The other week I had a fun brunch with Alix, who asked me:
“How do you do the work you do, and manage to stick to your values?”
If you run your own creative business, there will always be a time when you have to make a decision about a job which pays well, but doesn’t fit your values.
It might be that it’s the wrong sort of client, the terms of the project aren’t ideal, or it’s just not the sort of work you want to be known for.
The decision is between your personal values and the money.
Sometimes, you will choose the money, and I think that’s completely fine.
Bread-and-butter work might not be exciting but it pays the bills. It’s not called champagne-and-cupcakes work. It’s called bread-and-butter because it gets the cash in the bank and basics on the table.
I’ve taken jobs for the money, because I see what that money could do. It could pay the bills. It could be invested.
It could also buy me time elsewhere to spend developing projects and work that aren’t commercially viable yet. That money can get me organised and help me feel confident.
The key to taking on a job, even it’s mainly for the money, and still running a values-led business is knowing which of your personal values are negotiable, and which are non-negotiable.
For your creative business, a negotiable value is one you can easily find in your life without having to do it through work.
If the job doesn’t fit a negotiable value, you can choose to take the cognitive hit (and the cash).
For example, one of my values is ‘play’. It’s a negotiable value. Not all of the jobs I’m offered enable me to ‘play’ in one form or another.
But I might take those jobs because I can easily get ‘play’ elsewhere in my life at the same time as doing that job (for example, through creating my planner or what I wear that day).
One of my other values is ‘helping’. This is a non-negotiable value. I won’t take a job if I believe my work or the outcome of my work won’t help someone. Normally, this is the end user.
For example, if I got offered a copywriting job where I was ‘helping’ the client, but the article I had to write was focused purely on selling to the reader (the end user) and not giving them anything ‘helpful’, I wouldn’t accept that job.
It’s about knowing your personal values, knowing which are negotiable, and allowing yourself to take that bread-and-butter work if you can see that it will help you elsewhere.
Problems happen if you, as a creative business owner, consistently allow all your personal values to be negotiable.
You end up feeling frustrated at yourself, frustrated with the work you’re doing, and disappointed that you’re not creating a space in the world doing what you want to be known for.
I’ve worked in businesses whose values all became negotiable, and it ate away at the confidence of the people who worked there. There’s nothing to believe in when you negotiate on all your values.
Values are like roots; they steady and support you, and in times of confusion they can be relied on to ground you in what you know to be right.
Some of those personal values will be negotiable, and that’s okay. Know them and make sure to find them elsewhere if you decide to take on work which doesn’t fit with that value.
Sometimes you will take on a job for the money, and that’s okay too. Use the money wisely to help support yourself and direct the time towards what you really want to do.
I want you to think about your personal values.
- What are they?
- Which are non-negotiable, and why?
- Which ones are negotiable? How could you fulfil these values if you take on work which doesn’t fulfil them?
- What questions would you ask about a job to find out whether it fulfilled your values?
- Do you know how much ‘bread-and-butter’ (aka cash) you need each month to keep doing projects which fulfil your values?
Knowing my personal values and deciding to build a creative business and brand around them changed my life. The key is knowing exactly how to use those values with confidence.
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