I have had the rare chance in the last few months to be involved in a number of projects involving the creative arts industries. I have repeatedly asked creative artists( I will use this word to generalise all creative entrepreneurs, forgive me in advance) whether they regard themselves as entrepreneurs. The question is usually followed by blank stares and a pause. Eventually, after some thought, they say an emphatic YES. However, the general conclusion of people who have dealt with creative artists is that they can be some of the most difficult people to deal with, and the only business language many of them seem to understand is expenditure.
Creative entrepreneurs can include Musicians, Painters, Poets, Photographers , actors and others in similar lines. My interaction with creative entrepreneurs has made me conclude that many of them do not see themselves as business people. Even fewer understand the dynamics of running a business.
Creative entrepreneurs need to understand one thing. Many times , they themselves are the product or the source of the product that draws people to them. A product requires a business system that can propel it and maximise its value beyond the geographical presence of the person in question. A product requires to be marketed, branded , positioned ,sold, distributed and the revenue generated needs to be managed in a way that it can be reinvested and accounted for particularly to the taxman. Many creative entrepreneurs ignore the business systems required to maximise the value of their products. This gets many of them into trouble with the taxman and generally causes many of them to squander wealth that could be used for greater things if well managed.
What Steps would a creative entrepreneur take to building a great creative business out of their talents? Here is my take :
- Build an audience- take every opportunity to showcase your work, even for free at the beginning . You can increase your fees as you build popularity. This also helps you get in touch with your fans and understand what they like about you. It also helps you improve your craft through regular practice. So do the rounds even if audiences are small at the beginning. If they love your work, its a sign that many more might just do the same.
- Be obsessed about feedback – be obsessed about what your fans like and dont like about your work. Look for ways to get formal and informal feedback. Find ways of analysing what resonates with your audience the most.Find out which type of people resonate with your work as they form your primary audience that will help you grow and be loyal to you. Many artists think that by listening to their audiences they lose their creative juices and their art becomes less “pure”. However, I advice many people that there is no harm in beginning where your fans are, and when you have enough influence over them, you can then take them to where you want them to be. To your vision of the future.
- Improve your craft – keep practising, innovating and improving what you do. Experiment every once in a while with something new. After all you are a creative, aren’t you?
- Grow your influence – steadily increase the scope of your influence. Begin in your immediate environment and slowly try to engage fans outside of your immediate sphere of influence. You can do this through collaborations, tours, visits and on-line. However, ensure you keep your primary audiences engaged, they are your lifeline.
- Manage the growth- work with great people and build a system around the increasing value of your work. Get good managers to work with. Only work with people who know what they are doing and are willing to be held to account for their work. Pay on commissions basis for example, so that the team proves their worth. otherwise you might just be dealing with an expensive entourage which will disappear at the first sign of dwindling fortunes.
- Diversify your investments – when you begin to make good money in your primary art, channel it to investments that can either keep the primary work growing(brand extensions) or into other investments that will ensure you have money well into your retirement and even leave something behind for your children. Investment advisors come in handy here, again, only take advice from people who know what they are doing and have a good track record.
- Keep doing good – use your influence to keep doing good things and to reinvest in society.
Needless to say, 1 person cannot do all the above. Many creative entrepreneurs always tell me that their industry is different. I always ask them , how? They say that they need to manage their careers at the beginning until someone can manage them. I tell them that every entrepreneur begins that way.
How big is the global market for creative artists? The global art market is estimated to be worth USD 11 Billion, the global music market is estimated to be about USD 16 Billion, the global Movie market is estimated to be USD 10 billion a year. How much does Africa contribute to all these industries? Less than 1 percent across the board
Celebrity painters like a Gerhard Richters painting depicting an Italian city square, which sold in May 2013 for $37.1 million (£23.3m) the most expensive piece of art ever sold by a living artist. Musicians like Madonna and U 2 can get paid up to USD 125 million a year. Sculptures like Jeff Koons’s Balloon Dog (Orange) sold at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York for $58.4 million. Keanu Reeves made about USD 156 Million from the Matrix Movie Series. I’m not saying money is everything, but for sure there is money to be made if you are organised. As an african artist, how will you tap into this vast money machine? Can you play your game at that level and compete with the best by being unprofessional?
My final advice to local creative entrepreneurs in Africa? Learn about business systems, be a leader, get the best people, invest in your brand and company and watch it grow. And when you make lots of money, get good advisors to help you invest the wealth in order to create more and be stable into your old age. Oh and a word of caution, don’t fall into the stereotype that you need weed and hard drugs to make peoples lives around you hard, and “be in the zone” to create. We all need inspiration in all our careers whether consultants, accountants or manufacturers. Inspiration comes from many sources, don’t use those that can put your life in physical or legal dangers. We have seen many creatives inspire themselves in those ways mentioned above to their graves. Is it possible to finish strong? A dose of humility can help deal with the pressures of fans idolizing you. Celine Dion seems to be able to hold herself together and succesfully avoid the crazy lifestyle that other musicians seem to think is the norm.
So are artists and creative entrepreneurs as special as they think? I think they are. As a friend I met recently put it, they have a spiritual responsibility to inspire the rest of us and help us emotionally connect to progressive or deeper aspects of our lives .Many times its creatives who piece together messaging or inspiration that moves society forward. My response to his statement was that artists should take their calling all the more seriously and invest as much as possible to ensure their value , inspiration and impact is spread out as far as possible and for as long as possible, with them living long enough to see the impact of their work on their grand children.