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My 10 Best Tips for Anyone Just Starting Their Creative Business

April 16, 2021

My 10 best tips for anyone just starting their creative business

I often get emails and DMs from other artists that are just starting their creative journey.  Those messages are usually asking for guidance or advice on things that will jump start their businesses.  And while I have no problem answering specific questions and I am happy to help, I often find their questions very overarching where the answers are anything but simple or quick. While I can't spend hours walking through my business setup and all that I do, I do want to offer some guidance on areas that I wish I would have known when I was first starting out. It is on that note that I have written these 10 tips for anyone who is just starting out in their creative business. So if your goal is to move beyond the hobbyist phase and into a legitimate creative business, this is for you.

 

  1. CONSISTENCY – PUT IN THE WORK AND KEEP SHOWING UP

This logic applies to a lot of different things in your creative business.  If you are painter, paint every work day.  If you are trying to grow your audience on Instagram, then show up there every day.  If you are growing your Email audience, email them once a week.  You get the idea.

I hear from a lot of people that are just starting out and they often ask what tips I have for them.  And to be blunt, this (consistency) is the best tip.  It is not shiny or glamourous or gives fast results, but it does give the best long-lasting results.

To put it another way, when I first began the AOA business, there were quite a number of people in the marketplace that were doing the same thing as me. But now over half of them are gone and have shut down shop.  Now I don’t know what led to their specific situations, but the point that I am trying to make is that during all of this, I just kept showing up whether I felt like it or not.  You can’t dabble in your business and expect the same results as someone who is putting in the hours day in and day out.

 

  1. HAVE AN ARTISTIC STYLE THAT IS UNIQUE TO YOU

I see too many other artists that just follow what everyone else is doing.  It is boring, frustrating and monotonous. Don’t do that.  Differentiate yourself.  Ask yourself – why should someone buy from you versus someone else? You will know that you are successful in this area when a potential customer can look at your work and know that it is your brand without ever seeing a logo. That’s the goal.

And as a side note, I purposely do not follow very many embroidery artists.  Mostly because I don’t want their creative journey to inadvertently inspire or affect my creative journey.  With the handful of other embroidery artists that I do follow, it is usually because their style is so drastically different from my own and I have been lucky to become friends with a few of them.

 

  1. FIND INSPIRATION AWAY FROM YOUR ARTISTIC MEDIUM

This kind of goes hand in hand with #2.  We are all creative souls.  And creative souls often need time away from their art in order to refresh and renew and get back to basics.  For me, a day in nature, color and real life florals will always bring such inspiration to my creative practice.  Notice that I did not say other embroidery artists.

 

  1. TAKE GOOD PHOTOS

Invest the time to learn how to do this or hire a photographer.  I keep things simple and use an iPhone and natural lighting. I do not rely on filters because I need my customers to see the precise colors of what I am creating.  Practice, Practice, Practice.

 

  1. DON’T BE AFRAID TO MAKE MISTAKES

Mistakes are the best way to learn.  I make mistakes all the time. But I quickly learned that it is all about perspective.  I don’t expect perfection with everything that I do.  Instead, I have the attitude of “well, let’s see what happens when I try this.”  Best case scenario - Some of my best mistakes have actually led to great new ideas.  For example, a stitch gone wrong is what led me to create an entirely new textured stitch technique that I LOVE and use all the time today.  Worst case scenario – I ask myself “What can I learn from this mistake? What will I do differently next time?”

 

  1. BABY STEPS & STRETCH GOALS

When you are just starting out, it is tempting to feel like you have to do ALL THE THINGS RIGHT NOW.  That is a very overwhelming feeling. And spoiler alert, that overwhelming feeling doesn’t go away the further you get into your business because there are always more things to be done.  So my strategy for tackling the overwhelm is this - Each quarter I have 1 big goal for my business.  And each week I spend at least 1 hour pursuing that goal.  Over a month/quarter/year, that effort really adds up to some pretty cool things that have moved the needle in my business.  Another helpful technique is to say “What are the Top 3 things that I can do today that get me closer to my goal?”

 

  1. STOP COMPARING

Do not compare my middle (or anyone else’s) to your beginning.  We all have started somewhere. And there is no such thing as an overnight success.  In this day and age of social media, it is hard to not fall into the comparison trap. I get it.  So I always recommend that you put blinders on for your first year of business.  You know what you need to do; so focus on that and remove the distractions.  Stop comparing yourself to what everyone else is doing because it is not serving you well and moving your forward in your own business.

 

  1. BE A PROBLEM SOLVER

The life of an entrepreneur is that of a problem solver.  So you better get comfortable being uncomfortable. Don’t know Google analytics, learn it.  Don’t know the first thing about building your own website, start researching best practices, platforms, etc.  You are going to be faced with obstacles every day.  That statement is not meant to deter you, but instead to tell you like it is in a matter of fact way. Running a successful business means that you have to figure out solutions all the time.  Some solutions are obvious (hire an accountant to handle your taxes) and some are more complicated (dealing with chargebacks and difficult customers).  Be okay with that feeling of not having all the answers, but trusting that you know how to get them.  And don’t overanalyze.  Make a decision, see what works, and change course if you need to. BONUS TIP: This is where being part of a creative community/mastermind/collective can be incredibly helpful because other people are also figuring this stuff out too.  No sense in reinventing the wheel.

 

  1. GET YOUR OWN WEBSITE

I don’t know if it is because my background is in ecommerce or I have just seen so much change since the early days of social media and Etsy, but I feel very passionate about this subject.  Don’t build your business solely on a platform that you have absolutely no control over.  You need to eventually have your own stand-alone website. 

  • It is one thing to start selling on Etsy or Instagram to test your product. I have no problem with that and think it is a great idea.  BUT just know that things can change quickly on those platforms and you are giving control and permission to those platforms to use your images as THEY see fit.  Example - Etsy will often use my images from 5 years ago to drive traffic to the same companies that is now selling counterfeits of my work.  Not cool.  And don’t even get me started on algorithms and all the mandatory marketing fees.
  • Having your own website gives your business more control over your customers’ experience, while also providing a level of legitimacy in the marketplace. Plus with analytics, you get really great insight as to what is helping your business as well areas that you need to improve upon.

There is so much to dive into on this topic that it almost deserves its own post. For now, I will just say that having your own website should be a goal that you are actively working towards.

 

  1. KNOW YOUR NUMBERS

I’m saving the most important point for last.  Whether it is operating costs, your hours of work, cost of materials, or analytics, KNOW YOUR NUMBERS!  I really can’t stress this enough.  Knowing your numbers will help ensure that you are fairly compensated for your time/art/experience, it will help you run a debt free company and it will help you decide what is/is not working and when to pivot vs stay the course.  If you are just starting out, here are the main numbers that I would suggest that you quickly focus on and start tracking:

  • Your budget – money coming in (income) as well as money going out (expenses). And don’t forget those taxes and marketplace fees. 
  • Google analytics – If you are running your business on your own independent site or even Etsy, get Google analytics installed. This will allow you to track traffic, seasonality, and see which products are doing the best.
  • Your time – This is a little tricky in the beginning.  But knowing how much time you spend on marketing, product development, customer service, packaging and shipping will help you make sure that not only are you putting your time into areas with the highest ROI, but also that you are being fairly compensated for that time.  If you earn $10 on a product that you spent 20 hours creating, then you are only making 50 cents an hour.  Might be time to rethink your pricing strategy.

 

 

To wrap things up... some of this list may resonate with you deeply.  Other parts of it, maybe not so much.  And that is okay. My suggestion is that you take what helps YOU move forward in YOUR business and leave the rest.

Leave me a comment letting me know if this post was helpful in any way.  I don't write a lot business-themed posts.  So if you want more, your comment will let me know that you found it to be helpful.


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