Today I want to talk about two types of entrepreneur.
When you think of an entrepreneur, maybe you think of someone like Richard Branson or Mark Cuban or Elon Musk. Or going back further in time, someone like John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, or Henry Ford. The men – and they always seem to be men – who built America.
These guys do things on a big scale. They’re all about profit and growth and scaling and dominating the market. It’s a macho world where you go big or go home, and where the winner takes all.
Maybe you’re this kind of entrepreneur yourself. If so, then don’t let me hold you back from world domination.
But if you’re reading this, you’re more likely to be the second kind of entrepreneur. And if you’re this kind of entrepreneur, you may not even think of yourself as an entrepreneur.
You don’t dream of world domination. You have no plans to take on VC funding, or to scale your business so it’s worth billions of dollars. You have no plans for an exit strategy. To you, a unicorn is a horse with a horn on its nose.
You started out as an artist or creative or a service provider or an agent of change. And you probably still see yourself that way.
You want your work to be successful and sustainable. And like most real artists, you’re pretty pragmatic. So you use whatever tools are the best fit for the job.
When it comes to making your work, you get the best tools you can afford, whether that’s a MacBook Pro or a 1978 Rickenbacker 4001 bass. And when it comes to getting your work out there and selling it, you use the best tools for the job – including the tools of entrepreneurship.
Maybe you’re an artist growing a following on Instagram and selling your work to your followers, or licensing images for use as murals or on products.
Or a novelist publishing your own books and selling them via your mailing list and judicious use of advertising.
Or a comedian with a devoted following on YouTube, earning from advertising, Patreon and selling out your live shows.
Or a trainer supplementing your live workshops by selling books and elearning programs.
Or a developer making and selling your own apps.
These days, this type of entrepreneur is often referred to as a creative entrepreneur.
From the point of view of traditional entrepreneurship, creative entrepreneurs are doing things backwards.
Instead of following the logical course of looking for a lucrative market and creating products and services that will sell the most and make the most money, we start from what we want to create, and use the tools of business to make it more effective and more profitable.
To a traditional entrepreneur, this is a dumb thing to do. Meet one of these folks, and they will likely tell you how much money you’re leaving on the table.
But talk to a creative entrepreneur, and they will tell you how much joy they would be leaving on the table if they did the logical thing and just followed the money.
Creative entrepreneurs don’t typically make as much money as traditional entrepreneurs. But this is partly because they have a different definition of success: to them, success means practising their art or doing their work in a way that makes them a good living and that makes a positive difference in the world.
Given the choice of doing what they love for six figures a year or putting their dreams on hold for seven figures, and they’ll snap your hand off for the six figures.
Maybe your recognise yourself in my description of a creative entrepreneur. But maybe you don’t see yourself as an entrepreneur, creative or otherwise.
If that’s so, then I invite you to see yourself simply as an enterprising creator.
Being enterprising isn’t about an identity, it’s about doing what it takes to make your vision happen.
It’s about finding a way to get your project made, whether that means doing it all yourself, trading favours with friends, or finding smart technical solutions to save you time and money.
It’s about putting on an event by persuading a venue manager to let you use their space on a weekday, and using your network to fill the stage and get the word out.
It’s about being just as pragmatic and persistent about the business side of your work as you are about the artistic side.
It’s about using the tools that are the best fit for the job, and learning to use them well.
So next time you’re facing a big challenge or wondering how to make your impossible dream come true… ask yourself: how enterprising can I be here?
You can hear an audio version of the article in this episode of The 21st Century Creative podcast, starting at 2’23”.