Lisa Robbin Young

[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.

All entrepreneurs are creative, but not all creatives are entrepreneurs.

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:

  1. You don’t want to make a living at it.

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.

  1. You don’t treat it like a real business.

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.

  1. You don’t “do marketing” for your Great Work.

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.

  1. You don’t even look at the numbers.

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.

  1. You can’t or don’t trust others to help you grow.

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:

Resources from the episode not mentioned above:

Creative Freedom Live
Predictable Success by Les McKeown

Welcome to Day Three of the Creative Freedom Challenge! Catch up here: Day One | Day Two

One of the most important first steps for a creative entrepreneur to make is getting clarity - around what really matters to you and making the transition to doing more of your Great Work in the world.

Today, we're looking at another big problem for creatives that want to make a good living doing what they love: confidence. Specifically, the confidence it takes to share your Great Work with the world.

Yes, we're talking about marketing, but it's more than that. It's being willing to step out of the vicious circle that keeps you from making progress and seeing sustainable growth in your business.

Artisan Trap

The Artisan Trap
So many creatives fall into what one of my clients called "The Artisan Trap". Les McKeown, former client and author of the book "Predictable Success," describes The Artisan Trap as a time when the entrepreneur focuses almost exclusively on bringing in sales, and then switches over to fulfilling the orders... which causes sales to stall because you're not "out there selling".

According to Les: "It becomes a vicious cycle of selling and delivering that prevents the business from growing."

Many creative entrepreneurs tell me that they "don't like sales" or that "doing marketing" turns them off. They'd just prefer to do what they love and not worry about "the selling part."

I get it. You may recall the line from Glengarry Glen Ross: "ABC: Always Be Closing." That feels manipulative, slimy, and not at all in integrity with the way I want to show up in the world. If you're anything like me, you probably feel the same way, too.

Yet, without a clear marketing and sales strategy in place, it's hard to consistently reach your right customers. If you're still working another job, you have even less time to devote to creative or sales efforts.

So you end up "throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks" until the orders start coming in. Then, with orders in hand, you stop "selling" and focus on delivery... until something else draws your attention (like when the day job calls again!). So basically, creative entrepreneurs that keep their head down and "in the work" never get their nose above water, and are constantly re-starting their business. They make stuff, they stop making so they can sell, then go back to making again once all their stuff is sold.

Vicious cycle, yes?

Plus, the idea of "closing" means the conversation has ended. It's over. There's nothing more to do. But I'm sure you'd like to do business with your clients more than once, yes?

That's why it's important to shape your marketing around who you are and what matters to you first. Otherwise, it feels slimey, sleazy, and you just won't do it.

Let's end this vicious cycle, shall we?

Heart-centered marketing isn't icky, slimy, or inauthentic. Done well, marketing is a conversation with your right audience, to help them understand how you can better serve them - and to help them say yes to your offers more easily if it's a good fit.

So, let's create variation on the "Always Be Closing" theme - a variation that most healthy businesses take to heart.

Always Be Connecting

If heart-centered marketing is about conversations, that means you've got to connect with people to have those conversations. So what if you looked at your daily tasks in a new way - what if anything that connected with a potential client was considered marketing?

Does that freak you out a little or inspire you?

Surveys suggest investing anywhere from 1-4 hours each business day doing marketing-related activities. That can sound daunting if you think in the "traditional" sales model. Instead, let's apply this new model of "Always Be Connecting" and see how it works.

I actually block out entire days each week as "marketing days" to focus on marketing-related activities. The key word is "activity". It's active. These are just some of those marketing-related activities:

* writing new content for my website
* recording new songs and training segments for my videos
* writing and sending my weekly newsletter
* connecting with clients and contacts in person, via email, or on social media

This list doesn't feel heavy, slimy, or icky to me. Some of it is even fun! These are authentic ways for me to reach my right audience, based on who I am and how I like to show up in the world. It's my way of sharing my Great Work with the world in ways that work for me.

Let's be honest about one thing, though: just because it works for me, doesn't mean it works for you. I love video, and you might hate it. That's fine. It's not about being everywhere. It's about being where YOU want to be, reaching your right people in ways that work for you.

If you believe in your message and your Great Work, there are people in the world that need to know about it.

Unlike "Field of Dreams" (a myth we'll bust next time), you can't just build it and expect people to come. Products and services don't sell themselves. Heck, even in Field of Dreams only one person came to the field! He's the one that told the other players to come check out the ball diamond (word of mouth marketing, baby!)

If you're not talking about your own Field of Dreams, who will?

Heart-centered marketing doesn't have to be a chore or a big to-do, but you do need to make time for it on a regular basis. And it can be in simple things you're already doing in your daily workload to connect with your right audience.

Otherwise, you'll be stuck in The Artisan Trap for life, which is no way to run a profitable, sustainable business.

Today's Assignment

Start looking for ways to make marketing activities part of your regular routine. Ask yourself these questions as a starting point:

  • Who can you introduce to your Great Work?
  • Who can you ask for help in spreading the word?
  • Do you have someone you need to follow up with? An email to send?
  • Can you engage your fans by sharing a sneak peek of what you're working on?
  • What ONE thing can you do today to "Always Be Connecting" in a heart-centered way?

Remember the list of non-negotiables you made. Make sure your marketing-related activities are in alignment and integrity with your non-negotiables. Then, share one of your ideas in the comments below and let's be a rising tide for everyone.

Speaking of "sneak peeks"...

I am about half way through my next book, and have started seeking readers to review the chapters. If you're interested, leave a comment or contact me and I'll get you more information on how you can be part of my advance reader team.

Forget about "overnight success". There are countless quotes from successful people across industry that will tell you the trappings of external success aren't had overnight. My favorite is McDonald's founder Ray Kroc, who says he was an overnight success, but "30 years is a long, long night."

If you're just starting down the path of entrepreneurship, consider this your final warning: establishing your business and making it a profitable, sustainable entity doesn't happen overnight. Sure, some people can shorten the learning curve to get there faster (I'll tell you more in a minute), but the truth is profitability (and sustainability) can take years.

Years, I said. YEARS.

As an entrepreneur with 20+ years in the game, I've helped entrepreneurs at various levels of business development. I've seen brand new startups go like gangbusters only to fizzle out after a year... because they couldn't sustain the momentum it took to get to six figures in the first place. I've also seen a solopreneur limp along for several years before hitting their stride... and what looked like "overnight" success was actually the result of several "redirections" they had to make until they got on the right path for them.

Creative Freedom is about defining success on your terms, doing the work that you love, making good money doing it - and being able to enjoy the fruits of your labor. But it isn't all fun and games. That's why I typically ask my new clients the following question:

What are you willing to do free of charge for 3 years?

overnight success

Most fresh-eyed entrepreneurs will laugh at you and say "nothing!" because they somehow think they should get paid for every waking minute they plow into their business. While that's nice in theory, it doesn't always play out in practice. This is one of the big reasons why you see continual debates about working for free or for "exposure". The truth is, there's a time and a place for free work (or deeply discounted work), but if it's all you're doing, you don't have a sustainable business (this tongue-in-cheek flow chart gives you an idea, too). Free work is a great way to learn new skills, connect to new people, and leverage your Great Work in the world. But it shouldn't be the only work you're doing.

That said, I often ask people what they're willing to do, unpaid, for the next three years because sometimes it can take that long to hit the "profitable & sustainable" stride. Many businesses get profitable more quickly than that, but they're "hustling" so hard that it's simply not sustainable. Others maintain a sustainable pace, but aren't consistently profitable until about year three. But if you're not willing to put in the hours before you hit pay dirt, then maybe you should keep your day job.

My friend and former client, Les McKeown shares the lifecycle of a business in his book, Predictable Success. Every company begins in Early Struggle - where the singular goal is to find a profitable, sustainable market before you run out of start-up capital.

If you can do that, Les says, that's when it gets "Fun" - the second stage of business growth. On average, it takes 2-5 years to find that sweet spot. Why? Well, here's a closer look at what most of my clients go through during the early struggle phase of their business.

Year One: Honing Your Offer

When you're just starting out, the entire first year is about honing the offer. What are you really selling ? What's the investment? Who would buy what you're offering (it might not be who you think)? How can you do it in a way that works for the lifestyle you're trying to create for yourself? Some of these questions don't apply to large, corporate entities, but for solo and micro-preneurs, building a business around your life, they are imperatives.

The first year can often find you throwing a lot of spaghetti on the wall (and essentially working for free), because you're just trying to find enough people with a pulse and a checkbook to keep your business afloat. This is often when we take on crap clients that we end up firing later, because we "need the money."

Year Two: Honing Your Marketing

When you've got a minimum viable offering, and you can start creating consistent sales, you may be hustling like crazy in order to do it. In that case, you're still not sustainable, and you might not even be profitable yet, but you've got some traction. Your nose is a little more above water, and you can see a little farther out on the timeline. You can think more clearly in terms of WHO your offer is meant for, and how they most resonate with your Great Work. You can begin tweaking your messaging to improve your results, or testing new avenues to market your offer because you've finally got some cash flow to pay for a marketing budget!

The second year builds confidence - for you as well as your potential customers. No one wants to deal with a fly-by-night enterprise, regardless of your industry. If you've made it through the first year, your clients have more reason to trust you're going to stick around and be there when they need you. You've also figured some things out - and maybe even started firing clients (or team members) that aren't moving in the direction you want your business to go.

Year Three: Honing Your Systems

You can't keep doing everything yourself, and if you  haven't already, it's time to start implementing systems to keep your business running smoothly. Whether it's hiring team members, marketing automation, or financial management tools, without some level of systematization, you call into the trap of having to re-create everything or each new customer. Can you imagine re-creating an email to be sent every time a purchase is made? Email marketing systems can pick up the slack on that quite easily. By the third year, you've done a few things more than a few times, so you know what works and what doesn't. You can create a process manual that makes some elements of your business easier to delegate.

The third year is where profitability ans sustainability come together. The need to "hustle" is replaced by the need to "systematize" - there's more breathing room, positive cash flow, and team members to help take the load off you and support the growth of the business.

You Can Go Faster, But You Can't Rush It

In my years of working with clients, these three steps can't be skipped if you want to eventually be able to make good money doing what you love AND have time and energy to enjoy the money you're making. The faster you can do this, the quicker you get to the fun stuff. But you can't rush it, either. For as many people as I've seen shorten the learning curve and throw money at a problem to fix it faster, I've also seen people try to systematize something they've done once - and they keep having to re-trace their steps and modify the process. Every entrepreneur has their own tempo: Find YOURS. Hustling is a short-term sprint. It's not sustainable, and building your business around "always hustling" is a sure-fire way to stay on the hamster wheel for the rest of your life.

Um. No thanks.

But if you've got a knack for marketing, or you're a systems wizard, you'll be able to trim time off that three year projection and see profitability AND sustainability that much sooner. If you're a whiz in all three areas (crafting an offer, creating great marketing, and systematizing the hell out of your business) or can hire someone who is, then you can REALLY shorten the time frame.

But going into a new venture, thinking you'll be rich and famous in a year is a crisis waiting to happen. Instead, be willing to give yourself some wiggle room to make mistakes, experiment, and get this new venture off the ground. Bootstrapping is great, but if you're planning to give up after a hard first year (or three), you're in business for all the wrong reasons.

Join Me For A FREE Teleclass Series

Liz Larocque and her partner, Eric, have put together a free teleseminar series for corporate escapees that are ready to break out and launch their own business. The event kicks off February 9, and I am excited to be one of the speakers. You can register here to get all the details about turning your passion into a profitable (and sustainable) business. Disclosure: This is my affiliate link, which means if you purchase the recordings, I get a small stipend for referring you. The event is free, however, and I know there's LOTS of great information being shared.