Creating: A Business

I am starting a video podcast of sorts in which I will go into the many aspects of making a living doing creative work. This is episode 0 of this series. If you have landed on this page, its because I or someone else has given you the link to check it out.

In this episode I sit down with Jake Brown to talk about many aspects of doing creative work and getting paid for it. Huge thanks to Jake for helping me film this and providing great information.

I would love to hear any thoughts or questions you have. If this talk sparks any questions, if you are struggling with something in your work, or any question about making a living doing creative work, send me an email: richard@richardross.co

Conversation topic overview:

-Creativity and business
-Doing work for free
-Personal projects are important
-Creativity is a muscle
-Don't feel bad about how much you charge
-Getting on the same page with a client
-Should I jump right into freelance out of school or from my job?
-Getting the kind of work you want to get
-Every job you take on should have two out of three things

Show notes:

  • Creativity and business: 

    • Approaching the art you create through the lens of business.

  • The importance of having a website

    • Get a website.
    • Squarespace is cheap and easy to use.
    • Lock down the URL you want for your business as soon as you can.
    • Don’t be afraid of the “.co” URL. I have one and it’s awesome.
  • Being creative is fun and all, but you have to make sales to stay in business.

    • If you don’t make a profit, you will not stay in business. Period. Start thinking about how your business can survive in the long term before you start your business.
    • When starting out, the vast majority of your focus should be on having a sound business strategy. 75% business, 25% creative, if not more. 
  • Do work for free.

    • Full price or free. Charge what you're worth or take on projects pro bono. This will give you the ability to have more creative control and execute the vision you have so that you can easily show others you are capable of making those types of things.When starting out, it is good to do work for free. In this stage you are building up your portfolio of work and proving to people that you can execute ideas in you head.
    • When starting freelance work, I found that a lot of the companies I wanted to work with were really cool, but they were smaller companies. The issue there is that, yes they may be great companies with cool aesthetics, but they didn’t have the money to pay me what I’m worth. If I could go back, I would have worked pro bono for them so that I could accelerate my portfolio much faster.
    • This is a beneficial transaction between you and the company you want to work for. They need the work but can’t pay you, and you need the work for your portfolio to get paid for projects like that in the future. Think of this as an investment. You may be working for free for that project, but you will get to higher paying projects much faster. 
    • Don’t work for free forever. Use this starting out. Preferably while you are still in college or working another job. Instead of watching Game of Thrones all day on a Saturday, go create something awesome for a company.
  • Personal projects are important. 
    • This is very similar to pro bono work. If you invest your time into showing people your vision and style, they will hire you for your vision and style.
    • If you don’t have paid gigs, don’t stop working. Always create.
    • Jake: “The best performing content on my website are all personal projects."
    • Jake just landed a full time job as a director and is a major factor into him being hired is the personal projects he created.
    • Personal projects invest in your creative potential.
    • Personal projects allow you to show people you can take what is in your head and make it a reality.
    • Don’t be afraid of imperfect work.
  • Creativity is a muscle.

    • Do your creative pushups. If you’ve never worked out and someone asked you to lift 200 pounds, you wouldn’t be able to do it. But if you did pushups and worked out everyday, then you would be able to lift that much weight. Creative work is the same way. Do your pushups everyday with creating that way when a client asks you to lift 200 pounds, you can do it no problem. Practice is important.
    • Director Ryan Booth refers to this as creative reps.
  • Iterate. Iterate. Iterate.

    • Actually do something. Then commit to doing that thing.
    • A study was done observing two groups. Both groups were asked to make clay pots. The first group was told they were being judged on the quality of the pots they create. They had to make the best pot possible. The second group was being judged on the number of pots they made. At first, the group 1 was making better pots, but overtime group 2 was making significantly better pots. The reason for this is that those in the second group were iterating a lot and learning from their mistakes. This allowed them to know how to approach the next pot to make it better.
    • A big part of the purpose for making this show is so that I can iterate and get better.
  • People that you think are the best were not always the best.

    • Think of someone's work that you admire a ton. You think, wow they are so good I should just quit. Now go look at their earliest work. They weren't always that good.
    • When looking back at old projects we’ve created, we see how terrible they are and what could be done better. That is a great thing. It means you have gotten better. Keep going and soon enough you will be the one people look up to.
    • Being the best takes a ton of time and a ton of failure.
  • Don’t feel bad about your pricing.

    • When starting out, I didn’t have a good understanding on what I should charge people. I felt bad charging people $700, $900, $1,200 for a project. I didn’t understand why it cost that much. I quickly found out that I wasn’t charging enough. Your pricing has to add up to cover business expenses and what you want to pay yourself. 
    • The reason it is okay to charge what you should charge is because the work you are doing will bring your client income. They will have a return on their investment.
  • If you get a sense someone will be a bad client, they are going to be a bad client. 

    • Take on projects that you are confident will be mutually beneficial for both parties. 
    • Look out for red flags. If you see one, yes one, don’t take the project.
    • From personal experience, I have take on clients that I had concerns about working together. They all have turned into headaches and required hours upon hours of extra work on the project that I didn’t get paid for. Don’t take on clients you have concerns about.
    • The idea when agreeing to work with a client is to reach a win for both you and the client. Win-win or no deal. If the project agreement is not good for you, or not good for your client, turn down the project.
  • Position yourself as an investment, not as an expense.

    • Pricing your services for what they are worth is possible because the work you do will bring your client more money than they put in. 
    • You are much more than expense. Position your services so your client knows they will get a return on their investment.
  • Find a community

    • Having likeminded individuals in similar fields of work is really helpful. 
    • Communities can be found in your city. They can also be found online. Find a place where you can let people know your struggles and your successes.
    • Working solo is possible, but there is a danger of operating in a silo. Business is tough, and running your own business by yourself is even more tough. Look for people that can help you be better and produce more efficiently.
  • Be proactive, not reactive.

    • Be confident in your abilities. The client is not always right and they are hiring you to help them solve their problems. Just because they suggest something, doesn't mean it is the best thing for the project.
    • You are the professional. You are providing the solutions. The client can and should give their input, but guide the client to the appropriate solutions.
    • Preproduction is important. Plan ahead so that you can be confident in your execution and explanation to your client.
    • Preproduction also allows for clear communication when working with multiple people.
  • Click here to see the music video Jake and I made.

  • Be wonderful to work with.

    • Ego has no place when working with teams. 
    • If you are wonderful to work with, people will want to work with you again. 
    • Make things easy for your clients. If they have a pleasant experience they will have a pleasant experience writing the check.
  • Don't operate out of assumptions.

    • Outline all project expectations in a written out contract.
    • Contracts are your friend. They establish clear expectations between you and the client.
    • Contracts seem scary, but they are only helpful. They aren’t meant to trick anybody, but to set a clear understanding of the project. 
    • Have a paper trail. After a phone call, write an email to the person you had a call with to outline what you discussed.
    • Check out Shake Law (www.shakelaw.com). It’s a great free contract tool for freelancers. 
  • Squarespace. Taste the rainbow.

    • Squarespace sites are easy to use and make you look professional. 
    • Super affordable, well built product.
    • Share your website so people can see your work. 
    • Your website is your home. It’s your platform. It’s your front door.
  • Own your talent and promote yourself.

    • Your work won’t speak for itself. Promote the work you do. If you don’t promote, people will not see what you do.
    • Self promotion is not a bad thing. It’s a great thing. You created something because you thought it would be helpful or was helpful to someone. Help people by letting them know about your work.
    • Reach out to blogs to let them know about your work.
  • Don’t jump right into full-time freelance work.

    • Okay well... don’t jump in without a plan.
    • If you are still in school, start doing work for clients while you are still in school.
    • If you are working in a job currently, work on the weekends on client work.
    • There is a huge learning curve in running your own business if you have never done it before. You quickly start to realize how much there is to do and keep track of. It’s difficult to stay afloat. 
    • Do client work and establish a foundation while you are still employed or still in school and have enough runway before jumping right in. Make enough mistakes to learn how to run things smoothly before jumping right in. If not, the money runs out fast.
  • Go after the work you want get.

    • Keep going after it even if you encounter no’s. Then promote that work.
    • Project the work you want to get paid for.
    • I get hired for many types of jobs. I don’t put that all on my website. I put the things I want to get hired for and keep chasing after that.
    • Promote yourself as if you were two or three years into your work.
    • Just because you’ve done a project most recently doesn’t mean it needs to be at the top of your website. Put your best work first.
    • This doesn’t mean that you turn down jobs that come your way that don’t align with the work you want to get in the future. Sometimes you have to take those jobs to stay in business and that is a great thing to do. Just make sure the project will be worth your time with no difficulty from the client.
  • Jobs you take should have two of three things.

    • 1. Good money. 2. Working with good people. 3. It’s something I’m passionate about or want to make.
    • If they don’t have two of the three things, don’t take the project. It won’t be worth it.
    • Jake still takes jobs as a production assistant to gain experience and learn.

As I said at the beginning, I would love your feedback and any questions you have. My goal for this is to provide information for people that will actually be helpful. So, any questions you have shoot me an email! richard@richardross.co