Business challenges creative people face and how to overcome them: Part 2 - Heart Internet Blog - Focusing on all aspects of the web

In part one of this series, we looked at some of the most difficult issues around running a magical creative business, and offered some advice. Now, let’s continue to weave that spell.

Creating new things can look like magic to those who don’t, can’t or won’t do it themselves. But, even magicians have to practice. And even magicians have to market themselves, come up with new ideas, believe in themselves and deal with the days when the phone doesn’t ring.

Because even magicians are business people – just like any Creative.

#1: Work/life balance

When you’re working to tight deadlines for demanding clients, it can be difficult to switch off. Especially if you’re a freelancer working at home.

Creative people tend to be passionate about what they do. This can lead to a restless pursuit of perfection that leads to late nights and a lack of weekends. But, think about it, putting your work ahead of your family, or your health, or your diet, that’s not a sustainable and healthy way to work.

You need to manage your workload by deciding which jobs are urgent, and which ones can, honestly, wait. Check out our invaluable advice on managing your workload while maintaining your sanity.

But, you also need to do things other than work. What happens to you if you don’t take some time off?

  • Burnout – being creative just gets harder and harder the longer you go without a break.
  • Family matters – your partner and/or kids can’t have a relationship with you if you’re not there.
  • Stress – if you never get to relax, your stress levels will mount, and this can seriously affect your physical and mental health.
  • Quality – working when you’re tired can affect the quality of what you produce – so you could actually be harming your career or business by not taking breaks.

You deserve a break – and your family deserves to see you now and then. You’ll feel better after, and your work will probably be better, too. Win-win!

Thinking time

Bill Gates famously takes ‘think weeks’. A couple of times a year, he switches off his phone and goes off to wander in the woods and gaze at the sky. He’s been doing this for decades and insists that some of his greatest ideas have come out of this.

Well, we can’t all afford to go and commune with nature for a week; but a weekend? Sure, we can take a weekend!

If Bill Gates, one of the busiest and most important men in the world can disappear for a week – without the internet crashing and burning in his absence – you can take a weekend!

A few days away – with the kids, or by yourself – doing something that isn’t work, or doing nothing – can clear the clutter out of your head and give you a fresh perspective on the job at hand.

Ring fence

So, ring-fence some time when you just won’t do any work.

If you can’t give yourself a whole day off, at least put aside a few hours when you don’t answer your phone and don’t check your emails.

Whether you use this time to have a meal with friends, watch a movie or go play a game of football is entirely up to you – and that’s the point.

Mindfulness

Meditation’s what you need! Spending some time clearing out your mind and just living in the moment. You stop worrying about what went wrong in the past, you stop fretting about what you still need to do in the future and, for just ten minutes a day you let all that go and think about nothing.

This can offer very real help to people with feelings of anxiety and confusion, it can help you prioritise your jobs and it can even help your physical health by calming you down and lowering your blood-pressure.

And you don’t have to join a group to do this, or even leave the house, there are several apps you can use – like Headspace and Waking Up – that can guide you through meditation in a supportive and effective way.

#2: Downtime

Small businesses – and freelancers – can often experience downtimes. The phone isn’t ringing. There’s no money coming in. What’s a Creative to do, apart from watch the clock and wait for it all to end?

Well, whatever else you do – don’t stress! Look upon this as an opportunity to do something you want to do, rather than what your clients want.

Passion project

Develop that project you’ve never found the time for. Be your own client and work for yourself. At the very least you’ll have the satisfaction of achieving a life goal, but you may end up with a new project you can add to your portfolio.

Train

Learn a new skill. This can be both useful and interesting – if you often have to farm jobs out to other suppliers, because there’s a skill you don’t have, then that would be an obvious thing to learn. If you can do that part of the job yourself, you can save expense and potentially earn more money.

Diversify

If the types of clients/customers you work with have gone away, you need to find other clients. Think about different ways you can use your skills.

If you’re a graphic designer, can you create prints that you can sell? If you’re a developer, can you create your own WordPress themes or mobile apps? If you’re a games designer, well, design a different type of game! Any of these things can bring in a new ambient revenue stream, one that might not experience downtimes.

Market yourself

Is it time to brush-up your own website, or start a blog, or a YouTube channel? Any of these can help you market yourself and your business. Think about going to networking events, or joining relevant Facebook groups (the ones that allow you to promote yourself).

Does your personal brand need some work? Put together a strategy about how you are going to build (or rebuild) your brand, then put this strategy into play. You can also work on your pitch as well as updating your CV and portfolio.

In these ways, you can ensure that your time is not wasted and that you are building the foundations for a much more successful future with, hopefully, fewer periods of downtime.

#3: Money

Creative people tend to be a bit rubbish with money. After all, ‘creative’ and ‘accountancy’ shouldn’t really go together.

But, never fear, just try some of these easy budgeting tips for freelancers.

Also, when you’re starting out, having the confidence to charge a fair price for the work you’ve done can be a real struggle. So, there are a few ways to think about this which will, hopefully, get over that particular hurdle:

Pricing creative work

The key to pricing your work is not to think about the value you put on it, but the value a client or customer will put on it.

A bit of research should reveal what other people are charging for similar services – and you’re in a good position to evaluate your competitors’ work. If yours is that good, or better, you could charge that much or more.

If you’re just starting out, then it might make sense to charge less than your competitors, at least until you’re established.

But, how do you objectively decide what your work is worth? There are a few different ways you can look at this, depending on what you do and the circumstances in which you do it:

Hourly rate
The easiest and most obvious way to know how much to charge, is to specify an hourly rate for yourself and charge for the number of hours – plus any costs you’ve accrued.

The problem with that is that you, quite properly, want to take as long as possible over the job, to get it right; while your customer wants you to do it as quickly as possible so they can save money.

Also, this doesn’t reward you for the years it has taken you to learn how to do the job that quickly.

Per job rate
So, pricing by the job might be more successful. You can calculate that figure the same way (hourly rate), but you decide upfront how many hours it should take – and you charge that much. Obviously, you need to factor in any tax you’ll need to pay and any costs you’ll accrue, but you can combine all that under a single figure, which you can offer to the client. It might be wise to also add a little wriggle room for yourself, because a lot of clients will want to negotiate you down and, if you’ve allowed for that, then you’re still winning!

Retainer
Once you’ve developed a great and regular working relationship with a client, you might consider a Retainer – a flat fee they pay you every month for an agreed amount of deliverables. The trick with this is, specify exactly what they’re buying – is it a certain number of hours, or a certain type of service?

The great thing about Retainers is they are regular money and they are typically paid up-front. The downside is, you won’t have as much control over the jobs you do and the regular income may feel like a wage which, if you’re a freelancer, you might not want.

Variable rate

Finally, you don’t have to charge the same amount to every client. If you’re working for a multinational that stands to earn considerable sums from the website you design for them (for example) then you price that accordingly, so you get some of the benefit.

If, on the other hand, you’re doing the same sort of job for a solopreneur start-up, they won’t be making big money, yet, and they won’t have the big budgets. In that case, price your work more affordably because, you never know, this could be the beginning of a long and ultimately very fruitful business relationship.

Debt

Whether they do it by accident or design, some clients can be late in paying their bills. If you’re part of a small company or you’re a freelancer, this can be a real pressure-point.

Chasing-up unpaid bills can be a real stress for Creatives. Well, it doesn’t have to be unpleasant.

Due date: Firstly, make sure that you’ve agreed a due-date for payment (30 days is typical and reasonable). It can be a good idea to drop the client a line, or ring them up before the due date – just to double check that they got your invoice okay. This serves two purposes: it confirms that they have your invoice and they are aware of it and, therefore, it might float to the top of the to-pay pile.

When it’s a bit late: If your money is a week late, it is perfectly reasonable to contact them again and ask when you can expect to be paid as the invoice is now overdue. This needn’t be confrontational. They might have a perfectly legitimate reason for being late, we’re all human, after all.

If it’s a couple of weeks’ late, again there’s no reason to panic but, likewise, there’s no reason not to remind them that you’re waiting to be paid.

One thing to note: if you’ve only sent emails, and they haven’t replied, those emails could be getting stuck in their spam filter. Their finance people might not even know the money is overdue. So, a phone call will quickly sort that out.

When it’s very late: A month late: It’s time to talk to someone higher up. There might still be a perfectly reasonable explanation for the delay, but someone in authority needs to address it now. If you’ve only mentioned this matter to them by email, it might be time to bite the bullet and talk to someone. It’s easy to ignore emails, less easy to ignore someone on the phone.

If they continue to fail to pay you, you should consider charging them for the delay, in accordance with Late Commercial Payments Legislation.

Fortunately, this isn’t a common problem, but the government legislation is there to help you, if it does happen.

Finally, if months have gone by and they still haven’t paid you, you might be considering legal advice. After all, you’ve done the work and they have accepted the work.

None of this needs to be confrontational or personal, but don’t be shy about asserting your rights.

#4: Finishing

There is an old saying: Art is never truly completed, but abandoned.

You know the feeling, there’s always something you can tweak, improve or rewrite. One of the signs of a great Creative is that sense of dissatisfaction, that a job can always be better. This is what drives us to keep improving. But, it can also stop us making progress, because we keep going back to tinker.

That’s why they invented deadlines.

When you’re a commercial artist or a designer or a copywriter, you don’t have the luxury to keep on reworking, because you have to present the work to a client by a certain date.

That thing you’ve made, it might not be perfect (to your eyes) but, if it hits the brief, the budget and the deadline; if you did your best, then it’s at least good enough to show to the next person in the chain.

After all, just because you’ve finished a piece of work, doesn’t mean everyone else has. The client might need changes, creatives in other departments might have input which alters things; but that’s all good.

Because, when you’re creating things for a client, they’re only finished when the client is happy with them. And, if the client (who is, after all, paying for this) is happy, then there’s no reason for you to not be happy too.

If it was easy, everyone would do it:

Hopefully, this will have given you some food for thought and helped you over a few hurdles in your own creative role.

But please do let us know what parts of your creative work are the hardest for you – and what solutions you’ve developed. We’d love to share some tried-and-trusted techniques with other people like you!

Catch up with us on Facebook and drop us a comment.

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