thriving creative entrepreneur creative business growth

My heart SANK. I’ve worked so hard to build up a 5 star rating and regular customers with my design work. Over 800 raving reviews and $5000 in revenue per month – GONE overnight!

What now?

Things can change in a blink of an eye (that certainly seems to be the anthem for 2020, doesn’t it?). The way we respond to this question of ‘what now?’ can be the difference between a full blown identity crisis on panic mode or an opportunity for major growth.

I know, I know, it can be hard to see the latter option when you’re absolutely freaking out in the moment…but know that you do have choice. And it’s up to you to steer the ship in the right direction.

So how do we do that? How does one go from survival mode or just cruising by to having a THRIVING creative business?

Here are 7 things that, in the past 5 years of being a full-time creative entrepreneur, have helped me re-calibrate more than once and set me on the path to growth.

Let’s dive in!

1. Hit Pause & Evaluate. Let’s take a step back and grab a mental snapshot of where you’re at right now. Revisit the goals you have for yourself. What’s working for you or getting you closer to achieving those goals? What’s not working?

When the pandemic hit, I took time out to evaluate where things were at. My income from design work had completely tanked because businesses were more cautious of their spending. Alrighty, THAT’S not working right now. What is? I noticed that our Essetino Artists YouTube channel was suddenly getting way more engagement – more viewers were saying how they loved our tutorials for creative entrepreneurs. So, I saw what was working and doubled down on it by switching from releasing 1 video per day on the channel to 3 videos a day. I also paid attention to the topics that were doing well and created more videos on that. The result was a 100% increase in views and revenue.

Evaluating where you’re at and where you want to go is like revisiting your inner compass to make sure you’re on the right path. With this clarity, it’s easier to make decisions that will contribute to your goals. Without this clarity, it’s easy to get lost.

2. Set Up Multiple Sources of Income. The days of having one source of stable income are over. Diversification IS the new stability, especially if you are selling from a platform that you don’t have full control over. After my design work income had plummeted, I was able to bounce back quickly because I had already built an audience on YouTube to sustain me in other ways.

If you sell your linocut prints on Etsy, why not list those same prints in other creative markets? Or convert your prints to digital form and have these printed on apparel or household products? Or create a YouTube channel to showcase your journey or how you make these lincout prints (building an audience of future customers)?

There are so many ways to monetize your talents and it can be done in a way that doesn’t spread you too thin either.

3. Create Leverage. I like to be efficient with my time. I like knowing that if I work on one thing, that one thing will have a positive ripple effect into multiple areas of my creative business. That’s why I love using YouTube as my main marketing hub because by filming and uploading one video, I can provide value to others, connect with people from around the world in a way that words or an image cannot do; I can market my brand and earn revenue doing what I love. Plus that one video will work for me in perpetuity because it will continue to be found in the search engines for as long as YouTube exists.

One action. Multiple benefits. Massive leverage.

Ask yourself: What’s one thing I can focus on right now that will create leverage for me? It helps to first list out what you’re wanting to achieve (see point #1 above) so that you can work backwards to figure out what will render multiple benefits at once.

4. Acknowledge & Share Your Wins. What’s something great that happened to you this past week? What is something you’re proud of accomplishing? Every win counts, no matter how small. Is it a great review from a customer? A new collaboration on the horizon? Or maybe you finally completed that project you’ve been putting off for a while.

Once you’ve identified a win, share your win with others on social media. This one action has two delicious purposes: It forces YOU to acknowledge what’s going right and to celebrate your progress to date, plus it inspires OTHERS when they see you succeeding and increases their belief in you. When you increase someone’s belief in you, it’s easier for them to become a fan, a follower and a customer. It’s an entire domino effect that feeds into you building a community around your creative talents. Don’t do this once either, do it often!

5. Focus on Income Producing Activities. How often do you advertise your product or service? How often do you follow up with someone after they’ve expressed interest in your work? If you answered not that often or if your mind went numb after reading the word ‘advertise’….then you may not be spending enough time on income producing activities (or IPAs).

IPAs are the tasks that directly lead to us making money. It may sound like commonsense to work on these, but the truth is we have SO many things competing for our attention every second that it’s pretty easy to feel like we’re progressing, when in fact we’re really just spinning our wheels being busy.

So what are some more examples of income producing activities?

  • Asking current or past clients for referrals
  • Sending out a proposal to a prospective client
  • Emailing your community about a promotion
  • Responding to an inquiry about your product or service
  • Doing a livestream to showcase your offering

Notice how these are all tasks that are directly linked to a sale. Posting on Instagram or updating the About page on your website are both important tasks, but they aren’t IPAs. Make an effort to have at least 1-3 IPAs on your to-do list every day and see what happens.

6. Implement a Thriving Routine. Over the years (and ESPECIALLY this year), I’ve come to learn that crafting a routine around when & how you show up to work on your creative business plays a massive role in its success.

Think about this: A routine may consist of a set of habits. These habits govern our behavior, and our behavior influences our environment. So if we want to change something in our environment (i.e. sell more, build a fan base, make an impact, have more fun), then it helps to look at how we can change our routine to elicit more of what we want.

If you want more time to create, carve out 2 hours in your week to focus entirely on your next creative project. If you want to make more sales, then take what you’ve learned from point #5 above and add income producing activities to your daily routine. If you want to increase your productivity in the second half of your day, then implement an afternoon walk or cardio workout as reset before you getting back to work.

Know what you’re going to do, at what time and for how long. The whole idea here is that you’re scheduling the activities that are important to you intentionally into your calendar so that you’re not just reacting to whatever comes your way.

“This is your world. Shape it or someone else will.”

— Gary Lew

7. Prioritize Learning. When you invest your time and/or money on learning a new skill, you’re investing in becoming a better version of yourself.

What skill can you learn that would move you closer to your goals? What is something you’ve been wanting to learn but have been putting off? This can be a business skill, a creative skill or a personal one – anything that you believe will bring you one step closer to that THRIVING version of you.

For me, I’ve invested a TON of time and money over the past decade in improving myself. I invested in becoming a better coach so I could help more clients launch their creative careers on YouTube. I bought a Photoshop course to expand my knowledge in graphic design, and I also hired a personal trainer so that I could feel energized throughout the day and continue to show up as my best self.

Never stop being a student in the academy of life – the more you grow, the more your business will grow too!

So what now?

Well, just like I faced that question a few years ago when I lost $5000 in monthly revenue from my design work (and again when the pandemic hit), I bet you’ll face this question many times too. When you do, you’ll be at your own crossroads.

It’s okay to fall off. Just know that, in that moment, you always have the opportunity to dust yourself off and come back stronger than ever before.