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It's funny, because the more I read about entrepreneurship, the more people seem to conflate it with small business in general. While it make sense to me that many small businesses can be entrepreneurial, I don't think they all are. There seems to be something more specific, or maybe more uncertain, about what makes an entrepreneur tick.

The research seems to attempt to identify the characteristics of an entrepreneur, and those tend to center around a person's creativity, intuition, decision making abilities, and tolerance to risk. I guess what bugs me about most of these models, is that they're studying the Steve Jobs types, and not really the average Joe like me. The problem is that this type of research tends to center around the rarified personality, the stellar successful businessmen and women who become the stuff of legend.

I get it. These heroes are fascinating to study, and they're an inspiration to be sure, but they don't inspire me to greatness as an artist. They seem disconnected somehow from my tiny art business. But I know that my art is a business, and that I need to be entrepreneurial in my approach to running this business. You know that half of small businesses fail within their first five years? We have that fact looming above us as we try to make sense of how to freelance our way through a creative enterprise.

I was in a meeting just last week, where an artist in our building actually expressed how discouraged she was that people expected her to be a business woman, when all she wanted to do is make art. There was a moment of silence, when everyone in the room looked at her in shock. She was able to read the room quickly, and added; "but I know I have to". While I'm not sure I believe her, she does in fact need to treat her art as a business... and she's right, she has to.

There's a bright side too. Did you know for example that entrepreneurs earn an average of twice what an employee earns in a lifetime? We tend to consider the fears and limitations of our creative careers, but we're also sitting on a lot of potential here. Imagine the possibility of doubling your income, and actually doing what you love to do. Not that you're dying to to the marketing and record keeping, but to be able to take your ideas and desires in any direction you choose. To develop your skills and direct the trajectory of your business to follow your bliss. No one said it would be easy, but no one seems to say either that it could be wonderful, life-affirming, and fun.

We talked before about how our vision and goals may need to be adjusted as creatives, and that the standard approach to running a computer empire probably won't fit to selling paintings, or fine art photographs. We should definitely be allowed to alter and reimagine some of those strategies and apply them to our experience, but what interest me is how I can make my small art business more entrepreneurial, and by extension, more successful.

One of the first disconnects I see between the two business models is that standard small businesses are trying to create a financial organization that can outlive the founder, and be passed on to future generations, or to sell off to a high bidder. The goal is to create something that can survive without you. I'm not sure that's going to work for me. Let's face it. I am my own brand. It's my signature on that painting, and my hand and mind that created it. I can amass a huge fortune selling my art, and leave the cash to my kids, but when I die, there really better not be any further paintings by John Bishop. Most of what I'm reading about entrepreneurship falls away when applied to my reality. So what can I learn, and retain, from all the scholarship around being an entrepreneur.

My fist observation is that most entrepreneurs seem to be leaders, founders, inventors. The whole idea of the enterprise comes from them. Even if they bring in a bunch of employees and specialists, they are at the center of the operation. Ok that seems to work well. All my art comes from me, so I'm pretty much at the core of this business.

Secondly, there seems to be a confidence, a bravery, that goes along with their success. They have a higher tolerance for risk than their contemporaries, and seem to view challenges as opportunities for problem solving. They don't consider competitors as. competition. No one is going to be able to do your art, so there is really no competition. Mistakes and failures are a part of the process, and are learning experiences. This may be a lot harder for creatives. We're certainly willing and able to take chances, explore new boundaries, and risk more than others, but we also seem to have egos made of glass. We tend to doubt ourselves, break under pressure, and crumble before criticism. So that's somewhere I need to grow. I need to be able to take risks confident that even failure teaches me something... possibly more than success does. I need to be open to, responsive to, but not destroyed by criticism. I need to be able to push past fear of rejection, ridicule and self-doubt. There's a lesson I need to learn. But at its core, entrepreneurship is a way of looking at life, and career. It's not a matter of luck, it's just work.

Giveaway: This month we're offering a free give away. If you'd like a free copy of the spreadsheet template I use to organize all my records, it will only cost you an email address. I'm trying to build my database of emails, so if I send you a newsletter or promotion that you'd rather not receive, you can always opt out at any time. So just send me your email, and I'll get you a copy of the spreadsheet file. I have used this template now for several years, and even if you need to tweak it to make it work best for you, it might be of help to you in organizing your own small creative business.



Bet-David. Valutainment. “12 Mistakes I Made My First Year as an Entrepreneur”.  May 12, 2016. YouTube.

Blank, Steve. “You’re not a Real Entrepreneur”. June 10, 2010.  

Entrepreneur Magazine. “10 Ways Emtrepreneurs Think Differently”. September 22. 2014.

Karabey, Canan Nur. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences. “Understanding Entreprenurial Cognition Through Thinking Style, Entrepreneurial Alertness and Risk Preference: Do Entrepreneurs Differ from Others?”. 2012. 58. p.861-870.

Long, Jonathan. Entrepreneur Magazine. “10 Things that Set Entrepreneurs Apart from the 9-5 Crowd”. July 21, 2014.

Patel, Sejan. “9 Ways Entrepreneurs Think Differently Than Employees”.


John Bishop Fine Art's "Conversations with Freelance Creatives" is a weekly blog/vlog/Podcast that creates a community, a conversation, between creatives in all sorts of fields at all sorts of levels.  We want to discuss what we’re learning, what we’ve experienced, and whom we’ve met in our journey of running a freelance creative business. John Bishop is a visual artist living in Houston, Texas. His work is largely abstract, and explores how to turn mythic, archetypal symbols into individual experiences allowing us to see them in a new way, with fresh eyes. His work can be seen online, or at his studio at Silver Street Studios, 2000 Edwards Street, Studio 108, in Houston.

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