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My Precious, Your Precious

Updated: Jan 16, 2023

How Ego plus a Scarcity Mentality will keep you from WINNING BIG!

By Cameron John Robbins

There is an ad on Instagram for a certain art-related website. This website offers artists another venue through which they can display their work to the world, and hopefully generate more sales. The sales pitch for the website says something like You’re the artist. You should get paid more than anyone else for your work.

I can easily picture legions of artists proudly pumping their fists in the air and collectively shouting, Damn Right! At one time, I would have whole-heartedly joined them in that sentimental and personally validating display. But over time, and with the benefit of experience and hindsight, I have learned how counterproductive that attitude is.

Did I say Counterproductive? How about Stupid, Wrong-Headed, Narcissistic, Short-Sighted, Naïve, or Self-Defeating? I know that sounds harsh, but it’s an attitude of entitlement that will poison and undermine any success you might have. It also reveals a scarcity mentality that will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What makes that attitude so destructive is the assumptions it is built on. Those assumptions can be any or all of the following:

My work has a limited value, and I need to extract out all of that value in order to survive.

The market will only be willing to pay a limited amount for my work, and I need to receive as much of that as I can.

There’s a limit to how much inspiration I will receive that will result in sellable work, and I need to get as much as I can out of what comes to me.

I’m the artist! I’m the creator! This is MY BABY! Without me, there would be nothing to sell. Therefore, I deserve to get paid more than anyone else for this thing.

Does any of that sound familiar?

Does it make a certain amount of sense? From an egocentric point of view, sure it does. As the inventor/creator of something, it’s easy to feel entitled to receive the lion’s share of any profits that come from your creation; especially if you’re sensitive or even paranoid about the viability of your career choice, as most artists are conditioned to be.

How much value does your work have?

If you think your work has a limited embodied value, how did you arrive at that conclusion? Can that value be expanded or enlarged by making your work available in multiple formats aimed at different audiences? As much as artists love to hate Thomas Kinkade, his business model clearly shows how a single kind of work can be made profitable in multiple venues, and at different price points.

Can you increase the value of your work by changing up the format or scale? For instance, if you are trying to sell pencil drawings on sheets of printer paper for less than $100, could you add a zero to your price just by putting it on a 3’X4’ canvas? Can you offer your work in a format that would reasonably add two zeros to the price? Doing so would require a different audience, venue and marketing strategy than the ones you may be working with now. But what if you offered work in multiple formats? What about reproductions? What about NFTs? Could you develop multiple revenue streams from essentially the same thing? A lot of artists have made a lot of money through little more than sheer audacity and a clever business strategy.

If you think your work has unlimited value, then I love the way you think. Now, can you make a compelling argument as to why? What kind of value are we talking about? What do people value? How many different ways for assigning value are there? Do you have a plan as to how to capitalize on that value? [N.B. the preceding paragraph is the rough outline for such a plan].

Do You Need Help to Succeed? (Psst! The answer is Yes)

Success in everything is always a result of cooperation. No one succeeds in a vacuum. You may be a veritable one-person show in your business. But if other people don’t cooperate with you by choosing to be your customers, then it makes no difference how good you are at what you do.

Another important thing to remember is that people don’t cooperate unless they want to. No one will be your customer because you want them to be. They will only do business with you if they want what you offer. Therefore, you must become an expert in why other people want to do business. You must get inside their reasons for doing things.

Imagine a group of children playing a game. If one child declares that they’re going to create the game, they’re going to set all the rules, and they’re going to win all of the prizes, how many children are going to want to play with them? And of those that do, how long do you think they will put up with that kind of attitude? In short order, the child who tries to make the whole game all about them will eventually have no one willing to play along.

Succeeding in business is a lot like that. If you make your whole approach all about you, then you will strangle your potential. However, if your approach is geared toward the benefit of others, you will have more than enough people who want to play along with you. Take a look at your work and ask yourself how you can use it to make as many other people as rich as possible. If you can figure out how to do that, then you will have a line stretching around the block full of people who will make you rich in exchange for your making them rich.

Do You Know Enough to Succeed on Your Own?

This principle extends beyond customers. Modern business demands expertise in so many areas – advertising and marketing, copywriting, sales, accounting, bookkeeping, social media, video production, contract negotiation, business development, networking, etc. And all of those activities are simply in support of the actual product or service being offered. Are you an expert in each of those things? Through study and practice, can you become at least competent at each of those things? Are you likely to become as good at them as someone for whom that is their main area of focus? Do you even want to spend your time trying?

If you’re an artist, then you are an expert in making the work that you do. If you are spending your time keeping all of those other plates spinning, then who is making the art that those other things are meant to support?

How can you organize and position what you do so that it can enrich as many other people as possible? Start from the assumption that it’s possible to do so. By doing that, you will dramatically increase the odds that your work will also enrich you, because you will be giving other people maximum incentive to make that happen. Harnessing the time, energy and expertise of others is the fastest route to success.

In business, it goes without saying that whatever you offer must represent an exchange of value where your customer feels they have received more than they’ve given. That exchange is vitally important, and you must spend a significant amount of time thinking through how you can improve the value of that exchange as much as possible. But I’m suggesting that you should also spend a significant amount of time thinking about how you can use your business to financially enrich a group of people beyond yourself.

You may have to rethink what you do a bit. Maybe set your sights a little higher or think a little grander. But if you can figure out how to do that, you will have a persuasive plan to share with any number of potential backers. In other words, never ever lead with a business plan that depends for its success on the patronage of an angel investor. Even if you are lucky enough to receive backing from such an investor, they are still looking to get something of value out of the exchange, if only a feeling of having done something good. So, whenever you talk about your business on any level, you must always speak to the value other people can receive from it.

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