When we started TGD, it was a passion project. Ryan and I had full-time day jobs, so there wasn’t pressure to turn it into a sustainable business that brought in enough income to cover our monthly expenses. This is certainly the simplest approach: keep your passion project a passion project so that you can continue to enjoy it sans business concerns.
But, in our case, we wanted to spend more time on TGD, so we chose to turn it into a business in hopes that we could one day focus on it full-time. While we made that transition over the course of nearly three years, TGD became a business as soon as we consciously made the choice to explore the possibility of pursuing it wholeheartedly.
After we made that decision, we knew that business would forever be an integral part of TGD, no matter what. As creatives, it’s important to be okay with talking about business and money. As designer, educator, and writer, John Maeda, explains, we’re not exempt from business just because we’re creative, “…people kept saying to me, ‘Don’t worry about money. You’re a creative person; you shouldn’t have to worry about that.’ That worried me. I wasn’t sure what they were saying to me, so I went back to school to earn my MBA in order to understand money and not be afraid of it.” You don’t have to earn your MBA, but it is important to educate yourself about the business side of things; the more knowledge you have, the more you’ll feel at ease in making important decisions. Talk to creative entrepreneurs, ask someone to mentor you in business, read books, find resources online, and be prepared to learn some lessons from experience.
So, back to your question: How do we reconcile the demands of running a business and our desire to create? There are a few things we’ve done along the way that have helped us:
We waited to quit our day jobs. Sure, there was excitement around the idea of focusing on TGD full-time, but we knew there would also be pressure to sustain it once we made the leap. We waited until we couldn’t hold out any longer. We had reached a tipping point, similar to musician Scott Hansen, who said, “…the world doesn’t exactly encourage kids to try to go on these creative career paths, so I never saw art as a future—it was more of a hobby…I can’t point to any moment in my life when there was a big, courageous moment where I said, ‘Oh, I’m going to do it.’ It was always very metered and measured out. I did creative things in my spare time while I had a day job, until it reached a tipping point.”
We hired an accountant. Hiring an accountant won’t relieve you of having to think about business, but it will help you stay financially accountable to pay your quarterly income taxes and get organized. And it’s a good idea to hire an accountant early on so that when your business grows, you’ll be ready as photographer Elizabeth Weinberg advises: “…get an accountant and keep good track of your finances, even if it seems like you’re not making any money. It’s easier to be organized from the start…Treating your passion as an actual business from the beginning is a good habit to get into. When it grows, you’ll already have a system.”
We teamed up with a business partner. Ryan is much better and more practiced at running a business than I am as he ran his own studio for years before we started TGD. But running a business is time-consuming and we knew we needed help. In October, our longtime friend and colleague, Brad Smith, joined TGD’s parent company, Wayward Wild, which has allowed Ryan and I to shift much of our focus back to creative work. While we don’t lack creative vision, we knew we could only take the business so far by ourselves. Having a third partner has been amazing, and we’re feeling reenergized about what we’re going to make in the new year.
I’m not sure if you’re in pursuit of building a creative business; if you are, I hope this helps. Ultimately, it’s a challenge to divide your attention between business tasks and creating. It’s a dance, and it ebbs and flows. But it’s worth it, and it can be done.
I’ll end with this quote from photographer and writer, David DuChemin: “…if you sell your art, if you can serve an audience and provide value with what you create, then it can be something truly beautiful. If you can create a large enough audience, I truly believe you can make a living as a creative person.”
Cheers to finding beauty, not only in the creating, but also in the hard work that goes on behind the scenes that no one sees—that is the business of creating.