5 Business Survival Tips for the Creative Entrepreneur

In many ways, business and creativity are like oil and water. One is calculated while the other is free-flowing and unpredictable. One must think of profitability first, while the other must think of aesthetics and touching people’s emotions. If you are the owner of a creative firm or if you are a freelancer (in which case you are your firm), you know the inherent tension that exists.

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There is a “buddy movie” story device where polar opposite characters are forced to team up and work together for a common purpose and they eventually become best friends. You know,…Toy Story, Lethal Weapon(s) #1-89, or any one of Eddie Murphy’s first several movies. (Yes, I’m showing my age here.) In each movie there is a key turning point scene where the opposing characters become true friends. My hope is that these tips will help you get to that scene quickly, so you can successfully navigate the tension between creativity and business. Here are a few key things I have learned (mostly the hard way). I hope they help!

1. Embrace the Fact That You Will Make Mistakes
Failing is only failure if you don’t learn from it. Fall forward. It’s okay. Business is a jungle, but isn’t that partly why you got into it? Isn’t there something in you that wants to use your machete to carve a new path? Some will be dead ends, but some won’t. Embrace your mistakes as professors; your stumbles as learning experiences. The more you attempt, the more your muscle-memory will kick in. You won’t cover the same ground.

2. Prune What Needs to Be Pruned
Last year I had to make some of the toughest business decisions I’ve ever had to make. I had to restructure how Timbuktoons does business. This meant I had to lay-off some great friends who also happened to be key members of our on-site team. I’m happy to say, we’re still all working together remotely (and a few of us together a few times a month). It was both the toughest, and best business decision I’ve made. Earlier in the year I read a book (that I would advise every freelancer and business owner read) called Necessary Endings, by Henry Cloud. It’s listed on my resources page and I highly recommend it. The main idea is that pruning hurts in the short term, but it makes the organism stronger and healthier for the long term.

3. Make The Tough Call Early
This is similar to #2 but it’s more about timing. If you know something must be done, just do it. Pick a wise time, but don’t wait for “just the right time”. It doesn’t exist. Do the hard thing now and avoid more pain later. That negative person needs to be let go today or tomorrow. That policy needs to be established and communicated to your staff this week. That system needs to be recreated from the ground up this month. Life won’t stop for you to do them. Pick a date and make it happen.

4. Put Distance Between You And Financial Pressure
Financial pressure kills creativity and passion. For the creative entrepreneur, that’s like sending a Navy Seal into battle with a spork and some flip-flops. Creativity and passion drive your marketability. If those are consistently smothered by financial pressure, you’ll find yourself in a multi-layered-creativity-death-spiral. I have a client/friend who said the first partner he pulled on to his second IP company was a CFO. Even though it was a very small company, he knew from experience that he needed as little financial pressure as possible if creativity was going to flourish. You and I may not have the means or the reputation to hire a CFO, but there are some simple, practical things we can do to minimize financial pressure.

5. Do Whatever It Takes To Work In Your Sweet Spot
You have strengths that nobody else has. Find them and use them. Resist the temptation to do it all when you can hire others to do things that they can do better than you. As a freelancer or business owner, it’s tough to hire others to do what you can do. But, it frees you to do more of what you do best. Everyone thrives when the whole team is working from their strengths. It’s good stewardship of time and energy. This is a marathon race, not a sprint. You’ll burn out if you don’t work from your strengths. Offload the tasks that take you away from your core strengths. There’s another great book I highly recommend if you want to find out what your key strengths are.  It’s called StandOut and it includes a test as well as an online component.  It’s great for individuals and teams.

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What other challenges or successes have you had relating to the tension between business and creativity? You can leave a comment below.