[Note: This is an excerpt from my book, Creative Freedom: How To Own Your Dreams Without Selling Your Soul, that's coming out later this year. If you haven't already, take the quiz to determine your creative type. Be sure to get on the notification list to stay up to date on the book's release date!]
One of the conversations I have pretty regularly with people is around what it means to be a creative entrepreneur. Contrary to what you might think, it has nothing to do with what or how you create. Everyone is creative in some way. EVERYONE. The indicator, then is whether or not you choose to be an entrepreneur around your Great Work.
Not all creatives are entrepreneurs, and that’s okay. Elizabeth Gilbert wasn’t a creative entrepreneur when she wrote “Eat, Pray, Love” and her work impacted millions around the world. She also made some pretty good money, I’d be willing to bet, or she’d never have quit her day job. But you don't have to make good money to be a creative entrepreneur - in fact, you might not make any money when you start.
So how do you know for sure? Here are five signs that you’re not a creative entrepreneur:
For the purposes of this book, if you create as a hobbyist, or for side income and don’t ever plan to make it your primary source of income, you’re not a creative entrepreneur. It doesn’t matter if your Great Work is sculpture, business analysis, architecture, or video game walk-throughs on YouTube. The type of creativity you express has nothing to do with whether or not you’re a creative entrepreneur. It’s your intention around that creation that matters.
As a creative, you can create for yourself and not care what anyone else thinks about your work. As a creative entrepreneur, you have to listen to your audience and respond to their changing needs. That doesn’t mean you can’t create for yourself and your own enjoyment, but it does mean you have to have clarity around what elements of your Great Work will respond to the fluctuations of the market. Jim Henson did a lot of commercial work to have the money he needed to be able to make movies like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. He had his own “shrine to the almighty dollar” as a reminder that you can’t make art unless you have the money to do so. Money is freedom for a creative. It gives you the ability to do what you want without having to bear the criticism of others.
Are you creating for a specific audience? Did you establish a legal structure for your business? Are you reporting income and paying taxes? Are you actively marketing your Great Work in the world? If so, then you’re probably a creative entrepreneur, even if you’re just getting started in “jobby” mode (a hobby disguised as a business). If your aim is to make this a going concern, and you’re focused on growing your company as a business owner, you’re most likely a creative entrepreneur. You might not have a profitable business yet, but you’ve got the creative entrepreneur spirit that is needed to grow.
Thomas Edison devoted himself entirely to business. According to author and archivist, Leonard DeGraaf, Edison “vowed he would not invent a technology that didn’t have an apparent market; that he wasn’t just going to invent things for the sake of inventing them but… to be able to sell them.”
Edison himself is quoted as saying “All my life, I’ve been a commercial inventor. I have never dabbled in anything that was not useful.”
Edison was very clearly a creative entrepreneur. If you are actively trying to serve a particular market, sharing your gifts with them, and making sales offers to them, you are also a creative entrepreneur.
Income and expenses. Cash flow. Profit. Do you have your finger on the pulse of what your business is actually doing? Chaotics struggle with this sometimes, because they have an aversion to numbers and structures in general.
In her autobiography, Put On Your Crown, Queen Latifah tells how, due to a clerical error that went unchecked, all her money was out of whack. She was scrambling to pay bills not because anyone was intentionally trying to screw her, but because she stuck her head in the sand and didn’t pay any attention to the numbers.
Latifah then revealed a secret she learned from an episode of Oprah: “always sign the checks.” This was a simple way for her to keep a finger on the pulse of her business.
By reviewing your numbers consistently - even if they’re not where you want them to be - you keep yourself in the know. And knowledge is power.
This is another sign of creating a jobby for yourself, by the way. Each of the type can suffer from this issue for different reasons. Chaotics don’t trust that other people will rise to their (impossibly) high standards. Fusions are so used to doing everything themselves that it feels painful to slow down long enough to get or train help. Linears will micromanage deadlines and budgets, which tends to drive people away.
At some point, if you’re growing a business, you’ll have to ask for and accept help from others who may not do things exactly the way you would. Like when I ask my son to clean his room, it may not be clean the way I would do it, but it meets my criteria for a clean room. If I don’t want to be stuck doing all the cleaning, I have to be willing to let go of the trivial things - like how he folds his socks. So long as the clean clothes fit in the dresser, I’m happy.
That doesn’t mean compromising on what really matters, but chances are good you’re worrying about more than you need to at this early stage in your business growth. Nobody expects a young business to deliver at the same level as a fortune 500 company. Use that to your advantage to surprise and delight your audience - but don’t let it keep you from delivering at all because you’re too mired in doing ALL THE THINGS!
To be clear, EVERYONE is creative in some way. It could be the way you solve a problem or spot patterns, it could be the way you dress up a gift bag with ribbons or paint. The fact that you use your imagination to see or bring something to life that wasn’t there before makes you a creator and therefore a creative.
Entrepreneurs are especially adept at seeing a need and creating something to fill it, but not all creatives are entrepreneurs. The dictionary definition of “entrepreneur” is someone who takes on a “greater than normal financial risk” to organize or operate a business.
Many creatives I know don’t want more risk, they want stability. They’re freaked out by the notion of the starving artist. Like Gilbert, they’re content to rely on their day job and dabble in their creative work during their hobby time. If that’s you, then you don’t need this book.
On the other hand, if you’re ready to make a transition plan from the day job, if you’re already knee-deep in your creative work and need some clarity and direction to make it a profitable and sustainable business, then you’re in the right place.
I developed the Creative Freedom Entrepreneur Type Spectrum to give creative entrepreneurs the clarity they need about how to best set up and run their business - in a way that works with their unique quirks and traits. You’ll get clear on how to use the ninja skills of your specific type to make your business more productive and profitable, and how to clear up your blind spots so you don’t end up stuck like I was, doing things that will only make you miserable.
Does it take longer or more effort to build a business doing something you love? That depends on you. But my experience and that of my clients shows that it’s worth it. You’re building a long-term asset instead of looking for short-term “low-hanging fruit”. And it’s often easier because your efforts are bolstered by the fact that you’re doing something you love, instead of something you dread.
Here's the replay from my Facebook Live on the topic:
Recently, a new subscriber reached out and asked me about uncovering her "Great Work" in the world.
First of all, I LOVE it when people email me their questions! If you've got a question, hit me up in the comments or send me an email.
But to answer her question, I had to look deeper at what she wrote. Turns out, she's one of those "Jack of all trades" kinds of people. You know the type: someone who makes you sick because they're really good at a lot of things... but they can't figure out what their ONE THING is in order to make a career at it.
Oh, I know this problem so intimately well... because I'm one of those people.
For years I worked with coach after coach who told me to pick one thing, focus in on one thing, and get good at one thing and let THAT become my income driver.
Problem: Getting good at something isn't an issue. I'm a quick study and can pick up a LOT of things quickly. Then, my learning addiction kicks in and compels me to go deep in the topic so I'm GOOD at it, too.
Yeah, it's kind of annoying to me also. hee hee.
Over the years, I've had so many jobs and career paths that I was starting to think something was wrong with me... but there's nothing wrong with me. In fact, I'm part of a rising number of people that I call "Fusion" Creatives.
With a rise in demand for Liberal Arts and General Studies type degree holders in the workplace, we're seeing a resurgence of "renaissance" types who are versed in a variety of topics, and can hold their own in multiple environments.
Like being at the nexus of creative entrepreneurship, for example.
As a musician and a business coach, I've been pressured for years by coaches and peers to hone in on one thing... but that's like asking me which of my kids gets to live in a sacrificial offering. Not gonna happen. I'd cut out my own heart first.
...but the world hasn't been ready to deal with us until recently. Books like Barbara Sher's "Refuse to Choose" have helped give credence to "Scanners" as she likes to call them. We're not flighty, we're actually incredibly valuable - even if we have a hard time seeing it ourselves.
This week's episode of Creative Freedom unveils a glimpse into this
Fusion types often think of themselves as not creative when compared to their Chaotic friends and colleagues. Chaotics are the type we most often think of as the "creative" people of the world. They can be artsy, or crafty, free-spirited, and willing to "go with the flow". Chaotics are also pretty good with people, communication, and have a strong connection to their definition of the Divine. Some people call them "right brained" but that's a misnomer that's been debunked in recent years.
So us Fusion types tend to feel a little "less than" when compared to our Chaotic colleagues.
Fusion types also find that they're the "creative ones" when compared to their Linear colleagues. Linears are the type that think more strategically, enjoy working with patterns, numbers, and figures, and often find themselves at a loss when it comes to building strong relationships, networking, or handling customer service issues. Some people call them "left brained" but - as you can guess - that's a misnomer, too.
And yes, Fusion types tend to feel a little intimidated (or overwhelmed) when comparing themselves to their more financially successful Linear colleagues.
But I said "potential" and potential not acted on is wasted. Fusion types can be good at just about ANYTHING. They just need to hone in and stay consistent, while having the courage to keep sharing their unique blend of Linear and Chaotic awesomeness. Chaotics marvel at Fusion's ability to stay on track, meet deadlines, and generally get stuff done (as a one-woman show, I might add). Linears appreciate the creative streak and courage Fusions have to be "on" with people.
In short, we're pretty freaking awesome, and we have a hard time seeing it because everyone around us is more Linear (or Chaotic) than we are. So instead of seeing our unique blend as fantastic, we worry if we'll measure up.
But when we DO finally stay consistent, we are the Creative Freedom type with the greatest capacity for financial and personal success.
Each type also has blind spots that slow down their trajectory. For Chaotics, it stars by having a choke hold on your creative vision. For Linears, it's being too focused on bottom-line results. For Fusions, it's perfectionism and comparisonitis that keeps us stuck.
When you learn your Creative Freedom type, you shine a light onto those hidden areas so that you can take action and see success more easily. I stumbled on all of this entirely by accident over years of working with clients and noticing the patterns they were demonstrating.
If I did my math applying the 10,000 hours concept correctly, it takes about 10 years of consistent effort to reach world class status. At 40, I should be world class at about 4 different things, if I applied myself properly over the years. That means, I've got another 30-40 years (or more) to master a few more things. Heck, even Tony Bennett has established himself as a painter as well as a singer!
Fusion creatives don't need to pick just one thing. YAY! Instead, we need to think of our talents like a rock band - like the Eagles: you've got a lead singer, and others singing backup. Everyone in that band sings at some point in the show - and they've all got years of practice at honing their craft. No one is ignored, and they all get to shine.
THAT is how a Fusion makes the most of their gifts and talents. Put one or two out front while the others provide "back up" and have the courage to experiment and rotate them out from time to time - just make sure you keep practicing and honing your craft before you make a big leap. You don't see the Eagles trying something new at their shows - that's what rehearsal's for.
Have you been the Jack of All Trades in your circle? How have you created a meaningful body of work with your skills and abilities? Did you take the quiz and learn your Creative Freedom type? If so, what is it? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments and let's be a rising tide for everyone!