The other week, my friend Joe and his band The Devoted played a gig downtown and released their first album titled A Coming of Rage. While standing there, I was struck again by how similar the art and business worlds are.
Most of my clients are financial advisors, but if you strip away the custom suits, pocket squares and Mont Blanc pens, and normalize Joe’s tattoos, sleeveless skull tee shirts and Stratocaster, you will find that at the core you have an entrepreneur.
Joe’s product is music and just like you, Joe has an audience. He wants to matter to them and make a difference. He wants people to come in, trust him, get more than what they expected and come back the next time with a friend.
Like anyone looking to build an audience, Joe has two choices.
He can be authentic, real, brave and make the product he believes in, or he can play covers of other people’s songs that he already knows everyone likes. The payoff isn’t nearly the same, but neither is the risk.
It’s easy to be average. It’s comfortable to be invisible.
Joe can take the risk of sharing his original work, of doing something honest and real or he can play it safe and build a set of only #1 songs from Billboard magazine.
Everyone who owns a business is faced with the same dilemma: playing it safe, or taking the risk of putting yourself out there, of doing something different or something you believe in but don’t necessarily know will work.
Whatever you are working on, if it’s new, if it’s different and if nobody else is doing it that way, then you have to be prepared to accept that not everyone is going to understand it, at least at first. Your work, like Joe’s songs, are for someone but not everyone. This is a good thing. You can’t be all things to everyone. The moment you try, you are at risk of accomplishing that goal. To succeed at being for everyone, you have to be boring and average. Nobody is interested in boring or average for long. The cover band can entertain you at a wedding, but you are not going to get in a car to join them on tour, and eventually the cover band will charge less for gigs (commoditization), not more.
Here are some questions to think deeply on to help you determine whether or not you are seriously shifting and creating something new and compelling, or if you are just playing cover songs:
What are you doing that is difficult?
What are you doing that people believe only you can do?
Who are you connecting with?
What do people say about you when you are not around?
What are you afraid of?
What is the scarce resource?
Who are you trying to change?
What does the change look like?
Would anyone miss your work if you stopped making it?
What do you stand for?
What contribution are you making?
Pro tip: The questions you can’t easily answer deserve more thought. Think deeply. Any answers that are meandering, nuanced or complex are probably a symptom of something important.