I remember realizing one day I was not an artist like the rest. I was a business person first and an artist second.
That has differentiated me from many an artist in the communities I roamed in when I first started my business.
I thought of myself for a long time as an artist, living under the artist mantra, "starving artist" but I knew I couldn't live like that. For starters, starving does not feel like an appealing way of living. Despite what the Buddha says, "Life is suffering" and choosing the life of an ascetic, I found myself a little annoyed at the fact that I'd be relegated to life of a "starving artist" if I kept that up. It's a poor mindset. You don't need loads of money to be a "rich artist" necessarily, however I think starving artist is an image, not a lifestyle you want to live. You do NOT need to starve for your art. In fact a healthy body, mindset and lifestyle will give you the option to be a thriving artist making a living utilizing your art.
Many of us in the entrepreneur world have relied on opinions from someone who isn't doing "it" (whatever your "it" is) to shape our business and artistic lives when we first started out until we had an epiphany -- if you haven't gotten to this point in your career it will come eventually. I thought being an artist was about artistic freedom, where money doesn't dictate what you do, and everyone would accept me and help me out -- in hindsight this entitled attitude is disgusting. I wanted to put in the work, but I wanted the silver spoon handed to me becuase I was starving. I liked money, but what I was shooting and singing wasn't going to be bringing money like I make now, any time soon. At least not with what I was doing and how I was doing it. I didn't have the artistic prowess to be a punk, errr..chicken... in a world where being a punk chicken isn't the in thing. I had to make it a thing.
BECOMING THE CHICKEN
In January 2018 ish, I decided to start a photo page on Facebook after getting a lot of feedback from people that my photography was really nice.
This is the cell phone photo I took of a friend's chicken who ran right up to me and pecked at my phone. This little daring, and friendly chicken is what started a revolution in my mind. A revolution that has taken me around the world with content shared, and shot, a revolution that made me take a step back and ask myself more than once, "Am I a chicken? What does it mean to be a chicken? Was the art inside of me, or am I breaking the egg to something new??"
I ho-hummed about it, and I posted to it, and got all my friends to like it and follow me. I felt like the big guy on the internet block. My first posts were all nature, sunrises, sunsets, all the stuff that I now never shoot because of a few things, although mainly because much of my work these days is paid and I don't have the time or desire to always pick up my camera to shoot things just because. Is this bad? One could argue I lost my passion to shoot to the almighty dollar, however I would flip that script and say the almighty dollar is also what taught me to respect the business person within me. The almighty dollar is what taught me that food isn't cheap, living isn't easy, and the summertime livin' is especially busy! It taught me responsibility in ways that I didn't quite understand before. It taught me how to thrive not just survive. Going full time freelance taught me the lessons I thought I knew. It also hardened me a bit, toughened up my skin with the school of hard knocks, and gave me a better understanding of empathy and sympathy. I was able to walk in the shoes of the person who has less than $20 to survive for a week or more to some months making over $5,000, at least on paper.
Do you realize how uncanny it is to be sitting at your computer on a Tuesday at 3:43 in the afternoon thinking how much time a full time job really takes out of your week? When you sit there for the first month of having to make money for yourself and think to yourself "but, I had a ton of work, I was ALWAYS busy before...why am I not right now?! Oh man, I'm struggling, this is scary!" and you come to realize the water displacement in your time cup was your full time job and your cup was overflowing because you had a giant item in your relatively sized time cup.
So you put on your big boy pants and you get over the anxiety of making phone calls and meeting people.
I made over 100 phone calls and emails to music festivals, concert halls, production companies, you name it, anyone who would take me. Only two responses out of 100.
I thought, oh boy, this is going to be harder than I thought. But I didn't come this far to fail this quick!
I joined the likes of HBBA, by far the best decision I made at the time.
The first seven years of my journey where I didn't consider myself a freelancer, just a scrappy artist who took photos and played music and worked full time was prepping me for what was to come. And subsequently, the first year of full time freelancing was prepping me for the second year where I had a better idea and a plan and 3-5 niches that I stayed in. I'll get this all down right someday. I'll be a well oiled machine able to produce what I wanted to from the start. It takes time, and that Time Cup needs more in it to have some liquid displaced.
It's a great book to begin to understand the WHY behind the reason.
But it's also a testament to my early career as a business person, and likely yours, trying to do everything myself. Being the starving artist. This book made me realize how far I've come. Where the E-Myth made me realize how far I've yet to go.
Back to this book, I like the premise behind the book, basically finding your "who" rather than asking "how". However, I also think to a degree it's a little short sighted, and way too focused on the goal of getting ahead while not caring about the details now and why they matter. I think there's a beauty in knowing HOW because then you're not always stuck trying to find the WHO. To me, it's so very important to understand the WHY behind the WHO and HOW because that leads you to the right people not just the person you think will help you, but is playing charades with you. This book is a 10 chapter surface level book really at the end of the day. You can go so much deeper with the topic if you want, although it's really a simple topic. It's worth the listen or the read because there are some great stories and context in the book that give you something to understand the concept so much more.
LEARNING BUSINESS ACUMEN
Business acumen is a must if you want success. That's why learning the HOW, at least a little bit, so that you can meet the correct WHO matters. I put myself in front of business leaders in my own community when I knew nothing and it helped a lot, but it also taught me it doesn't matter who you know if you don't understand what you're talking about. If you have no goal or push to get the work that suits you then it doesn't matter who you talk to. A boat without a sail goes where the water takes it.
I heard a very important line this week, from Mike Troyer of Leadership Green Bay, paraphrasing for context, "If you can't teach it, and make the 'monkey' in the room understand it, you don't know it or understand it."
Business acumen isn't just numbers and budgets like we're taught to believe. CEO's are not CFO's. Want to watch a business change for the worse more often than and quicker than anything, put CFO's and shareholders in charge. Leadership is about leading and creating community. Want to be a leader then talk to leaders, want to be a loser, then talk to losers. You are the next in line of those you choose to be with as they say.
Business is networking, it connection, it's 99% showing up and delivering on your promises, 1% getting lucky with happenstance. It's working the hours no one else wants to work because you know the job has to get done. It's showing up to the presentation when you're dead tired and just want to sleep, but you find yourself revitalized and 100% recharged and ready to work. Business is a game, yes, a game, the scary four letter word that is associated with losing. But it's true, it's a game that you can win when you "pass go" with the right people.
Business is knowing your worth and being flexible enough to work with.
It's being OK with decisions that may not be what YOU wanted. Trust me when I say there are jobs I wish I would've gotten, but then, I would've missed out on opportunity that came otherwise. It's knowing that there are no impossible problems, only challenges with solutions.
We've taken a man to the moon, see the photo - in fact, July 20 was the 54th anniversary of the moon landing. We've been to the deepest ocean trenches of Planet Earth, James Cameron successfully went to the bottom of the Mariana Trench some 36,201 feet, which is 7,000 MORE FEET than the height of Mount Everest -- oh and didn't kaboom or do it with a logitech joystick. We've come from cave people to space people in less time than it took the dinosaurs to evolve and die out. Teamwork is the dreamwork, as cliche as it sounds, and that's coming from someone who tended to be a lone wolf trying to be everything to everyone.
Henry Ford famously said "It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages."
In most cases I would rather use my learned and natural business skills to support my art in a healthy way, rather than use my art to support an unhealthy set of unproductive business skills and not get better business acumen. To ultimately have to rely on the "day job I dislike, but it pays the bills" to support my habits and true identity. Ouch, I know that last statement will offend some people. Being a full time artist isn't for everyone.
If that offends you then let's talk about it. Maybe I am being short sighted. I certainly don't want to come off the wrong way like I know better than anyone else. I am in the game WITH you, not against you. We both need each other if we want to survive.
And finally, two big pieces of business advice. One comes from a post that photographer Max Hemphill had on LinkedIn, and the Who Not How book, "There's enough to go around for everyone. You are your only competition." God damn, this was a tough pill to swallow.
The second is my father who said for years, definitely not this exact phrase, but I remember it like this, "They can steal our software, they can try to debug our code, they can take our clients....but they'll never get the genius behind it." in reference to the success he has had with his company Digital Design Services, Inc. and the reason why the clients and connections he has keep coming back project after project. Having worked for him and seeing his success I am living proof that he was right. So yes, while my intellectual property matters and makes a difference, and please don't steal my work, but remember you can steal my images, take my clients, do what you will, but you won't get what made it all possible, my eye, my mind and my work ethic.
This is why working with the right people matters. I love all my clients and customers because they see something in me that I don't always see. They know they're going to get something the value as a tool not a vanity project.
OK Chickens, wow, this post got long, and maybe out of hand, maybe it's offensive, maybe it's not. If I offended you by saying you CAN and NEED to mix business first and art second if you want to thrive not just survive in it full time, then let's plan a meeting I'd love to hear and learn your perspective.
Your Head Chicken,