Years ago, one of my best confidants and I decided to start a record label. For me it was the second company I started and my first partnership. I liken the relationship to a young Sean “Jay-Z” Carter and young Damon Dash. In case you’re wondering, I played the role of Mr. Carter in this budding music empire. It was the 1990s, the Golden Age of Hip-Hop and it seemed as if all of the innovation artists also had their own record label and control over their respective musical destinies.
All though I was the resident artist, He and I both loved art. We had a friend in common, that I will call Rebecca, for the sake of this story. Rebecca was a business owner and sold art with custom framing that she made herself in the local mall. We loved to go her store and watch her work and listen to her regale us with tales of her younger days and business wisdom. She was successful and I continued to learn from her for years.
One day, I asked Rebecca a question and her answered stunned me. I wanted to know if she had a succession plan for her business. What would happened when she could no longer work? As Rebecca aged, her arthritis pain would worsen from the constant work with her hands. I knew from our close relationship that some days were very difficult for her to work. However, she was the business owner and the most significant employee. Rebecca had created a job for herself that limited her ability to be a business owner.
Over the years, she hired other artisans and apprentice to help. However, they never would stick around long before finding employment elsewhere. This created a problem from Rebecca. If she stopped working the business she started and owned, it would cease to be an ongoing endeavor. That was the shocking truth that I grappled with to understanding. In time, she couldn’t continue to work and the only art store in the area closed business for good. Rebecca was my mentor…but this counsel created a conundrum that I have been mindful ever since.
I believe that all artists that start companies to commercialize their creativity are faced with this challenge from the day one. Some people will build their business with this challenge in mind, while others may not think about it until it’s too late.
Part of the challenge is that for the artist, it is his or her’s individual style, signature, or taste that makes their art unique. It’s not a commodity that can be produced at scale by another entity or automation. So to build a creative company, it’s size will be either limited to it’s principal artist unless the business owner enables processes and value chains to be developed that maximize each effort.
Creative agencies can take steps to ensure that the creativity of the company is not hampered by running the business and provides opportunities for continued growth.