All talk and no walk won’t get you anywhere
There’s a story full of stats I like to tell. And I tell it to the writers I work with who are struggling with owning how awesome they are.
It goes like this: 81% of adults in North America want to write a book. Of that group of people, less than 3% actually finish a book and publish it, or have it published.
Now, we know that writing a book is hard. I’ve done it. It requires some serious digging deep to get it done.
But what does that tell you?
A lot, an awful lot, of people love the idea of having a book. They dream of seeing a printed book with their name on it and the validation that comes from being a published author.
“I wrote a book,” is a pretty sweet way to introduce yourself, right?
The reality is, a lot of people dream and don’t do the work. The idea is far sweeter than the actual accomplishment.
And this isn’t limited to book writing. It happens everywhere.
Let’s talk about entrepreneurs.
There are two kinds of entrepreneurs in the world. Two that I am familiar with. You’ve got the people who dream about owning a business. They lug around books that tout the ideas of four hour work weeks, and making it big online. They jump from course to course hoping to land on the one thing that will make them rich.
You probably know a few. They’re the people who talk way too much at gatherings about their skills, trends, their business and more. Ad. Nauseam. (Exactly like those people who talk about the books they will write “one day”.)
I call them want-trepreneurs.
They may look busy. They may sound knowledgeable. They may even, on first glance, be impressive. But they aren’t willing or able to do what it takes to run an actual business. They just walk around acting like they’re running a business. Big shots of nothing.
Business to them is a status symbol. Maybe it’s even about get rich quick to them. Though they never do get rich at any speed.
Entrepreneurs do actual work. They figure out who their ideal clients are. They know their unique selling point. They have plans in place for marketing and special offers. They set goals and work to make them happen.
They’re people who play the long game, who see their moves as strategy and planting seeds, have the souls of entrepreneurs. They analyse mistakes. They roll with the punches. And they know that their business isn’t all about them; it’s about serving their customers.
The difference between the two groups is all mindset and follow through.
The ability to be an entrepreneur lies in how much you want to have a viable business vs how much you want the idea of one.
So how does this relate to creative businesses? Artists and writers can’t be entrepreneurs, right?
This is where we separate the wanters from the doers: it’s all in how they think and act in their business.
- Do you want to be discovered so your career can take off?
- Do you think marketing sucks and that no one buys art?
- Do you hang out with other creatives and complain or joke about starving?
- Do you assume that everyone has to pay their dues?
- Do you see selling as selling out?
- Do you see yourself as more noble because you’re suffering for your creative dreams?
- Do you think goals are a waste of time?
A yes to any of these, and all of them, should tell you whether you’re a want-trepreneur or entrepreneur. And if you’re happy with how things are for you, continue on as you have been. If you keep thinking things should be different, easier even, and are trying to figure out what you’re missing, then maybe you have something extra; the ability to go from want to ent.
I see a lot of artists online. I talk to a lot. Most have no clue that if they run their businesses like a business, they can go farther faster.
While there’s a mindset to be had, that personality that allows you to roll with the punches or plan long term moves, most of the entrepreneurial mindset lies in education. And if you’re alive, you can learn.
So let’s answer the questions above with entrepreneurial answers.
Do you want to be discovered so your career can take off?
When you leave it to luck and circumstance to help you make it big, you are removing your agency, your ability to manage and drive your career. It’s like playing the children’s playground game duck-duck-goose with fate and immediately stacks the odds against you.
Instead, look for opportunities to get in front of people. Look for chances to partner with other businesses to increase your reach. Be super clear on who you are, what you do, in order to ensure your audience knows what they get from you.
Do you think marketing sucks and that no one buys art?
Oh boy, this one is a trigger for me because it’s old thinking. In this age of being able to reach the world easily, with technology we all have at hand, marketing one’s work, whether it’s art or writing, is easier than ever.
If you imagine we have 7 billion people in the world and that half of them are online and that half of those have disposable incomes and that half of those are actively looking to buy art, and half of those are easy to ship to… well that’s still over 400 million people you can sell to who want to buy!
Do you hang out with other creatives and complain or joke about starving?
You are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with. Now, yes that’s a cliche but who you hang out with both reflects your mindset and influences it at the same time.
Your top five, do they think life sucks and the man is out to get you? Do they complain about a lack of money and how hard everything is? Or do they want to get the most out of their lives, trying to better themselves even if they aren’t entrepreneurs?
Take a hard look at everyone you spend time with and you will get a good (and harsh) sense of where you yourself are.
Do you assume that everyone has to pay their dues?
We all put time in. We all need to learn. Visual artists in particular, but writers too, think they need ten years of struggling before being able to eke out a living.
Holy hell, people. That’s a load of goose poo right there.
Dues. Who determines them? Who benefits from you paying them? Who are you paying them to? There’s no magical dues bank in the universe that requires anything from you.
Do you see selling as selling out?
Pure art doesn’t make money right? Pure writers do it for the passion, yes? So anyone who makes something with an eye to selling it is selling out and so doesn’t make true art.
This attitude is an old one and it’s designed to keep creatives down. In fact, it started in the industrial revolution when artists were moving away from being beholden to wealthy patrons, and so suddenly could create more of what they wanted to. They were less likely to work in fear of losing their incomes, holding their ideas in. And so, in an amazing fit of pr, the wealthy attached the ideal that artists who made money were untrue to their calling. And everyone bought it.
If you have to spend most of your energy working at a paycheck job, and have only a little left over to do your art, you are less dangerous. Your ideas are less likely to see the light of day.
Remember this when you look down your nose at your colleagues who are selling. Your attitude is unfounded and damaging.
Do you see yourself as more noble because you’re suffering for your creative dreams?
Another story created to make stone soup taste like caviar. Noble suffering makes the sufferer more worthy than the person who doesn’t suffer. You all go ahead and suffer, I’m going to make my art and feel amazing about it.
Do you think goals are a waste of time?
This one kills me because it’s been shown time and again that people without goals end up spending their time doing stupid shit. Checking social media instead of creating plans. Having a coffee or morning ritual instead of getting down to work.
Goals allow you to dream and clarify where you want to be. Not some vague, famous writer thing, but an actual clear picture.
So say your goal is to be a writer with ten non fiction books published within 5 years and read by hundreds of thousands of people. That’s pretty specific. It’s measurable and doable.
Working backwards, how do you reach it? Decide how much time per book you need to write in. The first book being the hardest.
Decide your area of expertise. Say, self help for female entrepreneurs. Good. Now write your first book. While you’re writing it, build an email list, run social media. Talk about writing it and the topics that interest you.
Do what you need to do to get it published (self or otherwise). Sell it.
Start the second book. Continue to build your audience etc etc. And continue with the third and so on.
See how suddenly you have not only an end game but a step by step plan you can work towards? And when you tie a timeline in, you’re not wasting time but actively working your way towards it.
So tell me now how goals are a waste of time.
The bottom line is you can want and dream and talk until the cows come home but until you change how you do things, how you think of them and how far you’re willing to go, you will always be a want-trepreneur.
And in this incredible time in human history, it’s such a shame when people don’t sit up, look around and realise the world is as close as their phone and business mixes incredibly well with art.