The Craftsman Mindset
15 years ago, in 2007, I started my first business while still in college.
Soundsmith Studios was a boutique post-production sound company, and in the few years that I owned that business I worked on about a dozen film and tv projects for clients all around the world, including ITV, BBC, BYUTV, CBS Sports, and more.
I remember how proud I was to have made $35k while still in my senior year of college.
But, fast forward ten years and in 2017, I made $36,000...
Yet, by this point I had a house, a wife, and three young boys to take care of together. That $36k didn't stretch as far as it did a decade ago when it was just me in a small apartment.
In over a decade of doing creative work, I hadn't figured out how to grow my business.
But then something changed.
In 2018 I made $74,000, and in 2019 made $147,000.
4x growth in 2 years!
Then, the pandemic hit in 2020, and rather than having to shut down, I doubled down and started a new business, Craftsman Creative.
What was it that changed?
Be So Good They Can't Ignore You
I'd always been an avid reader of business books and non-fiction. One book that was a turning point in my creative career was So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport.
In the early chapters of the book he describes a different approach that many creative people were taking to succeed where others weren't.
He quoted Steve Martin, who shared this in the last few minutes of an interview with Charlie Rose in 2007
(Skip to 52:15)
Here's the quote:
This was the moment for me. I decided then and there to choose a similar path, to become so good they can't ignore me. And then Cal followed it up by talking about the craftsman mindset, which he explains like this:
"Stop focusing on these little details. Focus instead on becoming better."
...an obsessive focus on the quality of what you produce is the rule...
I'll call this output-centric approach to work the craftsman mindset.
The craftsman mindset...focuses on what you can offer the world... It asks you to leave behind self-centered concerns about whether your job is "just right," and instead put your head down and plug away at getting really damn good. No one owes you a great career, it argues; you need to earn it--and the process won't be easy.
I knew what I needed to do - change the way I was approaching my craft and my business.
I purchased the domain craftsmancreative.co and set out to help teach other creators who were struggling in their businesses during the pandemic to shift their mindset, and emulate this craftsman approach to creative work.
Here's what that looks like, taking each of Cal Newport's short descriptions and expanding on it for our learning and application:
Shift Focus From Little Details To Becoming Better
During the 10 years of running my own business and co-running another business with a partner, I focused way too much on the "little details".
Buying the right computer monitor or the right audio plugin. Going to networking events in hopes of finding our next client. Attending conferences to try and find funding for our film projects.
All of these were "the little things", and in ten years of trying they failed to move the needle.
What did work is when I chose, instead, to focus on becoming better.
When I left the business I had with my business partner in 2017, the first gig I took was as a producer on a television show with BYUTV.
I came on as the highest paid producer they'd ever hired, and got raises after every season. I became a "senior producer" after the first season, because instead of focusing on the little things, all of my focus was on becoming better, and the quality of what I produced.
The show got better. My crew got better. I got better.
During that stint on the show I was hired to produce a television pilot. When I left the show I was hired to produce a feature film.
I no longer needed to go out and find work, or attend events hoping to get picked, but rather the clients sought me out.
That's the difference between scraping by and thriving, when there is more demand for your time than there is supply.
You get there by implementing the craftsman mindset and focusing on getting better.
There's a whole bit in the book where Cal talks about how he, and others, track their time and their efforts around getting better.
It's not some platitude or arbitrary goal. They choose one metric to track that objectively shows if they are, indeed, improving, or if their efforts aren't getting them the results they care about.
I started doing this in 2017. I tracked a single metric with my finances - daily income.
All of my efforts went into growing that number, because if my business was growing then my efforts were working - I was getting better.
Now that I have a new business with Craftsman Creative, my one metric is traffic per week. I religiously sit down every Monday morning and track the traffic and the revenue from my two websites (this blog and the main site at craftsmancreative.co)
As you can see, whenever a month is greater than the average, I bold that number. Whenever I have an all time high, I highlight the cell in green.
The goal is to get both sites to 1,000 visitors per week this quarter, and to 5,000 visitors per week by the end of the year.
The offers need work as well, as they're currently only converting around .25%. They should be at least above 1%, if not up in the 4-5% range. The book did well last month at 6.27%!
Tracking like this may seem daunting, but it takes about five minutes every week and 20 minutes the first Monday of every month to look at the previous month's results.
This process focuses my efforts and my attention on becoming better, rather than on the superflouous stuff that diffuses my energy rather than directing it.
Focus On What You Can Offer The World
This last section hit hard when I read it. "No one owes you a great career". I've said this many times to other creatives over the years.
The industry doesn't owe you anything. You have to earn everything you have, and the most direct way to do that is to figure out what value you offer the world.
Does your art make people feel a certain way? Do you have a talent for writing or teaching or educating? Are you able to improve people's lives and businesses with your products or services?
Until you know what you offer the world, it's hard to get the results you want. Enter, again, the craftsman mindset.
Just as you can't inhale all the time - you have to exhale too - you can't "get" all the time without giving first.
The more you give, the more you get.
The more value you provide, the more that comes back to you.
This is the magical beauty of the craftsman mindset. It automatically puts you in better alignment with your industry and those in it that would hire you, partner with you, and follow your journey.
Start Applying The Craftsman Mindset
There are a few ways you can start applying the craftsman mindset in your own creative life and business:
- Check out So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport
- Grab my book, Craftsman Creative
- Start learning with one of my courses
Along with my book, I created an email course that teaches you how to become a Craftsman Creative.