Holvi Blog for Makers and Doers

Do your own thing – what's it like to be a creative entrepreneur?

Small Business Tips · 08/04/2016, 12:51 · Arttu Talvitie

I attended Creative Lab’s event that focused on inspirational stories about creativity. There were well known Finnish names like Hjallis Harkimo, Minna Parikka, Olli Saarela and André Noël Chaker. What struck me most was that all the speakers at the event about creativity were entrepreneurs or freelancers. And it hit me — creative people who want to do their own thing often become entrepreneurs!

It was the same with me. I have been an entrepreneur in video production and photography for a long time. It started out as a hobby when I was a teenager. We were filming our skating, but soon we realised that none of us actually knew any tricks that would be worth filming. So we started to film other stuff, skits and short movies. At some point my friend's parents saw what we had created and asked if I could help their company with a small video. And that's how I started. I was just doing my own thing and suddenly was being paid for what I loved doing. After working on my own for years, I started a limited company called ATiimi.

Looking back, I realise that the only way for me to work in the video industry was to work on my own. I did not have any formal education in this field, everything I knew I had learnt by doing. As you can imagine, employers weren't lining up to hire me with this background. Plus, jobs  in the creative field are scarce. So I had to create my own job.

Your customers ruin everything

You become an entrepreneur to do your own thing, but entrepreneurs are not artists. That's why as a creative entrepreneur you often feel that “customers ruin everything” (I, of course, never think this way!). So, what’s the difference between artists and creative entrepreneurs?

Let's start with the basics – what is creativity, in my opinion? For me, it's different than being an artistic person. Artistic people have their inner passion to create things. But what they are satisfying is their own inner passion, not creating something for others. What is the difference between entertainment and art? Motivation for creating entertainment is trying to create experiences for others, when art is carrying out your inner passion. I think it is the same difference between artists and creative entrepreneurs. 

Arttu kuvaa kollaasi ATiimi working on a short movie

Creative entrepreneurs are fulfilling their customer's needs, not necessarily their inner passion. Of course, ideally these should go hand in hand. For me, creativity means that you can convert ideas and goals into a visual form, while being aware of the resources you have, and combining them in different ways in order to create your vision and reach your goals.

So I like to think that the biggest difference between artists and creative entrepreneurs is the origin of their goals. Artists create for themselves and entrepreneurs create for their customers. And this is something that you have to accept if you are trying to make a living in the creative field. Creative entrepreneurs' vision is always shared with their customers and needs to fulfil customers' needs and expectations.

Control your customer, so they ruin as little as possible – take pride in your professional work!

So when you are working with your client, chances are that they have pretty strong vision that they try to enforce on you. Or they just have opinions about every little thing, even though it would not matter – they just want to feel that their opinion matters. Whatever the reason for their meddling is, you shouldn't allow your client to influence your work too much. Yes, you are creating something for your customer, but with your expertise – don’t let the client to dilute your vision too much. Compromises don’t usually yield the best results.

Usually the “end user” is not same as your customer. For example, in video production you are usually hired by a marketing company, but the people who are going to watch the video are actually someone else. Maybe the potential customers of a 3rd company. The company that has hired you might have a lot of different motives, not just to complete a good project with your help. Organisation dynamics can have a lot to do with this or it can be that they want to realise their own creative voice. That's why you also need to control them so they don’t dilute your vision too much or with wrong reasons.

Arttu kuvaa kollaasi 2 ATiimi working on multiple projects

When they want you to do changes to the project, remember that they have chosen you for a reason. You should also recognise why they have chosen you. The reasons can vary quite a lot. For example they might have chosen you because you are the cheapest – then you can explain that you can provide such cheap services because of the way you work, and they need to agree on that way. Or if they have chosen you because you had the best portfolio, then you can explain that you are the expert in the field and they chose you because they wanted to use your expertise. They could have chosen somebody else. Have a professional pride!

It's also good to discuss this before kicking off the project. When you know why you've been chosen for the project, you can assume how the project goes forward and explain what choosing you will mean for the project. Take professional pride in what you're doing. If you are already on the project, stick to your vision and communicate clearly to your customer why you can't change certain things. Be strict — you know  your field better than your customers. When negotiating to work on a project, be clear about what you are going to create and how you are going to work. It’s hard to explain something that hasn't been created yet, so make sure to spend time on the planning phase and use references to convey your idea.


Summary:

  • Being an entrepreneur is a shortcut to making a living from doing your own thing.
  • Being a creative entrepreneur is different from being an artist – it's extremely important to understand and accept that you work to fulfill your customers' needs, not your artistic ambitions. Otherwise you are going to be miserable.
  • That's why it can feel that customers ruin your creative work.
  • Luckily, you can control they way your customers would want to interfere with your creative process.
  • The best way to limit your clients' involvement is to point out why they've chosen you in the first place and use this reason to explain your vision to the client.
  • Make good plans, use references and be patient.

The blog post is written by Arttu Talvitie, a marketing Manager for Holvi, a small business owner and entrepreneur at ATiimi.

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