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Yeah, But She's a CEO

Heidi Shenk "business"

In conversation with other artists and makers, I often hear similar stories told-- that a family member or friend doesn't view their business as a legitimate business simply because it is not done in the traditional way. Businesses that are art or maker based don't have cubicles or giant corporate offices. They have working studios and creative spaces that are different from most businesses. In today's world, many of them, much like mine, don't even have a physical storefront, making them very different from a traditional retail space.

I encountered a similar conversation recently while chatting with a friend. In our conversation about people who have forged their own path after spending some time teaching, another woman came up in discussion, someone who created their own start-up and is now the CEO. I mentioned that it is inspiring to see women go after what they're passionate about, and that it has been interesting to see a few others leave the world of teaching to do their own thing. And then that often heard line came, just in a different form. "Yeah, but she's a CEO," said my friend.

While I knew what she meant by it, it still sort of stung. I realize that she was pointing out the difference between running a corporation versus running a small creative business. But I couldn't help but question, am I not also a CEO? The chief executive officer that calls all of the shots? The head honcho that's in charge? I may not report to a board or have a slew of employees running part of the show or actually hold the title, but how does that make what I do on a daily basis any less important or any less of a business?

Sure, I am an artist and maker, by all means, but I spend a large portion of the day making all sorts of behind the scenes decisions that could eventually make or break my business. I make decisions about the direction I plan to take my business, about how to allocate funds for new projects and endeavors to move my business to the next level, and about how I intend to reach quarterly goals. Just because the business is a creative entity does not mean those other aspects go out the window. And realistically, if they were to, I would probably no longer be in business.

The conversation made me question myself. I wondered whether or not I was perceived by others as taking my own business seriously. Or that I'm perceived as just a maker who is not driven by goals and deadlines. Perhaps my business comes off as this cute, little endeavor next to giant, multi-million corporations. Yet why is that stigma present even if what goes on behind the scenes is very different than those perceptions? Why should one need to hold an official title in order to be viewed in the same way? Why do comparisons of two very different businesses lead to one being perceived as more important than another? Those were questions that I simply could not answer.

Have any other makers ever found themselves in similar conversation? Why do you think that small, creative businesses are not valued in the same way as corporations?




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