The Biz – Do The Paperwork!

There are many factors that can make you a successful working creative professional including drive, talent, originality, and persistence.   These are all important traits and all should be incorporated in your personal growth plan.  Today, however I am going to focus on one aspect many creative people overlook – the importance of doing the paperwork.

No matter if you are a composer, musician, actor, director, designer, illustrator, or other creative type there is a lot of paperwork to be done!  What kind of paperwork you ask?  First of all, there are piles and piles of contracts to be read and signed.  Depending on your field there are also things like cue sheets, member reports, session releases, work-orders, sync licenses, requested proposals, copyright forms, co-writer agreements, budgets, W-9’s, estimates, invoices, receipts, and more and more piles of contracts.  This is exactly why we have been practicing our art for all these years – to do paperwork, right?  No, of course not, but it unfortunately is a necessity in our business.

The creative industry is a highly competitive business where every advantage matters.

Often it is not just ‘who you know’ but if you have given them good service.  And though it may not be as enjoyable as your art, doing the paperwork is part of your service.  Let’s say, for example,  I have made an ad as a vendor for an advertising agency and the creative director and the agency’s client love the spot!  Mission accomplished? No, not yet.

  • If I haven’t turned in my final invoice, both filled out clearly and completely, to the finance department at the agency in a timely manner they most likely will be upset with me.
  • If I haven’t filed the actor’s paperwork with the talent agent and union in an accurate and timely manner they might be unhappy and complain to the ad agency.
  • If I haven’t filled out and turned in all the proper clearance paperwork for the music and actors to the legal department by the deadline they will surely be upset with me.

What is the point of making brilliant creative if half the company is angry with you!  Your paperwork deadlines are just as important as your creative deadlines. The next time the agency chooses a vendor for a project, who do you think they will choose, you or the equally talented person (and never forget they exist) who doesn’t cause trouble with paperwork?  I have seen this happen many times in my career from the smallest of agencies to the largest of film studios.

 A customer is 4 times more likely to defect to a competitor if the problem is service-related than price- or product-related – Bain & Company.


Make paperwork a part of each work day.

Set a little time aside each day to do your paperwork.  Maybe at the beginning of the day works best for you, or maybe somewhere in the afternoon to give your creative juices a break.  You may even enjoy doing the paperwork, I do. If you don’t enjoy it and you can’t get through the paperwork maybe hiring an assistant is the right option for you.  Whatever process you come up with, stick with it. You do not want to lose work because you made someone at your client’s office miss their deadline because you didn’t get your paperwork done.  Bad service is always remembered and discusses with others.

A dissatisfied customer will tell between 9-15 people about their experience.  – White House Office of Consumer Affairs.


Take time to get to know the people in your clients organization that deal with this paperwork.  The bean crunchers. The tech folks.  The administration pool. The legal department. Make them happy, make them look good, keep making great creative, and make money!

And let’s not forget that a lot of the paperwork is protection for ourselves, to get paid,  and to cement relationships. But those are topics for another day.