You have the ability to work on what you love, be your own boss, create new art every day, and get paid very well for it.
On the other hand, 85% of creative & photography businesses fail within the first few years.
This article defines the main reasons why your business will fail & teaches you how to succeed instead.
Big is popular.
Big is headline news & social media viral hype.
Big is millions of followers, likes, clicks, and shares.
- It is how you’re told to build every aspect of your business.
- Your brand.
- Your online following.
Big is the enemy of innovation, creative thought & self-improvement.
It makes decisions for short term profits, and social clout, instead of the long term improvement of it’s products & ideas.
Big needs millions of interactions to squeeze out small profit margins.
It hates experimental and creative risks. It usually can’t afford them either.
Big is the goal of the masses. It’s their undefined version of success.
It’s what they’re programmed to aim for, in everything, without thinking twice.
Big works well for manufacturing widgets or anything else on a factory assembly line.
This is the opposite goal of a creator or a photographer.
Most big companies were born in the First Machine Age (early 1800s-1980s), which utilized physical machines & assembly lines to increase profit margins and make billions of dollars.
These machines & armies of assembly line workers cost millions, so only large companies could afford them.
That meant two choices:
- You had enough money / funding to own a large company.
- You worked for one.
Small companies didn’t have enough funding to buy or maintain the machines or people, so the big companies ate them alive.
Now, we are in the Second Machine Age (1990s – current), which I call the Digital Machine Age.
The most profitable machines have changed location & appearance. They cost almost nothing to maintain, or purchase, and scale / replicate for free.
- These machines save you time by automating non-creative tasks that you used to do by hand or pay someone else to do.
- They are made from digital bits, computer code, and algorithms.
- You don’t need to understand code to utilize them.
- They allow you to get your art & ideas out to one person or a million people, with no added work as the scale increases.
Big is starting to notice that the business methods that served it for the last 100+ years are no longer working as well.
- Small companies and creators can now afford the same digital machines that big companies can.
- The digital machine age made these tools available to everyone & leveled the playing field.
Now, great ideas, fast execution, and the spread of useful information hold all the value.
All you need is a computer or phone, endless dedication, and a long term vision.
Instead of employing 1000s of people to work for your company, you can employ yourself and millions of digital machines, that work around the clock, for next to free.
This means that your expenses can stay very low, while still getting your art & ideas out to the world.
Now, you can start a business with almost no money.
Your only risk is time & ego.
15 years ago this was very expensive & impossible without understanding computer code.
Moving forward, everything will become more connected, move faster, and become cheaper to implement, for everyone.
All your excuses are gone.
In the Digital Machine Age, SMALL IS THE NEW BIG.
Small is better for art and creative ventures.
Small doesn’t mean lower pay or less hard work.
Small allows you to experiment, take risks, and allocate the free time, unpaid, which is required to think of, or work on, the next big idea:
- Small is the world-class craftsman that does one or two things better than anyone else on the planet.
- It is the world-class creator that says no to 99% of things, to devote all free time to that important 1%.
- It is the decision not to follow current popular trends, for short term payoffs, knowing that you will create the new trends for the next generation.
Small creates the next popular idea that big tries to purchase 5 years from now.
Small lets you concentrate on building better products (anything you create), to help your current customers, instead of directing all free time and energy into finding new customers (advertising).
Staying small allows you to spend 6 months on a risky new project that might fail, because it’s something that interests you and will help others, long term.
Small allows for targeted high efficiency instead of broad & sloppy scale.
Most creators make the huge mistake of trying to create their branding, videos, blog posts, marketing, product launches, and websites, to look just like the big brands.
These creators want to be the next big thing.
The McDonalds or Pepsi, of the creative world.
They want 1 million followers on YouTube or Facebook but aren’t sure why they want those followers or what getting them does in the long run.
They seem to think that looking and acting like a big corporation will give them corporate size success.
If they copy the blueprint, it will work?
In turn, they create ideas, products, and messaging, that they think the masses will like, instead of creating things that they care about & want to see exist in the world.
The problem is, this strategy is not what makes people connect, trust, and learn from creators.
It’s also not what drives the evolution of art & ideas.
It actually has the opposite effect.
What people fail to realize is that many of the current big companies were forged in a different era, the First Machine Age.
That era is slowly dying.
Software and code are now taking over everything that they can.
New ideas & art now spread faster than ever, at almost zero cost to the creator.
In the first Machine Age, only big companies could afford TV commercials, and advertising, so small was never seen & couldn’t compete, therefore it didn’t exist.
- You will never outspend or out advertise the big brands in the category of BIG.
- Trying to beat them at their game is impossible.
- They will crush you.
Big needs commercials, and advertising, because it doesn’t have the personal trust of its consumers.
The creator, through blog posts, YouTube videos, podcasts, email, comments, and other free content, can grow trust & community, with like-minded people, without advertising.
They can also get these ideas out to the world, for almost free.
The creator’s only cost is time, hard work, and a long term belief in their own ideas.
You can read someone’s blog or watch their YouTube videos, for free, and get a feeling for who they are.
Big can’t play in this arena.
- Big is impersonal.
- It needs massive ad campaigns to squeeze out small profit margins.
- People don’t gravitate towards blog posts or YouTube videos from large corporations.
- They don’t look to BIG for the next creative ideas or inspiration.
Now, BIG employs “influencers”, trying to compete with small.
This worked well when it was new, but now we understand that influencers are corporate ads disguised as people, thus their trust & value dropped.
You, the creator, don’t need millions of customers or fans.
- You don’t want that many either.
- You’ll end up spending all your time in customer service, instead of creating things that matter.
First, you need to know the minimum amount of money you need each year to keep creating what you love, to keep heading down that path of making the change that you want to see in the world.
Do you have a bad relationship with money, or hate dealing with it?
This isn’t about money.
This is about creativity & art & the evolution of useful ideas.
This is about the funding of your goals, which will ensure you can continue to create, and help others, long term, at scale.
What’s your number?
How much do you need?
You must define it!
Otherwise, you’ll end up chasing money all your life & never get to create the great idea that’s in your mind.
Our time on this planet is zero-sum.
Chasing unnecessary money removes time from creating.
Not understanding money, or running from it, also has the same effect. Most creators are in this boat.
If you have too much, or not enough money, you’re always thinking about money.
This removes all chances of helping others & getting your ideas out there.
To create at scale, and get your ideas out there, you need funding, long term.
You must have a plan in place or you will be part of someone else’s plan.
The goal is not to think about money, by having a plan in place, which will ensure all time goes towards creating.
You can scale that up and down as required to provide the funding for your long term goals.
The main point is, getting 1000 true fans is not an unreasonable thing to do, within a few years of hard work.
This seems simple, but most creators don’t have any idea of what they are aiming for, long term, so they eventually lose motivation and fail.
The millions of fans that BIG taught you to aim for, may seem, and actually be, impossible to obtain.
Don’t make this mistake.
Second, you must say no to 99% of opportunities in life, to do that remaining 1%, better than anyone else on the planet.
Instead of trying to do a little bit of everything at an average level, just to squeeze out a dollar, the creator must do a very small number of things at a world-class level.
Becoming world-class at one thing takes years of time and dedication, which means the payoff is always longterm.
This is why the creator must trust themselves, and trust their long term vision, no matter what:
- Long term thinking, self-trust, and dedication is something that almost anyone can learn. I call this combo of skill sets “Grit”.
- Grit is very hard to execute year after year, so most take the path of least resistance, average skill level, short term payoff, and comfort.
It takes guts to trust in yourself, year after year, to bring about the change you want to see in the world.
What ideas are currently in your mind, that could exist in reality, 5 or 10 years from now?
Do you have the guts & grit to take the daily steps to get there?
If your answer was not HELL YES, walk away now.
One of my favorite books, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing (read it), states, “If you can’t be the first in a category, set up a new category you can be first in”.
Consider a category a niche.
Landscape photography is a category.
Portrait photography is a category.
Chinese Resturants and Italian Restaurants are also categories.
Each category has many sub-categories or sub-sub-categories, for example:
- Main Category Example 1: Photography
- Sub: Outdoor / Landscape Photography
- Sub-Sub: Wilderness Photography
- Sub-Sub-Sub: Mountain Wilderness Photography
- Sub-Sub: Wilderness Photography
- Sub: Outdoor / Landscape Photography
- Main Category Example 2: Website Development
- Sub: SEO
- Sub-Sub: On Page SEO
- Sub-Sub-Sub: On Page SEO Keyword Optimization
- Sub-Sub: On Page SEO
- Sub: SEO
The creators’ biggest advantage is the ability to create a brand new category. One in which only they exist.
Before this is possible, they must become world-class in a currently existing, similar, overlapping category and grow a small fan-base there.
This will allow them to experiment & test new ideas while funding the future category creation.
This currently existing category should be one level broader than the category they eventually want to create & dominate.
This initial category must:
- Go in the opposite direction of BIG.
- Go in the opposite direction of short term popular cultural trends (a.k.a trends without underlying utility & logic. Things that people do, just because others are doing them. Herd mentality. )
- Have a long term utility & logical value of 10+ years. (a.k.a the market within is increasing or stable and will not disappear)
Doing so keeps BIG from competing in your category.
Big needs a large number of transactions, to turn tiny profit margins, due to extreme inefficiency, so it always needs to stay up to date with the current popular trends.
The masses love short term popular trends, so BIG creates what the masses demand.
While most creators aim for the masses, place your target somewhere else, where no one is looking.
Place it somewhere that maximizes your ability to spend life creating things that matter, and hold actual value, instead of trophy collecting and stat counting meaningless numbers on social media platforms, which you don’t own.
Select a category that is small enough that you can eventually be the best within it, but large enough that there are enough “fans” to fill your funding goals.
Being world-class in two or three categories that overlap & complement each other gives you even more power.
Don’t aim for 2-3 right away.
Just start simple, with 1.
Become world-class at one thing in a single category.
If you select the main category of photography, to be world-class in, it’s worthless.
There are too many people competing to be “the best photographer” in the world.
Being a jack of all trades, knowing all parts of photography, at an average level, is also worthless.
- If you select wilderness photography, there isn’t anywhere near as much competition.
- If you select Mountain Wilderness Photography, there is even less competition.
The harder the category is to learn, or produce work within, the less competition it has within.
Mountain Wilderness Photography mixes three small categories, which are each hard to learn & execute upon:
- Landscape Photography
- Backpacking / Mountaineering
- Outdoor Endurance Sports (Ultra Trail Running & Endurance Training)
As I had said above, mixing categories that complement each other, and overlap, is a huge advantage.
It’s harder to learn all of these skill sets, and become world-class in them, so not many people can compete in this field.
There are many other examples, just like this.
If you have GRIT, and long term vision, you can be world-class in a category all your own.
You’ll be surprised how many people out there have been waiting for you to create what you’re creating.
The internet changed everything. Now small groups of people, in love with niche topics (categories), can find each other.
These groups need a leader, and idea maker, someone on the cutting edge, always looking to learn & improve.
Who will define the new categories and push the boundaries within them?
You can become this person.
You can teach what you learned from 10,000 hours in the trenches, doing work that you love, day after day, while everyone else was aiming for big.
You can show others that you walk the walk. That creating world-class products and ideas, long term, is the real reason you exist.
This is how to create a category of 1.
A category where you’re the only option.
This is the place where you can have the most impact.
Don’t do it for:
- Money (exceeding what you need to get the job done.)
- Social Media / internet clout
- These things will only distract you from the real goal.
Do it for:
- The evolution of creative thoughts & ideas.
- The next generation, 10 years behind you, that needs someone to push them forward, so they can eventually surpass what you create, and teach it to the next generation.
- The love of your craft.
- The proof that you can do anything you set your mind to.
Always go in the opposite direction of big:
- Don’t aim to impact the masses. They don’t care enough anyway.
- Lose all that corporate speak.
- Be you.
- Be personal.
- Learn as much as you can, every day, and make sure you always feel uncomfortable.
- Experiment constantly & change quickly when things don’t work.
- See failures as data points in your experiments, not as part of who you are as a person.
- Create things you’re interested in & want to improve upon.
Now, the hard part. You need to start today, even if what you create is really bad.
Every creator is always bad at first.
You must do it anyway.
Your ideas, art, and projects will grow and evolve as you create more and more. This is the only way to get better.
Feeling like crap about your current creations, which may be bad, is all part of the process.
Everyone that’s currently world-class went through it & still does, every day they create.
The thing is, you’ll never be as good as you want to be, so this feeling will always be there.
Start now & create things you really care about, until your 10% better than a beginner.
Once your 10% better than a beginner, you can teach 10% under you, something new.
Aim for 1 person at first.
Teach them what you know or impact their current idea structure by showing them a new way of thinking or doing things.
This can be done through all forms of art, photography, writing, videos, content, or anything else you want to create.
Now go for 10 people, then 100, and 1000.
While doing this it’s imperative to constantly improve your craft, then you can teach more and more people as you improve.
Some of these people will become your true fans.
They will tell others about you.
Aiming too big at first will ensure you quit and have zero impact, long term.
Big companies scale fast with massive cash flow, hundreds of managers and thousands of bean counters.
If you don’t have millions in cash flow, and don’t want to manage people or count beans, then don’t play in this arena.
You’ll never scale quickly or obtain big numbers, then you’ll feel like a failure.
How would your art & business change if you aimed for small?
Aiming for small removes the noise and filtering costs associated with creating for the masses.
It ensures you don’t spend your life in meetings dealing with customer service & advertising issues.
If you only have 10 customers at first, it’s easy to give them all a world-class experience.
The same goes for 100, then 1000.
Do it for your students & the creation of world-class ideas, not the money.
By students, I mean anyone who’s ideas you impact with your creations.
The money will come, but it will only stick around if the students always come first.
Move slow, make your creation or product world-class for a small number of people.
Make the thing you wish existed when you were in their shoes.
This allows you to stop creating generic things, aimed to please everyone, and start creating stuff that you, and a small group of others, really care about.
How much time are you currently allocating to improving your craft versus getting new people to see it?
When your work is really good, you no longer beg others to interact with it.
It spreads on its own.
Staying small allows you to obtain the most valuable assets, which create a stable, long term, highly efficient business.
These assets are:
- Specific knowledge or craftsmanship.
- Problem-solving ability.
- A customer (student) base, built on long term relationships, that you actually know and understand.
Staying small allows you to experiment, move quickly, learn new skill sets, and adjust on the fly.
When hard times hit, which they will, you and your business will quickly shift to new demands.
This will ensure you stay around for the long term. It’s the only way to execute your vision!
Big doesn’t have this choice. It’s slow and clunky. It takes too long to change.
Start building those ideas in your head & bring them into reality.
It starts now, today, through small steps.
Leave me a comment below with your thoughts on this article. What are you going to build in the next 3-5 years?
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