Can creative entrepreneurs really make money? I'm talking about people like artists, sculptors, writers and others who are pursuing their creative passions. There's a widely held belief that it's very hard to make money as an artist. After all, the concept of an "artist starving in a garret" is one that's often bandied about. And the idea that you can't get rich as a creative type is perpetuated by those who say they would not survive without grants from governments or arts organisations.
Personally, I'm a big believer that you can make serious money as a creative entrepreneur. But, in order to do so, you have to treat your creative passion like a business. If you want to make serious money, then you need to get serious about your marketing, sales, cash-flow and systems. And you need a business model that works – not one that relies on grants or handouts.
I want to focus on creativity not business
"Oh, but I don't want to deal with all that," I often hear people say. "I want to focus on what I'm good at – being creative. I just want to be an artist." I can't tell you how many times I've heard this from writers, artists and musicians.
Well, you know what? I just want to sit on a tropical island and sip daiquiris all day while writing my next book – and never have to look at a spreadsheet, BAS statement or business plan ever again. But guess what? That's just delusional.
Hey, if you become as successful as Nicole Kidman and can afford to employ an army of assistants, accountants and business advisers, then, sure, let them take care of the "business" while you focus on your "art".
But until you get to that stage, chances are that you need to get serious about the business side of your creative passions yourself if you want to earn a proper income from it. That doesn't mean you need to study accounting or read the corporations act. You just need to ensure that you address key factors in your business – especially sales and marketing.
The new world of selling
"I don't like to sell," I also hear people say. "I want my work to speak for itself. I want people to love it and buy it because it speaks to them. I'm just not a salesperson, I'm not good at that."
While I can completely understand that you may not like the stereotypical idea of a high-pressured salesperson trying to close a deal, the reality is that if you're not going to sell it, who is?
The good news is that "selling" has become a hell of a lot easier than it used to be, thanks to the internet. It only take minutes to open an online store, through platforms such as Etsy or Shopify. And, you can soft sell your products by boosting your profile and creating relationships online.
That is, these days, you don't have to set up a market stall on a cold and rainy football oval at some ungodly hour of the morning and entice shoppers who are looking for bargains into buying your wares. And you don't have rely on carting around your wares from store to store trying to convince retailers to stock you. Half your battle can be won by building your profile and networking online – so that you get on the radar of the right people (potential customers, stockists and influencers). Over time, they get to know, like and trust you. And when it comes time to buy, refer or promote your products, they are comfortable doing so. In fact, sometimes, they do your "selling" for you by genuinely recommending your products to their networks.
If you want to make serious money, then you need to get serious about your marketing, sales, cash-flow and systems.
It's also about building a community. That's such a buzzword in business these days that it's easy to dismiss this idea. However, it can be incredibly powerful. For example, I run a writers' centre in Sydney, and I've created a community of people who are interested in writing. But I don't limit this to my customers. It's open to anyone who is interested in getting published or writing with confidence. It's not a physical community because we don't organise actual meetings. You'll find this community on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and our blog.
As members of our community have a common interest, they share resources with each other, organise their own meet-ups, and recommend our different products to each other. One of the benefits of a nurtured community is that they become fans, advocates and informal ambassadors of your brand. And there isn't a single moment of hard-selling in sight.
Ultimately, it would be wonderful if we could all simply explore our creativity and hope that money rolls in as result of our artistic genius. But the reality is that unless you treat your creative passion as a business, then it will forever remain a hobby.
If you're in Sydney, I'm speaking on "How to boost your creative business by networking and building your profile" at Etsy Success Sydney on Saturday June 2.