I read this post last week which claims you have to choose between being creative or making money.

I'm not going to argue with that article, because I think the author makes some good points (go, read it!), especially when it comes to applying good business sense to your creative business. But I do want to share my own opinion on the Money V. Creativity issue.

I believe it is completely possible (and desirable) to make money while staying true to your own creative vision. I  think that giving up your own taste to serve the “market”, will result in mediocre, middle-of-the-road, could-find-this-anywhere work.

Your vision, your creativity and your taste is vital to making your product and your business a success.

Here's how to create + make money:
  1. Make something no one else does.

  2. Become obsessive over making it only and truly yours.
    Infuse every aspect of it with you-ness. Your colors, your textures, your style, your beliefs.

    It should be so amazingly, undeniably yours that your people know it when they see it.

  3. Find and talk to your Right People

    Your completely-you item is NOT going to appeal to everyone.
    In fact, you'll probably turn a lot of people off.
    Put zombies on everything and you'll turn off Evangelicals. Put Jesus on the cross on your bracelets and you won't sell to the Jewish community. Make handspun, eco-friendly yarn and people who knit with $2 acrylic won't spend the money.
    But that's ok! Because there are a LOT of people who love what you love. THOSE are your Right People. Those are the people you should find, talk to, and work for. Fellow-zombie lovers, fellow Jesus-lovers, fellow yarn-obsessed.
    (and, yeah, you can learn a lot more about turning on and tuning in to your Right People in my upcoming class)
  4. Listen to the Right People

    This is very different from listening to “the market”.
    This is listening to the feedback you get from the people who love and adore what you do.
    This is cultivating relationships and joining a community and then providing solutions for that community.
    Solutions like  zombie coffee mugs or cross necklaces or summer yarn.

Skip any of the above steps and you're going to either not make money or sacrificing your own style for “the market”.

What do you think? Do I have it all wrong?
Let me know in the comments!

PS. This is a super-simplified answer to a pretty complex issue of building a sustainable business. But it's a place to start thinking.
For all the gory details of finding and loving your Right People, register for the class.

6 Comments on Do you have to choose between money or creativity?

  1. Meredith :: Smaller Box
    July 9, 2010 at 1:38 pm (14 years ago)

    Hi Tara,

    Thanks for your thoughts! I think there's a difference between doing work as a fine artist and doing work as a commercial artist. Fine artists aren't necessarily looking to create a million dollar business, so they can follow their vision without worrying about how many people love what they do.

    A commercial artist's success is very dependent on selling something the masses will enjoy and that means doing what's popular. If you're doing something so completely off the wall that doesn't resonate with current trends, it's going to be very difficult, maybe impossible, to find a large enough market to create a lucrative business.

    The article I wrote was specifically aimed at business owners who want a mass audience and want to build a business that's big and profitable enough to support them comfortably/retire. If that's the goal, yes, I do think you are going to have to work within the confines of trends.

    I do agree that you have to have a niche to be successful, but the examples above, eco-friendly consumers or zombie-lovers or Christians, are good enough sized niches to build a profitable business. I think there's a difference between having a target market and having a product/aesthetic that has little to no market.

    Actually, I sometimes see business that I think struggle because their product isn't unique enough, so definitely, you need to do something a little unique, but it still has to be within the realm of what's popular to move a lot of product.

  2. TaraSwiger
    July 9, 2010 at 1:47 pm (14 years ago)

    I completely agree that a commercial artist would approach this differently
    than a fine artist.
    I considered mentioning that your article was written by someone with a
    different business model, but wasn't sure what the right word was;
    “designer”, “artist”, “commercial artist”, so I appreciate you clarifying!

    I agree that many fine artists are not aiming to create a million-dollar
    business, although many of us do support ourselves comfortably while still
    saving for retirement. (I would be one of those, I support my family
    entirely with my crafty business).

    My article is not really in *opposition *to what you wrote, as much as it is
    taking the conversation to a different audience. I was inspired to write it
    after several people (full-time artists/crafters) linked to it.

    I love learning from as many different businesses (and business models) as

    Thank you for inspiring me to explore this further and thank you SO much for
    stopping by and reading,


  3. LaLaShoes
    July 9, 2010 at 2:59 pm (14 years ago)

    I read the same article last week and thought of the same things! I'm so glad you posted this! Absolutely agree with you! 100%!
    Excellent (truly creative) designs and ideas will always have a good target market, as long as they're really excellent!

    I used to work in advertising for 10 years, and people (designers and creative directors) often thought they have to lower their standards to get to people – but it was not true, since all the truly great ideas and designs had a much greater impact on the target market (and gave much better results – I mean, measurable results).

    To be commercial doesn't necessary mean you have to lower the standards, quite the opposite, you have to make something really extraordinary that will be appealing to a wide audience. It's much harder to do, it requires a lot of work, thinking, knowledge, research, experience… If you succeed, that's what is considered a product/design/piece of art of high value.

    (and it's the word “creativity” that's often misunderstood and misused, thus a lot of people think they have to choose between the 2)

  4. Jo VanEvery
    July 9, 2010 at 9:05 pm (14 years ago)

    Excellent points. I had the exact same reaction when I read that other post.

    And your post reminded me of something I read in a small farm magazine recently: “If you are making it in commodity agriculture, you are too big for niche.” I think he was talking about grain or beef or something.

    But pull that apart and it applies to a lot of businesses: What you do to make a living in mass market whatever-you-do, is not the same as what you do to make a living in niche market whatever-you-do.

    I think it is also worth asking yourself seriously how much volume you need to make a living. Because that other post was about someone who DESIGNS products but outsources production, presumably to produce more volume. You produce all of your own product and have a fixed capacity, so you don't need a market bigger than your capacity to produce.

  5. TaraSwiger
    July 10, 2010 at 5:02 pm (14 years ago)

    Jo, this is an excellent point: “You produce all of your own product and
    have a fixed capacity, so you don't need a market bigger than your capacity
    to produce”!
    This focus in my own business is EXACTLY why I only presume to teach other
    handmade crafty businesses. I've developed my own philosophy of business,
    but it's not all that applicable to businesses with an entirely different
    Although I DO think that businesses like yours, which rely on the one-to-one
    focus of an expert (you!) have this same capacity question, right?

    Thanks for chiming in and clarifying!