Why business tools don't work for creatives and what to do about it


Business works on the basis of growth. Make it bigger, faster, stronger, larger. Then, at the peak of its success when you are selling hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of blidgets across the state, nation, globe; sell it to the highest bidder and retire triumphant.

An artist or creative entrepreneur (now being known as artrepreneurs as there are growing numbers of them – love it or hate it you heard it here first) is not working to this narrative of bigger is better. She is writing her own story of success based on very different standards. And since what she does is unique there is no plan to sell it someone else in the future, because no one else can do what she does. That shifts the entire goal setting focus into a different zone.

So it makes sense that the business tools designed for the blidget manufacturer are not necessarily useful to the artist. Business plans, strategic plans, SWOT analysis, cash flow statements, profit and loss… are your eyes glazing over yet? If I as a poet conduct a SWOT analysis – being Strengths Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats – the answer is the same in all four quadrants. Me. Doesn’t really advance me further.

Of course I am being a tad simplistic here, but what I have discovered is that creative people are not working in the linear, step-by-step way that business tools do, so the approach leaves them cold. But by rejecting the whole thing we throw the baby out with the bathwater. This is an old time saying by the way- no one is throwing babies anywhere, or advocating same.

My solution is action research. In an exploratory mood, we try out a few of these methods and see what works. No matter how off the wall your work is, if you want to sell it you will at some point have to set a price or create an event. It turns out that bending business tools to your will might make them helpful. What if your marketing plan was a mural of three dimensional spirals that only you could understand? That's what I'm talking about.

Here are a few examples.

1. Writing your online profile.

Chances are you are not a trained writer, and the thought of putting words on paper describing who you are and what you do creates instant paralysis. (If it doesn’t read on to point 2). So who says it has to be written? If you are a visual artist, use that skill. Don’t tell me you are a skilled animator with experience in character development through the latest software- show me. Here’s an example of Bec Readhead's approach to this.


2. Business Plans

Eisenhower said something like Plans are useless but planning is essential. Thankfully, we are not working in battle conditions. Like him, though, we need to know what we would like to achieve, even though it may need to change rapidly. Traditional business plans are text filled black and white documents with lots of headings, sub- headings and the odd bar graph. I don’t find that at all appealing.

When my BWB (Best Writing Buddy) and I get together to make plans, I am in awe of her flair for calligraphy and her delightful pictograms . Trying not to get side-tracked by that, I unroll my huge swathe of paper, get out all the coloured pencils, paints, textas, stickers and post it notes and we have fun in the sun. We set the timer. And we end up with a plan that’s pretty AND precise. 

planning day.jpg


3. Reduce, reuse, recycle


Take your traditional business plan and cut it down to size by grabbing the useful bits. For example, it may be applicable to have your business name registered, be aware of your tax obligations and know how and when to charge GST. An organisation chart? Not so much - delete that.


Creatives love the rules. They love to break them. So go ahead, find a business planning rule and make it work for you in the way you work. Not the other way around.

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