If someone says “Treat your creative practice like a business,” chances are, you probably shudder a little. Why?
Well, we’re all implicitly taught one specific concept of “business,” and it generally looks like Gordon Gekko in Wall Street or Alec Baldwin’s “Coffee’s for closers” speech in Glengarry Glen Ross. You know: guys in fancy suits with cigars, shaking hands, signing papers, and stabbing each other in the back.
With that image percolating in your brain, of course you wouldn’t want to consider yourself a business owner. You’re a nice person! You’re trying to make the world a better place! You’re just making funny videos once a week–that’s not a business.
If I were you, I’d rethink that. Here’s why.
What is a business, really?
At its core, a business is a structure where you provide goods and/or services, and receive money in exchange. But especially in today’s digital economy, it doesn’t have to be as straightforward as you selling a physical product like shoes or candles.
Your goods and services can be…
- A standardized physical product (bags, mugs, journals, pies)
- A fully customized physical product (custom furniture, custom paintings)
- A standardized digital product (e-book, album, digital art, e-course)
- A service (life coaching, logo design, website building, hair styling)
- Regularly posted content (videos, blogs, podcasts, recipes, comics, social media updates)
- Licensed content (selling your fonts, illustrations, photos, etc. for use by other companies while retaining ownership)
- Gig-based (playing at music venues, teaching workshops)
The money you receive can be…
- Affiliate advertising
- Patreon sponsorship
- Advertising money
- Album/book/e-course sales
- Licensing fees
- Freelance project fees
- Retainer client fees
- From a tip jar
- Projected! (If you’re actively working to turn your videos/articles/podcast etc. into a source of income, treat your creative practice like a business even if it’s not currently making you money. The sooner you take it seriously, the sooner you’ll likely reach your goal.)
This means your creative practice is a business.
So if you’re a food blogger who keeps to a posting schedule and sells one small ad space in your sidebar, you have a business.
If you’re a musician who plays at a bar twice a month, teaches piano lessons on Thursdays, and has an album for sale online (even if it’s “pay what you want”), you have a business.
If you’re an illustrator who does some custom work here and there, has a few designs for sale on Society6, and is working on a new font to license, you have a business.
If you’re doing any kind of creative work and getting any kind of money for it, you have a business.
Now that you’re–surprise!–a business owner, let’s move into why this matters.
Why is it important to treat your creative practice like a business?
If you’re treating your creative practice like a hobby, it’s going to stay a hobby.
Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have hobbies. If you really just want to make music for fun in your spare time, and you legitimately don’t want it to become your career, that’s perfectly fine. Not everything has to be a business.
But if you WANT to become a musician full-time, or you WANT to one day support yourself with your cakes/illustrations/writing skills, get honest about that, and start bringing a higher level of professionalism to the table.
How do you treat your creative practice like a business?
The biggest blockade is the mental one. But once you understand that 1) businesses aren’t inherently evil, and 2) your creative practice is a business, here are some possible following actions (that, of course, should be adjusted for your specific situation).
Start acting like a professional.
“Professional” doesn’t mean you have to change everything about yourself and become stiff and boring. “Professional” means you know what you’re doing and you’re good enough at what you do to get paid for it.
Acting like a professional can mean:
- Sticking to a regular content schedule (if you’re not already)
- Putting together a portfolio website, and linking to that website in your email signature
- Emailing/calling people back promptly
- Carving out a regular time in your schedule to do your creative work. (This doesn’t have to be 9-5. If you’re a night owl, that time can be 10pm-1am. This is what works for you, not necessarily everyone else.)
- Doing what you say you’re going to do. Always.
Charge what you’re worth.
Undercharging is one of the easiest traps for creative people to fall into, because you don’t want to be seen as greedy, and you also genuinely don’t believe other people would pay a high price for your work.
In reality, a higher price telegraphs that you know your own value AND that you’re business-savvy.
If you’re not sure how much you should charge, look at other people in your niche who have 5+ years of experience on you, and send them an email, asking for input. Generally speaking, creatives want to help out other creatives. If they get weird talking about money, don’t take it personally–move on to the next person.
Develop a method for protecting your Intellectual Property.
If you were a bookseller, you wouldn’t let people walk into your store and steal a book, right? Of course not! No legitimate business would. Treat your business the same way. Get the copyrights on your music, blog, book, photos, etc. registered.
This is your work. Protect yourself!
If you’re serious about turning your creative practice into something that will support you financially, own that! The sooner you treat your creative practice like a business, the more opportunity you’re going to create for yourself down the road.