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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We absolutely love the exciting, emotional moments that come from helping independent small businesses remember why they decided to build something all their own in the first place, whether that means looking back on just a few years or nearly forty.
Heritage Solutions, formerly Heritage Press, is one of those businesses with a long history, who came to us for a brand overhaul. Their services, like many progressive printers across the country, had evolved to the point where only calling them a printing press would not only be a disservice, but a brand disconnect. So after some truth seeking and Braid Methoding (we’re making methoding a word, okay) Kathleen and I helped them arrive at a new logo, a revitalized brand story, and a new name – now just short and sweet, Heritage.
Heritage really rolled this out right. Before they even considered sharing the new look and feel with their customers they gathered their employees for an all-staff early morning breakfast, complete with balloons, enough pastries to choke a printing press, and a ton of anticipation. See, they would be the first people (and rightly so) to see their own place of work, challenges and change – brought to life. We couldn’t wait for them to see how their own role in the rebranding story was not only appreciated but whole-heartedly celebrated.
The Heritage leadership took the podium to explain why they embarked on this brand evolution. I got up there and shared our inspiration, and how much of the brand insights came from straight from employees Kathleen and I visited with in the weeks leading up to the event. Then we played the brand video.
Cheers, oohs, aahs, perhaps a little tears? It happens. When a brand video is shared for the first time, it’s really all the pieces coming together in full color, and that’s about as emotionally-charged an employee roll out gets. But with Heritage, there was a moment that even trumped the video.
Once the speeches were done, the pastries scarfed down, and the bundled t-shirts given out, a great loud honking started. The blinds across four plate glass windows raised up, and there outside, glinting in the early morning sun was the huge white Heritage delivery truck with the giant logo across its side, with the new employee motto, “We Roll On.” Goosebumps.
Okay, in retrospect that may sound melodramatic for, well, a vehicle wrap. But who can’t use a little drama, a lot of applause and that feeling that comes with knowing you perfectly paired the here-and-now of a place with its what-is-to-be – all before nine o’clock in the morning? What can I say? That’s just how we roll, too.
Sometimes your longest relationships can turn into not only rewarding (and profitable) projects but also meaningful reinventions along the way. See how Kathleen advises other creative professionals to work with printers, like Heritage, on her Freelance Matters series.
And read more about the how-to’s of orchestrating an “inner circle” rebrand prelaunch, whether you have fifty employees or you’re a one-man band, in our Braid newsletter: How A Rebrand Should Roll.
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Let’s say you’re about to take a leap into the future – a project launch, a new collaboration, a complete brand overhaul. You might be a small independent, yet established business who outgrew your logo along with your first office-space years ago. Or, like many of our microbusiness and artistpreneur (one-person-show) clients, you’ve finally grownup enough in your confidence, expertise and offering that your website your college roommate’s cousin designed for you just isn’t hacking it anymore.
Regardless of your small business style, or size, it’s a great day when you can finally close the gap between the brand you’ve always wanted and the one you’re finally about to get. So it stands to reason, that if you’ve spend the time, effort and money to take your brand to the next level, you want to share it with anyone who will look or listen. The more attention the better, especially when it comes to all your dream customers-to-be out there.
We don’t disagree. But before you share your rebrand with the world, you better stop, drop and roll it out to the people who matter most. A brand update, facelift, or just plain reboot means a change (even if a good one), to an existing brand (even if a bad one), that your employees and customers have gotten used to. Which is why when it comes to a rebrand, you should roll it out to your inner circle before it ever rolls out the door.
So the idea of a roll out isn’t rocket science. Obviously there are some pretty great reasons to give the people closest to a brand a sneak peek. To get buy in. To help them better communicate the brand themselves. To get their shirt sizes so you can give them a new logo tee. And, well, to just get everyone rallied around something you spent a good amount of energy creating.
But we think the most important reason is this – to make sure your biggest fans and your biggest critics (who can sometimes be the same people, people) feel “in on it.” These are usually either your employees, or your customers, but can also be longtime working partners and vendors, and even friends and family who have supported you along the way. They know the truth of your brand firsthand (even if they don’t call it that). They know the good and the bad and the ugly, the thick and the thin, the richer the poorer and all that jazz. So you want to make sure they don’t feel disconnected or alienated by something as seemingly harmless as a rebrand. You want these people to feel included, like they are an irreplaceable part of how you got there. Because they are.
So here’s a swell idea. Throw a party. Now this can mean different things depending on your size or style. But the intent is the same – to create a moment around your new brand. Create a moment to reflect on where you’ve been and then show where you are going, to say “isn’t this cool!” For a small business this roll out should start with your employees. For the microbusiness it starts with your friends, family, vendor partners and most of all your current customers. But however you define your inner circle, and whatever the scale of this celebration – the key ingredient is appreciation.
For The Small Business: Employee Appreciation Roll Out
An all-staff breakfast is one way to make sure everyone can attend before the work day begins (but happy hours can work if you have a smaller group). Give the team a heads up, and send out the calendar appointment a couple weeks ahead of time. Build some excitement and anticipation around the brand reveal, let them know the “why” of the gathering but don’t give anything away. Keep everything under wraps as long as you possibly can. Now, hopefully some of your employees have had some involvement in the brand development on some level leading up to this point, but we mean keep the final look and feel secret until the end. Remember, your goal is to show appreciation and to create a moment.
Roll Out Checklist
Festivity: Food, music and decorations. Themed along with your new brand is nice, too.
Speech: Short and sweet, but delivered by the leader of your small business.
Visuals: Creative documentation along with a short presentation can include a few slides or even posters on easles showing how you arrived at the new brand. This is a great way to give everyone a sense of the journey. Think inclusive, so if you have any quotes or pictures that bring the employees into that process, definitely highlight those.
Magic Moment: Unveiling the new logo, name, tagline or overall look and feel can be a really cool moment. If you have the budget or means to create a brand video (just 1 to 2 minutes) this can really bring it all to life in a way that is hard to match. Then you’ll always have it, to use it on your website or in future new business presentations after the roll out.
Logo Gift: It may seem like a small thing, but if you can give at least one small gift to each employee that captures the spirit of the new brand, a tshirt, a framed piece of desk art, a tote bag, along with a note (especially a personal note) conveying your appreciation for them as the biggest part of your brand – it can really help make the new look and feel more tangible.
For The Microbusiness: Client Appreciation Roll Out
If you are just a couple people or just one person running the show, you can take many of the ideas listed above and just adapt them to a happy hour, an open house. Or you can take it on the road and plan a week where you visit with each of your clients, sharing the new brand. A gift is nice, a bit of that “behind-the-curtain” explanation of how and why you got here is great. Don’t forget to stress how they helped you get here and don’t create an upsell feeling about it. Keep it casual and fun. If many of your clients are from different parts of the country or world, create a nice mail piece and follow up with an email and/or phone call combo. If you spent the money or time to have a brand video created, by all means, share it.
You can push out a beautiful brand, but someone’s gotta catch it.
We recently had a branding client, who after spending weeks developing a rebranded look and feel for their logo suite, sales collaterals and website with us, hadn’t yet gotten around to launching it with their team. In part, because we hadn’t pushed it, and in part because they got busy, like people and businesses tend to do.
Feeling a little frustrated with the lack of an employee launch, this client told us she felt like we had all spent this time and effort giving birth to this really beautiful baby together, and then everyone let it fall on the floor. Ouch! Since then we’ve started planning a belated internal launch together, following the same suggestions listed above.
But that description will stick with me for a long time I think. So don’t let your rebrand just roll every which way before you unroll it to the people that matter most. And don’t let this beautiful little brand you created fall on it’s head on the floor. Create that moment, give the people in your “inner circle” a chance to be part of it, let them hold it – and then roll that baby out the door.
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