The Success Mindset for Art Entrepreneurs
How the Quality of Your Thinking Can Make or Break You
Think about a time you failed.
A negative note to start a post off on, I know. But bear with me.
Think about a time you made a bad choice in your career. Or maybe a bad investment decision.
Trace these failures back to the start and you'll find they all share a common denominator: poor quality of thinking.
This is a conclusion I developed after 20 years of entrepreneurship.
While I founded multiple businesses in this time (some reaching well into 8-figures of revenue individually, and close to half a billion in revenue all together), I also experienced periods of low quality thinking that led to fatal business outcomes - or at least took me 100 miles in the wrong direction.
It was expensive and painful every time and my desire to avoid it ever happening again led me to this simple concept that has become my personal thesis:
The outcomes of your life are going to be determined by the quality of your thinking.
This one sentence explains so much about why photographers and artists often sabotage their own success - they're following misguided ideas.
THE IMPORTANCE OF MINDSET
Your mindset is defined by your collection of beliefs and thoughts.
It's your general attitude – the way you typically think about things.
Naturally, mindset is going to have a pretty big impact on your quality of thinking and so it is vitally important that you examine it closely.
This is because your mindset can supersede everything else like a weapon of mass destruction – it can take you down despite your talent or product.
And this happens all the time. In fact, I have never met an entrepreneur who, while starting out, actually had an accurate mental framework for what it takes to build a successful business.
Have you ever analyzed your own mental framework? You may already be pre-programmed to either fail or limit your own success.
To answer this, let's take a look at the most destructive "mindset diseases". My hope is that, by confronting these common examples of poor quality thinking, you can update your mindset and become a better art entrepreneur.
MINDSET DISEASE #1: MISGUIDED EXPECTATIONS
"If you align expectations with reality, you will never be disappointed." - Terrell Owens
Misguided expectations are unquestionably the biggest cause of failure for entrepreneurs.
I have spoken with too many photographers/artists who were utterly depressed after a year of not seeing the success they expected.
Once I peel back the layers of their thinking, we always reach a point where logic ends and they realize they had no real evidence to support their expectations.
Typically, we discover that they read media stories of other entrepreneurs who appeared to be overnight successes, and their mindset cemented around this perception. (Or, they just flat out made it up).
The reality is that overnight success just does not happen - and literally no one who has experienced real success in business will tell you otherwise. Even the very people glorified in those stories.
The belief that you should be expecting success in a matter of months after launching a new business is nothing short of a mental disease and it will destroy you. The disappointment when your (misguided) expectations are not met will demotivate you - draining your confidence and energy.
It generates an entrepreneurial death spiral, and it all began from one misguided idea.
So, what is realistic?
Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, said that it takes 3-5 years to build something of any value. Talk to any successful entrepreneur and they will confirm this truth. I consider myself a master at building startup companies and I still cannot beat this timeline. It has been true every single time for me, and everyone I know. And believe me, I have tried many times to shortcut it - even at the peak of my experience.
You are not a superhuman, and you cannot speed up the timeline that it takes to build a new business or a side business. Nobody can. It’s like fighting against gravity. Eventually it will wear you out and you will lose.
"Patience, persistence, and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success." - Napoleon Hill
Once you update your thinking with correct expectations, everything becomes much easier to endure.
You realize this is a game of patience and persistence over time. You understand that you can’t force things to move faster than they will. This will make the journey much more enjoyable.
MINDSET DISEASE #2: I AM SO TALENTED THAT THINGS SHOULD COME EASY
There are absolutely super-talented photographers and artists out there producing work at the very top of their fields.
The reality is that growing a business is not going to be easier for them becuase of this.
Here's what this "disease" looks like in action:
"I'm so much more talented than my peers - if they can sell their work, selling mine will be easy."
This is where the mindset problem first arises - misguided expectations.
"My work is so good it should sell itself."
Uh oh. Now they have compounded their misguided expectations with a commitment to put less work into their art business.
"If MY work doesn't sell, what would? Art just doesn't sell online."
Boom. After putting in little work and achieving little success, they lose motivation and push the blame onto buyers, other companies, or even the art market as a whole.
This destructive cycle leads nowhere, because it is based on a false premise: "Everything should be easy because of my talent."
Until that idea is updated, this business will be on a path of frustration and inevitable failure. All from one misguided idea.
Here is the truth about the role of talent.
If you are super-talented, and have a desirable product, things will be a little easier.
However, “easier” just means you will sell 10 prints when someone else sells 7 - you still have to do the work to get those 10 sales.
If you don't do the work, you will sell 0 prints. If you half-ass it, you might get 2 or 3 sales.
Meanwhile, the other person who is far less talented than you but is doing everything they can to succeed will sell 7 prints - earning much more income from their art than you. Potentially enabling them to live the full-time artist lifestyle while you, with all your talent, are still struggling. I see it every single day.
The truth is, if you want to build something valuable long-term, you still have to do the work just like everyone else. The only difference is that your potential upside is higher.
Let me digress for a moment to get a point across.
On multiple occasions, several of my companies have literally had the best product of their type in the world. I’ve had products that were far better and cheaper than the nearest competitor. I’ve also had products that were far better and more expensive. I’ve had products that were groundbreaking – with no competitors at all.
There is one lesson I learned from all of these experiences: Products do not sell themselves.
If you think you can create a product that will sell itself, I wish you good luck. Send me an email after it doesn’t work and we can share a few laughs.
MINDSET DISEASE #3: PERFECTIONISM
"Perfection isn't what matters. In fact, it's the very thing that can destroy you if you let it." - Emily Giffin
Being a perfectionist is another highly destructive mindset when it comes to growing a business.
Talent often goes to waste when perfectionists:
- Overdo the "perceived workload" in their mind. This prevents them from getting started or completing projects. They view it as a much bigger mountain than it is. This can be mentally exhausting and, as a result, many of them run out of fuel and fail to launch. If they do, they often waste an unbelievable amount of time. This makes their failure rate as entrepreneurs extremely high.
"Simplification is often the difference between doing something you know you should do and putting it off. If you simplify the problem, you will do it." - Scott Adams
- Focus on their own desires rather than on what will actually make their customers happy. To put it bluntly, your customers don't care what style of font you have in your footer. They don't care about the exact wording of your About page. They care about functionality. They want to find a piece of art they love, order it with ease, and move on with their life.
- Have the misguided idea that perfection leads to business success. This is completely false. In fact, it is the opposite. Most companies don’t have everything perfect and they are completely aware of it and are ok with it because there are other priorities to tend to. They are practical instead of obsessive.
"If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late." - Reid Hoffman, Founder of LinkedIn
I'm not talking about doing sloppy work here, or leaving important things broken.
I'm talking about getting to 80% of perfection. This is the sweet spot where you will both get it done quickly and receive the same results as if you had wasted time getting it all the way to 100%.
That last 20% of time and energy is a killer - it yields insignificant results and is a primary contributor to burnout.
This is called the 80/20 rule, also known as Pareto’s Law. It means that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.
This is no doubt one of my favorite lessons I teach to everyone around me. When someone asks me: “Nick, but this project will take an entire month to get done!” My immediate response is: “80/20 it, and get it done today.” This forces my team members to identify, isolate and execute on the most mission critical elements of the task or project. Then, they can move onto the next task, which they will apply the 80/20 logic to and complete tomorrow. And so forth.
If you follow the 80/20 rule, soon you will be executing at light speed and you will get the most important things done faster.
If this all sounds a little bit scientific, it's because it is. And that's important too.
Because let's face it: photographers and artists have a higher tendency to be perfectionists. They'll often call this instinct "thinking like an Artist", and when it comes to creating your art - that is completely fine. It's part of what makes you and your product great!
It's far less useful, however, when it comes to marketing and business management.
So, here's what to do. When you're creating your art, think like an Artist.
When you're working on business tasks, shift your mind and think like a Scientist.
Scientists try things. They experiment. They seek evidence and truth. They are rational, practical and methodical. They ask questions. They seek feedback.
Whenever you find yourself stressing over small details, or overdoing the perceived workload, ask yourself: "Am I thinking like an artist, or a scientist?" This will help you catch yourself. You can remove the artist hat, and put on the scientist hat.
Then, identify the next practical step with this question:
"What will it take to complete 80% of a task, to a point where I can get it done quickly, start benefiting from it, and move onto the next one?"
"Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft." - Anne Lamott
QUESTION YOUR ASSUMPTIONS AND SEEK THE TRUTH
Ok. We have established that mindset can take down entrepreneurs (particularly photographers and artists) in several ways, and that it must come before everything and be dealt with upfront.
So, let's get to it - how do we actually cultivate the right mindset in ourselves? How do we ensure our quality of thinking is high?
Here's what I've learned:
In order to clear your mind of false ideas, you must continually question your assumptions and seek and obtain the most accurate version of the truth in all things.
How is this done? Very simply:
By surrounding yourself with mentors and colleagues who have more experience than you.
It reminds me of a saying I truly believe in and think of often:
"You’re The Average Of The Five People You Spend The Most Time With.”" - Jim Rohn
Take a look around you. If you are the smartest person in the room, it’s time for an upgrade. This is the problem with running a business in isolation. You will only get as far as your mind and experience can take you.
When I first reached $50,000 in sales with one of my companies, I hit a wall. It took me several months of learning, paying consultants, and very expensive trial and error process to finally get past it. I hit more walls at $500k, $1MM, $5MM, and $10MM. Some of these took longer than a year to get beyond. Every time, it was the wide range of advice I siphoned from mentors and colleagues that eventually got me through.
When you seek out advice, you need to have an open mind - be willing to be wrong and accept new credible information when it comes at you.
The best way to do this is with a "thought exercise" - consider new ideas as if they are 100% truthful and accurate before you allow your mind to fight them.
This is how you update your thinking and make better daily decisions.
"Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who'll argue with you." - John Wooden
When you seek the truth, you can correct your thinking about a certain idea in a matter of days. Doing it is easy and fast. The biggest problem is that most people just don’t do it.
Fortunately, you have a place that was designed for exactly this – the Art Storefronts Collaborative Network. By joining, you immediately surround yourself with other high quality thinkers (a collective made up of other photographers/artists and the art marketing gurus on our staff). You immediately and conveniently have a way to test your assumptions now and in the future.
Over time, your participation in the ASF Collaborative Network will improve the quality of your thinking and help you make better decisions.
Higher Quality Thinking → Better Daily Decisions → Small Wins → Big Wins
A REAL-WORLD EXAMPLE
To wrap up, I want to tell you a quick story about an artist that highlights the importance of having mentors and colleagues.
This artist was an Art Storefronts customer who contacted us to cancel his account so he could “try setting up a website somewhere else."
This made no sense to me. Let’s walk through the logic:
He already paid for his membership - granting him free, ongoing marketing advice and support and unlimited access to the ASF Collaborative Network for the rest of his career.
All he had to pay for at that point is the monthly fee for the website, which he would have to pay for anywhere else too.
All in all, he would gain nothing by switching but would lose a boatload.
Something was off here. I had to learn more. Can you guess what I suspected the problem might be?
Mindset. Let's see where they were at. I spoke to the customer and learned they launched their site, did a tiny bit of marketing right at the start, and then...gave up.
They believed the solution to their problems was to go spend 20 hours building another website somewhere else. As if continually building websites actually solves a problem.
Of course, the real problem came down to what it always does: the quality of his thinking.
After a quick review of his website and analytics, I found problems everywhere.
There were multiple errors in the way he chose to set up his home page, which worked completely against several best practices. He had problems with his product pages, missing certain critical information that customers really need to see in order to feel comfortable moving forward with a purchase.
Furthermore, the website was barely capturing any leads, which essentially means the business was going nowhere.
Overall, these were very easy problems that Art Storefronts members normally get solved very quickly.
I then discovered the why this happened: This customer never became a part of the ASF Collaborative Network, and was still running in complete isolation!
He was learning every old lesson one at a time, paying for each and every mistake that had already been solved by the Network. He was not utilizing any of the shared learnings or shared expenses that the Network provides by default.
This is how he was operating before he came to Art Storefronts, and he never changed his habits.
At that point, all the customer wanted was a checklist of things he could fix. I told him that this checklist would only be a band-aid. That he’d be back in the same position in 3 months. That there was a bigger, more important problem that he wasn’t seeing.
I told him that the root cause of his problems is that he has been running his business in isolation without any auditing, nor any guidance from credible mentors or colleagues within the space.
And I gave him the solution: Start participating in the ASF Collaborative Network. It would have solved his current problems over a year ago, and his business would be on an entirely different trajectory today.
This sort of thinking about his business was new to him. It expanded his mind and made him curious. In a few days, he made his first post to our #SmallWins Facebook Group. He asked for a site review and the Network immediately came to his assistance. Mentors from our marketing team made detailed videos, and other members provided pointed advice. He ended up receiving far more than the checklist he originally wanted. He didn’t have to pay an extra dime for any of this.
This is when the light bulb turned on.
He realized how much time, money, effort, and frustration he wasted this entire time. He realized that to reach his long term goal, he could not go it alone. Needless to say this was an epiphany that changed his life.
I was happy because instead of giving him a prescription, we solved the root cause. Going forward, the quality of thinking within the network is going to upgrade him and keep him on track - so long as he continues to collaborate.
My final advice to you:
1. Reflect on your mindset. Don't underestimate it's ability to make or break you.
2. Equip yourself with realistic expectations - it makes everything easier and more enjoyable.
3. Fight off your inner-perfectionist when it comes to the business of selling art.
4. Take an interest in your own quality of thinking, and seek out mentors that will help you upgrade it.
5. And to our members: leverage the power of our Collaborative Network - in my opinion it is by far the most valuable part of your membership at Art Storefronts. Far more valuable than any single feature.
"In a typical day, you make dozens of little decisions in your mind about your art business: What tasks you do, what tasks you don't do, with whom to associate, and whom to avoid. These individual decisions can appear trivial, even inconsequential, but taken as a whole, they define why you are in the place you are right now. They are predictors of who you will become."
- Nick Friend (Owner)
Would your art business benefit from being a part of our Collaborative Network?
Click the button above and fill out the form to schedule a 10-minute call with us. We'd love to hear about your photography or art, answer your questions, and let you know if we think you'd be a good fit.
Nick Friend is an owner of Art Storefronts and a success mentor to its members.
He carries with him 18 years of industry experience, and is committed to building a world in which artists are the ones who profit most from their work.
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