The Only Reason Most Creative Professionals Fail to Build Successful Businesses

There are many reasons why creative professionals do really well in business.

They have an exceptional product. Their skills are refined and glass sharp after years of practice. They’re motivated. They are on top of their finances. They know how to create work that is commercial, and they are great at marketing themselves.

(Oh, look, I’ve just discovered that there is no secret to building a successful creative business!).

But there is only one reason why creative professionals fail.

Have you ever felt really frustrated that your business wasn’t where it ‘ought’ to be?

Do you worry that you aren’t achieving what you thought you’d achieve quick enough?

Those frustrations you’ve been having lie at the root of the reason.

The only reason creative businesses fail is because we almost always underestimate what it actually takes to create one.

Here’s what happens: 

Kaylene is sitting in a Starbucks drinking a hot frothy caffe flippappuccino staring into the blurry near-distance when a caffeine-fueled thought pings into her head.

I’ve always wanted to start a graphic design business‘, she thinks. ‘Why don’t I read a few books, and start right away. I have everything I need, a computer and my good taste, am I right?

Four months later, Kaylene realises that actually starting a graphic design business is too frustrating and much too hard work, so she asks her old boss if she can have her old job back.

What Kaylene did was underestimate the pain and monotony involved in the early stages of a business. When she felt the hardship, she took it as a sign that the business was not for her.

But here’s the thing: starting a business is always a lot harder than you think. You just need to know that it is, so that when you do go through harder moments, you can tell yourself that that is to be expected, and so you drive through it.

Getting help and working with others in your goals can certainly help with this because the more time and energy goes into it, the better.

Successful creatives push through the pain because they know it is ‘supposed’ to be hard work. Then the rewards really do come.

Once again:

The only reason creative businesses fail is because we almost always underestimate what it actually takes to create one.

Just don’t underestimate how much time, energy, and commitment to getting there it will take.



  1. Hi Alex, thanks for the article! Just curiosity. How much time you consider you got stuck in this early stage of business with pain, monotony and uncertainty? Weeks, months, years? Cheers! 🙂

  2. Yes! EVERY book, article, video, etc. I’ve looked into regarding starting your own business has a common theme: It takes a WHILE to get to the point of consistent success.

  3. Wow, this was really what I needed to hear this morning 🙂 I have been selling my artwork for almost 2 years. At first it was a part-time thing that I did evenings and weekends. In March of this year I left my full time job and started working full time for myself, selling art. I had no idea just how difficult this could be. I really miss a steady paycheck, insurance etc. I believe in my art and have a great passion to be successful selling it but it can be discouraging to go weeks without a sale.
    So it was interesting to find this article in my inbox this morning and it brought a smile to my face. Thank you for sharing, I really enjoy your blog.
    Omaste Witkowski

  4. All too true. I’ve been a professional illustrator for a little over two years, and things are only just starting to click. Thanks for this article.

    • There you go. I’ve been illustrating for over seven years professionally, and I still consider myself a total amateur.

  5. Well this explains a thing or two, I have hit that wall so many times! I think it’s also important for people to realise that you are always going to go through difficult stages where you feel fed up, insecure, depressed, exhausted and stressed out even when you’re successful. I’m making more money than I ever thought possible this year and after my most incredible week (sales wise) last week, I still spent most it feeling crap and insecure about my business and what I had and hadn’t achieved yet. Staying focused and patient through these slumps is something that needs to be maintained as long as you plan to run a business in my opinion.I don’t think it is wise to ever assume it will be a walk in the park, but I just keep myself going by trying to streamline and optimise efficiency in the hopes that it will get a little bit easier every year.

  6. I have been on and off full time and freelancing for the past ten years but since 2011 I have committed all my time to my design business. (Thank you Alex for all the inspiration) It’s not easy and we will feel like giving up almost 50% of the time. I guess what helped me most during those times is taking a moment to re-align my goals by counting all the blessings and perks that I have as an independent design professional. The good work-life balance, the creative freedom, the growth, being in the middle of a journey with infinite possibilities, and more- If you start focusing on the things to be grateful for, it becomes a daily mindset and the negativity eventually gets drowned out. Being “kind” has also helped me succeed. Almost half of my time is devoted to helping clients with pro bono work- tweaking logos for free, suggesting tag lines that work, linking them with potential clients, and so on. Doing these things will give young satisfaction at the end of the day, as they are greater than any kind of monetary reward that you will ever receive.

    • You really hit the nail when you talked about your generosity in helping and actually taking an interest in other people’s businesses, even if the rewards were not immediate. Really happy to have helped Neil!

  7. Thanks Alex! I love reading your posts. This one is definitely true. I like to think being a freelance creative has been a little like a video game. I have to keep trying to kill the monsters (get a chance, prove my work, learn about business, etc), then I pass a level and suddenly level up! I make more money, or get a really great set of clients that love me, or an even bigger opportunity. And then there are more monsters to learn about and defeat. 🙂 But the leveling up feeling is pretty fun.

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