Start with the magic
There's a lot of chat about the 'hustle'. This idea that you need to slog away, work every hour that god sends and take on whatever work you're lucky enough to have offered to you, at whatever price, because you're 'building a business'. There's a certain glorification around this that makes me uneasy. Because hustling is not fun, it's not sustainable and it's not good for business.
I'm not suggesting for one moment that you don't need to work hard to create a successful business. You do. But there's a difference between loving what you do and working from a place of inspiration, confidence and respect; and hustling your way through every project, fighting for every piece of work that comes your way and needing to prove yourself at every interaction. Having run businesses at both ends of the spectrum, I get it, I really do.
When you're hustling, it's hard to see the wood for the trees. You know you're good at what you do, and some of your clients recognise that. They are the ones who are a joy to do business with. Projects are easy. You feel safe and secure and because of this, you have the confidence to push the boundaries and produce your best work.
Then there are the clients who don't really get it. Who know they need to tick (delete as appropriate) flowers/ website/ logo/ leaflet/ office design/ kitchen design/ photography/ video - whatever, off their list and just need someone convenient. The problem is, even though you have some rapport and you've started work, they don't really trust you. They start micromanaging you. They start checking in more often than you'd like. And no matter how hard you try, you're not really certain that you can make them happy.
Perhaps the work goes through without a hitch. But you sense that they didn't really get it. You don't get that satisfying gush of emotion from an utterly delighted client, which can have quite an effect on your inspiration. Or perhaps you're stuck in that frustrating cycle of not really being able to meet the brief, trying out numerous options because 'I'll know it when I see it'.
Working with clients who don't see the value in what you bring is frustrating. But more than that. It means that you never, ever realise the potential within your business. It's like working with the blinkers on.
Marketing feels like hard work, so you start to scrabble around for answers instead of trusting your instincts. Perhaps relying heavily on 'proven systems and strategies' that involve complicated sales funnels, aggressive squeeze pages and a whole heap of unpalatable approaches that undermine your professionalism and your skill.
You attract more clients who don't see the value in what you do and because of that, you constantly have to drop your price. And so it goes on. A vicious circle that's seemingly impossible to stop.
You feel like you're running just to stand still. You take on more of the wrong projects with more of the wrong sort of clients who continue to damage your confidence and your vision. Business is tough, it's not a great place to be.
If this sounds like I'm speaking from painful experience, it's because I am. I was in exactly this place just before I launched my design agency in 2008. We were running a print company with a design offering on the side and struggling to communicate what made us brilliant.
I thought that was just how it was. I thought that running a business needed to be a hustle. That chasing down every single enquiry, taking a battering on price and dealing with tricky clients was part of the deal.
A better way of doing business
When we launched the design agency, I wanted things to be different. And so I drafted in experts to help me get our positioning right. This incredible woman, Bronwyn, looked at our portfolio and could see in an instant the projects we were passionate about, the work where we stood head and shoulders above the competition. And the work that we were doing because we thought we should. It was at that point I realised.
No one else was going to 'get it' until we did. We needed to stop being all things to all people. We needed to start thinking about what we wanted. The work that we should uniquely win over our competitors. We needed to start valuing the brilliant things we uniquely offered and let go of trying to do everything.
We needed to find our magic. We needed to celebrate what we did better than anyone else and showcase just that. When I sold that business four years later we were picking up work from all around the world on the strength of our portfolio. That doesn't sound that groundbreaking now, but in 2012, before the widespread use of Pinterest and Instagram it was incredible.
Work was a joy. The business was flying and the team and I loved what we did.
After my sabbatical I created a brand new business on my terms.I now run a business that continually inspires me, that plays to my strengths, stretches me, creates wonderful opportunities and makes work a joy. The hustle is a distant memory. That's why I'm so passionate about empowering other creatives to do the same. Because I know that there is a better way of doing business.
And it's starts with knowing what your magic is.
Start with the magic
If you run a creative business, that means taking a good, hard look at your creative style. It means being brave, editing your portfolio and curating your work. It means celebrating the work that is distinctively you and making it easy for your ideal clients to pick you.
It means cutting down on the enquiries you get from people who don't 'get it' and opening the doors to the ones who do. It means hearing less from the people who think you're too expensive or don't have the budget for your work and setting out your terms for how you want to do business.
In short, it means running your business on your terms. That has to be a better way of doing business, doesn't it?