Creatives Are Businesses and Businesses Need Structure
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second half of an editorial by Caro Diaz, founder and owner of Inkaprint, about “The Business of Creativity.” Read the first half here.]
Creatives can make great business people if there is a structure in place. That’s not always a popular notion. Many creatives just want to “be creatives.” But, if you’re using your creativity to pay the bills, you don’t have that luxury.
Being serious about your business comes from the same place as being driven by your creative skills. As creatives, we are passionate souls ready to go all-in into our work. Forget about the stereotype that creatives are not good business people because it is not valid. In fact, it’s destructive. It holds us back.
Learning the Basics
Learning basic business principles lets your clients know that you are to be taken as seriously as you take them seriously.
It shows your commitment and adds value to your offerings. Having a strong business structure that is understandable and reliable builds trust between you and your client and leaves less room for mistakes.
Invest time and money learning how to run a business. And, be prepared to pay for it. You expect to be paid for your services, right? Get to know:
- Fellow working creatives in your city
- An accountant (Ask questions about registering your business name, taxes and invoices early in the process. You do not want any problems with the IRS.)
- A lawyer (You’re going to need a standard contract.)
- Organizations focused on creative businesses (Take, for instance, the Graphic Artist Guilds.)
- Business classes — Here some local resources for you to get started:
There are many more sources, but these are ones I have found useful.
You Are Your Brand
In plain English, a brand is your identity. Your brand is the way others will recognize you before they actually have worked with you. I call it a virtual handshake.
Your brand is often developed over time, but you can start with the basics:
- Have a logo/mark or signature. (But don’t confuse a logo with a brand. They’re not the same. A logo is a part of your brand. YOU are your brand.)
- Develop a digital identity; by that, I mean have a website and/or social media channels that reflect who you are as a business. NOTE: It is always best to separate business accounts from personal accounts.
- Create a consistent voice; be reliable.
Think about how and where potential clients can reach you. On social? Over email? Phone number? Clients are not the only audience you have through your public communication. You’re speaking to supporters, future partners and/or people who might refer business to you. Communicating professionally to each audience is also part of your brand and reputation.
Think about what you share on social and how it will contribute to building that vision of personal branding you have in mind.
If it doesn’t benefit your brand, think twice or three times about posting it. In fact, always think twice about what you post.
In short, the way you make your brand is by thinking about how others perceive you before they actually get to meet you. Show them who you are over and over and over again. Show them what they’ll get when they work with you.
Most importantly, don’t pretend to be someone or something you’re not. That falls apart quickly. The truth — the essence of who you are — is always easy to remember.
Get It in Writing, Because Words Are Gone with the Wind
Always start new projects with contracts that define what you will deliver to the client, what the client will do in return and what everyone’s responsibilities are.
No matter how trustworthy your client is, it’s still best to get it in writing. Words may be meant at the time, but betrayed quickly by memory and circumstance.
Specify pricing, deadlines, types of deliverables, cancelation terms and how you will respond when special conditions such as COVID happen. Last year proved that anything is possible, so expectations, contingencies and how to resolve misunderstandings and conflicts are part of the mutual agreement between you and your client.
You may feel “icky” at first, especially when doing business with friends, but it’s better than being angry, hurt and underpaid — or unpaid! — at the end.
Show Me the Money
Here’s the one that may keep you up at night.
How can I fund my business? Where can I find financial resources? How do I keep this going? How much should I charge? How much can I afford to take risks?
These are tough questions. They’re questions I still ask myself every day. And, the answers change constantly. But you must ask them.
I’m not trying to scare you. On the contrary. I want you to trust yourself. I want you to build your business and take creative leaps. But, I want you to do it for a long time and sustain yourself. That means making sure you know how to make money.
Besides collecting payments from your clients, you can look for grants or participate in competitions that could support you financially.
I am not a fan of loans. I prefer to save and invest little by little. From each payment I collect, I invest 10% to save for tools, equipment or classes I need to take to improve my skills. This is a hard discipline, but — over time — you will find yourself debt-free and with enough resources to sustain your creative business more healthily.
Be True to Your Creativity
Running any business — and especially a creative one — is not for the faint of heart, but it’s worth it.
Knowledge is power. I hope my experiences help you pursue your passion wisely and guide you on the journey of becoming a successful creative in business.
More About Caro Diaz
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