Should you turn your creative practice into a business?
Recently I was reading a creative business marketing blog, and the author was talking about two different styles of creative worker. The ideas are equally as relevant to any entrepreneur or business owner as they are to working artists.
The two styles were either super focused on one thing, or someone who works on multiple projects and streams.
As someone who in recent years has tended to be the second, it has been hard for me to accept the message that the most successful people from a business or professional perspective have been those who have laser like focus on one thing at a time – taking a project, or income stream, from genesis to fruition before starting on the next big idea. Yet I keep hearing it.
The first answer to the question is “only IF you are prepared to focus on your business”.
What is success?
This question has very different answers for me depending on what part of my life I am discussing.
My professional life is one of Design – using my artistic skills to solve someone else’s problem – while my personal practice is Art – stemming from my own internal desire to express creativity. I was single minded while working, but enjoyed playing around with many projects between jobs.
When I was working in theater or the film business, I had a very single minded focus on completing the job at hand. I learned early on that trying to work on too many projects concurrently meant that none received sufficient attention for excellence.
Professionally success meant excellence, kudos, and repeat business or testimonials.
In my personal creative practice success is more measured by enjoyment of the process, the journey to self-knowledge, and my gradual measurable improvement in the skills of creative expression.
The second answer is “IF you are ready to direct your creative impulses in service of your business”.
Challenges of self discipline.
1. Maintaining Focus
>One of the reasons I chose to walk away from my film career and give my full attention to my new family was my understanding of my own inability to leave work at work. I find film and theater design emotionally engrossing, and worrying, contemplating, solving problems would continue to distract my mind from things like parenting or conversations with my husband.
However, since separating from my professional life in film and theater, the personal and professional have blurred. Most of the work I do creatively is designed for public consumption and sale. Or to put it another way, I try to monetize all my endeavors – even if it is only the extent that the art becomes self supporting.
But my problem is that I have too many! Some ideas fizzled quickly – like custom scrapbooking, which was easy to let go. However the more painful choice I have made recently is to give much less attention to my art dolls. I continue to work on ongoing doll figures gently, especially commissions or gifts – more than a hobby, but less than a serious business concern. I want to share my dolls with the world so they are for sale. But the truth is that they are a luxury item. Time consuming one-of-a kind art works are rarely the primary income source for any artist – except perhaps architects! The couture is the art; the perfumes and handbags are the bread and butter.
“I love Prada. Not so much the clothes, which are for malnourished thirteen-year-olds, but I covet, with covety covetousness, the shoes and handbags. Like, I LOVE them. If I was given a choice between world peace and a Prada handbag, I’d dither. (I’m not proud of this, I’m only saying.)” ~ Marian Keyes
That’s another test – are you willing to persevere, even through times without apparent progress?
Other projects, mostly concerned with writing and sharing my knowledge, do have the potential to bring me professional success. That is where I have to keep my focus.
2. Lessening Distractions
If you are like me your studio is in your home. There is a wealth of information at various work-from-home blogs about ways to make it clear to other people that this is work time, and that just because you are at home doesn’t mean you are available to chit chat. So I’m not going to talk about those tricks. (Not one single one has ever worked for me other than refraining from answering the phone sometimes.)
The distractions I mean are those from within your arts practice – the sudden urge to sew something instead of writing, a new idea that keeps on intruding into your thoughts, the great technique you just saw on that video linked to the intriguing email.
“The scholar’s greatest weakness: calling procrastination research.” ~ Stephen King
It’s tough. I’m not good at ignoring ideas when they pop into my head. So I recommend pausing to make a note – but not going into detail – and getting the idea or plan into a keeper file format of some kind. Jot it down in a journal or sketchbook – make your book small enough that filling a page is a quick activity. Or use the audio memo feature on your phone to get the idea out of your mind.
3. Mental Compartmentalizing
As a home schooling family my daughter needs my attention at all kinds of times. I learnt through practice to switch mental gears. Moving my attention from my engrossing writing project to whatever she wants to show me, can be wrenching. But the sooner I help her, the sooner I can return to my work. It’s has become easier as she has aged.
Recent creativity enhancement studies have shown that taking a break from heavily creative mental activity to engage in something repetitive, simple and relatively mindless – eg folding laundry, sorting blocks by color, brushing the dolly’s hair – results in a renewed burst of enhanced creativity after the break.
I will also save some of the physical realization of a project (having done the designing earlier) for times when we are hanging out together.
4. Willingness to do the Business part
Talk about mental compartmentalizing – it’s a whole other skillset to consider the marketing, bookkeeping, legalities and tax consequences of running a creative business. Luckily there are lots of tools to help from Turbotax software, to time recording apps, to project planning downloads and apps like WorkFlowy.
Here is my Paper Li paper about small business marketing practices. There is so much available out there. I tend to spend more time reading than I should, but officially I have set aside 4 hours one day a week for what I am calling “professional development” where I learn about marketing, sales, and listen to webinars.
**May 2018 Update** I don’t think that the four hours method worked very well for me. For one thing, webinars are all over the calendar, and are often much shorter. What has worked is incorporating listening to TED talks, podcasts and YouTube videos on my morning walks. When something strikes me as really useful information, I make a note of it. If I am taking an actual course, (eg EdX or Lynda.com) then I do some every day until it is finished.
5. Ability to turn off the Business part.
Yes Facebook, that means you.
Marketing can be so much fun that you get lost in it and allow it to become a tool for procrastination.
“Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone” ~ Pablo Picasso
My answer is scheduling, timers and then keeping track of actual time – when I do that I’m productive. When I make my best guess, I suddenly find it’s Tuesday and I haven’t made my Monday blog post.
**May 2018 Update** I now have an annual editorial calendar pre-planned. Now I write blog posts in chunks and schedule them way ahead of time, so I can focus my work time on project creation, Try-It Tuesday ideas, and other writing. More on that here.