Cracking the Creative Business Code

You want to be successful, don’t you?

Whether you’re the owner of a busy shop, an independent contractor or just starting out as an apprentice…you all share similar ambitions and dreams for the future.

There’s one more commonality bonding you all together—the struggle to balance business and creativity. How do you effectively combine the freedom you find in creating with the structure required of an entrepreneur?

You may be surprised to learn there’s a sweet spot where the two sides of your brain overlap. A place where your integrity, values, and inspiration shake hands with the reality of budgets and sacrifice. That’s the place we’re going to explore here today.

Hands up if you struggle to balance business with your creativity 🙋‍♀️

andy richter raises hand to say yes

Yes, there’s a real angel and devil scenario that arises as an entrepreneur balancing the business and creative side when working for yourself.

Are you more comfortable with the creative or structured side of your business? Do you find it overwhelming to reign in your creative ideas? Or, are you so bogged down with training your staff, managing clients and scheduling appointments you have minimal time for imagination?

As shop owners and entrepreneurs, it’s a fragile balancing act between creativity and business. On one side you have the artist: free-spirited, seeking inspiration, and craving unstructured time. While on the other, you have deadlines, opinions and the harsh reality of responsibility.

Even if you’re unable to see it now, a successful business requires a good mix of both.

Three points you need to accept about business…

Number one: The right business lets you be creative

What’s the biggest struggle for most creatives? It’s that push and pull between following your heart {the art} and the reality of needing to make a living.

You may daydream of spending days in a studio painting watercolors, or only tattooing black and grey portraits. But, if you box yourself in too soon, you’re not going to make enough money to sustain yourself. And truth be told, it becomes hard to create when you’re stressed about paying rent.

Rather than spending all your time trying to keep yourself afloat, focus more on growing your business.

By focusing on growth you give yourself more freedom for creativity, not less. Without the stress of scarcity, inspiration will come through in abundance. You can still do this without losing sight of your integrity and values by staying true to yourself.

Related: Stop Worrying About Growth and Start Living Your Life

Number Two: Your *business* brain prevents creative chaos

It’s those great ideas you come up with after a 2 am (après cocktails) chat with your girlfriends. The idea’s a little out there, but the left side of your brain is telling you it just might work.

At this moment your business brain jumps in to tap you on the shoulder and stop you from doing anything drastic. The idea of having your creativity under control might not sound like a good thing, but when it comes to your livelihood, pinning your future on one crazy idea’s not the best move.

Listening to your business brain means you can take a step back from the giddiness of grandiose ideas and measure the likelihood of it’s success before plowing full speed ahead.

When you’re trying to become stable in the creative field, you’ll need both imagination and good business sense to become successful.

Number Three: Protect your creativity using good business sense

When was the last time your art was stolen? You probably don’t need to think too far back. You see, in the digital age, it’s easier than ever to take someone else’s work and pass it off as your own. As excited as you are to share your latest piece, project or website it’s important to get the 411 on how to protect your work before you start sharing with the world.

>>>> Ok…and now for the good stuff {aka how you can excel as a creative in business}

Here are 7 ways to stay in the sweet spot where business and creativity overlap.

1. No one is good at everything…not even you

female creative business owner with blue hair

As an artist, business owner, entrepreneur or a combination of all three, it’s important to take a complete inventory of your strengths and weaknesses along with your core values before you get into the weeds.

Understand what key elements are valuable and necessary for your business (what you need to become successful); check if you’re the right person to take that on (are you an expert?) and move forward with learning that skill or let it go and hire the right person.

For example, do you want to spend all day with your cell phone at your side so you can see how many likes, comments, and reposts you get? Does it interest you to figure out how the algorithm changes every other month? If not, it’s time to hire an expert to do it for you.

Try to figure out how you can optimize your strengths (business + creative) and build up your team to compensate for your *weaknesses.*

2. Don’t push your passion projects to the back-burner

You’ve already made space in your business to be “sensibly” creative. Whether that means making time to sketch, take an art class or spend the money on Anh Co Tran’s “Lived-in Color” training when he next comes to town.

But you need to take it one step further by giving yourself room to create purely to please yourself creatively. To keep your inner flame burning without focusing on your bottom line.

There’s always a time and place to weave in projects that might seem a bit {<== the keyword here is bit} left of center into your business plan because they light you up. Why else would you sacrifice a cushy corporate job for this lifestyle?

Make sure whatever you’re tossing into the fire isn’t going to blow up the house you’ve so carefully built. Being able to balance work that pays the bills with your passion projects is crucial to the success and happiness within your business. There’ll be times when you have to take on clients you don’t want to do early in your career {and let’s face it, later on as well if times get tough} but try to stick to your values and get back on track as quickly as possible.

3. Become a pillar within your community

One way to incorporate creativity into your business is by holding workshops for members of your community who may not be able to afford your services. This is your chance to experiment outside the confines of more structured business and give back at the same time.

Or, you could hold classes or events for up and comers eager to learn new skills and rub elbows with the best in the business. This will give them the chance to network with more experienced entrepreneurs and business owners in a low-risk environment. They’ll feel more comfortable asking questions while building lasting relationships.

Not only will those who attend your events learn some of your sought after techniques, but you’ll stay inspired and become an integral part of your community.

You could offer a theme night at the salon where you teach simple techniques to tame curly hair or a charity event where you offer flash tattoos at a discounted rate. Keep your workshops affordable and focus on encouraging clients of all backgrounds and affluence to attend and interact with each other and your staff.

Related: How to Wow Your Clients: 25 Ways to Stand Out from Your Competition

4. Step outside your comfort zone

young man standing in front of a painted wall

Getting into business for yourself is terrifying. Whether that means opening up your first shop or becoming a solo entrepreneur within one. It can feel like a giant risk just taking that initial step—but you can’t stop there.

Becoming complacent within your industry is one of the most common mistakes you can make when you’re trying to make a name for yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in the “safety” of what you’re already great at and not wanting to step outside that box for fear you might stumble and ultimately fall.

No matter how small the shift is, you must push yourself outside your comfort zone as often as possible to evolve your skill set. Whether that means trying a new color technique or taking on an apprentice after years of solid work.

You also need to stack your team with those who have the same drive to improve, stretch their skills and are diversified in their talents. Surround yourself with people who inspire and challenge you to grow.

5. Break new ground

Use your creativity to discover new ways of doing things within your business. Industries change when ideas and procedures are challenged by creative thinkers. Your ability to see your business through a unique lense has the potential for greatness, but to get there you’ll need to take calculated risks.

If you find the established ways don’t work, think about how to do it differently. Being a creative business person gives you the freedom to push the status quo. There’s no need to stick to the way things have always been done.

You might make mistakes or stumble along the way. These missteps will force you to look at both sides of the coin (business/creativity) and you’ll ultimately succeed.

6. You’re a zebra in a herd of horses {embrace it}

There are many ways creativity is an asset in business. When you need to stand out in a crowded market (the tattoo industry as an example), using your artistic strengths to set yourself apart in conjunction with your business chops is a winning combination.

For example, you can create an Instagram feed using cohesive images with a custom filter so anyone who lands on your page can identify your brand. Or, you can design a flyer for an upcoming event to hand out at your booth, hand-drawn so anyone who picks it up is immediately blown away. Demonstrating your skills and unique creativity makes you memorable.

Using your business skills and knowledge is always a good thing and it doesn’t mean you’re giving up your creativity to become a suit.

7. Stay on the cutting edge of your industry

I’ve never believed that curiosity killed the cat, how about you? Creative people are curious. You’re open to trying new things, and you’ll embrace untested ideas if you believe it’ll pay off in the end.

This curiosity is priceless in business. It drives you to find new ways of serving your clients that best fit their needs—even when it makes you uncomfortable (ex. Switching from paper-based scheduling to online appointment scheduling).

As a creative business owner, you’ll always be learning, whether it’s about your craft or the industry you practice within because you never want to fall behind the front line. You want to be Steve Jobs, not Bill Gates—you want to innovate.

The myth of selling out as a creative business

Wayne's World selling out

Finally, let’s talk about selling out.

Don’t be afraid of being labeled a sell-out. It’s a word that gets thrown around the creative business community with reckless abandon the moment someone begins to see financial success. Usually, this phenomenon occurs within more niche communities (punk rock being one that immediately jumps to mind), however, it’s a common theme many creatives struggle with.

One famous example was surrounding the band Wilco. With a hard-core fan base and already known as “legit” and “credible” aka not radio-friendly, they licensed the rights to several of their songs from their album “Sky Blue Sky” to VW years ago. The blow-back was so hard they released a statement on their website saying:

“As many of you are aware, Volkswagen has recently begun running a series of TV commercials featuring Wilco music,” the statement says. “With the commercial radio airplay route getting more difficult for many bands (including Wilco), we see this as another way to get the music out there.”

I was reminded of this when I read Jeff Tweedy’s biography “Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back). He spoke about whether this ^^^ was “selling out.”

His answer was no. That money paid for his kids’ tuition and provided for his family. Whatever notion you or {in Jeff’s case} your fans have of you staying “local,” “underground,” or the city’s “best-kept secret,” is nonsensical for business.

Making money and becoming successful doesn’t reflect negatively on your talent, your creativity or your street cred as an artist. As an adult with responsibilities, your business needs to make money to survive, no matter how much creativity and art are involved.

Selling out is a game for children.

Finding your sweet spot

Whether this is your tenth year in business or your first day at a new shop, use your left brain to discover innovative ways to stand out within your industry.

If you want to be successful {and I know that you do}, you need to find a way to structure your business so your creativity is an asset, not a liability. Discover your unique combination of inspiration and structure without sacrificing your values and integrity. When you’re able to accomplish this, there’ll be no stopping you.

Let us know, how does creativity give you an advantage in your business? Tell us in the comments ⬇️.