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I am reminded every year of how small our business (currently) is. The evidence is right there in plain black and white at the bottom of our P&L statements – what accountants call “the ultimate source of truth”.
And while we are indeed small, our ambitions are very big.
Like any other business, we want to grow, we want expand, we want to be the next big thing and we want to do it **now**. Yesterday would be even better.
We consume a lot of information in our search for these things. And for the business person in search of business advice, there is no shortage of information out there, both on the internet and IRL.
Most of it is bad; or redundant; or simply just not applicable to our particular situation.
But the unfortunate thing is: you cannot always tell.
Advice that’s bad, or redundant, or non-applicable doesn’t come with a warning.
In fact, bad advice often tends to sound very much like good advice, and you usually cannot tell the difference until you try it on for size and it fails. There isn’t one right way to do business (no matter what business schools or loan salespeople tell you) and experience will always be the best teacher.
The following represents a list of things that we’ve tried and that seem to work. Or at least it’s a list of things that haven’t yet proved to be wrong.
None of these ideas are my own.
They are all distilled and accumulated from the various books, blogs, lectures, schooling, podcasts that I have consumed over the years and from the tactics and philosophies that we have test-driven here at Sawasawa.
These are ideas that have so far stuck.
1. THE THINGS YOU DON’T KNOW WILL ALWAYS GREATLY OUTNUMBER THE LITTLE YOU KNOW
I’ve found this idea easy to accept, but very difficult to internalise. Perhaps that’s because it runs counter one of our most basic desires as human beings: the need for certainty.
We like to plan the future and to believe our plans will work.
In some cases, our planing work.
For example, it’s true that if you begin a diet and exercise regimen today, and you continue with it for six months, at the end of those six months, you’ll be a fitter person than you are today.
However, it’s also true that you could begin a diet and exercise regimen today, that you could continue with it for six months, and at the end of those six months, a bus could run you over.
The uncomfortable truth is: our future is unknowable. (And, by extension, so is the past. We only _think_ we know what we remember, but that’s another topic.)
This translates to all aspects of life, including business and the business of creativity. You cannot know what bus will hit you tomorrow. You cannot know how much of your business is at the moment hidden to you.
It’s what Donald Rumsfeld famously called “unknown unknowns”, and was oddly ridiculed for it.
So how do you operate in this environment? How do you move forward, when you don’t know what you don’t know?
For me, the solution is in problem. If you can’t know something, then there’s no point worrying about it.
You only really have one choice, and that’s to remain open-minded and empirical in your approach.
Yes, keep planning; yes, keep praying (if that’s your thing), but accept that your plans may go awry and your prayers may forever remain unanswered.
Concentrate on the things you can control (your time and how you use it being number one on that list); try not to worry about what you can’t control or predict or the things you don’t yet know; and try to remain aware of the possibility that some unexpected, unforeseen and unforeseeable bullshit will come your way.
(Those that see strands of Stoicism in there, well done! Give yourself a gold star.)
2. GOOD WORK IS CONSISTENCY AND REPETITION
Consistency and repetition.
Consistency and repetition.
Consistency and repetition.
If I could go Back to The Future and give my younger self one piece of advice, it would be that if you keep doing something (anything!) for a long period of time, then you will inevitably get better at that something, and that consistency will pay off.
At the core of this idea is the belief that anything can be learned.
And if you believe in that, then life becomes simple. Because all you have to do is pick a lane, pick a profession, pick a passion, and just stick with it.
I find that such a powerful and comforting thought.
I just have to remind myself every now and then that this works for both good habits and bad. Being consistent and repetitive can work for smoking just as well as it works for creating good art.
3. TEAMWORK REALLY DOES MAKE THE DREAM WORK
This phrase reminds me of a particular friend, who would gleefully shout it out whenever we did something together.
It didn’t matter how small the thing was. It only mattered that we did it together.
If I successfully passed him the salt and he salted his meal, “Team work makes the dream work!”
If we found a space in a packed parking lot, “Team work makes the dream work!”
He would say it so much that I automatically hear his voice in my head now when I think of it.
Teamwork is important in all aspects of life, but it is particularly important in the business of creativity and in disciplines like ours.
It is very hard, perhaps it is even impossible, to complete an animation project by yourself. The myth of the single auteur is just that: a myth.
Collaboration in animation is almost a requirement, so we’ve had to figure out ways to collaborate and work as a team from the time we started.
On a personal note, the best work I have produced has been due of the efforts of a team. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
A good team not only helps with the technical side of the work, they also add a great deal to the creative side of the work too. They contribute ideas that you would have never thought of by yourself. They give feedback. They challenge your ideas and make both them and you better.
In other words, they make the dream work!
4. PROJECTS WILL FILL WHATEVER TIME AND BUDGET YOU’VE SET.
The purpose of business isn’t to do business.
The purpose of business is to create!
What you create varies from business to business. For us, it’s animations and short films. And we have noticed this relationship between time and budget over the years.
Because this is a skills-based job, it is very hard to quantify a unit of work. We measure our output in seconds, (i.e a project is priced based on x seconds of completed work), but because the variation in types of animation is so large, and because different people operate at different price points, we’ve had to become experts at delivering on all budgets and within all time frames.
Every project is unique. And that’s the beauty of this line of work.
The more time and money we have, the more elaborate and complex an animation we can deliver.
If timelines and budget are tight (and aren’t they always?) we’ve had to learn to work with that too.
5. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY, MONEY, MONEY
We creatives like to think of ourselves as “other”.
We like to think that we are a bit more special than “normal” people. That we have somehow figured out something they haven’t, simply because we are in the business of creativity.
We like to think that what we do is “better” or “more worthy” than, for example, being an office worker.
We are, of course, deluded.
These are just things we tell ourselves to justify why we still can’t afford the things our peers can.
Things we use to comfort ourselves when we’re hobbling along in our Vitz’s while our classmates are blasting about in their Land Cruisers.
At its core, the business of creativity is no different from any other business. Money is the beginning, middle and end.
We too need to produce something worth selling.
We too need to find buyers willing to buy that something.
We too need to build and maintain good relationships with our clients.
We need to network, to keep books, to pay bills and taxes (ugh…), and do all the things that those “normals” do, because at the end of the day, we are all in the same rat race.
Money is at the heart of every creative project. Well-funded projects do well. Underfunded projects stall and eventually die.
So as creatives, we cannot be shy about asking for, seeking to make, or demanding clarity on our money.