Not every creator has the same path. Understanding this will help you move forward without getting lost chasing someone else's definition of “success.”
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There are, I think, roughly three kinds of creators in this world, each with their own path. Now, try to not get too lost in these models, because they are, in fact, just models. As the saying goes, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” Regarding the three kinds of creators, think of these as archetypes. Of course, you’re not going to perfectly fit it any of these particular buckets, but they should give you an idea of how you can be spending your time and what kind of work you ought to be creating. Before we figure out how to make money off our creations, we must first get honest on the kind of work we want to create.
When it comes to assessments like this, I recommend being honest with yourself about who you already are, not who you’d like to be. In my case, I love the idea of being some kind of teacher or influencer, but the truth is that at my heart, I’m an artist: someone who makes things and shares them with the world in hopes that others will like them. Sometimes, that looks like teaching, but really I’m just scratching my “need to create” itch and packaging it as a lesson or course. At any rate, the point here is for you to tell the truth about what you are already most inclined to do and then own that so you can get on with it.
And when I talk about “organizations,” don’t get freaked out. All I’m saying is that once you know what kind of work you want to do—that is, once you know what kind of creator you are—then you’ll want to figure out how to organize the work that you’re doing. More on that in a minute. For now, here is a list of the three kinds of creators. See which one most powerfully resonates with you:
- The artist. This is a person who makes things. Those “things” may be stories or songs, or even physical items like clothing. And then, they sell them either directly to fans or create a community of people to support them. They may even do both. Potential income streams include websites like Patreon and Etsy, which allow you to easily create and connect with those who want your work. You may also use membership sites, live concerts, streaming services, or any number of other spaces to create and share with potential paying customers. This kind of creator spends the majority of her time, well, creating. When in doubt, you err on the side of being prolific; instead of selling the current book and possibly making even more money, you opt to write the next one. When an artist isn’t making things, there is something that feels seriously wrong in her world. She may get antsy or even angry and not know why. If this is you, you always need a project, some new big idea that captures your attention. Novelty is your friend, but distraction is going to be a constant battle. Be prepared to discover yourself through your work, and be ready to find someone to help you harness this energy, whether it’s a business partner, spouse, or friend.
- The teacher. This is a person who teaches people how to make things. Of course, they, too, are creative; but their primary work is sharing with others how to do what they themselves already know how to do. This type is your standard high school English teacher who’s secretly working on a novel while teaching her students about Jane Austen and J.D. Salinger. The work may also look like a coach, consultant, or even a counselor: someone whose life is dedicated to leading others down a proven path. Teachers are not as prolific as artists, typically, as their work often revolves around a set of core principles or teachings (think Dave Ramsey’s 7 Steps to Financial Peace or the Four Noble Truths for a Buddhist teacher). Common income streams include courses, seminars, and other educational products. Having a crowd-based donation service may work, as well, but more often than not, you are getting paid for your time or informational products. It may make sense to build an entire organization around this, or you may decide to keep things lean. But if you wanted to grow a large business, this wouldn’t be a bad way to go. Working with others who can help you get your work out into the world and even those who can help you package it may also be useful.
- The influencer. This is a person whose point of view other people respect. They may be an expert on a given subject or simply someone with a lot of charisma, but what makes them stand out is their perspective. They have opinions on things, and we care about those opinions. A common form of work they create is stories they tell from their own lives or opinions on certain matters, such as what’s happening in the news. This is the world of Instagram personalities and Keeping up with the Kardashians. It’s celebrity sponsorships and YouTube vloggers. We follow these “stars” because they help us make sense of our own stories; by seeing life through their eyes, we better understand our own experiences. Often, these people are solo businesses, but they may also have an agent or entire team to support them behind the scenes. These are your typical bestselling authors and public speakers who are sharing their ideas with the world, and we reward them for it. If you have a strong desire to be known, to get your name out into the world and share your big ideas and stories, then this may suit you. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, by the way, if this describes you. You need a big personality sometimes to get a big idea in front of people.
Now that we’ve established the different kinds of creators—that is, how you will spend your time creating your work and even what kind of work you will do—you have a few options in terms of how you organize your work. Will you grow this into a massive business or keep it lean and low-overhead? That is completely up to you and really depends on what you ultimately want to do, how far you want your work to reach, how comfortable you are working with other people, and how much control you’re willing to give up.
There are three paths for the creator:
- Solo. This means you do everything on your own or, sometimes, with the occasional help of a contractor. You are, in the words of my friend Paul Jarvis, “a company of one.” You write all your own songs, build your own website, do all your work. If you are successful, this means you are typically a high-paid contractor who is hired by other companies and organizations or who sells his products to the masses directly without any employees or middlemen.
- Partnership. This means you work with another person—a business partner, manager, or agent—who helps you with the business aspects of your work so that you can focus on the creative side of things. This is the most common type of organization for an artist but can be true for the other kinds of creators, as well. The goal here is to share some of the money (typically anywhere from 15% to 50%) so that you can be freed up to create. To do otherwise would result in exhaustion and likely lackluster work. The trick, of course, is to find the right partner who can fuel your creative work and not just be another boss to whom you have to report.
- Company. This means you create an entire organization, often a for-profit company—an LLC or Corporation—that employs you and other people. You may be the CEO or President, or you may elect to let someone else run the company. But ultimately, you own part or all of it. You are the founder, owner, and chief shareholder. And now, you have an organization of people behind you: this could be a small team or a multi-site organization. At this point, you are sharing a vision that is bigger than you, and this will require you or someone you trust to lead others well towards that vision. It’s not uncommon, such as in the case of Steve Jobs, to found a company, lead it for a while, and then turn it over to someone else. This can be quite risky, but when it works well, your work can reach more people than you otherwise would have been able to reach.
So, what kind of creator are you and what organizational path will you follow? Share your answers in the private community today.