As a creative person, you pride yourself on doing things differently, ditching the template, and standing apart from featureless, clustered, homogeneous masses.
But what if your shunning of the status quo is actually sabotaging you from making money? Fine if you want to keep your pursuit boxed away as a sideline interest… but what if you want to make your passion a full-time gig?
If you’re an architect you probably wouldn’t try to innovate new ways of building a solid foundation. You’d stick with what’s proven and what works. But that’s often what we do as creatives.
Instead of giving someone an easily verifiable outcome, we shape our offering in a way that confuses other people for the sake of being different. Or worse: rather than solving a proven problem, we try to convince people they have a problem they’re not yet aware of (and set ourselves up for a lot more work in the process).
I know a lot of people that don’t want an email list because that’s what everyone does. I know people that don’t want to do a product launch because that’s how everyone does it. They’d rather be more creative and approach things in a new way.
This is a bad idea.
Innovation is best when it happens around content, vision, and message, not with proven structures and systems.
Car makers don’t laugh at the predictable monotony of the modern wheel. They innovate around structure, design, and performance.
Though it may be painful to follow the status quo (as a bleeding heart non-conformist, it hurts me too), when it comes to business systems and models, do what’s been proven to work. Whatever the proven, tested structure is in your field, embrace it and focus your creativity in the places that matter.
Here are some examples of systems that work:
- Creating an event around the launch of your product
- Building an email list by giving something highly valuable away for free
- Writing a book and using it to support your consulting/coaching
- Taking your passion and teaching other people how to do it (example: if you’re a knitter, teach others how to knit)
These are all proven strategies and tactics for creating a thriving business. Violate them at your own risk.
When it comes to content and messaging, however, this is the place to let your creativity shine. There are all sorts of opportunities for you to innovate on how you deliver, present, and structure your content.
You might do this by…
- Using metaphor to structure the product. Charlie and I did this with The Dojo.
- Developing a new / smarter marketing strategy.
- Creating a unique and memorable experience for your customers.
- Innovating with the delivery method (Danielle’s FireStarter Sessions are a great example of this).
- Cultivating a remarkable brand.
These are just a few ways you can stretch your creative muscles. I’m sure you can think of more.
However, the single biggest place I see people trip up creatively is with their message vs. their solution. Every day I see a lot of people get into trouble confusing these two things.
And it makes sense. For creatives, the message is the sexy part. It’s essentially your “reason why” or deeper purpose behind things. It’s exciting, it’s your rocket fuel for moving forward. But it often doesn’t make for a sellable solution.
Take my message for instance, “live and work on your own terms” — I think this is a powerful message, and a lot of my readers agree. But, it’s highly unlikely that anyone would pay me for coaching to help them live and work on their own terms. It’s ambiguous and unclear of exactly what that means. And because of that, it’s hard for anyone to evaluate whether coaching would be a smart investment for them.
On the other hand, they would probably be more willing to pay me to help them quit their job and create a purposeful business. That’s a specific solution that people can identify and externally validate. You know when someone has quit their job and is working for themselves, you can actually see it and verify it. But it’s hard to know when someone is living on their own terms.
My solution is a specific, tangible expression of my message that people care about and need.
Without the message (and the deeper purpose), the solution is kind of lame. There’s no driving “why” behind it. It’s flat and uninspiring.
In the same way, the message by itself is interesting, but unlikely to amount to a profitable business without a clear vehicle for expression.
My message allows for a lot of creative expression. I can say things like “cut the cubicle umbillical chord” and “become your own master.” But I’m not going to try to innovate when it comes to a proven way to manifest this — working for yourself.
When it comes to building a creative business, the key is to harness both sides of your brain to harness their appropriate strengths. Use the creative hemisphere when you need to create a compelling message or do something to stand out. Mobilize the practical side when you need to figure out the smartest, most effective, proven way of doing something (whether it’s novel or not).
Our creativity is a sacred gift, but it shouldn’t get in the way of us doing what works.
Has your creativity ever kept you from making progress? I’m curious to hear your thoughts.
photo courtesy of Norman Lear Center