Three months in: Lessons Learnt from Launching a small creative business

May 9, 2018 | Thoughtful Business

 
On the 22nd of January this year, so a little over three months ago, I shared my rebranded and rewritten website on social media (this makes it sound like it was a big launch – it really wasn’t. My mum liked it though). At the time I don’t think I really saw it as a launching a small creative business, so much as simple re-doing my website, but as the time has gone on it has felt like more and more of a defining line. The before and after feel very different. Although the work I’m doing has slowly shifted – from smaller projects to much larger ones – the change has been more in terms of my mindset. I talk here more about the shift from freelance to business, and on my episode of Jen Carrington’s Make it Happen.
 
But before we get into the actual lessons I’ve learnt, I want to be honest about one thing first. Yes, I am earning money. Yes, my business is in profit. No, I’m not earning a full salary yet. I have clients. I have money coming in. But I am still dipping into my savings each month to make up the difference between what my business can give me and my living expenses. This difference is slowly decreasing, and I’m hopeful that in the next few months it won’t exist (although,  I will still be keeping my spending down – I doubt there will be any fancy holidays, or Ferraris, or even new clothes beyond necessity, in my near future. Actually I doubt there will ever be any Ferraris in any future). 
 
While I’m not sure I’ll ever share a full and detailed break-down of my earnings on here (although never say never. Unless it’s about a Ferrari), I do feel it’s really important to be honest about this stuff. There are so many people online making it look like going from zero to profit to six-figures is an easy and quick thing. And I think this makes it even harder for those of us who are still in the trenches. Still struggling to make ends meet, and wondering what we are doing wrong. 
 
Which brings me neatly into lesson one: 

 

1. It’s damn hard. And anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. 

 
As I said above, I think sometimes launching and running a small creative business is made to look easy. Come up with an idea or service. Write a sales page. Share on social media. Get clients or make sales. Wham-bam, you’re in the money! 
 
Yet I think this myth is, in part, purposefully perpetuated by people trying to sell you their own services. They exaggerate and pre-empt the lifestyle they are living, as a way of convincing you that if it is working for them, then it can work for you… And therefore persuade you into buying their services or packages. 
 
So, for the record, it is hard. Damn hard. Making money from your creativity is hard. It’s a very crowded marketplace now, and there are a lot of people hustling and trying to make a living. It takes a lot of work, and more importantly I think, a lot of thought, to make it work. 
 

2. You can’t separate personal from business growth. 

 

This is something that Sas Petherick touched upon in her episode of my podcast There Are Other Ways. You can’t grow your business without growing yourself. The hardest part of the last three months hasn’t been any of the actual work – although that has been challenging, especially when I’ve had no idea what I’ve been doing – but the emotional and mental stretching.
 
When you work for yourself and run your own business, there is nowhere to hide. You can’t ignore the tasks you feel afraid of. You have to face them, and ask yourself why you are afraid of them. You have to look at all the emotions that crop up on a daily basis – comparison to others in your field, comparison to others not in your field, self-doubt, imposter syndrome, procrastination, lack of motivation – and deal with them as best as you can. There is no business growth without personal growth. Which when you are having a tough, PMT sort of day, quite frankly, sucks. 
 

 

3. People are awesome. 

 

This really should have been number one. People are really, REALLY awesome.

 
As I’ve said many times before I really struggle with putting myself out there, but the emails, messages and comments I’ve got from people have made it so much easier. I love that people take the time to email me to say they are connecting to my podcast and other content. I’ve never emailed someone I’ve followed online before, I think because I, very wrongly, felt like they wouldn’t be interested. But I’ve now started to do so, purely because it means so much to me, so I’m guessing it means a lot to other people as well. 
 

4. You can’t go all in, without actually going all in.

 

I said I was going all in back in January (in this blog post actually), but I don’t think I actually went all in into a month or so ago.

 

It was something that was very easy to say, but much harder to do. I was still holding myself back quite a lot, shying away from sharing content about my actual work, values, and process on my blog. I was still hiding, expecting clients to magically find me and want to spend a not-insignificant amount of money on my services without giving them a real reason to.
 
 

 

5. There is no map. Except the one you create yourself. 

 
“Here are the EXACT five steps I took to make six-figures last year!” / “Follow this five-step process to attract your dream clients and grow your business!”. 
 
This sort of thing gets said a lot online. Again, it goes back to what I said above about it being a slightly backwards process – people sell you their process, in order to prove their process! 
 
Unfortunately, and it was a very hard lesson for me to learn, there is no map to growing a small creative business. We are all unique, and our businesses are all unique, and there is no guarantee that what works for someone else will work for you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted someone to just give me step-by-step instructions over the last few months, but I’ve known deep-down that they won’t help anyway. Think about all the different routes the people who are currently very successful online have taken to get there. 
 
There is no generic, one-size-fits-all map. You have to make your own one.
 
 

6. There are no shortcuts.

 
Oftentimes over the last few months I’ve felt like the amount of work that has gone into every small win – every pound in my bank account, every newsletter subscriber, every Instagram follower, every podcast review – has been ridiculous. Sometimes the energy spent to energy gained is just a really, REALLY low conversion rate. Yet I don’t know any other way.
 
There are no shortcuts. You just have to put in the work. Sorry. 
 
 

7. The highs and lows of running a small creative business are

real.

 

I used to see creative entrepreneurs online chatting about the high and lows they were experiencing on social media, and think they were just exaggerating.

 
Turns out they really weren’t. Bloody hell. 
 
I’ve literally gone from dancing around my kitchen to crying down the phone to my mum in the time it takes my kettle to boil. There’s not much you can do about it, or at least I haven’t found a method yet, except try to be kind to yourself and ride the waves as best as you can. 
 

8. It takes longer than you think it will. 

 
Again, this was why it was so important for me to be clear at the top about where I am financially. I definitely thought I would be further forward money-wise by now. Maybe I was a little naive, but I also think that this is another thing that is perpetuated online. Timelines get condensed, success is pre-empted, and figures get fudged. And it is so easy to believe everything that you read, see and listen to, and then compare yourself unfavourably to it. But it’s not the truth, and while there are always exceptions to the rule, growth is generally a much slower process than we think it will be. 
 
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If you are in the process of launching or growing your own small creative business than please know that you are not alone. It is no where near as easy as it is sometimes made out to be. And if you want to follow my journey in real time, then please do subscribe to my newsletter below.