Everything Creative Entrepreneurs Should Know the 1st Year
I’m so proud of you for taking the leap to (or at least considering) creative entrepreneurship! It is one of the best decisions I have ever made for myself and I fully believe you can be happy in this career path too.
The first year of any new venture is going to be a challenge. So much of what you are about to do is new, you are the only one to hold accountable, and you don’t have as much help as you may expect.
But don’t let these challenges stop you from going after your dream! I want to share everything I wish I had known for the first year of creative entrepreneurship, and hopefully this advice will help you build confidence, motivation, and success!
Focus on just one thing and be a specialist
Focus and specialization are why I am still in business nine years later. I only do one thing: pitch the media. After many years, I branched out to teach other publicists and small business owners how to pitch the media.
I always recommend trying to find one thing that you are really good at and putting all of your energy there.
As a creative entrepreneur, you are going to have to wear a lot of hats no matter what. You’re the visionary, the product, sales, marketing, account management, customer support, accounting, and so much more. So, if you think it might get boring doing just one thing, think again.
When you specialize your product or service, it’s going to make it so much easier to stand out, get bigger and better clients, work out the kinks of your operations, and push your further overall.
It’s kind of like aerodynamics. You’re trying to get from point A to point B and if you are lean and narrow, you’ll cut through to your goal a lot faster than if you are wide and catching way more resistance.
Once you are well known for that one thing you are really really really good at, it is a lot easier to branch out.
The legal stuff isn’t that hard
As a creative, I know that the “business” side of being a creative entrepreneur can feel a little (or incredibly) intimidating. But the truth is that is really is not that bad.
It takes a little bit of research and maybe a consultation with a small business attorney to understand the differences between LLCs, PLLCs, Partnerships, Sole proprietorship, S-corps, C-corps, and so on. You may need an operating agreement, terms and service language for your website, or other contracts to get started.
But once you get that information, you have it and it won’t be hard anymore. It’s just a little hump you have to get over to make things official.
Also, I’m not a lawyer and that brings me to the most important point of all: You can get help.
If you have an attorney in your family or immediate network, call them up and start asking questions. Call up a couple other lawyers in your area and set up consultations. Get a feel for who you feel like you can trust and communicate the best with, check prices, and consider these people part of your team.
You might be surprised at how quickly a person can change from intimidated by legal stuff to empowered by it. When these things are explained to you in plain language and you can trust the information, you’ll know exactly how to proceed forward.
You need a clear plan for how you will manage your money
Working for a company, you get a nice paycheck conveniently delivered to your bank account twice a month, divvy it up to pay your bills, and wait for the next reliable paycheck to come again.
It will not be that easy as a creative entrepreneur.
In addition to managing your personal expenses, you’re going to have to manage your work expenses and there is very very very little consistency.
Between having good months, bad months, clients paying and not paying, additional expenses like health insurance, and random expenses like an annual Squarespace subscription, you have to carefully manage your cash flow.
And don’t forget taxes. I have seen really talented creative entrepreneurs have to give up everything they built and go back to working as a full-time employee for someone else just because they didn’t prepare for tax time.
There are a few money management musts, like setting aside 30% for taxes every time you get paid, using a professional invoicing and bookkeeping system, and paying yourself a salary.
But aside from the essentials, it’s all going to depend on your business, personal finances, and goals.
The most important part of your business money management is having a plan. Talk to a CPA to learn what you need to do, and build a clear plan out from there.
Outsource, outsource, outsource
You know how you started your creative business because you are really good at that one thing? Well, you should spend almost all of your time doing that.
Everything else should be outsourced.
Let me explain.
The only thing I really spend my days doing is pitching the media. This is what my clients hire me for and what I get paid for, so I try my best to spend most of my focus here. Then, I outsource the rest of the things, such as writing, social media, bookkeeping, etc., to freelancers who specialize in those things.
It took me many years to get here. I would say for the first 6-7 years of business, I did everything myself. But this was a mistake because:
A lot of things were done at amateur level because it wasn’t my specialty
I couldn’t do as much for my business because I didn’t have enough time
Every minute I spent on my business instead of my clients didn’t earn me money
When I first started outsourcing, it was scary, and to be honest, I wasn’t even sure that I could afford it. And if I’m being totally honest, the first few months were bit challenging. I was paying freelancers before myself.
However, now I can say that it is well worth it. Everything I outsource is something a freelance specialist can do better than me, more is being done for my business, and I have so much more time to do the thing that actually earns me more money.
Define some healthy boundaries for yourself
Boundaries are my favorite. If I didn’t have boundaries, I wouldn’t have a life, my work wouldn’t be as good, my clients wouldn’t be as happy, and I wouldn’t be as happy.
Think about how and why good companies set boundaries with their employees such as setting office hours, giving vacation time, and having clear job descriptions. On one hand, it may look like these are in place just to make sure the employee is doing what they were hired to do, and that’s true. But on the other hand, these boundaries also give the employee a structure that separates the company from their personal life.
As a creative entrepreneur, you have none of these protections, nor are there any unions or labor laws protecting you from working conditions, customers, or clients that run all over you.
You have to protect yourself.
The magic of it is that when you do stand up for yourself, your business will be much better off.
So as you start, figure out what hours you want to be available, how much you want to be paid, what work you want to do, any other boundaries you may want to set, and the inverse of all of those too. Define your boundaries and stick to them.
You really do have the power to craft your dream job, but you have to be the one to enforce it.
Set a routine
It is so tempting to sleep in, go to a noon fitness class, wear pajamas all day, and all the other stuff you can’t do when you need to report to an office every day. I mean, come on! We’re entrepreneurs here, shouldn’t we be able to do whatever we want?
The answer is yes, but very few of the successful entrepreneurs are figuring out their day as they go.
Setting a routine is immensely helpful for so many reasons. It ensures you are spending enough time on your business, helps you meet deadlines, stay motivated, organized, and so much more.
There are a lot of little traps you can fall into without a routine. You’re going to have to deflect distractions left and right and you’ll be surprised how quick the days come to an end.
Your routine doesn’t have to be strict. Simple things like waking up at the same time every day, getting dressed, and getting out of the house can boost your entire day, every day.
The flexibility of creative entrepreneurship is wonderful, and you should use that to your heart’s delight, but just have a routine that you default to most of the time.
Do more of what is working and less of what isn’t
As a creative entrepreneur, there are too many things that you could do at any given point. What really makes the difference is what you choose what to focus on.
Right now, you’re reading this article. You could also be editing your business plan, answering emails, researching your competition, filling orders, and the list never ends.
One problem that I see all the time is creative entrepreneurs focusing on things that are clearly not working, which happens to push things that are working further down the to-do list.
I’m guilty of this too. It is so easy to get swept away with all kinds of ideas, but there isn’t always a need for them.
There used to be a time when businesses were somewhat expected to have a presence on every social media platform. So a new entrepreneur would take the time to set up, create content for, and manage a profile on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+ (RIP), Snapchat, Myspace, Flickr, and so on. But at some point, that makes the entrepreneur more of a content management company than whatever the business is supposed to do.
After a while, businesses started to realize that they could produce better content and get better results if they just pared it down to the channels that mattered most.
I have learned to take a second look at:
If I’m going to be able to do something well, and
If it has the potential to make a meaningful difference in my business.
It’s fine to experiment and be persistent but be ready to drop things as soon as you see they aren’t working.
You have better things to do.
Don’t take it too seriously
You can’t hang your entire identity on your work. You have to remember that work is just one part of who you are and if things don’t go as planned, it’s going to be okay.
Things are going to go wrong all the time. You’re going to be way more successful and happier if you can brush it off and move on.
There’s this crazy phenomenon where people want to help and be part of things that are already successful. Picture how easy it is to convince a talented worker to be an employee at a company with a founder who seems at ease compared to a founder that seems stressed out. And compare how often you buy a new product on the market because you want to support the business to just out of pity.
You want to be the creative entrepreneur that is going places, that people want to work with and support. Not pity.
Every company will face challenges, so it’s really a matter of how you approach them.
If you can learn to be confident in yourself first and navigate challenges without freaking out, people will gravitate towards you and doors will open left and right.
Don’t wait for perfect
I pretty much live by the quote “done is better than perfect”.
I would not in any way call myself a perfectionist, never have been and never will be.
But I see a lot of people waiting to launch their business until they feel like everything is perfect.
You can’t do that because it will never be perfect. You will never feel like the time is right. There are simply too many things to wait on, and frankly most of them don’t matter or will change as soon as you put them out there anyway.
You just have to start getting things out there to see how they do. Getting started is the hardest part.
Here’s the beauty of it though. You can really embrace the first year of entrepreneurship and how messy it is. The beginning of entrepreneurship is kind of like being an intern, it is expected that you won’t know how to do everything and will have a lot of questions.
As you interact with REAL customers, try things that work and don’t work, you are going to learn a ton and end up with a much better ~everything~ than if you focus on making it perfect first.
Let me give you a real example, my friend is currently pitching a new business with a presentation that is basically a digital version of a coffee shop napkin, and she is getting tons of traction, introductions, and even customers interested with this scrappy little sketch.
Sure, a professionally designed business plan is better. But if that’s the kind of thing holding her back, she wouldn’t be learning about what customers actually need to hear in the presentation in the first place.
So start now!