What I Learned In My First Three Years as a Creative Entrepreneur
When I decided to start my own business and take that business full time I thought that maintaining a nice work & life balance would be a breeze. I fantasized about waking up at the crack of dawn before the baby, sipping on espresso and answering emails with a smile on my face. I'd finish all my work before dinner time so that I wouldn't miss time with my Husband, I'd pick up a new hobby because I was going to be so organized with my time. Heck, I'd even start my own book club. The world is my oyster after all, and conveniently enough I now live in The Oyster Capitol of the World.
Sometimes my days are blissful, and feel like that fantasy described above, but most of the time it is not. Running a business is incredibly fulfilling, but nothing like I imagined when day dreaming about my own and what it would be like for me. All of a sudden I have to start thinking about contracts, invoices, sales tax, accounting software, client management systems and the list goes on. Once I got a hang of all the administrative things, it was an incredible feeling. Once I legitimized myself and a small business owner with my Tax ID #, custom domain website and email, and so forth, I really did start to feel like the world was my oyster.
I like to believe that in three years I have learned a thing or two about running my own business as a creative entrepreneur.
I don't have all the answers as each day brings new learning opportunities and challenges in this life as a small business owner. Today I want to share a few things I wish I had known when I first got started with my own business. I sometimes kick myself for the countless hours spent working on something that didn't really make sense, or that didn't work but on the flip side of those "wasted" hours, I learned a lot about who I am as a person, a creative entrepreneur, and ultimately discovering my true passions. I'm going to jump right in and hopefully this helps you if you already own your own business or if you dream about someday running one, this post is for you.
Before you even start you have to ask yourself some tough questions.
If I would have known anything about running a business when I opened up my own Etsy shop over three years ago, I would have waited longer because I skipped a very important step. I didn't spend the time to sit down with myself and really dive deep into who I am, what I want to do, who I want to work with, and ultimately figure out what I am actually good at. I've always been a dreamer, I'll never deny that. But part of being a dreamer for me has been making rash and rushed decisions when it comes to my personal and professional life. I jump in head first to things without thinking twice most of the time. It was just over a year ago I realized that the way I dive into things always backfired on me and that I was obviously doing something wrong. It only took me a few years to wake up and see that I was rushing things that needed a whole lot more attention to detail before launching or starting. A perfect example was my Etsy shop, formerly Filtered Art. My Etsy shop was all over the place. I sold coffee filter flowers, wedding decor, home decor, baby onesies and baby headbands. Every once in awhile I'd throw in something else to the chaos of what was my shop which just led my customers to be more confused about who I was and what I offered.
A few questions I wish I would have asked myself three years ago
What do I do?
Who are my ideal clients/customers?
How can I find my ideal clients/customers?
What problem does my ideal client/customer have and how can I solve their problem?
What is my business plan?
How much will it take financially to run my business for the first six months?
What equipment/software do I need to successfully manage my business?
What are my big picture goals?
What do I need to do in order to develop a strong brand?
This is just the start...in order to start a business you really need to nail down every single aspect before getting started. While I realize things change (I am the perfect example of growing in a new direction) and business evolves, by laying down the foundation and digging deep I truly believe you will set yourself apart by being able to distinguish yourself as a business owner by knowing who you are, what you do, who you serve and how you can make a difference in your market.
The saying holds truth, in order to make money you have to spend money.
I have learned in three years that business is expensive. It also depends what you do, but start up costs are something that should be strategically planned out and organized in advance. I did not do this. I just purchased as I went without really paying much attention to what I really needed vs what could wait. For me personally running two businesses meant that I would have to figure out which business needed what.
All the other administrative things and subscriptions that come with running a business
All the other administrative things and subscriptions that come with running a business
As you can see, many of these overlap and can be used for both businesses but not everything. I've thrown money down a hole with my handmade shop because everything is upstairs in bins at the moment. I don't know when or if I will try to push through some of that inventory because right now I'm busy enough to only focus on the projects at hand right now. Those projects are working with my branding clients and with my photography clients. I'm trying to illustrate that without a solid plan it is easy to throw money in a hole. I wish that I would have had a better plan, laid out my expenses from the get go and figured out exactly what I needed to invest in and how much I needed to make each month to make back my investments quickly. I now have that all worked out, but I did not from the beginning.
Money is a powerful motivator in business. When you put down a significant chunk of change it really pushes you to realize that there isn't really any turning back now. By investing in your own dream, it becomes legitimized. Your dreams are worth the investment. Figure out exactly what that looks like for you and your business. My biggest investment has been my equipment. There are always expenses that come up, but I'm proud to say that all my major investments are over and done with. Don't empty your savings account but think about how much you have to spend and what takes priority for you to attain your goals.
Tip: Once you have your business name established, purchase a domain right away to secure it on the web. Domains can be purchased through various sites like GoDaddy. I purchased mine through Squarespace when I set up my website.
In order to be taken seriously you have to take yourself seriously.
I've said this before, but I'll say it again. Once I stopped treating my business as a hobby and realized that people weren't really taking me seriously everything changed and fell into place. Once I narrowed my focus, found my passion and decided that this is what I was going to turn into a full time business venture I established myself and my business. Do you know what the biggest piece of this equation was? You guessed it...branding. Once I established my brand and found consistency with Emma Rose Company, my business has taken off. Below you will see my own mood board. I treated my brand as I would working with a client. I developed my own board and concepts that I use every day to keep my brand consistent, cohesive and beautiful.
The minute I got out of my own head and realized that I could do great things from home, I discovered my true talents and discovered ways to run with it. I stopped doubting myself and figured out that in order to find my own success I had to believe in myself and my dreams. When I introduce myself it is with confidence now when explaining who I am and what I do. I'm no longer fearful of the words "Creative Entrepreneur" because that is exactly who I am and I am so proud of that title. I have worked so hard to be right where I am at this moment, and I kick myself for ever doubting my own strength and ability to be successful. Success comes with confidence and confidence isn't always easy, especially when life as a creative entrepreneur is a wild ride of ups and downs and unknowns along the way. However, if you are able to set your fears aside and find your own confidence in who you are as a business owner, the rest will fall into place and you will begin to attract your ideal clients.
Some BIG THINGS I have learned in three years as a Creative Entrepreneur:
When something isn’t working, there is a reason, so pay attention and adjust and improvise.
When something lacks passion, it lacks a future. And you know what? It's okay, move on.
Comparing myself to other business owners only makes my life more difficult and stressful. So stop, do your own thing and do it well.
There is not glory in overworking. I aim to work less and enjoy more.
If something gets me so excited that I can’t help but do a little dance when I talk/think/dream about it, that is where my focus should be.
Look ahead and keep learning.
I'm about to share my biggest business secret of all...