This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Without customers paying for the product or service you provide, you’re not a businessperson; you’re a hobbyist. Yet many creatives have the most trouble seeing their work as a commodity, which they must tailor to fit (and sell to) a certain market.
In his book, T-Shirts and Suits, David Parrish talks about the difficulty creative people have running a successful, profitable business around their art. He notes, “The problem is that their business is built around themselves and their products and services, not around customers’ needs. They do their thing in a customer-free zone, a kind of creative vacuum.”
So what’s wrong with saying, “Dammit, I am a brilliant kids’ book illustrator! Where are my clients? Where’s my cash flow?”
First, you’ve gone from Starving Artise to Diva—not a pretty or productive transformation. You’re assuming that you’re the sun, and that the planets that are your customers revolve around you. You’re dead wrong!
Building a successful business is always about providing a product or service that is valuable to your customers. So find out what past customers found valuable. With a quick e-mail or phone call, let them know that you’re trying to improve your services and would appreciate knowing what they valued about your relationship. Include a short survey. You may be surprised by the results. While you thought they most valued your drawing capabilities, they may have been equally impressed by your timely results or willingness to collaborate. Use this information constantly to reshape your business into one in which your customers are the sun.
We do this all the time at Writers of the Round Table. We do not publish a book, launch a website, or definitively finish a project until we’ve contacted focus groups and asked them to fill out surveys relating what most and least resounded with them about the product. Based on the results of these surveys, we’ve made major changes to books, trashed entire logo concepts, streamlined website designs, and otherwise shifted projects around until the consensus became, “This is potentially life-changing!”
This doesn’t mean you should let your customers completely dictate your creative products. I encourage you to both fight “professionally” for what you believe is right. Ultimately, the end product will be a fusion of both o your core values and expertise.
Read: T-Shirts and Suits. Download the free e-book here!