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The Best Thing About Not Getting What You Want

It's funny really, because when we first decided to strike out as freelance creatives, our goal was to become video producers, and do art on the side. And we gave it a shot. Perhaps it was because of where we live, but that dream really never took hold for us. What we quickly realized that, in order to become successful in the video production scene in Houston, we needed to have a team of people, with all sorts of crazy expensive equipment. We of course, didn't have either, and what was more discouraging was that those who did, seemed to still be struggling to survive. To make it, we would need to score big corporate jobs in oil, or biomedicine. We needed companies who had large marketing budgets, and who had a clue what quality video production entailed, and cost. We kept meeting teams that had been flown in from LA and New York to do the big corporate jobs, and the established local outfits seemed to have to fight for whatever they could get. The big companies and advertising firms seemed to all be doing video in house, and we didn't want to get a job in video, we wanted to freelance. So we looked around and noticed that small businesses were in great need of video marketing, but they had no budget, and no concept of what video cost. We couldn't really go big, and small couldn't pay our bills. So our niche market just didn't really seem to exist. We thought we might scale up so that we could play with the big kids. We could get a loan to pay for some better equipment, and hire young beautiful people who we could put in matching t-shirts and a van with vinyl wrapped logos all over it. But we realized instantly that were we to follow that path, we would do nothing but paperwork, and manage employees. Neither of us wanted to do that.

That's a long way of saying that we actually didn't want what we thought we wanted. Part of any business endeavor requires that we know ourselves well enough, and know our field well enough to succeed. Bogdan has a great talent in editing, filming, and production, but he doesn't want to be a bookkeeper and an employer. We decided to limit ourselves to smaller gigs, where we could be more selective in what projects we took on. That didn't really work for us either. Our dream was bigger than that.

I tell this story because one of the most important lessons I've learned over the past 5 years, is how to apply my vision, my dreams and my values to my business. We have enough talent and resourcefulness to have come up with a viable business plan to expand our business model. But we didn't want to. I remember going to workshops where people said that in order to be a success, you need to build a business that you can one day walk away from. I didn't what to do that. I don't want to do that now. I am my business. I am the product, and when I'm gone, my business will go too. If I had followed that advice, or built a business model that created a corporate entity that would outlive me, I would have hated it. Wasn't it St. Teresa of Avila who said there are more tears over answered prayers than unanswered ones?

Don't get me wrong. There are loads of businesses that should be built to outlast their founders, and good CEOs manage those businesses to that end. It just so happens that I don't want that sort of business. That makes the question of how to measure success all the more difficult. There are all sorts of clear metrics to measure the success of those companies... but for the fine artist, I think there must be a different model, different metrics.

So what does success look like for creatives? Clearly it will depend on each of us, and the peculiarities of our creative fields. If you are an architect, or in advertising, or even design, you may well want to build that stand alone business that you can sell, or leave to your children. And if that makes sense, then obviously that's what you should be building. But if you are an painter, a musician, a writer, dancer, actor, sculptor... then you are your product. You are your brand. You are the business, and it is you. That requires a whole different approach. Success will have to be measured differently, but before you can measure anything, you have to be sure that you actually want that sort of business, that sort of career.

Fine art seems to tick all of the right boxes for us. We have talent, we don't mind hard work, we like building relationships with collectors, the freedom to create, and we absolutely love the marketing part of being artists. I'm not claiming to be great at it, as we're still paying our dues. I can say however that I've never been happier. If that's not a measure of success, it sure ought to be.

If our theme this week is figuring out what success looks like for the creative professional, then the very first step must be to have that clarity of vision, that flexibility to change course rapidly, and to honestly, genuinely and completely know what you want to do. Then you have to determine how to build a business plan around that dream. That may sound like a weekend in front of a white board with a box of markers, but it turned out to be really, really hard for us. Of course, this pandemic has blown much of our planning away, but there are definite, deliberate, and measurable steps we can all take to grow our creative careers when we're certain that we know what we want.

Love to hear your thoughts, ideas, experiences, fears... whatever could be of help to all of us. I'm sure there are loads of great suggestions and advice out there. We'd love to hear your wisdom.

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