What I Learned in my First Year of Running a Creative Business
I couldn't tell you where the last year has gone, it's honestly been such a blur. An endless stream of highs, lows, learning curves and wonder. Honestly, I had no idea this would take off like it did! There have been times when I thought I couldn't do it all, times when I thought I wasn't enough, times when I thought I was failing, and times when I had to pinch myself that this was my reality - I was actually successful! All in all, it's been a whirlwind, and I learned some pretty important life lessons that I want to share with you.
Mindfulness has changed me for the better
I've never been one for woo. By woo, I mean the belief in higher things, manifestation and energy. My wonderful family are a very realist bunch and I was brought up accordingly. I'm an atheist, always have been, and whilst I respect other's beliefs in higher powers, I've always thought it masochistic to put your failures and successes down to someone or something else's plan for you. Then I started running a business on my own, and I swiftly realised how comforting it is to feel like something else has your back for you.
Don't get me wrong, I'm still not religious, but I've flipped a full 180 spiritually. Meditation, holistic exercise such as yoga and the belief in manifestation have enabled me to see more opportunities, and in turn have brought me more success. Stay tuned for an entire post on that in a couple of weeks - I'll be sharing exactly what I do and how it benefits business!
Keep a journal for the highs and the lows
Gratitude had never really played a part in how I view life until I started running my own business. Luckily, there were only a couple of lows and an incredible amount of highs, but when you're responsible for your own success (as we all are) even the smallest of hits can feel like a bullet. I keep gratitude journals to look back on when the anxiety monster creeps up on me, and I even keep note of the shittier times so I can remind myself how I dealt with it - you never know when it may come in handy.
You save a shit load of money on make-up
Be prepared to only wear about 3% of your wardrobe. I almost exclusively live in yoga pants and hoodies nowadays, with my hair sitting high in a messy bun and skin make-up free. As a self-professed homebody I am in my element not leaving the house for a week straight, and thank my lucky stars that my total babe clients don't care if we hop on a Skype call and I'm in one of Rob's shirts with last nights hair.
I haven't had to renew a make-up product in about 8 months. It's awesome.
Plan your months in advance
When I started out and only had a couple of clients I wouldn't really need to plan that much. I'd wake up, check Asana and do the work. As my client roster has grown, so has my planning strategy! I need to have an idea of where each client is in their retainer with me at the start of each month to determine the possible workload that might come my way. For example, if 10 clients have 10 hours remaining on their retainers, I know the likelihood is I'll be working a minimum of 100 hours. In reality, I'll take one another one or two clients that month on top of those 10, some will use up all their hours and buy more, some will be launching a product so will use triple their usual hours and some won't use any.
When December became a 250 hour month (including a week off for Christmas) it forced me to re-evaluate my current system, and you can read all about that in my How I'm Planning 2017 blog post!
Price increases are mandatory
This is something I didn't consider when I started out, but soon realised was essential for growth. The more work I took on, tools I used and tasks I carried out, the more streamlined and easy each project became. This meant that something that may have taken me 10 hours a year ago now takes me 2.5 hours. I didn't foresee this, and so around October 2016 I realised I was doing double or even triple the work for the same money; I was burning out. Price increases enabled me to onboard less often, be paid more for a better service and have just a little extra me-time pre 10pm.
I'm better at this thenI think I am.
Around 80% of the amazing women I've worked with were referred to me by a past or present client or acquaintance. This means that even in my lowest hour when that imposter syndrome creeps in for a booty call, I have to remember that my success manifests more success. It's a big self-fulfilling prophecy that if you think you suck, other people will too. It's in how you carry yourself and your self-esteem. When I take a step back from whatever shitty situation I feel like I'm in and take a second to reflect on what my life is like, it reminds me that there is no way I'd be where I am if I didn't kick ass at what I do. I make creative, amazing women's lives easier. I teach them things they didn't know they could do, and give them a heart that cares about their business just as much as they do and in turn, I get to work with even more incredible people and businesses.
The reality checks
Have back-ups in place for worst case scenarios
Before byLucinda I had always worked a PAYE job; that essentially means I had always worked a job with a set pay date each month. Although I've been earning far more than I ever did in a 'normal' job in the last year, the pay dates are pretty sporadic. You could have 5 invoices clear in one week, nothing for 2 weeks, 3 invoices clear the next week and then have nothing at all for a month. Depending on if you bill as you go or work on a retainer basis, have a buffer bank account where you store emergency rent money just in case.
Consider everything in your contract
There have been a few learning curves for me over the past year, and no more so than in how and what I stipulate in my contract; having 'constant contact' as a USP soon bit me in the ass when I'd be getting DM'd at 11pm, deadlines set on Sundays and having single retainers stretching over 6 months at a time with months between correspondence. I'm still updating it every month or so as things arise that I realise I need to nip in the bud!
I'm making more money than I ever thought I would, yet I'm still always broke - what?
I've always been shit with money, I'm just gonna say it. 18-year-old me was positively ecstatic with credit and I'm still literally paying for her mistakes even at 24. This made being a broke-ass student even more difficult and it's not that much different now! It has been said that I don't know what my own 'means' are and I don't doubt that, I just like nice things okay! And whilst I'm pretty sweet with money now, old habits die hard and more often than not I've bought too many pretty things too quickly on impulse and before I know it, I'm scrambling until my next invoice again.
Don't get me wrong, I've paid off a butt tonne of debt and the end is in sight, but don't figure like I did that it just takes one big break and you'll be debt free and summering in Barbados. For one, I barely have time for a weekend on my sofa let-a-lone a summer in Barbados, for two I'm still a magpie with eyes bigger than her wallet. It's a process, I'm getting better at it, but I still suck at it just a little bit.
Say goodbye to evenings
It's very easy to tell yourself you'll shut down your laptop at 5pm sharp and not open it again until 9am the next morning, but in reality when you're swamped you're likely to go up a prescription lens strength for all the screen time you endure. Trust me, that actually happened. The phrase 'there aren't enough hours in the day' take an all too real meaning when you run your own business. I've taken the step to take work-free weekends and I'm doing okay at that, but there are days when I'm at my computer for 7am and don't come up for air until 9.30 that night else I simply won't be able to cram all of my to-dos in to a single working day.
"But Luci, don't you plan out your weeks in advance so this doesn't happen?"
Yes I do, and curb that sass! Some weeks are 30 hour weeks, and some weeks are 60 hour weeks and them's just the breaks. And to tell you the truth, the hustle makes the days off just so much more enjoyable.
As a designer, it's unlikely you'll ever be happy with your own brand
...She says, as she finishes up her FOURTH REBRAND IN ONE YEAR. Good grief. It's both a blessing and a curse, being of a creative influence. There are constantly new design trends you are excited to try, but that in turn means you frequently want to turn your own brand on it's head to 'express yourself more accurately'.
I'm telling myself a year is nothing in the grand scheme of everything. I don't need to know it all yet, and with all the learning and growing I've done in the last year it's no wonder my tastes have changed. This brand that you see before you today is the one I feel most at peace with. It isn't one to attract my dream client, it isn't one to be in-line with what my market competitors are doing, I mean shit - it isn't even that SEO friendly (yep, I said it). But it's a brand that reflects who I am and what people can expect when they choose to work with me. My goal is for it to evoke feelings of freedom, possibility and zen, and that's exactly how I felt when I finally nailed it down.
Ultimately, it's unlikely life will ever calm down, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
No guidance, no one to cover your late shift, no Christmas bonus, no sick days or paid holiday. All the stress, all the missed lunch breaks, all the back ache from hunching over a computer, all the spare time you don't have.
No boss telling you what to do, no feeling undervalued for your skill and expertise, no workplace politics. All of the creative freedom, all of the time with your family and loved ones, all of the incredible people to inspire you day in and day out, and all of the days you *accidentally* sleep in until 9am without a slap on the wrist from the higher ups.
It's a crazy beast, this self-employed nonsense, and that's why anyone you ask will tell you they love it. Every day is different, every day is fulfilling and ultimately, you never stop learning - and there isn't much better than that if you ask me.