to do it because it’s apparently what clients wanted, but I didn’t like it, I changed it or I stopped it.
So that’s the first choice – if you don’t want to do something that’s effectively optional, stop doing it.
The second choice I have is to get someone else to do it. Outsourcing, delegation, whatever you want to call it. If you don’t want to do it but it has to be done then find someone else to do it.
You’ll be able to find someone to take on almost any task in your business that you don’t want to do. Accounting, responding to emails, posting on your social media, running your advertising, graphic design, copywriting, blog posts… honestly anything.
It’s why I don’t understand when people share those memes which say like ‘what people think I do’ and in my case it’d be a happy photographer taking a photo of a couple… and then below it’s ‘what I really do’ and it’s the same person drowning in paperwork in a dark room in front of a computer screen looking glum.
All this stuff. This non-creative stuff which drags you down or you don’t enjoy or you aren’t good at or you don’t want to learn, someone else can do it for you. And yeah you’ll have to pay but it will free up a load of your time, and make you happier, and make you feel more creative and turn you into the first person in that meme who spends 90% of their time being creative.
So that’s your second option – find someone else to do it.
Option one – stop doing it.
Option two for the things you can’t not do – find someone else to do it or help you with it at least.
I said there’s a third option. And I’m only mentioning this because I’m a massive nerd.
Option three is automation.
It overlaps with option two in a lot of ways, and it applies whenever something is repetitive and tedious. And in those cases I ask myself can a computer do this for me?
Examples here would be boring admin things like raising invoices, posting on all my social media whenever I publish a blog post, backing up my important files and lots of other things.
And automation has never ever been easier than it is these days. With websites like IFTTT (which stands for if that then this) and Zapier, lots of computery things can be automated just with basic drag and drop. You don’t need to be a coder or a technical wizard any more.
So that’s the second big fundamental rule of a happy creative business for me.
Remember you created this business and you are in total control of everything within that business. If you don’t like it, change it.
Rule one was remember why you started it, and rule two is remember you have control of everything within it.
These rules have worked for me over the years. They’ve pulled me back when I’m focusing on things that are unimportant or moaning about things I don’t like. And they keep me in a place where I’m not wanting to do anything else for the foreseeable future.
I really feel like I’m being creative the vast majority of the time with only a small amount of time being spent on business admin. My clients love what they get, even though I do it the way I do it to suit me and not them. I’m very clear with them that I do it the way I do it, and if that’s not for them I refer them along to one of my photographer friends.
So that’s the secret, well the secrets, I think, to a happy creative business.
And none of it is about money or fans or likes or attention. It’s about the fundamentals of realising you became a creative to be a creative, and knowing that success in business is being afforded the opportunity to keep being a creative so you don’t have to answer to corporate robots. Well that’s my personal success anyway. And being able to spend your days doing whatever the heck you want!
And if you don’t like it, change it. Or work towards changing it.
Ok that’s it for this week but before I go I’ll give you my listen, read and watch recommendations…
LISTEN – this week is one of my favourite albums of all time containing probably my favourite song of all time, top 5 for sure anyway. The album is Songs for Silverman by Ben Folds, and the track is Landed.
READ – It’s an article which actually popped up just as I was sitting down to write my notes for this episode, and it’s called “what if reading is a distraction?” and it’ll probably take you 60 seconds to read but it will make you think. And yes, I see the irony here.
WATCH – It’s a movie called The Peanut Butter Falcon. You can thank me later. Just watch it.
Okay you wonderful creative soul. Go forth and do something positive and creative. If you’re new here, please go and have a listen to some more of my bitesize episodes and I will see you next time here on The Positive Creatives.