In my experience in the world of creative entrepreneurship, two types of projects and clients exist: sexy projects and cash projects.
Ideal projects and clients align with your passions, values, and sensibilities. You love to work with them because you are like-minded and have a good rapport. I refer to these as "sexy" projects and clients because they light you up and spark joy in you. I try to surround myself with these types, as they bring out the best in me.
And then there's the second type: cash projects. They may not be totally out of alignment with your values, but you're not really jazzed about them, either. You'll have to take one on every now and then because you need the money -- no shame in that.
However, to find meaning and fulfillment in your career, your goal should always be to put your unique talents and gifts to their best use -- and to get paid for doing it.
How to Land the Sexy Ones
When you take on projects you're passionate about, you get into a flow state, work gets done effortlessly, and you have fun in the process.
Ultimately, finding ideal projects and clients requires no more effort than finding cash projects. But, as with any practice, the more sexy projects you take on, the more these types of clients will seek you out.
Here are four ways to improve your chances of that happening:
1. Don't be afraid to connect with people you want to work with. Be frank, and let them know what led you to them and what you think you can achieve together.
For example, when John Sculley was the CEO of Apple, he made a habit of sitting at an open table in the cafeterias. Unlike my peers at the company, I wasn't afraid to approach him, and the experiences that resulted from that led to many sexy projects for me over the years.
You won't land every dream project, but building your network can generate more business and referrals over time.
2. Invite them into focused, meaningful conversations. Try to figure out their specific challenges to get a sense of how your unique gifts may benefit them, and assess your rapport as you talk. Don't talk "shop" too much; the idea is to engage them to make it easier to reconnect later.
In one case, I reached out to someone who I thought would be great to work with. After we explored some possibilities, our conversation turned into a six-figure deal that was satisfying for me, both financially and creatively.
Because everything happened so naturally, we built a long-term relationship that led to repeat business and referrals to other clients.
3. Show them what they can't see themselves. Sometimes people operate with blinders on -- that's where you can shine! By questioning their assumptions, your objective expertise can set them on a course for success.
To illustrate, when one of my clients was determined to secure U2's endorsement for his technology solution, I knew the deal he wanted wouldn't benefit him or the band. In my experience, that was the wrong band for his demographic.
I suggested several artists that would make better sense strategically. Three of them signed on, and his go-to-market strategy ended up being far more successful than it would've otherwise been.
4. Propose when the time is right. Take a shot, and make your best guess about how you can help solve their challenges. Remember, this is just your first pass at partnership.
Recently, I explored an opportunity to work with a prospective client I knew would be ideal. After two substantive conversations, she asked me to send her a proposal in terms of potential fees, value, and outcomes.
She decided not to proceed with my recommendations within the time frame I'd suggested. But she came back with a counter-proposal to feature me in a TV pilot she had in mind, which would allow us to work together in the near-term to mutual benefit.
Work doesn't have to be a drag for creative entrepreneurs. Maybe you'll make a lot of money taking on work that aligns with who you really are. At the very least, though, you can land "sexy" projects that will engage, energize, and maybe even inspire you.