The Design Trust has been commissioned by the organisers of the micro-business conference Small is Beautiful in Edinburgh from 14 – 15 June 2016, to research in depth what success and growth actually means for very small creative businesses.
How do YOU measure success?
In the first survey I looked at what success actually means for creative professionals. Very few creatives do it for the money (although obviously money is crucial if you want to establish or grow your creative career and business!) so what are their measures of success?
Rewards are important, and fame and reputation can be powerful motivators too.
Or is it about the joy of the work itself, the making and the creative process, getting into the creative flow?
Or creating something bigger than you, having a voice, collaborating, creating a movement or creative community?
Or expressing yourself, having a freedom that most other jobs don’t provide?
I got so many wonderful and very wise (!) responses about the definition of success that I wanted to share them with you:
Money is important
‘Being able to make a living from my creative work. Knowing that I am progressing & developing, taking small steps to becoming the artist I want to be, with powerful work shown in ‘prestigious’ galleries.’
‘Success is being able to earn a comfortable living from what I enjoy doing (design and illustration). To feel proud of the work I produce and to feel confident in my abilities.’
‘I would not be waking up in the middle of the night worrying about money!’
‘Being able to earn enough money that anxiety and money worries don’t fill up your brain, and become a block for your creativity.’
‘Success would mean working every day in my studio with no financial worries to hinder my creativity.’
‘Being able to quit work and be able to work for myself and look after my little boy and his soon to be here brother or sister without worrying about bills.’
But for others money isn’t important
‘Good sales can be deceptive, because one can be seduced into making things that sell quickly, which draws one towards popular tastes for familiar as opposed to original items. Galleries invariably end up selling a range of things which are low priced and familiar (favourites at our cooperative gallery are hearts, angels and dogs!).’
‘Success isn’t a number to me, success is a state of mind achieved when no more can be put into something. When I have created something to be its full potential. At A-level I worked the damn hardest for business studies and still came out with a U. I wasn’t successful, but I truly felt I couldn’t have worked harder. To me that is in a strange way success.’
Your creativity is your success
‘Earning enough to be able to keep researching and experimenting in my field of work.’
‘My dream would be to be able to spend most of my time making, paying someone else to do all my admin, social media and cleaning.’
‘Being able to produce for real what is in my head or on paper and have others appreciate it.’
‘Actually I am not very ambitious, I don’t want fame or riches. I love the look on someone’s face when they really like a piece, I don’t want to work bigger or more prestigious projects. I am a bit averse to some of the art world marketing stuff. I think I want to keep doing what I do, but keep growing creatively.’
And of course getting recognition is important!
‘Success is being proud to say I am an artist when people ask what I ‘do’, and being able to make a living from my work.’
‘My work would be collectible, bought by those that loved the pieces as much as I love making them.’
‘Being recognised as a respected, original designer and people viewing my work will instantly know it was designed by me.’
‘To have my work respected by clients and peers, and be invited to exhibit in galleries that I hold in high regard.’
‘Achieving the level of skill required to realise my vision and to be recognised for my technical skills by my peers.’
‘Being the ‘Go To’ person for in my sector. Exhibitions in major venues here and abroad. Professional PR for selected projects. Financial security and no loans.’
‘I would have had several solo exhibitions and have a strong body of work which is available to view on a professional looking website.’
‘Success is being recognised for our hard and good work. Is to be the best and an example in a specific area.’
‘Success is feeling that my parents and friends are proud of me’.
And sometimes its bigger than you: it’s about having an impact
‘Success is … making a difference to the lives of others, the environment and the future.’
‘Inspiring others to succeed.’
‘When I think of success I imagine myself as an influencer in my field – gaining the respect of others for my creativity and helping and sharing ideas and skills with other people through teaching and writing.’
‘Success is seeing the same faces come back time and time again to buy for their friends and family, because I can envision the piece they are describing to me.’
And creatives love the freedom and flexibility
‘Being able to create your own work without compromise.’
‘I don’t care about being a millionaire, I don’t need great luxuries in my life. The greatest luxury is the freedom to create and the possibility to sell my art.’
‘Being free to create without having others telling me what I need to do and having the freedom of setting my own work schedule.’
‘I would have two ‘textile lives’: one where I make pretty things that sell well, and one where I make experimental textile art.’
But of course it’s often a combination of things!
‘For me it would simply being able to make a living doing what I love. I would love a steady flow of customers so I could say that this is my day job.’
‘Success comes big and small. Anything from a jump in turnover, winning that dream stockist to figuring out just how to finish that piece that has been sat on the bench, challenging you for months.’
‘For my business to be a success it needs to be able to provide me with an income that supports my way of life and family, without taking over my life.’
‘Living up to your own standards, being happy and becoming the person you envisaged as a child.’
‘Success is the perfect balance of creativity, people around you who inspire and support you, time to nourish yourself and your loved ones and money in the bank at the end of the month.’
‘Success is when I can enjoy every day creating things, with the ever growing skill of my hands that make me smile, and my stock shelves are forever running dry.’
‘I don’t see success as the one goal at the top of a mountain (one big achievement), but more like a terraced rice field (series of continuous achievements, where the view gets better the higher up you climb. In a general I consider success to be: making work that is good and truthful (good ideas, well developed and crafted), doing what I enjoy every day, gaining and sharing knowledge, having time to work alone and time to work with colleagues or students, having a good work/life balance, having a presence in the jewellery field, winning awards, coverage in books, doing exhibitions, having the opportunity to evolve, have collectors buy/wear my work.’
Success evolves ….
‘Success did originally mean getting into Vogue and Liberty. Now for me it is about making a living from what I do. Being able to spend more time creatively. Having the financial stability to be able to take more risks, produce pieces that aren’t always necessarily highly commercial.’
‘For me I believe the definition changes for me over time. Right now starting out, success is selling my items and approaching clients for work in the hope I can support myself. Once I achieve this though, I will probably determine my success by how regular I get work and what clients I am working for. However, I will always consider myself successful if I am able to do what I love instead of a 9-5 job.’
‘My definition of success is ever changing since I started my business. It started with a turnover of 400 Euro a month. Then I was focused on press features. This year, after I got a bad flu and was out of biz for 5 weeks, I feel, it’s more about money than ever. 160 000 Euro turnover per year is success, assuming my business partner and me, could really make a living from what we do – including a pension fund.’
And success is so much more!
‘On the one hand establishing a business that’s financially strong enough to allow creativity to flow, and on the other creating a product that stretches me and makes me proud. It’s waking up and wanting to go in to work!’
‘Living up to your own standards, being happy and becoming the person you envisaged as a child.’
‘A good work life balance. Being able to create, and pay the bills and still have time to smell the roses and buy the odd pair of awesome shoes!’
‘Waking up feeling excited about what the day holds.’
‘When my signature turns into autograph.’
‘…getting to the end of my life with no regrets.’
So, what’s YOUR definition of Success?
It takes about 15 minutes, and many participants have responded to say how useful they found the survey to help them set goals and reflect on their own business.
The follow up survey is on growing and developing your creative business, in which I try to find out:
- Are their specific times of growth and stagnation? And are these stages predictable and natural, or is growth more organic? How much play changes in our personal life a role in this?
- What have ‘successful’ creatives got that less successful ones don’t have or do? What can we learn from what is really going on in successful businesses to teach the knowledge, skills, behaviour and mind sets required to grow our business (if we wish to do so)?
- Would it be possible to create a MOT-like check up to determine the health of your business, or at least a checklist of the stages of development?
Your contribution to these two surveys is much appreciated!
And feel free to comment below in the comment box which of the above definitions of success is your favourite!