I started my business “officially” – that is, licensed and reporting income – in June 2017. That means my five year anniversary is coming up! But I really consider my more earnest beginnings in 2019, when I started taking business classes and applying those principles. Things really took off and since then I’ve been a business-building fiend!
Do I regret my first two years where I kind of puttered along (and my income did as well)? Absolutely not. First of all, there’s simply nothing wrong with a microbusiness, a side hustle, a slow business, a little “pin money” (as this was once so condescendingly referred to), a business that exists mostly to fund a beloved hobby or practice.
Second of all – let me repeat myself: there’s nothing wrong with a microbusiness, side hustle, slow business, or a business that exists to fund our beloved hobby or practice.
However, it’s been wonderful to start earning the kind of income that makes a big difference in my life, my family’s life, and the life of my community. I could have been earning a lot more sooner if I’d known the things I’m listing below – and, more importantly, I could have avoided some heartaches as well. And these principles are about small business, sure – but they’re also about the specifics of being a Creative. Creative entrepreneurs are small businesses like any other small business – but there are a few things that make us a bit special.
So here’s what I wish I’d known:
1. I deserve to be treated with respect.
About two weeks ago I had a would-be client speak disrespectfully to me – they were upset I wouldn’t work for 45% of my rate – and as unpleasant as this was, it threw into sharp relief that almost all my interactions are respectful. People honor my time and my expertise. This isn’t an accident – this is due to my strategy, hard-work, education and smarts (and of course – some privilege including white privilege, and a bit of luck – these are factors as well).
“Disrespect” isn’t as simple as obvious boorish, rude behavior. It can be a client missing the meeting, or “accidentally” forgetting to pay the invoice, or trying to scope-creep after terms have been set. It can be social media followers who – having never laid down a dime on your counter – are quick to criticize your latest drop. Disrespect may manifest as people who want your time or products – but who don’t slow down enough to read your Policies. Saddest of all, many times – especially for those of us who’ve been marginalized, overlooked or abused – we don’t see disrespect even when it’s right in front of us. This is a huge topic – too much for this post – so I will merely say this: therapists, mentors, accountability partners and/or a book study or two, can help a great deal.
And please – if you come to find you were tolerating disrespect in the past, don’t beat yourself up too much. Didn’t they beat you up enough already? Hold your head up, and move forward. You’ll one day be able to help others get stronger, too.
2. I can disregard competitors almost entirely.
In one sense I have loads of competitors – either companies making garments, or programs/coaches who teach business skillsets. In another sense, I have zero competition. I’m the only Me. I’m the only person with this brilliant, fiery, passionate mind and the skills and experience to live your business for you – and breathe life into it, like I can.
It’s good to take a peek at competitors – why not? Sometimes you learn something new, but more relevantly some of those competitors are people you can make relationships with. Unfortunately a lot of people have suspicious minds, a scarcity mindset, and a lot of bitterness (because running a small business is difficult)! So when you find that would-be competitor who joyfully supports you and accepts your support in kind – that’s a wonderful, beautiful thing!
3. I can always, always follow my inspiration. To the ends of the earth!
I wish I’d never spent one moment trying to think of what was “marketable”, what would sell. The truth is I need to follow my artistic whims, and then tell people what I’m offering – and how to partner with me. Trying to think of what will sell, and then trying to make it, is the tail wagging the dog.There’s certainly a place for that kind of business model, but for a Creative trying to be “marketable” while following your bliss, usually mixes like oil and water.
I do what I love. Always.
4. My reputation is my most valuable marketing asset.
Life comes at you fast but If I ever lose my reputation – DANGER! DANGER! WILL ROBINSON! (How’s that for an old reference?) So whenever it comes to a choice between my reputation and a quick buck, or a shortcut – I’m going to pick my reputation every time. This can often feel like incredibly slow growth – skipping the affiliate codes, the corporate sponsorship, the easy money from a vulnerable client – but in looking back on these short years I am still here, I’m paying my way, and I’m feeling good about my body of work and the way I treat other people.
5. (BUT!) Most businesses need more than word of mouth to keep going.
For a while I thought my impeccable reputation was all I needed to get a steady stream of clients. Well, yes and no. My custom clothing business just needs a little time in social media and email – things I already love doing. And that work has been enough to keep me in sustained, renewable income. My (newer) business of mentoring and of teaching a course, takes more focussed work and hustle.
This is due to a few reasons, which I will touch on briefly: first, everyone wears clothes (yes everybody), and everyone can simply see how amazing my fashion is when I post and write about it. My work sells itself the way a photo of a delicious, steamy slice of pizza does the same job! In contrast – for my course and mentorship – well only a small percentage of people run a small business, a smaller percentage run a Creative business, a smaller percentage still want to run an ethical business – and a very teeny tiny number of those people realize how essential it is to have help! So I’m really trying to get clients from a very small sliver of the population!
This means I either need to spend more money or time – or both – to reach enough potential clients to fill my schedule. I can wait for “organic reach” to get me there (which is what I’ve been doing) – but it’s slower going.
All this to say for those of you reading here: expect slow growth unless you really are ready to kick it in the pants a bit.
6. Shady behaviors are ugly and risky – and they diminish our work.
You know what stuff I mean. Talking shit about other brands, trying to sabotage competitors, weaponizing social media followers, negging your customer base. Shady behaviors are what we do when we’re desperate. Ultimately we believe that for us to win, someone else has to lose. If we allow ourselves to behave that way, we’re going to end up stomping all over people more vulnerable, more marginalized. That’s just a fact.
What do I have to be desperate about? I know I’m hot stuff. My job is to clearly communicate what I do, and how you can partner with me. There’s a bit more to marketing than that, but that’s the gist. Once I started seeing marketing that way, I stopped worrying about my Instagram follower count, I stopped obsessing on how well (or poorly) other people were doing – that kind of thing. (You don’t really know how other brands are doing anyway – no matter how posh or sunshiney their socials feed looks!)
7. I don’t have to do that job or work with that person. No, really.
I don’t have an Achilies’ heel, I have many of them – weaknesses that cost me money, waste my time, or derail me from my greater purpose (my greater purpose being like, stitching horney werewolf patches for my own amusement). ONE of my weaknesses, is saying Yes to people I have an icky feeling about. I am getting better at this, but it’s still a growth area. What I can tell you is: I know for a fact I can be more selective. In the early days of my business, I said Yes to everything. And that wasn’t all bad – it grew my skillset quickly. In fact, saying Yes to everything is a great way to kick yourself in the ass – just be ready to back up your promises!
These days though, I know I can say No. I hate saying No because I hate disappointing people. But this is one of those Suck It Up, Buttercup moments. Because sometimes No is the absolute, right, bestest and most kind thing you can do!
8. Business-building provides a confidence money can’t buy.
I’ve quite a few accomplishments under my belt – education, awards, and most importantly those personal triumphs that may mean little to others but mean everything to me (here are some).
Looking back over these last five years I never once – in a billion years – realized how much confidence and joy it would bring me to build a business from scratch. I didn’t start building my artrepreneurship to make money, I built it to fit with my family and my wild Creative drive. Now as Bespoke Hogaboom has bloomed into something strong and empowering, I realize I’ve done something very few people can do. This doesn’t make me better than those who don’t try, or those who fail. But it does make me realize I’m a lot stronger than I realized.
Or to put into crass parlance: you can’t tell me shit. Life humbles us with all kinds of gut-punches, mediocrities and failures – and I’ll be experiencing those again soon – but this accomplishment is something no one can take from me. It’s mine.
Wherever this post finds you, I don’t want to be corny but I do want to say you really can invest in yourself. If you do, you’ll look back and realize you never should have listened to some of those bozos.
Trust me on this.
Interested in hearing more about my WHOLE ENCHILADA course? I send out emails on Mondays, gearing up for the spring and summer sessions. You can sign up for those here.