Creativity in Business (and the Business of Creativity)
There’s a myth that creativity and business don’t mix. That creatives can’t be good at business, and that business can’t be creative. I think that the opposite is true:
- It’s never been more important to bring creativity into business.
- There’s never been a better time to make creativity into a business.
In running my own business, I’ve been very stubborn about this. Conventional wisdom says to pick one customer type. I have two: Entrepreneurs and writers. But to me, they are one type. Small business owners and creatives are the same — just two sides of the same coin. And in my experience:
- The people who succeed in business are the ones who get the most creative.
- The most successful creatives are those who get good at the business side.
The lines have blurred. This is no longer an either/or, and that opens a ton of opportunity — no matter who you are and what you do. Let’s look at this in parallel, and show how both types are really the same.
Do You Think of Yourself as a Creative Person?
“I’m a writer, so I’m not good at the business side.”
I hear this a lot, and help my writer clients get better at business strategy — particularly the marketing part.
If you are a writer and you want your creative work to be more than just a hobby, you need to think of yourself as a small business owner. Otherwise, it will always be something you do “on the side.” There’s no shame in that — writing, playing music, and creating art are immensely enjoyable activities on their own. Writers love to write. Painters love to paint. Singers love to sing. But how many artists do you know who say, “I love marketing my stuff.”
Nobody says that.
Let’s change that — because marketing can be creative. When done well, it relies on the same skills you already possess. You can use your creativity to connect with people. It can be done in a soft-touch, respectful manner that doesn’t make you feel crappy about doing it.
There are two truths that highlight the risk of not learning how to marketing yourself:
- Your creativity is not enough, even if you are the best at what you do.
- If you do not hone your business skills, your creative work will go nowhere.
I am sick of seeing creatives fail. Putting a ton of effort into their writing, music, film, jewelry, paintings — and then just hoping that someone will buy it.
I get the instinct. Besides being a small business owner, I am a writer and musician as well. So I understand it from your side of the table too. I can tell you that I use my creativity every day to help people — whether it’s writing podcast episodes about ethical marketing or writing songs about empathy.
The Business of Creativity: Two Strategies
There are two ways to succeed as a creative in business:
1. Be a business
Many creatives have a negative impression of business. They think it has to be soulless and aggressive. That “real business” is about the hard sell — everything from crunching numbers to crushing the competition.
Or worse, that artists are sellouts the moment they try to make money from their creative work.
This notion is poisonous, and it puts a limiter on our success. You don’t have to be hocking your wares and a cheap, pushy fashion. Artists bring value to the world, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t get paid for what they do.
If it’s a business, we really have to get into a business mindset:
- We need an overall strategy.
- We need an online foundation.
- We need an outreach plan.
- We need a conversion plan.
Just “putting your stuff out there” won’t help. Getting your music on Spotify is not enough. Putting your work up on Etsy is not enough. Same for Behance, Patreon, Kickstarter, Noisetrade, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Wattpad, Lulu, CreateSpace, Amazon KDP.
Distribution is not the problem. Attention is.
And then, what do you do to hold people’s attention once they give it to you?
Marketing doesn’t have to be a race to the bottom like reality TV or tabloids. This is about building trust and assembling an audience that can’t wait for your next piece: Your book, your album, your graphic novel, your painting, your next line of jewelry.
It’s all in the way that you handle it. And it’s all in the nuances. I teach this to writers and artists of all kinds in my online course, Content Marketing for Creatives. Here’s a video overview of the course. And here’s a free checklist with a free set of email lessons to get up on the basics.
2. Help a business
Creativity has never been more in demand in the business world. The future will not be about who can interrupt us the most with low-value commercials and no value pop-up ads. Scrubbed and sanitized messages delivered by stock photo models who’ve never used the product. Made by “creatives” in ad agencies who are nothing more than boss-pleasers, optimizing for team harmony rather than taking a stand on what’s quality content and what’s not.
When the ad model dies (finally), who will be left standing? Those who do one or more of the following:
- Educate — teach me something that I don’t know already, or get deeper into the nuances
- Inspire — get me charged up about something, make me want to take action
- Enlighten — open me up to a new way of thinking, or change my mind about something
- Entertain — make me laugh, cry, or feel some other real emotion
Who can do these things? You! You are at a huge advantage if you’re a great writer, video producer, photographer, designer, or audio engineer.
You will be the “secret weapon” for the next wave of successful businesses. And for maybe the first time, businesses finally get that they need us. For those that don’t, please keep reading — the next section is for you!
Do You Think of Yourself as a Business?
“I’m good at doing business, but I’m not a writer.”
I hear this a lot, and help my small business clients get better at writing focused, optimized content to attract and connect with customers.
We often compete against businesses much bigger than our own. To me, this is what’s fun about it.
What I see out there is that having a great product or service is not enough. It’s baseline. There are tons of companies with good products, good salespeople, and good customer service. What’s more is that they’ll outspend us.
We need every advantage we can get. Creativity is the key, and it’s more than just an advantage.
Creativity is now a business imperative. It’s a requirement. Especially for small players — underdogs like you and me. Content marketing is not just a consumer expectation now — it’s our protection from getting outspent.
So how do we compete? We connect.
- We use our creativity to form connections with people over content.
- We use our creativity to teach people what we know so they can help themselves.
- We use our creativity to build a relationship with them until they trust us enough to ask for specific help.
- We use our creativity to give people the language to use to do the selling for us.
You can see how important creativity is to today’s small business owners. So how can you implement this?
More Creativity In Business: Two Strategies
There are two ways to add more creativity to your business:
1. Be a writer
Get good at writing. It’s the primary way we connect now. Customers expect to be able to learn about you before they even want to hear from you. That means well-written product pages, blog posts, and backstory. At the ready for when the customer is shows up.
Good writing is more than just “on the page,” though. It’s the foundation of other way to connect with customers too — designing visuals, producing video, creating podcasts — anything that will help you “be the thing, not the thing that sells the thing.”*
Writing is a skill like any other, so don’t tell me you can’t do it. You write emails to your customers, right? Then you can write a blog post. You talk to your customers on the phone, right? Then you can do a podcast.
The tools are out there — learn them. I teach this every day, you can learn them from me. I’ve got tons of free help (and inexpensive help too). You don’t have to call me, hire me, or pay me. It’s just FREE HELP from a practitioner who does this every day. Why would you not take me up on that?
2. Hire a writer
The demands of running your business may not afford you the time to learn the above skills. I get that. But if you are not willing to be a writer, then hire someone. Get a writer, designer, video producer, or audio engineer.
Get creatives involved. Real creatives who will tell you when your ad copy is crap. Real creatives who know how to make visual design reach off the page and grab you. Real Web designers who can make your site actually carry a customer path rather than being pretty but passive. Writers who know backend SEO so that you’re not publishing your blog posts into the Internet void.
Side note about SEO: This is a personal favorite of mine right now, and the biggest request I get from incoming clients. My approach is a little different — that SEO is a writing problem, not a tech problem. So you need a writer, but not yesterday’s writer who can produce “copy.” You need today’s writer who can produce compelling and search-optimized content.
Don’t get left behind. Get creative, or get help from a creative. Today it’s the chance to get a leg up on your competitors. Tomorrow, it might be YOU playing catch up. Now’s not the time to be complacent. It’s yours to learn and the information is all out there.
Then put it into practice. Learn from your mistakes. It’s really that simple. Call on me if I can help you.
*Quoting from The End of Advertising: Why It Had to Die, and the Creative Resurrection to Come (affiliate link) by Andrew Essex, pp. 205–8. Published by Spiegel & Grau, 2017.