Creative freelancer Siobhan McManmon discusses building your business and maintaining the integrity that started it in the first place. In her latest post she covers emails, personality and all other communication skills that make a business successful.
Over the past five years since beginning my creative freelance business I have been through a myriad trials and tribulations that were wholly non-specific to the creative industry, and heard many times things like;
“This is business, you have to think about it like a business”
that is the mantra of all who would respond to your desperate inquiry and plea for advice as you churn through the self-help books and business startup guides. Many of which have helped me address fundamentals of structure, economy and profit but none of which have helped me to build my business in the only way I have ever felt is meaningful, or indeed possible, through effective communication.
It’s not that there is any shortage of advice on personal presentation, productive email habits or even specifically creative business management; but what I’m talking about is a specific set of skills that are required by a freelance creative to manage challenging circumstances that happen regularly when working ad-hoc for several clients, each with different needs and expectations. Don’t get me wrong, nailing or failing on the basics of emails and phone calls is not to be taken lightly but anyone not willing to bring their best, most personable self to the table is not going to find freelancing at all rewarding, communication skills are a prerequisite of any successful business person.
So what skills and tools can we utilise as freelancers in the competitive creative environment, what can set us apart amongst the crowd, and what holds us back? For me the key is in the overused and tired term ‘Creative’… this now seems to encompass any form of human thought no matter how small or enigmatic and is used as liberally as salt in describing the nature of business or the way in which we work. What we really want to say is I am an Artist, a technical expert of my craft, everything I do is crafted, with the same care and attention that I afford the poetry that comes from my most heartfelt moments. You may think it sounds romantic, but I’m sure this is the pride any small business holder has and strives for, however for me this doesn’t represent the notion of creative business.
Turning the creativity of production and making it a business is not as simple as relaying how passionate we are. It goes a long way in opening doors but in a relationship with a client you are managing so many different expectations, from unrealistic timescales to knowing what is technically possible within budget, a savvy freelancer knows there are networks for professional support and advice in getting these communications right, online, with unions and on professional social networks.
Communicating effectively, listening and comprehending is always a work in progress but I have learned some useful things along my way that my other freelancer colleagues and I have noticed time and again:
This is like the estate agent trying to get the prospective homeowner to take the plunge and buy a property despite the clutter and outdated kitchen…
Refinement is part of the creative process and cannot be ignored but the reality is that most clients don’t want to see every stage if your workings, even if they request it! One way to tackle this is to create an effective workflow communication method, where you provide an agreed timetable of samples or progress updates and a full run-through at key stages, with a set feedback period or ‘acceptable number of changes’. This is so important to remember when making your product efficient for you and your client; keeping clients updated with progress lets them know you care and are listening to them and stops you feeling hounded by update requests.
‘Slaughter your darlings’
It has been said so many times and ways before but I can’t understate how true this has been for me. Imagine the situation where you have done everything to fulfil the brief and despite what you thought, as in the first conundrum, you are told you have fallen short of the client’s vision. What you do now is the test of your ability to retain clients and by no means will it always work in your favour. Having learned the hard way by reacting personally affronted to dissatisfaction with my work, I now know that behaving like a professional and trying to open the communication to resolve the issue despite my defensive instinct has improved my confidence in knowing I acted to resolve any issues and fulfil my contractual promise and in turn my creative integrity. At the end of the day you have to feel like you did everything within your skillset to create what was required and that you paid the same care to communicating your ideas or interpretation of ideas effectively.
As always I could go on, but my point here is to highlight that any artist or maker selling their work must develop confidence in communicating their creative ideas and process through conversation not argument. This in turn inspires confidence in clients which will hopefully grow your business and go a long way to making your passion a fulfilling profession in which you will see conversations with clients develop into proper working relationships.
What’s been your experience with building your business? Have you kept the essence of your craft in your company culture or has there been a sense of loss? How do you maintain the entrepreneurial spirit that started your business in the first place? I would love to hear your comments below.