The Biggest Mistake Creatives Make When Planning Their Business


We’re all creatives here!

We may have gone into work for ourselves to keep artistic control as we work on exactly what we want, when we want. It feels awesome. There’s no manager to answer to, and nobody to dictate our schedules.

But, that great feeling can quickly give way to panic when you realize that you now have two jobs, instead of just one. You also have to be the manager, too.


You need to work both “on” your business and “in” your business if you’re a modern-age creative.

It’s easy to get stuck in one mode or the other for too long.

You need to be able to switch between the “on” and “in” mindsets to achieve both your artistic and business goals.

The key is learning to strike a balance between the two.

First, let’s define “in” versus “on.”

Anything you do that is directly related to the creation of your artwork, writing, or product is working “in” the business. These are the activities you undertake to create what your company produces. If you make widgets, working in the business means putting the signature little red paint stripe on each widget before they get shipped.

Working “on” the business means doing stuff that helps the company run. Management. Infrastructure development. Sourcing new clients. Cleaning your office. These are all things that set the stage on which you produce your product. These make things work better so the “in” the business stuff gets done faster and has more of a purpose.

To balance these two kinds of work, you can take a few key measures that will keep you from going nuts on a daily basis.

Delegate the minutiae of the project to others.


If you’re a perfectionist, or even just extremely detail-oriented, it may be hard to walk away from an important task or let an employee pick up where you left off.

But, you’re also the one cutting paychecks and planning marketing strategies. You have a greater responsibility than simply creating the end product that’s sold: You need to build the business that can build the product.

If you delegate the minutiae of your projects to others and make the standards of quality clear from the start, you’ll feel more comfortable leaving the office for an important meeting or letting your assistant put the finishing touches on an infographic.

When there are other creatives on your team, remember that they have a vision too. By letting them drive, it frees you up to move between “in” and “on” mindsets.

If you don’t have employees, or if simply delegating won’t solve all your balance desires, use technology too.

We talk a lot about how to maximize your productivity when you have a limited amount of time in our free eBook, The Freelancer’s Roadmap.


Outsource as much to technology as your budget will allow.

Your phone can be your personal assistant, chauffeur, and accountant all in one—just make sure you’re using it to do more than browse social media.

If you’re number-dyslexic, get an app to pay your taxes. Need to onboard a bunch of new team members? Make sure to invest in a great piece of HR and payroll software. Here are some of our favorite apps for freelancers.

Letting your smartphone work “on” the business for you means you’ll have an easier time tackling laborious managerial tasks, so you can spend more time working on the projects you enjoy.

But even with great employees and technology, transitioning between “in” and “on” the business is still about effective time management.

Consciously split up your time.

Set aside specific time allotments for each type of work.

If you manage a group of creatives, try using the first and last day of every workweek to focus on the business, and every day in between to work “in” the business.

Set your goals for the week on Monday morning and use Friday afternoon to check on those goals with your team. That leaves Tuesday through Thursday to focus entirely on creative endeavors and leaves the entire weekend to ruminate on the week’s activity and set new goals for the upcoming one.

If you’re working multiple jobs, or juggling several freelance projects, you may not have the luxury of being able to walk away from a task for days at a time. If so, you need to make sure that you push both your projects and your business forward every day, even if it means you’re just getting one brush stroke on the canvas, or one client invoice sent out.

The absolute best time to deal with the tedium of working “on” the business is during bouts of creative block. If you’ve hit a creative wall, take a break and focus on something else that needs to be done. Your greatest creative epiphany may happen while filing payroll or doing market research.

To be clear, switching mindsets does not mean multitasking.

Delegate effectively to avoid doing multiple tasks at once and split your time into bite-size chunks. Both will help you switch between “on” and “in” mindsets every few hours, and let you focus on what you love.

Stever Robbins is a productivity and technology writer for eBay, a great place to purchase your next smartphone, to work “on” your business.

Whether you’re just starting a freelance career, or looking to grow your existing business, download our free eBook, The Freelancer’s Roadmap and accelerate your business.


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Stever Robbins is a serial entrepreneur who has been an initial team member of ten start-ups, including four IPOs and three acquisitions.