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Guest Writer

Making your business thrive in three easy lessons
Part one: Dare to connect
by Carolyn Campbell

ne of the biggest challenges for creatives is expressing our passion in ways that grow our business.

We're so compelled by our own vision that we fail to talk about what we do in a way that lets others understand its value to them. Conversely, we can get so caught up trying to "market" our business that we fail to connect on a personal level ... soulfully and with intention. We end up feeling like a dog chasing its tail.

The scenario goes like this: You finally decide to commit to your life's calling as a writer, artist or performer. You network. You join groups and tell everyone what you do. You mail your glossy brochure to everyone. You write letters to key venues, galleries, magazines. You create a Web site. But there is little response and no clients. You're ready to throw in the towel.

Here's what I invite you to consider: Slow down and connect. As hard as it may seem, less is more. Studies show that 60 percent of business is chosen because a client knows you, likes you and trusts you. Even in the arts, relationships are key. So take the time to build them.

Here are six mistakes that keep creatives from connecting in meaningful, productive ways:

Mistake #1: If you're "good enough" you will be discovered.
Even though you are awesome at what you do, you still have to create your business.

One of the biggest mistakes creatives make is the belief that they will be discovered and miraculously become famous. I wish this were true, but much like Cinderella, it's a fairy tale. You have to show up. Again and again. Consistently and persistently. Over time. People need to get to know and trust you. They need to know you are serious about your work and have something of value to offer.

We all know creating a business takes work. The key is to work in a way that honors your unique approach to life. Choose whom you really want to serve, and become part of that community. Connect on a personal level; not just to "do" business but because you care about the people you meet. Reach out and connect. Again and again. Let people experience you and what you have to offer.

Mistake #2: You can't make a living doing creative/artist work.
Think again. You will NOT be able to continue your work if you don't make money.

Combined with waiting to be discovered, this belief is central to why many artists and creatives never achieve success. In fact, it is a great way of keeping safe and not having to reach out in the world. A great question to ask yourself is whether your art is a hobby or a business. If your creative work is only for you, call it a hobby. If it's for others, then you'll need to start relating your work to others ... for others. The art of business is being able to share your work in a way that inspires others to want to be a part of it.

Take a moment and be honest with yourself. Name what's getting in the way of your business success. If you can't let go of "artists don't make money," you won't make money. Whatever you truly believe will be reality, because the choices you make for your business will be based on your beliefs. Ask yourself, What am I willing to shift to be successful? Is it a belief? A need for new knowledge? Do I need to trust my ideas about what I do? What do I need to know about the impact of my work on a client's life, on the world? What do I need to learn about reaching out? And finally, what support do I need to get there?

The bottom line is, you have to stop giving yourself away. Your work is important. Own its value. Charge as a professional. If you want to be in business 5-10 years from now, your business has to financially thrive. Commit to thriving.

Mistake #3: Market to everyone.
You and your business are not for everyone; don't try to be.

"You want as many people to opt out as opt in," a marketing consultant once told me. "I want people not to want me?" I asked. The answer ... is yes. When you are clear about whom you serve, you become more attractive to those people. Because then they choose you on purpose.

It's painful to watch creatives and artists try to adapt to fit whomever seems to have money while dashing in multiple directions, available to all.

What happens is that you never stand in any one place long enough for people to truly see and appreciate your work. People hire creatives and artists of all sorts because they want the voice of their vision. If you are running in different directions, those who hire never get to connect with your message.

By being clear about who is not your client/gallery/magazine, you don't waste energy trying to sell yourself to the wrong people and venues. Instead, take the time to focus on who you really want to partner with. Be picky. Identify places that are a good partnership. How will you contribute to their mission or their vision? Create a relationship with them and be detached about the outcome.

Be open to whatever response – yes, no or maybe – comes your way.

What if a rejection is an opportunity for a conversation? Write thank-you notes to those who decline your work. Ask them for feedback. They are often willing to share why they made the choices they did. If you are being selective about your partnerships, people will sense this. Let the process of finding your partnerships be a long-term relationship based on mutual respect and honor.

Ask yourself, how would I connect with prospects if I entered into ventures as an equal partner?

Mistake # 4: You must have a business plan.
Focusing on a plan too early can stop your business before it starts.

As a new business, it's key to experiment with your new business idea. I push my clients to try on their business. Bring your business to the community you wish to serve. Take the risk. See if your idea holds up in the "real" world. Offer your art, write about the intention of your work, give a speech. Be the voice for what you do. Not just in doing, but also in how you bring it to the world. Experience what it would be like to do it over time. Ask yourself, Is this what I want to dedicate my life to? Am I ready to do the work necessary to build this business? Is the reason for doing it compelling enough to get me through the challenging times?

A business can sound great in your head and look great on paper. You can spend months of time and significant dollars creating a business plan that is a great document and yet fails in the real world. When you become solid in your business's direction and have a clearer sense of the road you want to travel, a business plan may be the next step.

Mistake #5: You need marketing materials to get business.
People are bombarded with thousands of marketing messages a day. Yours is just one more.

People spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars creating all sorts of materials before they've really connected with their target market. Brochures are great. Web sites are great. Publicity packets are great. The accessories of business are great if you remember that's just what they are: accessories. Nothing substitutes for getting out in the world. Meet people. Connect with people. Build relationships. Be seen and known for the contributions you make to those you want to serve.

When I first started my business, my mentor advised me that people often ask for a brochure as a way to distance themselves from being sold something. Instead, he suggested meeting with people. If they ask for materials tell them honestly that you enjoy meeting personally with people so you can get to know them and their specific needs. Meeting allows you to experience each other and find out what a business relationship would be like. It takes longer and is less "safe" than spreading brochures, but the outcome is so much greater.

Mistake #6: Designing your business to change the world.
People buy a product or service to better their life ... not to change the world.

This form of thinking destroys many creative businesses. Our zealotry gets in the way of truly connecting with others. Plus, if we try to design a business to change the world it will exhaust us in our attempts to live up to such a grand demand. Your clients want you to offer something to help and support their lives. So, come back down to earth. Lose the missionary zeal. Choose a small slice of the world you want to impact, and build from there. One client at a time.

Connect, connect, connect. Get out in the world your way, your style. Think partnership. Connect with those you WANT to serve in a personal way. Find out about them and what they want. Let them experience you and your work, and how your work will impact them.

Dare to reach beyond the safety of comfort to expand your circle of influence. Most importantly, do it in a way that honors you and the intention of your work.

Carolyn Campbell, an artist, speaker and facilitator, helps creative types build thriving business ventures that honor their passions and desires. Read more of her work in our archives, check out her profile in December's Sketch Pad, visit her Web site and e-mail her at carolyn@thecoresource.com.

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