[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: