There’s a misconception among creatives who daydream about working for themselves (and truth be told among freelancers and creative entrepreneurs who aren’t just dreaming about it anymore, but actually doing it) that when you quit your day job, it’s a given you’ll get to be your own boss. When the more common back-to-earth reality is, you simply end up trading in one boss, for lots of bosses – each and every one of your clients. Managing all those expectations, personalities, and deadlines can be a super slippery slope that sends you into a vicious cycle of reactive order-taking. And it can feel anything but dreamy.
First off, let me say, having lots of clients feels great and is not only a huge confidence boost to any solo business, but it’s how many of us define having “made it.” But it’s when you get frustrated over and over again, because the experience of working with these clients isn’t quite fitting into your vision, that you can feel out of control and give up. So we have lots of strategies and tips for attracting dream customers and keeping them from turning into clients from hell in our Braid ECourse: Dream Customer Catching.
But today what I really want to talk about is being your own number one dream customer. To really “make it” as a creative entrepreneur, it’s going to take more than sustaining yourself financially, but sustaining this vision you had for yourself – or it’s just not worth it, right? So here are some ways to produce more than just the work you do for your clients, but invest time and resources into growing your own business:
1. MAKE TIME
A lot of creatives are so busy servicing their clients that they don’t have a lot of time to work on their own projects, branding, or processes. We get it. But the secret is you never “have” time. You’ve gotta make time. Here’s how:
• Set goals & deadlines for yourself. Every three months we map out our own Braid goals and projects for ourselves, along with the client work, on our magic chalkboard wall. This helps us set intentions and remember exactly what it is that we wanted to accomplish for ourselves. This might include a new ECourse we’re writing, a website update or a talk we want to prepare. We all know the tendency is to do client work first. And we take that work seriously. But if we don’t take our own work as seriously (i.e. we don’t write it on the wall) it just won’t get done.
• Make appointments with yourself. Planning ahead in general is a great start, but take it a step further into your day-to-day by blocking off time in your calendar to work on your own projects. This could be one hour a day, every day. Or it could be an entire day per week that you block out. The important part is to treat this meeting and time with the same diligence and respect you would for a paying client.
Making time to work on your own projects is certainly an investment in your business. Afterall, time is money. But we think that sometimes paying cold hard cash is a catalyst for growth. Here are some worthwhile things you can spend money on:
• Training & Education - Classes, workshops, ECourses, and training are awesome for giving you tools and new perspective that will get your gears turning on how to take your business to the next level. We don’t necessarily think you need more school to be legit but extra training and education can definitely make you feel more confident. And confidence is worth it’s weight in gold.
• Consulting & Coaching - whether it’s a life coach or a business coach, having outside input and accountability to grow pays off.
• Traveling & Networking - It may feel indulgent but conferences, retreats, and workshops are money well spent. You will not only make new friends in your industry, you will also develop relationships that lead to income-generating clients. Every conference and retreat I’ve attended has paid for itself and then some from the contacts made.
• Tools & Materials - If your computer has been on its last leg for over a year it’s time to visit the Mac store. Or maybe you’ve outgrown your Canon Rebel and are ready for a 5D so you can start shooting video too. Or perhaps it’s time to finally upgrade from your outdated and pirated software and buy a legit copy of Adobe Creative Suite. Buying the proper tools & materials you need to get the job done efficiently and like a pro is money worth spending.
3. PUBLISH AND LAUNCH
A lot of my creative coaching clients are waiting until everything is perfect to publish, launch, and leap. But perfect is unattainable. The best way to be your own number one client is to put your stuff out there.
• Hit Publish - there will always be typos to fix or run-on sentences to be refined. It doesn’t matter. Don’t get hung up on it. Just hit publish – you can always go back and edit later.
• Experiment - in our Personal Branding ECourse I talk a bit about passion projects. These are the side projects that you do for yourself. For fun. Experimenting allows you to explore new ideas without the fear of failure. But a cool byproduct of experiments is they often turn into projects you can monetize down the road.
• Launch - I doubt anyone ever feels 100% “ready” before they launch a new business, website, offering, or product. But just like hitting publish sometimes you have to take the leap and tackle rest of the to-dos as you go.
What are some ways you invest (either in time or money) in your own business? How have you seen it pay off? Let us know on Facebook!
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You can learn more in our current Braid ECourse open for registration appropriately called Dream Customer Catching: Embracing Your Expertise and Attracting What You Track. This complete-at-your-own-pace ECourse will be in-session from Dec. 13 - 22 and is chockfull of content, worksheets, and videos. Learn more and register here.
*NOTE: Our Braid ECourse site will be under maintenance on the evening of Friday, Dec. 6 – but will be online again for registrations beginning Saturday, Dec. 7th.
You can also read more about dream customer catching in the following blog posts from our archives:
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This is a donkey with wings. A beast of burden combined with a sense of dreaminess (or freakishness depending on how you look at it) with those unlikely, whimsical wings sprouting from its back. It’s a bank, too. If you look closely there’s a coin slot on that burdenless but still functional back. This winged donkey was an unusual gift, but sitting on my shelf, it’s become a perfectly-fitting reminder of how being a creative entrepreneur, as dreamy as that can be... is still working. You may be working for yourself, but you’re still a workhorse! As unglamorous as that title is, it’s true. But you are a workhorse with passion, vision, wings. And all your earning power, is not in someone else’s hands, but right there on your own back.*
*Not to be confused with “working on your back.”
After fourteen years of working in a small cool advertising agency in a dream job for someone else, and now two years of working in a small cool dream job I created for myself – I thought it would be interesting to do a little comparing, especially for those of you in either career position. What still feels like work? What feels like a burden? And what is still dreamy after all?
Feels like work.
When you work for someone else typical burdens might be:
- punching the clock;
- compromising (or dumbing down) your creative vision; or
- just flat out personality conflicts, be it with your boss or client.
In my experience, though, all of those points above are cartoonish exaggerations, let’s be honest. I know everyone hasn’t gotten the chance to work for another creative visionary in an advertising firm. I have. So those typical (but probably simplified) complaints, weren’t really the typical times I was like “ugh, back to the grind.” Maybe because I love the grind – the hard parts of rewarding work.
For me, looking back, it was the in-between times that felt like a drag. Waiting for a client meeting to start, waiting for the mind-numbingly-slow elevator to just get to the next floor, waiting in the security line at the airport. Waiting felt like work. Now that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fast paced. Oh man, was it fast paced. But when you are working within an organization, with more than just a couple people, you are going to have, hmmm, cracks.
On the flip-side, the super-extreme moments where I lost my own cool, in the heat of an intense decision, or series of hard weeks, or a series of hard decisions – now that felt like, well worry. I always worried after the fact that I said the wrong thing, let my emotions get the best of me, or over-stepped the line of what was professional into what was just considered artistic temperament, into what seemed like just plain crazy.
Feels like a dream.
Now, working for myself, I’ve been able to take so many of those “in-between” waiting times that had felt like a “drag,” but that are just the necessity of working within a team or a layered organization regardless of how fast-paced it may be, and compress them into a more condensed schedule of meetings and work, work and meetings. Now I only have to account for me, my biz partner (slash sister) and each specific client in our roster of dream clients – who must have specific times scheduled to get a piece of our carefully parcelled-out time.
All the cracks between are filled in.
And now, here’s the rub, that space now feels so efficiently filled with dream clients and dream work, and me using my expertise in every spare moment – that oops, my obsessive compulsive dream of being as efficient as possible – oh boy, does that feel like work!
But that’s okay. Yeah, I miss the dreamy parts of working for someone else, and I hope the designers who work for Kathleen and I have dreamy parts of their day, and their purpose on our team, too. The irony is not lost on me that Kathleen and I are champions of the creative entrepreneur, yet we employ two creatives who work for our vision.
What are the dreamy bits I miss from the 9-to-5 of being a working creative in that team setting?
I don’t mean the “safe” bits, we all know what those are, health insurance, a paycheck, consistent wireless, I mean the feel-good stuff:
- I miss the culture
- I miss the immediacy of work-then-reward
- and frankly, I miss having a “ladder” to climb (not in a corporate icky way, just in, okay, here’s what needs to be done to push myself and this company forward, let’s get climbing!)
Why can’t I have those things in my new self-created dream job? And why can’t you?
Uh… you can. Your mood dictates the culture, and the people you let into your business (the clients you say “yes” to, do to… because it’s just you and them, so they better fit!) There is still a ladder, it’s just that you’re building it yourself. By hand. Sometimes with just bits of string and sticks and a will to not give up. And if THAT doesn’t feel like working… and a dream… I don’t know what does.
Working for yourself? What feels like work, and what feels like a dream? Tell us on Facebook.
Our Braid ECourse for Creative Entrepreneurs, Personal Branding: Blending Who You Are with What You Do, is now open for registration. This ECourse is great for both established or aspiring creatives and bloggers who want to bring a little more personality into their profession. Register and learn more here by November 14th.
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“My fear is my only courage, so I’ve got to push on through.” A little Bob Marley anyone? I figure Kathleen’s quoting Miley Cyrus over on And Kathleen today. Why not throw a little love-peace-and-reggae into the mix? Actually, you’re probably thinking, “isn’t Marley more Kathleen’s style… the locks… the woo-woo… the live-your-dream philosophy?”
You got me. I’m definitely the cynic of our creative business partnership, our friendship, and our sister act. And the truth is, I’ve been playing No Woman, No Cry on repeat all month, because strangely enough (but not strange if you know me) I was introducing my nine-year old to zombie movies this fall (this is the year I feel he can handle it, his midnight migrations to his little brother’s bed are telling me otherwise). And one of the films I felt could baby-step him into the genre was Will Smith’s, I Am Legend about the last tough-guy in a post-apocalyptic New York who retreats to his boarded up, fortress-like house on Washington Square park when the ridiculously computer animated undead (I didn’t say it was a great zombie movie) come out at night, and the otherwise steely and courageous Smith, breaks down to a near fetal state, sleeping in his bathtub all night listening to the happy soothing mantras of Marley’s greatest hits, “everything’s gonna be alright, everything’s gonna be alright...”
We talk a lot about the things creative entrepreneurs are afraid of, here on our shared Braid blog, and over on Kathleen’s personal blog. I think fear is a gut reaction, to a zombie swarm, to an auditorium of people about to listen to your talk, to quitting your day-job and steady paycheck, to stepping up in your day-job and taking on a role you never thought you could do, to finally saying “okay this is it, I work for myself, time to put my money where my mouth is and invest in this so-called business I think I can somehow pull off!”
I didn’t say fear was kind. But fear gives us that courage. Kathleen always quotes me as saying to her one time “if you’re not scared, you’re not doing anything new.” Again, what!? This from the lets-keep-everything-methodical-and-achievable sister? Yep. I didn’t say I liked being scared, and it comes in cycles that’s for sure. One of my immediate 1-year goals when we first started Braid was to feel like we had a process, and to feel like true experts, because those two things combined truly equal confidence. And isn’t confidence sort of the opposite of fear? I can tell you that confidence certainly is the elixir to desperation, and in fact is the key ingredient to sharing yourself with followers and selling yourself to dream customers.
So check. We’ve been able to really share and sell ourselves, and now teach other creatives to do the same. You may have found a particularly scary string of events has led you to creating a better website, investing in a physical office or storefront, traveling to a convention you hesitated to invest in but found new friends, ideas, and inspiration there.
Of course everyone needs periods of rest now and again from doing “the scary stuff.” These fear-spikes might be speaking to larger crowds, writing for larger audiences, or getting “smaller” with more intense one-on-one client services which might mean (gasp!) raising your prices. (But what if no-one will buy it? I had a good thing going, ack!)
I’m actually teaching a branding class as a guest instructor this month at a large university in the program I graduated from. Looking at these seniors almost ready to take a leap, it reminded me of what I was scared of back then (getting lost), it reminded me of what I was scared of in my first job (messing up), it reminded me of what I was scared of with my first huge promotion (falling short) – and finally what I was afraid of when we started Braid (too much to list in one short parenthesis). And whatdyaknow? Every time I was the most scared, was when the most amazing things happened. No, “every single little thing” wasn’t always “gonna be alright...” but it got me, us and you, here.
What are you scared of? Tell us on Facebook. And
check out some of our past posts that might touch on some of your own
fears as a working creative… and hopefully give you some courage:
- What If I’m On The Wrong Path?
- How To Deal With the Fear of Blogging
- Gaahhh! Do Not Make Me Write
- Are Your Brave Enough To Attract Your True Dream Customer?
P.S. Our most popular Braid ECourse on Personal Branding is now open for registration. Personal Branding: Blending Who You Are With What You Do will be in-session from November 15 - 24th. This $75 complete-at-your-own-pace, week long Braid ECourse, is chock full of content, videos, and worksheets, and it’s great for creatives who want to share more of who they are personally and professionally, but don’t quite know where to start. Learn more and register here.
P.P.S. If you haven’t signed up yet for our Letters for Creatives we’ve got one going out tomorrow. These letters are exclusive, behind-the-scenes stories from Tara and Kathleen, and pssst… they often have discounts for our Braid ECourses included in them.
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