What is a creative entrepreneur? Everyone’s definition varies, but here’s mine: A creative entrepreneur is a maker or provider whose products and services fulfill both (or either) wants and needs. Do I need another piece of Harry Potter decor in my home? No. Do I want one? Absolutely!
Typically, when one starts a business, it is because there is something missing in the marketplace — a need to be met. But, let’s face it, the products of creativity — artwork, music, writing, etc. — aren’t exactly high on most people’s priorities. Vital to society? Yes. Necessary to an enjoyable existence? Of course. Still, a new book, piece of art, or MP3 is likely to be eschewed for more practical purchases, at least by those of us without a lot of disposable income.
So, how does a creative entrepreneur move from fulfilling just wants to fulfilling both wants and needs?
How do the world’s most popular companies convince you that you need whatever they’re selling? Marketing. Good marketing controls the narrative. It doesn’t lie; marketing highlights the positive. Marketing focuses on what makes what you’re selling unique, why it stands out in the marketplace, and why your customers must have it. Effective marketing doesn’t ask customers if they should buy; it makes them believe.
You don’t have to be manipulative to market effectively. Again, you just have to control the narrative. It’s your product to sell, and your story to tell. Figure out the best things about what you do, and make that your focus.
In an increasingly disconnected age, building a sense of community is necessary. You can do this on social media, via your website, through email lists or in-person events, or just by reaching out to each customer in a personal way. I always include a handwritten “thank you” in my Etsy shop orders. This gesture is a small way I can show my buyers how much I value the fact that they spent their money on something I made. Because selling in a creative marketplace is incredibly difficult and competitive, and I know the wonderful options they have to choose from.
Obviously, if you’re filling hundreds of orders on a daily or weekly basis, these handwritten notes are probably not feasible. Even so, there are ways to make each customer feel like they have a personal relationship with you. And that personal relationship is what makes them come back to you, rather than going with one of your competitors.
Fulfill a Need
Okay, we’ve established that most creative products don’t really fall under the “need” category. But it is possible to combine your creative passion with products to fulfill needs. Are you an artist? Try sites like Redbubble or Society6 to sell your work on stationery, apparel, device cases, and more. People need clothes, office supplies, and the like, and being able to offer those items with personality is a big plus.
Maybe your particular passion includes a skill other people would like to learn. You could offer in-person classes locally, or use one of the many, many online education options to develop digital courses. This has the bonus of helping you build a community, and creates a passive income stream.
Break the box
Today, I saw something really cool: A painter who creates handpainted canvases of ultrasound images for new parents. I never would have thought to create this, but this person did, and that will make her incredibly successful. Why? Because by combining her talent for painting with parents’ desire to commemorate the their little ones’ lives from day one, she has gone beyond need and want into must have. She didn’t just think outside the box, she broke it.
Don’t get overwhelmed if you can’t come up with a box-busting idea like this off the bat. I certainly can’t. However, if you can identify that mystical crossroads where your passion intersects with what your customer wants or needs, you’ll have hit the creative business sweet spot.