Quality Control

The conversation was long and rambling, and for a change, my son had time to chat. Quality was the subject that came up over and over again, as we discussed the strange ins and outs of marrying creativity and money-making.

BlueprintsThe life of a “pure” creative in today’s world, in this country, is extremely challenging, if not impossible. It requires financial backing or some other means to pay your bills, at least until or unless you can eventually make a living at the artistic endeavor that you pursue.

We talked about the pursuit of quality, quality being exceptionally important to my son.

I could hear and empathize with his frustration, when dealing with time constraints and unable to produce his very best work.

Quality at All Cost?

As a parent I’m torn. I know how I’ve lived my life – my standards extremely high – and I’m aware of what I’ve modeled for my children. Seeing one of my sons move into a creative realm – he’s an architecture student – I’m both immeasurably pleased and naturally, concerned. I know firsthand that a creative life isn’t an easy life, and the independent faces a slew of special challenges.

Quality in any artistic realm? I know what potentially lies ahead – relatively low pay, the possibility that he’ll be working as an independent, the disagreeable process of chasing down money for work that has been completed – something he’s already had experience with, and strongly dislikes.

All of that changes little when it comes to loving what you do and wanting to do what you love. Or, at the very least, give it a shot when you’re young.

Part of the difficulty is in coming to grips with those compromises in quality, not to mention determining how much quality is quality enough. That makes sense in a business context (and is easier accepted in that framework), but it’s painful in the more creative realms.

“It’s part of the real world,” I tell my son. “There have to be compromises. Everything can’t possibly be your very best work.”

This doesn’t alter the feeling of putting yourself out there in the most personal way when you’re an artist, a designer, a performer, a writer – your work product is closely tied to who you are and everything that you’re about.

The constraints can feel killing – time, money – and when you run out of hours, it’s disconcerting to hand off work you know to be sub-par, or at least, sub-par when it comes to your own quality standards.

Creatives Dealing With Clients

In discussion with my son, I counseled from my own experience. As the years go on he will be more comfortable in dealing with clients, not to mention the necessary legal, financial, and other elements of infrastructure that are required if you’re to run a business. He’s already familiar with chasing someone down for a payment. That’s been a tough lesson for him in the past year, as he produced logo work on commission, didn’t ask for a deposit up front, delivered his work and then had to hound his clients to finally get paid.

That’s a tough lesson I learned years ago, yet one more headache – even when you get partial payments up front and put everything in writing – that those who don’t work as freelancers don’t have to face.

I also mentioned to him that in the future he may find partners who love dealing with clients and bring a facility with the finance side that he’s not interested in. We don’t have to “be” everything or “do” everything. When we specialize, or even narrow to several specialties, we’re better positioned to ensure that quality that began the discussion.

We kept circling back to quality – and indirectly, the full sense of self you experience when you know you’ve produced an excellent result, when you feel that your work will be well-received, when you know you will be paid… And for my son, that “payment” is knowing he’s produced something he can be proud of, and his professor will appreciate the way he’s solved the theoretical client challenge.

Good Writing, Good Editing, Managing Expectations

Lately, I’ve been struggling with my own issues of quality. I never seem to have enough time. I’m not happy with much of the writing I’m doing, though I’m excepting my marketing-related writing from that statement, as it’s very much a different animal.

Quality “lifestyle” or other non-business-related writing has more to do with quality editing. Editing takes time; time is what I do not have; bills need to be paid and editing goes by the wayside.

My spirits plummet when I’m not producing what I consider to be high quality.

How I solve this remains a question for now. I’ve often been told I set the bar too high, and it’s clear my son is following suit when it comes to his creative endeavors. Setting reasonable expectations – and then managing them – is not so easy. Not in work, not in pursuits of passion, not in relationships.

As for dealing with the situation, I’ve tweaked a few things already, I’ve been trying to be my own “Efficiency Expert,” and I’m certain there’s more to consider and possibly some difficult choices I will have to entertain.

In the meantime, I’m curious what others do when they feel they aren’t performing to a standard they’re comfortable with – and how they balance that with the necessity to fulfill their many responsibilities.


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  1. says

    My son is also a stickler for quality. He is a musician. He lives in New York. He figured out a workable business model several years ago. He pays his bills by working as a private tutor. The pay is good, and it allows him the time and freedom to play and write the kind of music he cares most about. With time, I suspect (but I don’t ask) the music part of his life has become a bit more lucrative. He’s 30 now and I expect at some point he will revisit what he is doing and where he is living. In the meantime, he seems happy, which is important to me. But I also must refer back to your previous post about healthcare and other “entitlements” provided to citizens of other industrialized countries. Like us, now, he’s paying for that, too. Your son and mine would have much more real ‘choice’ if healthcare were a given no matter what they did for work.

  2. Robert says

    No matter what you do, your customers are always trying to reduce it to a commodity in quality, price and delivery. Sometimes that truly is a valid approach from their point of view, and sometimes it isn’t. Even the most seemingly mundane professions can have art to them, given the right scenario or depth, and of course the less well known or more esoteric the profession, the more so. In truth, part of the art of freelancing is managing the expectations of the client as to what he will get, what amount of expertise, judgement and time is required, and how much he should pay for that. Some people are better at that transactional aspect than the core productive aspect. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them. Possibly like you and your son, I feel that if I singlemindedly concentrate on the art of my craft, the results will speak for themselves, but I’ve learned that isn’t necessarily true.

  3. says

    Where do I even begin… earlier this year I was bursting with anger at an article about social media and marketing that said “better get it out at all, then without typos and late”. As a (thankfully former) editor I think it’s carelessness and disrespect for your editor and for your reader. The other extreme is being obsessed with perfection and never ever actually doing things. So knowing both ends of the scale where 0 is egocentric, overconfident navel-gazing and 100 is the panic and shame for possible mistakes, we can set out and navigate.

    Personally, I found it helpful to have a compass; rules that help me make better decisions quickly and not regret them afterwards.

    I know what I want to deliver and what I am able to deliver, and I just keep in mind that nobody is perfect while always challenging my skills.
    in case of customer relations I found two ways to go:

    1st. Be as transparent as you can, explain to customers what they can expect and what not. Bring helpful analogies, old joke “it’s either fast and cheap, or fast and good”, be yourself. It’s so important as a self-employed professional or a founder to always, always be true to who you are. People who like your true self will want to work with you, and will be way more pleasant partners and negociating parties!

    2nd. Say no to customers who, in advance, show no understanding for such magical powers as time, clear communications, and fair pay. Not accepting jobs that put your work’s quality or integrity at risk saves a lot of trouble!

  4. says

    I’ve always been an employee, not an independent, and in that setting when I wanted to produce better work it meant giving up my own time – working unpaid over time. So long as I liked my job, my employers, it didn’t seem that big of a sacrifice. Later, when I despised my employer it was only my own reputation I was working to maintain, not theirs, and I begrudged every minute.

    Mom and Dad were self-employed portrait photographers for about 40 years. Mom loved the freedom of setting her own hours, working at home. She worked all night colouring photographs to meet Christmas deadlines, also during the summer when the days were too hot to allow her to sit under her bright light. I’ve walked into many homes and businesses and recognized my parents’ work on the walls. People always have good memories of my Dad coming along with his camera and his large felt backdrop, charming the kiddies into smiling. I also remember Mom telling me that old money pays its bills, new money doesn’t always…

  5. says

    I mindfully choose my quality topics. Learned that years ago, when I had to decide what deserved my quality time because no one has enough time for everything — that’s dream land, no thank you. Anyhow, in school I would decide what courses I wanted to put a lot of time into and do very well in . Sometimes I would take a course I knew I could get an easy high grade in, as a means to free me up to actually do something important that might not get a good grade (in those days, there were some teachers who almost never gave A’s — that included me at one point, but times have changed).

    Anyhow, my point is, choose your quality time carefully and you can be more relaxed (but maintain honesty) in other things. Don’t promise more than you will deliver. And, key thing, is live cheaply and in a sharing/supportive community that appreciates your values.

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