Creative Entrepreneurship

I had the chance to teach in a creative entrepreneurship class at UNC-Greensboro on Monday. Visiting students who are putting together business plans for their arts and creative business ideas always thrills me, even though I know that most of the businesses remain just that: ideas.

Last year, one of the best ideas was for a small nature magazine, sized for easy carrying and intended to be used and enjoyed in the field. This business actually did launch, and is now The Friendly Naturalist. So I was particularly excited to re-visit this class, because it’s really exciting to me to see people feeling empowered to start their own arts-based businesses.

Terry Kennedy, who teaches the class, tweeted a couple of the points that he picked up on, and I kind of want to revisit some of those here.

What are the things you’ll have to do every day?  Will you love doing them?  Will you hate doing them?  One barrier to creative entrepreneurship is that we want to spend all of our time on the creative and not so much on the entrepreneurship. In the early going, it’s super-exciting to be making the books but not so much fun to be stuffing the envelopes and cranking through the postage meter.  One thing I ask students is to think of the things that they’ll need to do every day and the things they’ll need to do every week, in order to make the business work.  (The example I give is from my comedy theater days: like it or not, somebody’s gotta clean the bathrooms.)  We talk about distress, a negative form of stress, and eustress, that positive form that motivates you on to great things.  When students list out the things they’ll do every day, I ask them to think about which will be distressing and which will be productively stressful, because most everything on that list is in some ways a stressor.  When the negative stresses outweigh the positive, I encourage students to reconceptualize in some way.  What can they outsource?  How can they form productive partnerships to minimize those distresses?

When one piece of your idea sticks but the others don’t, be willing to restructure around the idea that’s working.  Isn’t that what we do in our art?  The poem changes, the story changes, the painting changes to accommodate its successes.  I don’t see an evolution in a creative business– even if it means that the business moves away from its initial creative roots– as a bad thing at all.  Sticking with what’s not working will only devolve your business… and your creativity.

Challenge your basic assumptions about how creative businesses are supposed to work.  I generally try to cover this because artists often have ideas about how business is “supposed to work,” and those assumptions limit creativity and are often inhibitors to success.  That’s not to say that you can ignore reality, but with great planning, a compelling vision, and a great product or service, you can be very successful challenging some of those basic assumptions.