In August 2017, I took the leap and turned my side hustle into my full-time job. It was exhilarating, but once I got started I realized that being a solo entrepreneur can also be isolating and scary. You’re responsible for everything, and while there’s freedom in that, there’s also a never-ending to-do list and constant low-grade money panic.
That said, it’s totally worth it. In the past year I have grown tremendously not just as a business owner, but as an artist, a wife, and a person. I’ve pushed myself farther than I thought I could go, and learned to trust that no matter what happens, I will always find a way to land on my feet.
Below I’ve shared the top 6 tips I’ve learned this year to help keep me sane and grow my business. If you’re thinking of making the leap (or maybe you already have!) this post is for you.
1. What is Your Mission Statement?
My first month as a self-employed artist was very hard. Although I’d been in business for a year at that point, I needed to grow quickly in order to support myself. It all just seemed so overwhelming – how was I going to get everything done?
I had a call with an entrepreneur friend of mine, and she gave me advice that has guided me ever since. She told me that my business has to be bigger than myself. It can’t just be that I need to make money, or it’s never going to work. It needs to be tied to my core values as a person, and have a larger goal that impacts the world around me.
She gave me an assignment, which I now pass on to you:
– Think about your personal values. What do you think is important in life? What do you want to be known for? If you could only be one thing in life—whether it was successful, honest, loyal, whatever—what would it be?
– How are you impacting the world around you with your business? How is your approach different? Why does your business matter?
– How are your personal values reflected in your business?
– And finally, put it all together. What is your mission statement for your business?
My mission statement is to build community through art and workshops. It’s tied to my core values of community, helping people, and being a resource for others, as well as my passion for teaching and creativity. It’s at the beginning of every bio, introduction, and elevator pitch because it’s so important.
It also helps guide me when I’m making decisions about how to spend my time. I’m capable of doing a lot of things, but it’s not realistic to think that I can do everything. By thinking about my overarching vision, I can make prioritize projects and initiatives that are in line with how I want to be perceived by my clients.
2. Build Your Board of Advisors
Being out on your own means that you have complete freedom to make choices for yourself and your business. It’s very liberating. And, if you’re anything like me, terrifying. I think out loud, and I need people to bounce ideas off of and brainstorm with. Over the past year I’ve spent a lot of time finding my people and putting together a team of advisors that I trust to work with me on different aspects of my business.
I have my graphic designer friend who is great at thinking through design challenges, my calligraphy friend who helps me with price quotes, my teacher friend who is a sounding board for lesson planning, and my family who knows me well enough to know when I’m not being true to myself. Each person has a different perspective, and I use it as a counter balance to my own point of view. That said, there’s a difference between getting advice and leading your business by committee. At the end of the day, it’s your baby, and you’re the one responsible for making strategic decisions.
Which leads me to…
3. No One Knows Your Business Like You Do
By Danielle Rothman
Now that you’re getting a lot of advice, it’s up to you to filter out the noise. When I say I’m a modern calligrapher, the first thing people usually think of is weddings. Now I love a good wedding, but that’s actually a very small part of what I do. My business focuses on workshops and thoughtful gifts since that’s what I’m most passionate about. In the beginning, it took me a while to realize that a lot of the advice I was getting from the people around me, while coming from a helpful place, was aligned with their perception of my business instead of my goals and capabilities.
I spent a lot of time trying different things that ultimately didn’t work for me. What I learned is that it’s my job to take advice and filter it through my lens of what I want to accomplish. Yes, I could totally make custom address stamps for wedding invitations, but does that serve my larger goal of helping people explore their creativity? Only you can answer those types of questions. You’ve got to trust yourself.
4. Know When (and How) to Ask for Help
By Danielle Rothman
Asking for help and being vulnerable are a show of strength, not weakness. We all need help, especially as we’re going through the process of getting to know ourselves as business owners. One thing I’ve learned is that there is a better way to do it. Sometimes I can get down on myself when I’m trying to work through an issue, and by the time I ask for help I’m feeling completely defeated. Even in those moments, it’s important to come from a position of strength. You’re not the expert in everything, but you are the expert in your business. Below is a framework I’ve developed for asking for help:
– Be very specific. Are you looking for someone to proofread an email? Give the client perspective on a new product idea? Help you structure a blog post? Be clear about what you’d like them to do.
– Provide context around what you think isn’t working. Are you concerned about your tone? That your new initiative won’t appeal to your target audience? That you’re not highlighting what’s important? It’s likely that the other person isn’t as attuned to the nuances of what you’re working on, so cluing them into what you’re worried about will help them give you constructive feedback.
– Thank the other person for their help and let them know that you value their advice, even if you don’t end up taking it. As I said before, only you know what’s best for you and your business. Even if you go in a different direction, it’s important for people who take the time to help you to feel valued.
5. Give Yourself the Gift of Time
I thought that going full time meant I’d have more time to do things, but it often feels like less! There’s a never-ending list of things to do, from emails and outreach to bookkeeping and website maintenance, not to mention actually doing the work that I’m being hired to do. I’ve learned to give myself grace when things don’t happen according to my ideal timeline.
New initiatives always take three times longer to get started than I anticipated, whether because of client work that takes priority, or needing more time to pilot and refine my ideas before launch. I’m a perfectionist, and it often feels like I need to work every minute to justify being out on my own. Does that sound familiar? I like to say that if entrepreneurs thought that good was good enough, we wouldn’t have bothered to go to work for ourselves.
But I’ve had to learn that it’s ok to take a day off, or take a walk when I need to clear my head on a Tuesday afternoon. More doesn’t mean better when it comes to my time. A few months ago I started scheduling my Instagram posts so that I wouldn’t have to spend so many hours each day putting together the perfect post, and I take off at least one day every weekend to hang with my husband. It’s baby steps, but it’s helped a lot.
Another thing no one prepares you for is what happens when your hobby becomes your business? My answer lately has been to find a new hobby! I recently learned embroidery and started integrating lettering into my pieces. Taking the time for myself to be creative in a different way can be really refreshing. You don’t have to work every minute to be successful, it’s just not sustainable and will hurt both you and your business.
6. Stop Stopping Yourself
By Danielle Rothman
This has been my motto for the year and it’s served me really well. I started doing art less than 3 years ago, and now I’m a full-time artist. I had told myself for many years that I couldn’t draw, so I never tried. This year I resolved to tell that voice in my head that says “you can’t do that” to just shut up.
And I’ve been rewarded with new skills like botanical line drawing, watercolor painting, embroidery, the list goes on. It’s the same with your business: your only limit is you. So apply for that grant, reach out to your dream company about collaborating, offer that new product, take on the project that scares you. You’ll be surprised what you can do when you give yourself the chance.
Danielle Rothman is a modern calligrapher who builds community through art and workshops. Her business Rothbyrns Creative specializes in personalization and thoughtful gifts, creating inspiring one-of-a-kind journals, custom commissions, and digital designs for logos and graphics. Follow her on IG @rothbyrnscreative.