Today, I’m gonna get personal.
I don’t want to share only the polished, filtered version of being a creative business owner, because it’s anything but. My team, my husband, my mom … heck, I will be the first to tell you I constantly mess up!
Here, I want to share with you what my business has worked through these past 33ish months, so you can see some of the decisions I’ve made along the way … and how un-highlight reel worthy they are!
What it boils down to is this: having a teachable spirit has been integral as I’ve grown. I constantly have to tell myself I don’t know everything, and that there’s something to learn from it.
If you ever have looked at any of Marie Forleo’s programs, she kicks them off saying that whenever you have a moment of thinking “I already know this,” that’s your signal to turn that thought around, because maybe you can learn something.
I love that.
Pretend we’re hanging out over matcha lattes (I’ve never had one, but every time I see one online I remember I want to try one … ) and YOWZA, I’m just going to serve up straight and open-book style mistakes I’ve made along the way.
This should be fun, wink.
(You’ll see how one thing I did involved saying YES to waaay too many coffee dates—don’t head out without your free copy swipe template for requesting and turning down coffee dates!)
1. I didn’t believe I needed to niche at first.
I remember where I was driving down Piedmont Drive in Atlanta listening to a podcast right before I left my corporate job to work for myself.
“The riches are in the niches,” the guest was saying. “You need to only work for a specific type of person … ”
[womp womp womp … insert Charlie Brown voice]
I rolled my eyes—pssh. I was prepping to head out on my own and had several different kinds of clients, what did he know?
I had full-wedding suite calligraphy clients, chalkboard clients, inquiries from Atlanta-area venues asking me to come teach calligraphy, content marketing work for Princess Cruises and about.com on the docket, editorial work for magazines in line, and blog ghostwriting for a couple of corporations on the books …
Seriously. What did this chump know?
A lot, it turns out. I’ve talked about it on multiple podcasts—and in the video!—but the more I honed in on a specific audience, the more money I made.
After about four months, I started saying no to anything that wasn’t copywriting for creatives OR full-suite wedding invitations for Southern brides.
My message and copy got super tight and clear, and I started growing quickly.
2. I didn’t pay myself regularly until my second year in business.
(And yes, living like this caused all the marriage arguments you’re thinking it might have.)
My business was profitable (see mistake #1!), but I HOARDED like crazy—I was terrified it would all disappear, so I just … didn’t pay myself.
Week after week, I figured it’d all come crashing down, so I paid myself pretty much whenever my husband Wes would pipe up that um, me quitting my corporate job and *not* paying myself wasn’t part of this arrangement.
I had no idea what a weekly—heck, what a monthly—paycheck looked like, so I just didn’t pay myself (and definitely didn’t tithe or give anything).
It isn’t until I worked with my friend Shanna Skidmore, when Wes and I worked with her one-on-one to walk through the Blueprint Model, that I understood how to set our numbers. I understood FINALLY how much I needed to bring home to cover our expenses (and even save for our dreams, like the lakehouse we want to have one day when we’re older with kiddos!), give, and grow a business.
2018 was the first year I was able to pay myself every week without freaking out a bit, because I know exactly how our numbers work.
Bonus: I actually ended up learning how I could take on LESS clients and still make more. Until then, I’d just said yes to everything (see #3!).
Check out the Blueprint Model + Market Sustainably Track for my freebies on the topic, and get your FREE guide to 7 ways to get financially set below!
3. I said yes to so many collaborations I shouldn’t have—summits, clients even when I didn’t have the room, speaking for free—because I thought I needed/I wanted the exposure.
Seeing my time as my most valuable resource took a while.
Over the months, I realized that time I was giving to grow someone else’s platform (even if it was a great, fab opportunity!) was time I DIDN’T get to put into my own business.
This meant I was working myself into the ground, constantly putting my own business last, and never treating myself as a worthy client … I even had a name for it, “cobbler’s children syndrome” because the cobbler’s children have no shoes—neither did my business.
I didn’t believe I was worthy of playing big, and kept thinking I needed ONE more feather in my cap before I was “legit.”
Protect your time. Protect your energy. Make your yes worth the less. Quit something.
But to roll off that point …
4. I’ve bought into the lie that “all you need to do to establish yourself as an expert is say you’re one.” I don’t actually believe that.
… a lot of people in the entrepreneurial space were saying “all you need to do to establish yourself as an expert is SAY you’re an expert and teach on that topic” when I started my business.
I bought into at first.
You know what?
When I actually pause, I don’t think that’s truthful.
What makes you an expert is getting multiple clients data-driven results ***NOT JUST YOURSELF***, having the years of experience, and THEN I think you can say it.
My goal for you is three-fold here.
First, I want you to remember it’s okay to grow slow. It’s OKAY to book slowly, learn your craft well, and raise your rates over time. It’s okay to shadow, and to apprentice a craft before you’re the expert. So many times I feel like we think if you’re not big timing, then you’re not worthy.
Secondly, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE AN EDUCATOR. There’s a lie that to be profitable or mega-profitable, you have to go from your craft to teaching it. LIE. Straight up lie. If anything, I think that makes us miss the mark that we may be really good at B2C.
Finally, be careful who you learn from.
“Fake freelance gurus are everywhere in the freelance industry, and they’re dangerous,” Sharon Hurley Hall wrote in this great article.
A lot of people teach how they built their business, or regurgitate what they’ve seen others do. I hate that. I don’t want to learn from that. Give me the teacher who, sure, did it, but then also turns around and shows multiple people how to do it.
5. I started my business without a professional contract.
Ummmm … yeah.
I did that.
All it took was one client getting away with cancelling her client spot and leaving me high-and-dry without income that month to realize without a solid agreement, this thing was rigged—and NOT in my favor!
You need to get firm contracts, terms and conditions agreements, privacy policies, and e-course curriculum trademarks in place sooner than you think.
The legal brains behind my business, my friend Christina, has The Contract Shop—a one-stop-shop for creatives who need attorney-approved agreements to put in place.
Trust me: you need to cover your bootie. Immediately.
6. I thought courses were only for a certain time in business.
False. They’re not.
There’s this concept that you “outgrow” courses or online training programs, and I believe that’s incorrect.
I still buy online educational courses, but we just buy more specific ones—targeted trainings I need to learn or my team needs to learn.
ALSO … I had to tough love realize that if I’m having a hard time getting through courses or education, MAYBE I AM THE COMMON DENOMINATOR.
Today, I make sure that when I invest in something, I have a plan of attack to make back the investment, cover the costs, and get what I need out of the program to be profitable.
Need more guidance there? Check out this YouTube video where I talk about how to get the most out of online educational programs.
7. I’ve let others get to me—and walk over me.
Not too long ago (Okay fine, 3 months ago), I sat in the middle of a circle while my mastermind sisters spoke truths into me about me needing to step into my own genius and quit worrying about building others businesses constantly.
What I realized is that my inaction is fear-based: if I think someone will catch up or pass me, instead of just leaning more into who I am, I freeze and decide I’m less-than (and then book something else to get past it!).
Part of this has been learning I need to put blockers in place.
Having someone manage my inbox so I don’t see mean comments
Having a teammate review Facebook ad comments, just in case something negative comes up during a launch
Unfollowing and unsubscribing—doesn’t mean I don’t support them! I just need to protect my creativity.
This last year, my right-hand girl Kate constantly has to tell me not “to be Oprah.”
You see, I have two speeds: “I’m busy and focused and don’t interrupt my vibe” and “YOU GET A CAR, YOU GET A CAR!”
Here, something that’s helped me is having a relationship with a legal team on hand. Being able to ask a lawyer, “hey. This was brought to my attention and looks like my work/this person is using my trademark” has been the absolute best peace of mind.
Because I don’t have to handle it anymore. They’re the judge. They take my emotions out of it, look at the law, decide, and move on.
Again, see #5. Lock up things with an attorney for peace of mind. Protect your work.
8. I’ve been slow to hand off work—or thought that I wasn’t “big girl” enough to hire any help.
Okay, I talk more about this in this blog post, but I DEFINITELY thought I had to reach a certain status level before I could get someone to help in my inbox or whatever.
To me, it was bougie and I was just peanuts.
But what I realized is that my inbox—even with my systems in place—was drowning me from the work that only I could do.
9. Thinking I have to do coffee chats because “that’s how you grow”
Whoa baby. So I’ve talked about this before in this blog post and video, but early on, I was a networking machine.
From meet-ups to Rising Tide Society events to coffee chats across town to constant Skype dates—my first couple of months in business felt “productive” because I was constantly chit-chatting and making connections.
While I DO think some of that was needed (grassroots marketing is so important!), I also considered networking as “working.”
When in fact, I don’t always think it is.
Want the full scoop on my thoughts there? Read “How I Deal (& Don’t Deal) with Coffee Dates: 11 Ways to Set Healthy Networking Boundaries.”
10. I’ve had to work through guilt about making money.
I hesitated saying that, but the more I learn about business, the more I see that God’s just gifted some people to sell.
To be talented at a craft that people happen to want to pay for.
To see patterns & strategy in commerce.
Hear my heart on this. It’s okay for you to want to make money as a business owner.
And sure, money’s a HUGE root of evil, but money is also a neutral construct … instead, it’s what we *spend* it on as stewards that trips us up.
We’re the ones that screw it up.
“As long as I’m doing things ethically, I think I have a moral obligation [as a businessman] to make as much money as I can. Why? So I can then GIVE as much as I possibly can.” –@MichaelHyatt
So, I’ve had to learn to work through money and understand that money magnifies our character. If we’re jerks, it makes us more of a jerk. But if we’re generous, it makes us more generous.
And there you have it.
YIKES! That definitely “went there,” huh?
I never want you to think that I have it all figured out—I don’t, and like I said, I mess up a lot. But, I see it as an opportunity to pull back the curtain, tell you how I’ve failed, and grow into my own advice right alongside you.
What do you think? What are some mistakes you’ve made, and lessons you’ve learned the hard way?