Tara Gentile, a thought leader and creative business coach. She brings creative thinking to branding, product development, and marketing that incorporates both strategy and high touch design. Her approach to business in the You Economy resonates with MBAs, PhDs, and graduates of the school of life. She writes frequently for the Daily Worth, Design*Sponge, and Etsy. Bestselling author, Jonathan Fields, named her blog a Top 22 Single-Voice Business Blog of 2012. She’s the author of several popular digital guides including her latest on the relationship between personal art and money, The Art of Earning.Visit her websites: Reclaiming Wealth and KickStart Labs
I think you’re right – my mama taught me discipline. Her business – she supported my brother & I as a seamstress – was driven by her values & personal priorities. She wanted to be present in our lives as much as humanly possible: picking us up from school, attending softball games, being there when we were sick.
So naturally, she found the discipline to work at the wee hours of the morning to get a batch of alterations complete or the strength to canvass the wealthy neighborhood a few minutes away with flyers about her business.
I think her disciple also emanates from just how much she loves & is challenged by her work. She still owns a sewing business even though she doesn’t need to work. She truly wants to be at her sewing machine crafting new garments & altering old.
My discipline is very much the same. I want to work as hard as I do. I want to provide for my child. I want to model entrepreneurship & self-determination for my child. I’m also driven to discipline by my clients because I want to serve them at my highest level all the time.
But my personal discipline is also paired with a deep appreciation for time off. I don’t push myself through “not feeling like it.” If I don’t feel like it, there’s a reason and I respect that reason. I do something else instead — even if that something looks frivolous on the outside.
I work hard & I play hard. It’s a good life and one I’m happy to lead.
2) If I can speak for photographers as a collective, I would say we sincerely believe we can be both profitable and pursue our art. But we also a lot that gets too easily derailed. What would your advice be to stick to the path we initially imagined we would be on?
First, make sure you’re not trying to do more than you can for the sake of money. Photographers (and web designers and web developers) all fall into the category of trying to work too much. As in, you try to accumulate too many billable hours. You work more to make more money because that seems to be the easy way to do it.
How can you make more money working less? Charge more for what you do. Create other revenue streams (i.e. sell prints at the right price, create books, diversify your services). Run your business smarter (i.e. create systems for referrals)
Second, make sure you’re differentiated within the market. If where you shine is taking pictures of families with small children, make sure everyone knows that’s your specialty. If you’re the master of black & white, show that on your website and have a “no color” policy. You’ll be able to charge more for your best work instead of making less doing more things.
The average joe doesn’t know the difference between you and the 50 other photographers in your geographic area. Make it obvious. Show average joe that you understand his unique needs. Be the best match or tell him to go somewhere else.
3) In your seminal ebook, The Art of Earning, I get the feeling you are giving us artisans permission to pursue our dreams, which includes honing our craft and creating a sustainable lifestyle for ourselves and our families. Am I reading that right?
Yes! And right there you’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s a two fold mission in becoming a thriving artist:
a) Hone your craft. Get better at what you do. Don’t just learn about business — learn to become a better artist! Keep up with trends, invest in equipment, learn new skills.
b) Create a sustainable lifestyle. Make the money you need to live the way you want to live. Nothing is out of your grasp if you name it & work towards it. Don’t aim for getting by, don’t aim for working 100 hours per week. Aim for sustainable and thriving.
4) You say “transformation is valuable” and I agree. But who gets to place value on that transformation? Let’s say a wedding client of mine is looking at a picture I took of her and her late grandmother on the dance floor. How does one put a dollar value to that emotion the bride is feeling at that moment? And how is that value conveyed to my client without sounding like a used-car salesman?
This is one statement from the book I might back pedal on a bit today. Not because it’s untrue but because it needs context.
People don’t actually buy “personal transformation.” No one believes there is a lump sum of money they can plop down & become better, smarter, richer, or prettier because of the service they’ve just bought. However, overall transformation is something that can be broken down into its parts. Those parts can be bullet-pointed, named, and price tagged.
For a photographer, transformation may be seeing yourself as you’ve never been seen before. It might be capturing the beauty of friends & family gathered ’round. It might be providing the best souvenirs from a moment in a child’s life.
No kidding, there is no set fee for “the bride & her late grandmother on the dance floor” but that doesn’t mean the fee should be low just because it’s a beautiful moment either. Charge what you need or want to charge and then back it up with the language that you use to describe the service that you offer.
Break what you do down into tangible bits. Let people feel into having you as their photographer and give them a sense of what both the experience of being photographed & the experience of seeing the photos will be like.
Don’t worry about sounding like a used car salesmen. This is ridiculous! You’re not a used car salesmen. You weave beautiful stories when you talk to friends about what you do – weave those same stories for your potential clients.
Then say with confidence, “This is my fee.” And give them the space that they need to say, “Yes.”
5) Is having or making that “third choice” – beyond saving/investing or spending it on “stuff” – the driving force behind the art of earning? Also, do you recommend you declare this third choice to your clients so that they understand WHY you are doing what you are doing for you and your business?
Yes, the art of earning is always about earning with purpose. It’s not about earning more for the sake of earning more — and it’s not about earning enough to “get by” or “have just enough.” If you’ve built your business with a big ambition, and I hope you have, then earning money is a byproduct of working towards that big ambition.
The more you serve, the closer you come to your ambition, the greater your realize your purpose, the more money you stand to earn. Not in a drain-’em-til-they’re-dry way but in a whole-hearted people-see-the-value way.
6) In a world where there are other artisans also providing a similar service, how does one distinguish oneself? Is it by clearly defining how we will deliver either an experience or product full of meaning to the client?
First – let me say – differentiation is so important! It’s probably the biggest thing standing in between you and more money, you and better clients, you and full artistic self-expression. It’s true!
I could talk all day about differentiation but I want to define it in two ways today:
First, your values define you. What are your values? How do you prioritize? What makes you stand up and say “yes!”? My values include wisdom, excellence, and equality. I know I resonate with someone else’s work when I see those same values echoed back at me. I can instantly align with both their purpose & their modality.
Talk to me in values. Tell your story in values. Explain your process in values. Give me something to say “yes!” to.
Second, your value drives you. What are you really selling? What are people really paying for? Understand your value from your customers’ perspectives. Interview them about how they received your services and what was important to them in the experience.
Don’t paint in broad strokes. Use fine detail. Share others’ experiences and allow me to see myself in their examples.
Great question. Up until about 6 months ago, I didn’t realize how much my faith & my previous academic study of that faith had carried over into my business. My faith not only directs me to help others but has shaped my whole outlook on business & the commercial system.
Especially observant folks have noticed that I have “Bonhoeffer chick” in my Twitter bio. Bonhoefferchk was my first blogging handle. But the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is also the theology I ascribe to personally. That theology has also directly impacted my approach to business.
Bonhoeffer posited that “Jesus is a being for others.” Jesus’ sole purpose was to live his life for others. While great self-love & self-acceptance is a necessary part of that kind of faith, it manifests itself outwardly in service. That’s the kind of business I know seek to run and the kind of business I direct my clients to run, as well.
Yes, you must self-express through your great work. Yes, you must have a high self-worth to increase your net worth. But in the end, it’s service of others that pushes you onward. It’s service that defines your success. Your work exists for others not merely for yourself.
Those are the kind of businesses I want to see in control of the new economy.
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