10 Things I've Learned as a Creative Business Owner
June 5th, 2018 was the first time I started selling my artwork. I have a whole other blog post dedicated to sharing the story of how I got started (If you haven't read it check it out here) but on the eve of my 29th birthday, I want to reflect on what I’ve learned in the two years of being in business for myself.
I worked a part-time job for the first year while I sold artwork at local farmer’s markets and art shows on the weekends. I went full-time 10 months after I started. And since then its been full-steam ahead with lots of peaks and valleys.
But sitting here writing this, I feel differently than I did when I wrote that initial blog post about how I got started. I’ve grown a lot, since then as a creative business owner. And I want to share with you my biggest takeaways from this growth spurt.
10 Things I’ve Learned as a Creative Business Owner
1. You Must Do Things Scared
2. You Must Understand Your Operating ExpensesWhen you start selling your work it becomes really exciting. You want to start doing more of whatever it is bringing you money. You have money coming in, sometimes a lot, and you’re thinking holy cow, I’m doing it! I’m making money! It’s important to know when you actually are and when you are not. Having a crystal clear understanding of your operating costs as a creative business owner is ESSENTIAL to generating profit. You have a Squarespace website, that’s a monthly expense to running your business. You have Adobe Creative Cloud, that’s a monthly expense to running your business. You use Flodesk, that’s a monthly expense to running your business. These things add up and they add up QUICK. I was shocked when I really dove deep into what it cost’s to run my business - I’m sure it’s going to shock you the first time you look into yours. But don’t freak out. Knowing what you NEED to make each month helps you get creative on HOW to make that money each month and so long as you’re keeping afloat and able to keep at it you’ll find your way to profits.
3. Set Annual Goals but Think in Quarters
It’s so very important to set annual goals for yourself but it’s even more important to break those goals down into quarters. You’ll lose yourself and steam if you look at your workload in 12-month spurts but if you break it down into smaller chunks you can tackle things more efficiently, with more focus, and usually with better results. You’re also able to take into account timely holidays and big commerce weekends and plan for those by only having to focus on a few at a time. Working this way also allows you to be in launch mode for some weeks and then connecting with your community intimately other weeks. Remember, you’re here to serve your customers and it’s important to connect with the people that are allowing you to live out your dream. Keep track of your goals for each quarter and review what production style worked and didn’t work.
4. Review What Worked for You and What Didn't – Don't Do What Didn't Anymore
Doing this requires a lot of hard honestly with yourself. I loved doing shows at the beginning of my art career. I did as many shows as I could and tried to get into all the “cool” ones. I did a TON of shows in 2019, like nearly 40. When I went back and reviewed some show costs and what I brought in, I realized no matter how cool this show is it’s not a good business move for me. And there will be things that really have your heart, that you want to do and that’s every business owner’s prerogative. But understand first and foremost, you own a business and your business’s survival is determined by how scrupulous you can be at the beginning of your business. Be honest with yourself when something just isn’t a good use of your time and money, and move on from it for the time being.
5. Invest in Yourself but Be Mindful of Your Time
Ah, the age of online courses is here! Will it be here to stay, who knows, but I do know I’ve purchased a TON of courses this year to help me level up my creative business. Investing in yourself is ESSENTIAL for growth as a business owner BUT you can invest too much at one time. Invest in yourself, yes, but give yourself time to absorb, try out and practice the teachings, and review your results before you invest in yourself again. You can try out so many new things but if you’re not actually taking the time to learn and put to use what it is you’re investing in then you’ve wasted your time and your money and that’s not being a responsible creative business owner.
6. Say No to What Is Not Taking You Towards Your Big Picture Goal
This is a difficult one for me. It’s really easy to get lost in the minutiae of work and lose sight of what larger goal you’re really working towards. This is another reason why I like working in quarters. I have a big annual goal for myself that I set and I work backward from there. I break that goal up into 4 chunks of work over 4 quarters. Each quarter’s goal helps me achieve my annual goal. They feed UP not down. Becoming very intentional about the work you take on and the work you put out is how you reach your goals. A great opportunity comes along but you’re already tits-deep in your Q4 workload for the year, is that opportunity going to help you achieve your Q4 goal, or is it going to spread you thin and make the work you put out of lesser quality? You have to keep your eye on the prize and say no when an opportunity isn’t aligned with your big dream goal.
7. You're A Business Owner First and an Artist Second
Not everyone is going to see it this way, and I think that’s great. For those who are similar-minded, to build a sustainable practice and be able to make art your life’s work, understand, you are a business owner who is selling your artwork. You’re not an artist who is trying to learn a little bit here and there about business tactics. Making this shift in mindset was HUGE for me. You need to really understand the tenants of building a business practice, making it sustainable, and set it up for growth so that you CAN be the artist selling your work.
8. People Show up for You, Not for Your Work
I don’t know if you’ve noticed but everyone and their grandma are having a go at becoming a creative entrepreneur. All good, there’s room for everyone. Why is there room for everyone? Because what your selling isn’t what separates you. YOU separate you from the crowd. People trust people. They don’t trust “brands” and they definitely don’t trust businesses who don’t share, transparently, their personal story. Share the advent of your artistic endeavors. Share your struggles. Share your wins. BE the personal touch to your products and/or services. People will support you in BIG ways if you’re honest with them.
9. You Can't Do This Along, You Must Find Your Core Crew and Lean on Them and Provide Support When Called
It is harddd building something solo and it’s so hard if you don’t have a support system of like-minded people (like-minded by way of industry) you can bounce ideas off of. Now, it’s going to take you some time to find your people. I’ve been at this for 2 years and I just found my go-to-gal this year (hey heather). It’s important to listen to those moments when you find connectedness with someone because there will come a time when you NEED them. Like you’re freaking out and don’t know what to do -- you will lean on them in a huge way. And that support group will lift you up, settle you down, and set you on your way again. And you’ll do the same for them when they need you. This is one of my favorite things about being apart of the creative community as a whole. Y’all we good people! I love helping others and I’m so grateful to all those who’ve helped me get here. Instagram, for all its baggage, has created a way for us to get to know each other. Use it and be intentional about the connections you make.
10. Being Bold Pays Big Dividends
To go back to point one. You gotta be bold. You gotta do things scared. You have to have that freakout and then still press send. Press publish. Nothing comes to those who don’t do. Nothing comes to those who don’t put themselves out there. Think of all the people who inspire you. I bet half of them you only know because of the internet. BECAUSE THEY PUT THEMSELVES OUT THERE ON THE INTERNET. You gotta be bold in this life. Guys, this is it. There is no other time but now for you to do it.