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There are a lot of myths out there about how to start a creative based business, that many new and aspiring creatives assume to be true.
Unfortunately, by doing so it can actually hold you back from achieving success, and making your dream of earning a living from a creative base business a reality.
Here’s the real deal on the 7 most common myths you might believe to be true about starting a creative base business.
Myth #1: You need to have a specialized qualification to be taken seriously
This seems to be a common misconception amongst many new and aspiring creatives. But it’s definitely one that isn’t true.
Sure, having a good understanding of your creative discipline and being able to get the thought out of your head into a realized form are important skills to have, and it’s always good to get some training on the areas that you feel need improving.
But having a paper qualification in a particular creative discipline is definitely not a requirement to getting started, or becoming successful.
The bottom line is that clients simply don’t care about whether you have a qualification in that creative discipline. All they care about is whether you’re going to be able to produce the service at the level of expectancy that you convey and committed to them.
In fact, I would argue that a business qualification is more important than one in a creative discipline.
You could be the most amazing and qualified creative in the world, but if you don’t know how to market your business properly people will never find you.
Or if you don’t understand how to set profitable prices, then you’ll never be able to make a sustainable income from your creative field.
So, don’t let not having a creative qualification, or amazing technical skills, hold you back from starting a business.
Myth #2: You need a top of the line tools, such as a camera, lens, bruhs, or whatever to be taken seriously.
I’m going to share a little secret with you here. One that will save you a ton of money over the years to come. Listen up now, because it’s a good one…
Having a better tool than the next creative will not help you get more work, or charge higher prices. Seriously.
To borrow a response from Myth #1 above: clients don’t care about what tool you use. All they care about is whether you’re going to produce a superior service or product that they are paying for.
That is unless you truly believe that having amazing tools, that produces awesome products and services, is how other creatives are able to achieve what they do? And that it has nothing at all to do with the creative themselves?
I didn’t think so!
Always try to approach TOOLS / GEAR with the mindset of “what can I get away with not having”. Especially when you’re first starting out.
Get by with what you already have and only upgrade or purchase new tools or gear if and when you absolutely have to.
Remember that ten years ago creatives were using equipment that would be comparable with the entry-level gear is of today, and they did the job perfectly well.
I recommend starting out with the bare minimum of tools & gear you can get away with. For most this will be a basic tools and gear and a computer.
Myth #3: A free website or Facebook page is good enough when you’re just starting out
As a new creative you won’t have a shop window (or even studio window) to let the world know about you. Instead your website will be your shop window.
It’s where you’ll display your product (your creative works) and let people know all about what you can do for them.
Your website is one of the most important things that sets your business apart from everyone else.
If you want to be taken seriously and be treated like a professional creative, then your website needs to look the part.
You want it to appeal to your customers and encourage them to get in touch with you.
Whilst using a free website or just a Facebook page to promote your new business can be appealing when you’re just getting started, scrimping on paying for a professional set up is a false economy.
Especially as nowadays you don’t need to spend thousands getting a web developer to make you a custom site, in order to have a professional looking website.
You can get started with a self hosted WordPress site for just a few dollars a month with SquareSpace or Format.
Myth #4: You should NOT have a niche and never turn away work
I can kind of understand why this one sounds believable. Because it feels like the sensible thing to do when you’re just starting out, and trying to earn a living from your craft.
Why would you want to turn away any work when someone is offering you money? Surely producing all types of work, as much as possible and getting your name out there is a good thing?
Well, yes, and no.
When you’re in the portfolio building stage it can definitely be beneficial to try your hand at lots of different types of products / services in your creative field.
You may discover a new area in your field that you didn’t expect to enjoy quite so much, or one that you’re particular good at, that could change the direction of your creative business.
But when the time comes to take things a bit more seriously and start charging money for your product / services and trying to establish a name for yourself in the local market, it’s far better to specialize in just one area of your craft.
There are two compelling reasons for specializing. Firstly, by being a Jack/Jill-of-all-trades creative, there will be nothing that makes you stand out from the competition. It’s like white-noise. You’ll just be ‘another creative’ along with all the others in your area.
Secondly, when you specialize you become known for that genre of your craft, and are seen as a expert in that field. Who wouldn’t want to become a SME!!! …oh..that’s industry lingo for “Subject Matter Expert”.
This means people who are wanting, for example, pictures of their newborn baby are much more likely to hear about you if you’re known as THE newborn photographer in the area.
As a specialist, you’re also able to command higher prices. Because people are always willing to pay more for someone perceived as an expert, or the best in their field.
“As a specialist, you’re also able to command higher prices. Because people are always willing to pay more for someone perceived as an expert, or the best in their field.”
Myth #5: Charging low prices will help you get more commissions.
When you’re new and unconfident about charging for your work it can feel easier and lot less intimidating to start out charging low prices.
But this is just fear holding you back.
Unfortunately, it’s a fear that keeps many creatives stuck either doing exposure work ..aka.. free work (or close enough to it) for many years.
If you ever intend to make a living from your creative business, the bottom line is you won’t be able to achieve that by charging cheap prices.
Low pricing only works when combined with high volume.
As a single creative based business, there is always going to be a limit to the number of commissions you’ll be able to do without burning out.
Not to mention the amount of work it takes to keep such a high volume of customers coming through your door.
I know what you’re thinking. You can always start low and raise your prices later when you’re happy with your work, or getting lots of commissions.
You could certainly try that. But what you’ll more than likely find is that, when you eventually do raise your prices, you’ll alienate all of your existing and previous clients.
This results in you having to start all over again from scratch, trying to attract a new kind of client that can afford your higher prices.
This is the situation that many creatives find themselves in about a year or so into their business, when they realize that they’re busy but not actually making any real money. And certainly nowhere near being able to ditch their day job and do the creative based business full time.
A far better approach is to work out what you actually need to charge to support yourself and your business from your creative craft and set your prices to achieve this, right at the beginning.
You can then offer “portfolio building” discounts off these rates, while you build up your skills, confidence and client list.
Doing it this way means your clients will know what prices you’ll eventually be charging (and feel great that they’re getting such an amazing deal for finding you early!).
“Work out what you actually need to charge to support yourself and your business from your creative craft and set your prices to achieve this, right at the beginning.”
As your confidence in your ability grows you can gradually reduce the amount of discount you offer until you’re charging your full prices.
All the time safe in the knowledge that those prices will be able to support you and your business, when you’re ready to make the leap to full time creative.
Myth #6: If your work is good enough, your work will sell themselves, and you can rely on word of mouth referrals
Being a competent and confident creative is certainly an asset, no one would dispute that. But relying on your amazing work to sell itself is probably one of the main reasons that most creative businesses fail.
Your creative works are certainly important. They are the product that your business sells, along with your services as a creative. But they are just one part of the business.
A restaurant could make the most delicious food you’ve ever tasted, but if no-one knows it exists it will sit empty and soon go out of business.
It’s the same with your business. If you don’t let people know what you can do for them, they’ll never find out about you.
And if no-one is able to find you, you’ll never get enough commissions to make the move away from being a hobbyist creative.
The fact is, you need to market and promote your business. And you need to be doing it constantly. Marketing is not a once and done activity.
The most successful creative businesses have a marketing calendar where they plan out the promotional activities they’ll be doing over the coming months.
Word of mouth referrals do play a big part in most creative business’ marketing plans, and you should definitely set up a referral system.
But you also need to have a bigger, ongoing marketing strategy designed to keep a steady stream of commissions coming into your business.
Myth #7: It will take years before you can earn a decent living and do your creative craft full time
Much of the news out there for new and aspiring creatives is pretty discouraging. Such as:
“You need to find an established photographer who you can assist for at least 2 years to learn the ropes, and only then should you even think about charging for your own work.”
“You’ll need to start out charging low prices because your work won’t be good enough, and will have to work your way up the ladder to charging higher prices and attracting a higher-end clientele.”
Urgh. It’s no wonder many would-be-creatives struggle along earning not much more than coffee-money for their work, for many years.
But it really doesn’t have to be this way.
There is absolutely no reason why you can’t start a creative based business today and be doing it full time by this time next year.
I did it.
I grew my beauty & fashion photography business from zero clients to fully booked in just 9 months. Then turned around and started a corporate headshot business in a completely different city in under 6 months (www.NCHeadshot.com). And I know others who have done similar.
I’m here to tell you that it definitely is possible.
However, I can promise you one thing…it won’t be easy. Mark my word on that!!! It’s a lot of grit and grind, you will need.
It will take a lot of hard work and you’ll need to focus on the right things to make it happen.
And when I say ‘right things’, I don’t mean your creative skills. To my aspiring photographers out there, I don’t mean learning off camera flash or the latest cool editing technique.
I mean you’ll need to learn how to run a business.
Because, in order to have a successful business you need to treat it like a business. And you need to think like a business owner or entrepreneur.
The creatives who succeed in creating and running profitable and sustainable businesses, that enable them to earn a full time living from their creative based business, do so because they think like true entrepreneurs, and not just like creatives.
That’s why I coined the term “photopreneur” because having a successful photography business is all about combining the skills of both photographer and entrepreneur. If you are reading this as a creative that’s not into photography but another field of creativity…you are a “CREATIVE’PRENEUR”.
“The creatives who succeed in creating and running profitable and sustainable businesses, that enable them to earn a full time living from their creative fields, do so because they think like true entrepreneurs, and not just like a creative.”
My wish is for you to side-step the countless traps that make most creative based businesses epic failures, and instead learn how to create a profitable and sustainable business.