Let’s talk about how to get inspired in your creative business, so you can create from a pure place, drown out the noise, and deal with copycats along the way.
But first …
Twenty years old and wide-eyed, I packed up my sophomore year dorm room and drove my 4Runner across state lines to Charleston, S.C. for my dream internship: public relations apprentice at the renowned Spoleto USA arts festival.
For a journalism major like me, a summer living at the College of Charleston dorms, scurrying down George Street with press kits in hand (and blisters thanks to my first pair of Jack Rogers), greeting New York Times journalists as they covered the festival’s operas, and sneaking a peek at a Boston Ballet show during a rare evening off was the stuff dreams were made of.
But the pair of eyes I remember most wasn’t from my new roommate, my fellow apprentices, or the dreamy Italian guys serving up gelato to us after we left the office.
Haunting dark eyes looked out into the office from a previous year’s festival poster, a self-portrait done in thumbprints from Chuck Close.
The Spoleto poster is like a cover of The New Yorker: a prize portfolio piece for some designer or artist each year.
And Chuck’s eyes stuck with me.
So hearing a quote of his yesterday made me grin: “Amateurs look for inspiration. Professionals just sit down and go to work.”Click To Tweet
Today, I want to talk about copying, competition, and how to get pure inspiration as a creative entrepreneur.
Ya know, really light stuff. 😉
Let’s hit it!
What I Believe About Competition
I was one of the first–at least that’s what I’ve been told–to put a stake in the ground and say I’m going to serve creative entrepreneurs as a conversion copywriter. If you searched “copy” or “copywriting” in the Rising Tide Society Facebook group about a year ago, nothing came up, except a few posts from me.
It’s a different story now, and that’s a GOOD thing.
That’s capitalism, that’s business, that’s commerce, that’s competition.
While I believe in community, I also believe in competition.
I believe it’s part of our DNA as humans, I believe it’s possible to compete against another biblically and humbly (hello, running!), and I think it sharpens us to be our best selves.
But as creative entrepreneurs … did you catch that? We’re to be CREATIVE.
creative – adjective. relating to or involving the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.
No, there’s nothing new undert the sun, but truth be told, I don’t think we always live up to our name as an industry. I’ve messed up before, I’m sure you’ve messed up before, and I think it’s time we start owning up to stepping into professional artistry: creating from a pure place, challenging our own thoughts and testing them before launching them.
How to Get Inspired
First of all, you know me: when it comes to figuring out how to get inspired, I’m gonna shout out some book recommendations (click here to get the full list of what I’m reading this year, and what I read last year!) that have helped me think through this!
- Steal Like an Artist by Austen Kleon
- The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield
- The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
- The Art of Work by Jeff Shinabarger, specifically the notes on the 10,000 hours it took for an apprentice to hit his professional stride
We have to teach ourselves to be creative on command.
As professionals, we can’t wait for inspiration to strike. We haven’t the time.
We’ve got deadlines, client work, and a noisy culture to speak into.
So, we have to sit down every day, and do our best work. Like Christophe Niemann said, “Every athlete, every musician practices every day; why should it be different for artists?”
That’s something real artists do, and hobbyists, amateurs, and copycats don’t. They get quiet, put their head down, keep their eyes up, and create.Get quiet, put your head down, keep your eyes up, and create. Click To Tweet
As for how to get inspired practically, here are my 7 go-to ideas:
- Travel, and window shop just to touch fabrics and see something new
- Work across town in a different coffee shop for a day
- Go to the art museum
- Pick up a magazine you’d never pick up at the airport next time (like a really business-y one, or some political one just to see other ways of thinking)
- Go to the bookstore and flip through coffee table books you’d never buy
- Watch a documentary that has nothing to do with what you do
- Meditate on scripture and just sit outside in nature with God, and journal whatever thoughts come to mind
How to Handle Copycats
Like my friend Christina Scalera said, “Just because we’ve experienced the awesomeness of the #communityovercompetitionmovement doesn’t mean we have to roll over and die when someone ‘excessively borrows our stuff.’ This is called ‘stealing’ in other industries and sometimes it’s okay, and sometimes it’s not.”
I’ve seen my package workflow for my Brand Story package posted on another creative copywriter’s site.
I’ve seen the line from my bio, “fueled by grace, coffee, and a fantastic pen collection” riffed off of on the bio of another creative–also a copywriter and calligrapher.
Excessive borrowing is not okay.
Here’s the thing.
This stuff happens, and I’m first to admit (and preach to my own heart) it’s not the end of the world. It’s also done many, many times by complete accident: we inhale information and don’t realize the osmosis that happens.
But I want to tell you the 5 ways that I handle this, and beat ’em at their own game because copying will happen in your business sooner than you think.
1. Get out in front.
Classic Gary Vaynerchuk response, but XYZ. Read what they’re not, consume what they’re not, look to every other industry but the ones they’re looking to for inspiration. Think critically about how to apply it to what you do, and when they zig, you zag. Test the market first of course, but do the unexpected.
2. Know what you can protect, and protect it.
Photos, copy on your site, newsletter copy, blog copy, Instagram caption copy, drawings, paintings, illustrations … that’s copyrighted. Know your rights. Have killer agreements, great terms & conditions, etc.
3. Have the best client experience.
Bill Gates mastered this. I LOVE this quote from him: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Christina calls it looking at your three-star reviews, but one thing your competition can’t touch is the way that you handle your clients with care and give them above and beyond what they’re paying for.
4. Study harder.
You know that kid in college that no one expects much of, and then they go and get into their top med school? We know someone like that, and I love it … they knew they may not have been first in the pack on their own, but they could outstudy someone.
5. Know YOUR audience better than anyone.
Become a student to your target market’s needs, wants, and desires. Will I get copied? Yup. But I’ll sell enough to keep the lights on in my business and keep the fridge stocked, because while someone’s busy watching me run my business, I’m busier keeping an ear to the ground on what my target market needs from me next.
I’ll leave you with this last quote from Stephen Pressfield.
“It’s better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be up in the stands or out in the parking lot.”
When figuring out how to get inspired, I’ll take the copycats and I’ll take the nose-to-the-grind artistry, like I did when I was a ballerina at the barre, toes throbbing from blisters, muscles fatigued, but ready to go back to the basics of my art every day, so I could try again to hit all 16 fouettes en pointe during the coda of Don Quixote.
You need to get firm contracts, terms and conditions agreements, privacy policies, and e-course curriculum trademarks in place sooner than you think, and I hope today’s post helps tell you what I’ve learned and seen in my business as to why that’s important!
My friend and Ashlyn Writes attorney Christina’s just opened The Contract Shop–which is so cool, when we were flying over the Midwest headed to Trouvaille Workshop to speak, she was telling me all about her launch, and here it is!