I wrote a post a while back about the seven answers every business expert gives. After spending the last couple of weeks doing one-on-one business consulting calls with a whole bunch of fellow creative business owners, I have a few things I want to add.
You can put most of these in the Reassurances column.
Simple Is Better / Focused is Best
I’ll grant that most successful, meaningful businesses do more than just one thing. They have multiple revenue streams, multiple products, multiple service levels or courses. But they didn’t get there by trying to develop them all at once. They got there by building one thing and getting it right, then adding in another later, and then adding another thing once those two were working well enough.
You want to sell direct to consumers and also have a wholesale business and do freelance and commissioned works, plus you would love to get into licensing. Pick one and start there. Stay monogamous to it for longer than even seems necessary. Then pick another.
Let your business be easy when you can.
Stress Is An Indicator
I think a lot of us creative entrepreneurs think stress is part of the package. That it’s inevitable, or a badge of honor, or both.
I think stress is a SIGN — an indicator that something is off kilter. Typically I take it to mean that there is something I can automate, systematize, hire out, or drop completely.
If you make reducing stress a priority in your business, you’ll ensure that you have the time and energy it takes to do the creative work, to dream about your business’s future, and to grow.
Building a Business is Inherently Creative
First, a definition: Creativity is the ability or tendency to generate meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, alternatives, or solutions. Uniqueness and originality are prized. Flexibility is encouraged.
Culturally, we tend to think of creativity as being related to art, but we also use creativity when we’re solving problems, when we’re communicating with others, and any time we’re faced with a set of constraints.
If you ask me, you can directly substitute “building a successful business” for “creativity” in the above definition and it makes perfect sense.
Whenever I get bogged down in the drudgery of running my business, whenever I want to skip through all the administrativia and email and problem solving and systematizing so that I can get to the creating, I remind myself that even though not every action I take in the business is itself a creative action, it’s all part of a creative solution I’m constantly refining and shaping.
The cool thing for us creative entrepreneurs is that we already know that we're creative people. We know we can generate new ideas, make new interpretations, and solve even the trickiest of problems. We're already built for this.
Eventually, You’ll Have To Leave Your Comfort Zone
Most everyone I know who runs a creative business starts it because he or she has technical chops — he can paint, she can design, he bakes amazing pies — and a desire to work for him- or herself. But skills and desire tend to take you just-so-far before you butt up against discomfort.
Maybe the discomfort comes in the form of being wayyyy too busy. Or not having enough clients. You find you need to hire but you don’t want to be a boss. You need more people to know about your business but you hate marketing. You need to outsource your printing but you have no idea where to find the right printer. You need to raise your rates in order to stay afloat, but you’re scared to do so.
The people who make it, whose businesses continue to thrive, or just continue to exist, face that discomfort and figure out a way through it. (Here’s that creativity in action!) They do things they never thought they could do or they ask for help they didn’t know they would need. They learn to do things that they can’t afford to pay others to do. They pay for people or software to do things they know they could do themselves because in the end it saves them time and money.
They come up against things that they don’t know how to do — or don’t want to do — and they find a way to get them done. As they grow their businesses, they grow themselves, too.
It’s Impossible To Tell How Your Peers Are Doing Behind The Scenes
The truth is, unless you’re competing against public companies who trade on the stock exchange, and even then, you’re never ever ever going to know how your competitors are really doing.
You’ll see how many followers they have on instagram. You’ll see them winning awards. You’ll see them creating enviable work. You’ll see them hiring people or building an amazing website. But you’ll have no idea how much they’re working, how much they’re making, or how happy they are.
Be inspired, if you can, but don’t be discouraged.
There Are No Formulas, And There Are No Rules
You’ll come across more advice than you can possibly understand or implement as you grow your business. You’ll be told you need these seven business essentials in order to succeed, or that you need to implement this productivity system. You’ll be told that blog articles should be a certain length for maximum engagement.
Even if all of the advice is good, all of the systems tested, and all of the research is true, NONE OF THAT MATTERS TO YOUR BUSINESS. What matters is that you have a vision, you have a skill, and you have customers.
If writing 100-word blog posts works for you, if it helps you connect with customers, then write them. Do things your way. Try new things. Keep the ones that work.
Read the advice that makes sense to you, but ultimately remember this: businesses succeed by having something special. Special doesn't come from a formula, and it doesn't come from following rules.
Finally, Consistency Is Key
Practically no one succeeds overnight. Those of us who don’t, we have to keep on plugging away. Consistently.
Why? Well, I am actually thinking Consistency deserves its own Memo altogether, but for now I’ll say this:
Consistency helps you earn a reputation.
It allows you to measure your results (if you don’t keep doing the same things over and over, it’s hard to tell which things are working and which ones aren’t).
It helps you refine your message, hone your craft, and develop your skills.
Consistency helps you build your following.
It makes you an expert.
On social media, consistency is rewarded like little else I’ve seen. I don’t understand all the algorithms used by all the platforms (wait - I don’t understand any of the algorithms used by any of the platforms) but I do know that they all reward consistency.
Now of course, things will change. It’s okay for them to change. It’s good for them to change. I try to strive for consistency in short bursts: I might commit to six months of an action so that I can see how it’s working and hopefully reap its rewards.
All of this is to say: hang in there. Keep on keeping on.