The poor creative has long been an age-old trope, toiling away at their artistic passions while quietly languishing on empty bank accounts. But for entrepreneur and co-founder of entertainment company Highly Flammable, Logan Elliott, the arts and business have always served as complementary passions.
Not only has he mastered the art of fire performance and stilt walking while studying at the University of Otago, he’s now launching an online course for musicians, designers, entertainers and the like to equip them with the knowledge to thrive in today’s economy.
Speaking to Idealog while travelling in Europe, Elliott talks about the disconnect between talent and market, the wealth of opportunities in today’s internet age, and the pros and cons of running a course online.
I understand you’re over in Greece at the moment. Tell us about what you’re doing over there?
I'm currently at a digital nomad networking event in Greece. It's a ten-day retreat out here on the island of Lemnos and we're here with around 80 digital nomads from all over the world. Effectively, entrepreneurs who work remotely.
In terms of this new online course you’ve launched for creatives, what prompted you to start it?
A lot of it is was inspired through the teaching I’ve been doing. I've been lecturing in Dunedin on a casual basis for the last four years and mainly lecturing around business and entrepreneurship. I've also got my own creative business, Highly Flammable, and I've been working as a creative person myself for a number of years now, so I’ve seen the limitations creatives have in terms of actually building a business. I'm super passionate about entrepreneurship and business, but I'm also really passionate about creativity and the arts as well. I saw there was a problem creatives were having and I really wanted to help them with the business aspect.
What do you think is the hardest challenge for artists and creatives to make a financially viable living out of their passion?
It's mainly around having the business nous and mindset. A lot of creatives go in and they think about the art and their fantastic skills, but they don't really consider what people and the market need and want. It's this matching of market and passions.
We know that there's plenty of creative talent out there, but we also know that the environment for artists and performers is getting much tougher. For example, there's been a significant decline in arts funding from the government. Do you think we're still in an environment where artists can make a living out of what they do?
I think funding's great and I always encourage more of that. However, people need to actually create a business out of what they're doing and create business concepts they can sell rather than just rely on funding. I believe it's more viable than ever right now because of the changing online atmosphere. Really niche creatives who are often doing something quite obscure can actually reach a much wider market now. So we're able to have these creative passions and sell them overseas, whether that's through online education of their artistic skills, or through actual products. There's the ability to access and promote to a much wider market now, which is fantastic. There’s a huge amount of opportunities and a lot of it is just giving the creatives the right skills to take advantage of them.
Obviously, there are gaps in terms of education and not necessarily keeping up with some of the latest stuff that's going on around online education and online business opportunities. It’s not all online, I'm very much about offline products as well. But it's more about using the internet as a way to promote.
Why did you decide to run the course online?
I'm passionate about face-to-face interaction. I'm a big community builder myself and I used to run festivals and still do a lot of one-on-one coaching. But I think the biggest thing was that I wanted to work with people in wider areas. So rather than being limited to me being based in one place, I'd be able to work with people from different places in New Zealand and overseas.
The other aspect is fitting it in with my own lifestyle. The fact that I move around a lot myself meant it was going to be quite difficult to work with people in just one place. The clients I've been working with have really enjoyed having access to stuff online and being able to Skype from wherever they are.
There are many advantages of running an online course, but what are some of the challenges that you face in doing that?
Sometimes the internet might not be great, so that's one challenge that I've had and course participants have had as well. But that’s improving all the time.
The other thing is that face-to-face element, that community element is really important. You can get a lot of that through Skype and we have group calls on the course every week where we get to go around a share the challenges we're having, ask questions, and pass on advice. We also have a community Facebook group for each course group as well which gives them that community vibe. When I’m travelling, I’m also really keen to be able to connect with these people when I'm in different places.
Obviously the challenges of every art form and individual are different, but what kind of overall advice and guidance would you give to creatives trying to make a viable business?
A big part of it is getting that right mindset around actually being able to do this. Often there's a complete block there going, "I'm just a creative, I don't know the business stuff. I can't create a business". So it's getting them past that and helping them realise that this is all learnable and it's not too hard. There are great tools around now. A lot of things are plug-and-play and you don't need to know how to code a website. There are some great templates that you can use and a lot of great software. So a huge part of this is definitely that mindset. It's getting past that and realising that it's actually possible. So a huge part of my course is supporting them through that as well as holding them accountable and giving them the skills. So there's three elements to it. It's not just straight education. I never wanted the course to be just telling people about business.