Artist, Designer, or Entrepreneur?


Over and over and over again, I find my business-self pulled in three directions, which is to say I see myself as all three: artist, designer, and entrepreneur. Sometimes I’d add “teacher” to that list, but I'll leave that out for now.

At least a couple times a year, I’ll find myself thinking I need to choose. Yet in today’s studios, galleries, and markets, there’s no need to pin yourself to one identity, and plenty of successful creatives are successful because of (or despite?) not focusing on one role.

And I can’t seem to focus anyway, try though I have.

So what of it then? Why is this something I keep returning to? What is it that makes me intermittently crave the clarity that would come with settling comfortably into one role?

I’ve come to believe that it’s actually all about figuring out how to communicate with YOU — my audience, my prospective client, maybe even my ideal customer. 

Let me explain.

When I’m thinking of myself as an artist:

My focus is on the creative process and, ultimately, on the work. The end product. The art. In this scenario, I share my work for its own sake, and I hope that you appreciate it as such. I hope that you’re ultimately so inspired by it that you'd like to own it. In my communications with you (whether on social media, in the copy on my website, on the blog, or elsewhere), I share my art and tell my story. I’m not so concerned with what other artists are doing and I’m not particularly thinking about your problems or needs. Here’s my work, I say. Here’s my art. Here it is again. Here’s why I make it.

When I’m thinking of myself as a designer:

My focus is on the process of solving a specific problem for a specific client. In this scenario, I share my work with you as a means of illustrating my problem solving and my design skills, with the hope that you will decide I’m worthy of solving your problem. I focus on building relationships and I thrive when I am able to communicate my design decisions in a way that you can understand. I focus on showing you my expertise (look how much I know about creating authentic, differentiated brands, I say). I want to inspire you, like an artist, but I also am focused on getting to know you and your problems. Here’s my work, I say. Here’s why I made these decisions. Here is the breadth and depth of my expertise. Here’s how I can solve your problems. Here’s why you need a designer in the first place. Here's how happy I've made other clients.

When I’m thinking of myself as an entrepreneur:

Sure, I’m still thinking about solving problems for clients, but above all that, I’m thinking of the market. I’m not thinking about one client but rather about a microcosm (ooh, or maybe a macrocosm if I’m lucky!) of clients that I can create and then serve through my products and offerings. In this scenario, I’m always experimenting and making changes to my offerings, my message, and my approach to potential customers in an effort to find the sweet spot where my products meet market need. I study my competitors so that I can differentiate myself from them. When I communicate with you in this scenario, my focus is on the products and how they fit into your life. I may tell stories, but they’re stories meant to bind you to my brand. Here are my products, I say. Here is information on how to use them. Here is content related to my product that might help you find me when you don’t know to look for me. Here are discounts, maybe, and promotions. Here are your pain points, and here’s how my products can solve those.

It might be easier to choose one role to play and to play that role as fully as I can.

It might be easier because of all the things that are affected by which role I’m playing. Should my website focus on the art and the process, aiming to inspire? Should I be blogging about solutions to the problems my market is facing? Should I be walking prospective clients through case studies in which I outline how I solved specific problems for individual clients? Should I have a newsletter, and if I do, should it focus on products, or process, or problems ? And even more basic: what do I actually want people to pay me for? What offers do I make? What’s for sale?

But just because it might be easier, doesn't mean it has to be right.

I seem to have proven over the last eight years that I’m no more able to choose one role for myself than I am able to replace a carburetor. Which is to say, surely with a lot of determination and a willingness to do things I have no earthly desire to do, I could do either. I could will myself into submission to one role. 

But where would be the fun in that?

That said, I’ve learned over time that there are an awful lot of ways to make the difficult task of wearing All The Hats a lot easier. I thought I’d start this blog series as a way to gather and present that info so that maybe you won’t have to suffer quite the way I have.

Before you go, I’d like to hear from you! I’d love to know what hats you see yourself wearing as a business owner, and what difficulties you’ve had because of trying to wear them all. I’ve got a whole list of blog topics for upcoming articles, but I’d love to know if there are specific things you’d like to ask me about. You can leave your thoughts in the comments or contact me through the form at the bottom of the site.