9 things every creative entrepreneur should know when they're first starting out

a lot of people think that being an entrepreneur who is also a freelance creative is a game. they are convinced you’re at home, sitting on the couch with a macbook surfing the internet and streaming content. it’s really not like that at all, though. in fact, it actually requires hella discipline to do what you do. generally speaking, creative entrepreneurs (or freelancers) can be broken down into two categories: full-time and part-time. if you’re a full-time creative entrepreneur, you’re basically a magician who constantly juggles freelance + real life responsibilities while occasionally pulling surprises out of your bag of tricks. and if you’re part-time, well… you’re doing everything i just mentioned + working a regular 9-5. yikes. 

nevertheless, if you’re one of the many bloggers, graphic artists, event planners, dj’s, party promoters, animators, cartoonists, writers, photographers, designers, choreographers, seamstresses, bakers, and videographers out here trying to make waves in the creative space, this one is for you. here are some things to keep in mind that’ll help you maintain some structure and lessen the chances of you having to chase people down for your money because if we’re being honest, we all know how that goes.  

9). always have a signed contract. 

before you do any work, you always want to get a signed contract that expresses the ins and outs of your agreement. i repeat, do not do any work without having a signed contract that expresses the details of the work you’re going to do and the payment that will be given in exchange. i don’t care how cool you are with the person or if ya’ll go way back. it doesn’t matter if they are “good people” or if ya’ll had a verbal agreement and shook hands to solidify the deal. get everything in writing before you do anything. and if they aren’t in the same city as you, don’t trip. all you gotta do is fax the contract or email it to them and have them send it back to you with an actual signature, not a computerized one. it may seem like it’s adding an inconvenient extra layer to the process that’s stopping you from getting to the money. but in reality, you might not even get your money if you don’t have a contract in place to protect yourself. you need to make sure you have something that you can take with you to court, if it comes to that. 

8). require partial (or full payment) before you do begin any creative work. 

i’ll get straight to the point with this one – requiring some sort of people deposit (partial or full) protects you from wasting your valuable time. and at the most basic level, it also shows you that the potential client is serious about you carrying out the work they want you to do. and if they have an issue with paying a deposit, you need to reconsider working with them because that could be a sign that they aren’t fully invested. 

7). be real with yourself about your rates. 

i’m all about knowing your worth as a creative. but you gotta be fair about your rates, too. not sure if your current rates are where they should be? start by doing some high level research on common fees other creatives are charging that offer the same services as you (in your area). then, you should assess the quality of your own work. if you’re being honest, how would you rate yourself? don’t be out here charging five-star rates for two-star services, bruh. it’s not becoming of you and you’ll never get a repeat customer that way. it’s bad enough that the creative space is already hella saturated. we don’t need more creatives trying to get over on people. and once you find a rate that works for you and is on par with your skillset, keep it. be consistent with it until it’s time to reevaluate, which bring me to my next point…

6). know when you need to adjust your rates. 

knowing when to adjust your rates is essential for all creatives. and it goes without saying that any increase in your rates should be commensurate with rises in your experience and your quality of work. but there’s another often overlooked indicator that you might need to increase your prices – and that’s if you’re feeling swamped with clients. if you’ve gotten to the point where you’re now turning down clients because you’re stressed or just don’t have the bandwidth to service them all, you may need to reevaluate your rates. it’s like, are they coming to you because they love your work that much or are they coming to you because you’re the cheapest one around? and although your clients may be hesitant at first, the real ones will stick around and if they don’t – they’ll open up more room for new clients to step in. remember, the same rules apply to your clients as it does to the type of work you do – quality over quantity. 

5). stop negotiating with cheap people. 

i feel that it’s ok for you to negotiate your rates (within reason) because every client is different and the opportunity may sometimes call for you to be a bit flexible. flexible, not stupid. don’t waste time defending your rates to people who are just trying to get over on you. you can tell the difference between a potential client who wants to negotiate and they have good cause versus a client who is just being cheap and trying to get your services for next to nothing. it’s insulting and you don’t need that type of negativity in your life. they're either going to work with you or they aren't. 

4). have a contingency plan. 

it works to your benefit to have an exit strategy in place that you can implement if things don’t go according to plan. what happens if you aren’t able to finish the project or show up for that event? what if the client wants to end your working relationship prematurely? will you give back partial funds, all funds, no funds? what if they stop responding to your calls and texts when it’s time for you to get paid? thinking about these things in detail now can sometimes be extremely useful when unforeseen circumstances give rise. 

3). set reliable timelines and stick to them. 

timelines are extremely important. don’t make a habit of always having to reschedule time with your clients due to your piss poor planning and preparation. nobody likes that and from a customer service perspective, it’s just plain tacky. if you don't have time to make your deadlines, stop taking on so many clients. and in the event that you need to make an amendment to a timeline that’s already been agreed upon, it is your responsibility to let them know that in writing. if you’re a performance creative, what time will you arrive at the venue? what do you need to bring with you? how often will you check in with your client? how long do you need to complete the project and does that time frame work for your client? how will you allocate your time to ensure you meet the agreed upon timelines? these are just a few of the questions you’ll need to ask yourself in order to minimize the likelihood that you fall short, which brings me to my next point…

2). don’t bite off more than you can chew. 

you gotta be real with yourself about whether or not you have the bandwidth and/or mental capacity to complete a job. it sounds harsh but your personal life is not an area of concern for your clients. and if you say you’re going to do something, you best believe they’re going to hold you accountable for what you agreed with – especially if there’s already been an exchange of money. real talk. if it’s one thing i’ve learned as a creative, it’s this – the money ain’t always worth it. and if you have a hard time accepting that, consider this: you won’t be any good to anyone if you run yourself in the ground prematurely due to heinous amounts of stress. 

1). follow instructions. 

give the client what they want. regardless of if you agree with it and despite the fact that you may not like what they want. it’s ok to chime in and give your professional opinion as requested, but other than that you really need to just keep it cool. unless of course, you feel like the client is a piece of work (in a bad way), or that the work they want you to do doesn’t align with your brand and contradicts your values and beliefs. in that case, you don’t need to be taking the job or their money cause it ain’t worth in the long run and you’ll end up hating yourself in the midnight hour.