20 LESSONS LEARNED FROM 20 YEARS AS A CREATIVE ENTREPRENEUR
NOTE: Edited on 26/03/2018 to reflect 20 years in business.
A few years ago someone called me a "Serial entrepreneur". Fair call. Whatever I do never seems to quite fit into a category, but there was so much truth in those two words. Entrepreneurship is not something you plan - it just happens. It's who I am. It's in my veins, my DNA, and I can't seem to help "falling into business". The elevator pitch is a struggle when you're continuously taking on new identities and businesses and projects. After a while, when asked what it is I did, I'd sigh and say "depends what day it is, I'm a creative".
At the risk of this turning into a thesis, I'll just get right to the point (all 20 of them, for the 20 years I've been in a business of some sort). My biggest lessons learned through this ever changing landscape of creative entrepreneurship:
1. There is a season for everything.
Time just keeps on marching on and it doesn't slow down for anyone. I've spent so much time thinking about stuff and planning stuff, only to never get the actual stuff done. Suddenly it's September again, and I remember that I wanted to launch my "XYZ" before Christmas....just like I wanted to the year before, and the year before that. And the ten years before that. Before you know it, fifteen years have passed. Actual! I think back to when I started my first business and I was a fresh faced 20 year old. ALL OF A SUDDEN, and I mean, REALLY suddenly, I'm 40. I've almost doubled my age, and lived half of a full human life. I think back on all the dreamt up projects and what could have been, and what I wanted to be, and sometimes I feel like I'm still working towards launch. Don't get me wrong, I've done and launched a LOT (serial overachiever here, with a faulty stop button), but there are things I've spent far too much time dreaming about doing, that I've missed the opportunity because I didn't think I was ready. Granted, some things do need time to marinate, and some things are actually better off left as dreams in your head - as the reality is not as wonderful (like my dream of opening up a whole foods eatery - it looks amazing in my dreams....) If you do happen to miss the boat while you're dreaming however, remember,
2. There will always be other boats.
Have you ever had an idea, and a month later after "sleeping on it" 30 times you realise it's not that great, or it would be better if it was like this or like that? Sometimes in the excitement of the creative moment when we think something is AMAZING, we are blinded by our own excited-ness. Everything is rose tinted and it's hard to see the flaws. I do believe there is a season for everything, and when the time is right and the circumstances allow, you can jump on another boat, if you missed the first. There are some things that are best left until things align. There will be other boats to sail, and if there's nothing suitable, you can always build your own.
3. Comparison is the thief of joy.
Biggest thief. Biggest, biggest thief. It's so easy to compare our EVERYthing with others edited, cropped and filtered SOMEthings. Still a lesson I'm learning. Sometimes it's hard to find the joy. Especially if you're coming out of a winter period in your life, or you've been dealt a few life blows. But the moment I do find that joy again I want as much as possible to maintain that joy - not to be robbed of it. Stay away, comparison! Don't compare your progress, your perceived lack of progress, your goals, your perceived outcomes, to anyone else. Pay attention to your own learning and progress. That's what matters.
4. Honour your promises
Don't make promises you can't keep. Say no when you need to say no. It's so so easy to say yes, “yes” just rolls off the tongue. It's much harder to say no. You don't want to disappoint, you don't want to miss out, you don't want to lose an opportunity, and you don't want to let someone down. I'm telling you, it's far worse to let someone down because you couldn't follow through with what you said yes to. Also, how many times have I come up with an idea, and then announced "Watch this space!!!" and then nothing happens? And I see this everywhere! "Watch this space" and "stay tuned" and I'm like ooh ooh can't wait! And that's the last you hear of it. I'm go guilty of this. SOOO guilty.
! I watched an interesting Ted Talk by Derek Sivers about the reasons you should keep your goals and ambitions secret - people who talk about their ambitions are less likely to achieve them. We all think oh, if I announce XYZ then I'll be accountable and have to commit. That "good feeling" you get when you share your amazing goals with people, that's your mind actually being tricked into feeling that it has already been achieved. And because you've felt that premature gratification of the "social acknowledgement", you're less motivated to complete the work to actually GET IT DONE. Interesting huh. I know it's true in my case. It may, or may not be true, but it is actually my experience. On a side note, can I just say that I have always been SO impressed when a business will SUDDENLY announce an amazing new thing out of the blue! It blows me away! I'm like wow, didn't see that coming and that's freakin' amazing! I find that hard to do, as I’m not the best at keeping secrets.
5. You don't need a business plan. You need a map.
I've talked about this in previous blog posts. Business plans are for bank managers and investors. Are you a bank manager or investor?! Probably not. You might need one FOR a bank manager or investor from time to time, but you don't need one to run a business. You need a map. This can be visual - like an actual map. It can be a bullet list. It can be a brainstorm bubble. Whatever it takes to show you WHAT you want to achieve, WHERE you want to get to, and HOW you're going to get there. That's all you need to know. It's visual, and it paints an overall picture of your vision. Forget the 20 page doc.
6. You gotta spend money to make money.
Pay the $15 a month for the accounting software. It'll save you in headaches at the end of the year! (and time wasted). And pleeeeeeeease. PLEASE. Pay for an actual accountant. Don't do your accounts yourself, or even pay a cheap book keeper to do it. I've said it before, and I'll say it again - the money you will save from having a proper accountant far exceeds the cost of hiring the accountant. Trust me.
Spend money on your branding, website and visual collateral. It makes a huge difference and it's worth it. And remember, money isn't always $$$. Bartering, collaborating, swapping services, is a real thing. Find someone who can help you, and who you can also help.
7. You need people.
You can't be everything to everyone, even though you probably think you can, or you think it's the only way. You need people, and that means different things to different people. It might even be a house keeper. So that you don't have to spend 5 hours cleaning when you can be creating content, building business relationships, or working on that latest commission. And a support crew - so vital. Whether it be a little posse you've befriended on Instagram, that you can regularly chat with about different things, a Facebook group you can depend on, a local creative group you can get together with....we all need support.
8. Know when to let go, and when to hold on.
When I sold my flax business in 2011 people were shocked. "But that's your baby!", "Why?! This was the biggest thing that ever happened to you!"....Perhaps I did run away when things got too tough, but I don't regret doing so. When I started getting attacked personally, and when I couldn't bear the overload anymore, and when it was no longer serving me, or my well being - that meant I couldn't serve myself, or my family. Besides, I was entering into another phase in life - a growing family. As a fledgling mother crossed with a hands on entrepreneur, I couldn't manage the new dynamic. I still had many lessons to be learnt. So I decided to pass on the batten, and it is now thriving under someone else's care. Hold on to things that give you energy. Let go of things that deplete it.
When to hold on:
When you're sinking and someone throws you a lifeline. Hold on for dear life.
9. Yourself, and your creativity is ever evolving.
I hated pumpkin when I was a kid. Now I love it. What you may like today, you may not like next month. My tastes for things have certainly changed dramatically from year to year. We are human! We are in a state of constant flux. We are bombarded with inspiration from every direction, and some things tickle our fancy, others don't. Don't fear change. Creativity evolves, with the ebb and flow of life. Just go with it. Something great might happen.
10. Done is better than perfect. But always strive for excellence.
I'm still learning this. Perfectionism is like a thorn in my side, like an anchor on a ship that wants to sail away, like a foot stuck in mud. Perfectionism paralyses me. It stops me from posting blogs, sending emails, sharing images, finishing projects, and handing in that assignment. I'm learning to embrace imperfection. The perfectly imperfect. The Japanese concept of wabi-sabi embraces this, for want of a more perfect word, perfectly. My idea of "perfect" is probably extreme. Just put your work out into the world already Christall! Do things when you aren't ready to do them. Launch your website when it's got the bones and not ALL of the content. Because most people will not even know any better, you're the only one that knows it also needs this, that and the other done to it. A website sitting in unlaunched mode is going to get you nowhere. Progress over perfection wins hands down. And as Dad always said, always strive for excellence. Perfection is not excellence, perfection is a road block to excellence. Ideas are useless without implementation.
11. The juggle is real, and the work is hard.
Everyone's on this quest for the elusive "balance". It possibly exists, in some far away dimension, but more often than not you're juggling children's sports and work deadlines and sickness and events and taking your dog to the vet and writing blog posts. If you like juggling (I don't mind it) then that's okay. If you're not great at juggling you WILL drop some balls, it's all part of it. There may be a time when something's got to give, and you'll need to put a few balls down. Or, pass some of the balls to someone else. How to get rid of some of those balls? Stop doing the things that aren't actually important to your life or business, and that don't move you closer to your goal.
12. It's okay to not have it all worked out.
Sometimes this whole "business" business is totally winging it. Basically getting things done matters more than planning on getting things done. You can't make money until you put yourself and your offerings out there - what good is it if you have a whole lot of product or services to offer the world, but nobody knows about them? They're just sitting pretty in your mind or in your basement. There's no money in the bank there. Just put yourself and your stuff out there, and when the things need to be done, you figure out how to do it. I started my first business by accident because someone wanted my product that they'd seen on the news. I was forced to work it out. And I built a flourishing, successful business from those rugged beginnings when I didn't have a clue.
13. Don't be obsessed with numbers.
Popularity doesn't pay the bills. Oh yeah of course I want 100K followers on Instagram - absolutely! But I get enquiries and job leads every single day, and the most common theme in the emails is "I found you on Instagram and I just love your photography!". Numbers do not matter. Your followers being genuine does. People that actually follow you because they like what they see, and that have a little relationship going on with you. Never buy followers - those bought numbers don't hire you or pay you for your cool stuff. And please, don't do that whole follow/unfollow stuff to try and gain followers. It's SO obvious, AND annoying. I block those accounts! Be obsessed with forming genuine relationships with your loyal followers, and giving them incredible, genuine content.
14. Understand that imitation is human nature.
We learn by imitation. Babies learn by imitation. It's human nature to want to aspire to be like someone you admire, or to want to mimic something/someone you perceive as awesome. Don't be sooooo offended when someone copies you. I also learned this the hard way.
Copyright infringement and stealing someone's intellectual property however is NOT okay. EVER. I've spent oodles of money over the years protecting my (former) patent, and defending it in and out of court. Exhausting. And costly. But necessary in those circumstances. This is a whole new blog post, so I'll leave it at that. I would say the blog post is coming soon, but I don't want to make false promises! (see what I did there, I'm learning!)
15. You can't please everybody, and nor should you try.
Your vibe really does attract your tribe. Your tribe might be different to my tribe. If someone's not into you or your thing, don't sweat it. Focus on the people who actually care about what you do.
16. Be proud of your success.
Nobody likes a show off. But you also don't need to hide your successes for fear of being labelled a show off, or an "over-achiever". Tall poppy syndrome is a real (nasty) thing, and yes there are people out there that may attempt to belittle you for your success. You have every right to stand tall, and proud. Celebrate your success and your wins - you deserve it!
17. It's okay to fail.
Failure is often the best teacher. It's also extremely humbling.
18. Take time to care for yourself
So important. Burn out is real, and it's not fun - for you or for anyone around you. Take time to care for your body, mind and spirit.
19. Keep it real, and be kind.
Be authentically you. Don't be a bot.
20. Don’t be afraid to try new (and even scary) ways of doing things.
I had a list of goals this year. It was scary and daunting. The list isn’t huge, but the small number of goals on my list are momentous, major and somewhat scary. I decided that this year was the year to take the bull by the horns and not only overcome some fears, but smash out some long held dreams in the process. So far, I’ve knocked off a few big, scary goals already, and others are well underway. Will I achieve all my goals? Who knows, but I won’t know unless I try. I was ready this year to take the leap.
So this blog post is quite useless sitting in my drafts - I’m publishing! So here I am, embracing the perfectly imperfect, which in reality, is more than perfect.
To the next 20 years,