160: The Biggest Mistakes Creatives Make


“If you are a creative and you want to make money with your art, you gotta do this one thing.”

If you are a creative and you want to make money with your art, there’s one thing that you HAVE to do and another thing you must absolutely AVOID.

Over the past 20 years that I’ve been making art, there are a few things that really have made me lose my cool — like, really, really made me frustrated. When I’m working with somebody and they do one of these things, I just don’t understand why they would do this to themselves. 

By making this one mistake, they begin to ruin their reputation, their work, and even their art. 

In this episode of ONKEN RADIO (formerly NION Radio), I’m sharing the biggest mistakes that creatives make. My hope is that this episode inspires you to avoid making those same mistakes and, instead, do the very opposite so that you can establish an impeccable reputation as a Creative Alchemist in your space. Let’s get started —

The ONE Mistake You Should Never Make

First of all, I want to say that this mistake doesn’t just apply to creatives — this extends into everyone’s life and career. If you continually make this mistake in your business and personal life, fewer people will trust you, value you, and give you their business.

I believe that dishonoring your word is probably one of the most harmful things you can do. 

Dishonoring your word can mean a lot of things, but in this context, I mean not delivering on the expectations that you have set for the job you’re completing. This looks like going past deadlines, charging more money at the last minute, or just not being able to do what you said you could do for the client. In your personal life, this may look like going back on a promise, not supporting a friend in need, or just being dishonest.

Have you ever been on the other side of this? Someone said that they would do X, Y, Z for you, but they never delivered on their promises? Or maybe, they said they would have your project done by a certain date, but they’re constantly pushing the deadline back? It’s probably one of the most frustrating things I’ve come across in the creative sphere, and I’ve seen it ruin careers. 

I’ve hired a lot of creatives myself, such as graphic designers and web designers, who I’ve had to chase down to get the finished product. And a lot of times, hiring creatives is an expensive investment, which means it’s imperative that I get what I paid for. Sadly, it doesn’t always work out that way. 

For example, I hired this guy to redo my website, and he promised me that he was going to do SEO optimization, create graphics, design WordPress themes, coding, and everything else of that sort. He assured me that he had a full team to do all of these specialties, and he said it would be $10,000.

He gave me a contract saying that he would deliver the first round of updates within a month. So when that first month came around, I emailed him. I didn’t get a response. I emailed again, and he came back a week later, saying that he needed more time because “something” came up. 

Naturally, I was frustrated. This went on and on, and then I found out later on that he was doing everything himself — the SEO optimization, coding, design work — everything! He was a team of one. Obviously, you need to have a team of multiple people working within their own zones of genius to make a project like this work. No person can do all of those things really, really well, and he had promised to complete all of those things at a professional level.  

Eight months later, I have nothing. I don’t even have an outline of a design for the website. Remember — his original promise was that he would have something for me within the first month. 

Finally, I got a hold of him. He said he was still working on everything. I told him he needed to hire a coder to help him out. Eventually, he just dropped off the planet, and I never heard from him again. I’m still out $10,000 because of this guy. He didn’t fulfill his promises for the service, didn’t communicate well, and even lied about his qualifications (he didn’t have an expert team). 

If you’re a creative looking to make a career from your art, whether it’s illustration, website design, or photography, you have to deliver on your promises. To make money as an artist, you need a good reputation, and you earn a good reputation by setting reasonable expectations and meeting them 100%. If you’re constantly late on deadlines, always making excuses, or just unable to deliver what you’re promising, you’re not only making things a lot harder for your client, but you’re also making things a lot harder for yourself. 

When you honor your word, you fortify trust in yourself, and when you don’t honor your word, you’re breaking that trust. You will actually destroy your sense of self-worth — I’ve experienced this with other people and with myself. The more you break your promises, the worse you feel about yourself, and the worse you interact with others and show up in the world. 

Go Above and Beyond 

So how do we keep ourselves from making this detrimental mistake? The answer is simple, really: When you say you’re going to do something, deliver it. Set expectations for your client and higher expectations for yourself so that you can finish the job on time, or better — earlier than the deadline. Go above and beyond what’s required of you.

For instance, let’s say that I have a celebrity photoshoot — can I deliver proofs to the client in one week? Sure. So then, I tell the client that it will be two weeks to give myself a buffer, and then I try to get it done even before that one week. When I deliver the proofs early, the client is absolutely ecstatic with the service and wants to hire me again! 

You always want to set expectations upfront — about money, deliverables, and deadlines. Put these expectations in your contract or proposal, and make sure you write them down for yourself as well. Whatever you do, make sure that these expectations are written down — preferably in a digital format — so that there’s never any question on what’s expected. And make sure everything is explained carefully and clearly so that there’s a low risk for miscommunication. 

Then, if possible, deliver your product early (before the expected deadline). Your clients will be impressed with your service, and they are way more likely to recommend you to other people in their circle (or even hire you again). This has happened to me multiple times! 

If you want to be a successful Creative Alchemist, you have to be proficient in character as well as ability. If you continually break your word about what you can deliver, then your business and self-worth will suffer. People will no longer come to you for projects, and you’ll find yourself feeling empty and unfulfilled. But if you can keep yourself from making this mistake, you will find so much more abundance, opportunity, and enjoyment in your Creative Alchemy!

Get Clear on Expectations and Stay True to Your Word

Alchemy is defined as the process of taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary, sometimes in a way that cannot be explained.

With that being said, I define Creative Alchemy as using the process of creativity to create a lens through which to perform alchemy. These principles not only apply to artists and creatives in their own creative processes, but to anyone who wants to create an extraordinary life in color for themselves. 

I’ve found that 80% of creating is alchemizing the thoughts, emotions, and other inner blocks that keep you from putting the pen to the paper. Navigating to the act of creation takes alchemical processes, and to make these processes work, you have to get clear on expectations. What are you promising to deliver? When are you going to deliver it? And how can you go above and beyond what your client expects?

If you stay true to your word, you’re much more likely to make good money from your work. I’ve been doing this for the past 15 to 20 years, and I can personally say that it’s really helped me become a better entrepreneur, a better artist, and a better person.

If this was helpful for you, I’d love for you to share it on social media! You can tag me on Instagram, @nickonken, with a screenshot of the episode and your greatest takeaways. Also, make sure to leave me a five-star review on Apple Podcasts so that I can share this with more Creative Alchemists like you!

Until next time, keep creating your life in every moment and stay true to your word!

Nick Onken 

You can Subscribe and Listen to the Podcast on Apple Podcasts. And please leave me a Rating and Review!



“Creating expectations is so key.”

Some things we learn in this podcast:

  • The one thing you have to do if you want to make money with your art [0:54]
  • How Nick handled a web developer stringing him along for so long [2:25]
  • Why your reputation is more important than ever as a creative [4:22]
  • The importance of setting expectations [6:23]

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