If you’re wondering whether you can survive leaving your corporate 9-5 and make money as a creative entrepreneur, the answer is yes. But you need more than a great idea. You need structure and support to help you reach your goals.
Take me for example. I took the expected route. Got my degrees, got a job, and climbed the corporate ladder. And to be honest, I wouldn’t change my career trajectory because it gave me valuable knowledge and experience that I leverage in my business.
When I left corporate, it was scary. The regular paycheques stopped, the team I depended on was reduced to just me, and the unknown was enormous. I knew I wanted to start my own business, but there were no guarantees that it was going to work or that anyone would hire me. It was a big risk, but it was a risk I was willing to take because my alternative was equally as scary in a totally different way.
I understand that it’s not a simple decision to make and is one that deserves a lot of attention, but it is possible to make a living as a creative entrepreneur. You need more than a good idea. You need a plan.
Sketch Your Business
Start by sketching your business. Think through the transition from employee to entrepreneur. What do you need to do to make sure you are ready to make the shift?
Are you financially prepared?
Are you mentally prepared?
Are you emotionally prepared?
Put a plan in place that at the very least covers your expenses and some savings so you are not stressed about money during the building phase. You want to be able to approach your new business from a place of empowerment, not fear, so prepare yourself and your bank account before you fully transition.
Once you have a plan in place for how you’ll support your living expenses, dig into your business idea so you are crystal clear on what you want to do and can articulate it to anyone who asks. And yes, you need a plan for this too. Do not wing it and hope for the best. Know what you are doing, why you are doing it, and what results or outcomes others can expect from working with you. If you can’t say with confidence what you do and why anyone should pay you for it, quite simply, no one will.
The key here is to build a business that applies your ingenuity and honours your creativity but also aligns with who you are and why you are on a mission to bring this particular idea to life. You want to be clear on what you are doing, why it matters to you, and why anyone else should care enough to pay for it.
Your mindset is critical at this stage because everything is unknown. You are also more likely to be influenced at this stage, so be really clear on who you are and what you want with your business. Create a foundational mindset that completely supports your business idea, generates excitement about the opportunity before you and builds confidence in your ability to pull it off. In short, build a foundation that has you financially, mentally, and emotionally prepared for what’s to come.
Service & Product Offering
Once you have sketched out your business idea, the next step is figuring out what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to. You need to offer an enticing product or service tailored to meet a specific need in the market in order to attract customers and make sales. Conduct market research to see what similar products or services are already out there, and figure out how you’re going to strategically differentiate yourself from existing competitors.
To do this, you need to have a solid idea of who your target customer is and what problem your product or service is going to solve for them. You’ll also need to know what they already have access to, and what they are willing to pay for it. Really pull on your right brain creativity to establish innovative differentiators that will meet your ideal client’s needs at the right price and fill a gap in the existing marketplace.
Sales & Marketing Strategy
Once you’ve determined what you’re selling, it’s time to identify how you’re going to put it out there.
A strong brand aesthetic with clear messaging is key to building awareness with your ideal customers. Focus on the look and feel of your business, your brand voice, and your sales model so your ideal customers crave and covet your product or service.
Think about how you want your business to look, how you want it to sound, and what kinds of feelings or emotions you want your business to arouse.
Also think about what kinds of conversations you want to have with your customers, and what kinds of conversations you want them to have with each other when you’re not around.
Then create your marketing and communications strategies accordingly.
Social media is a powerful communication tool for businesses. It makes it easy to connect and speak with your ideal customers and gives you a direct path to start building relationships with them based on your social media content. I recommend you figure out where your ideal customer spends most of their time online and go there.
Intentionally build relationships and create genuine connections by talking to them person-to-person, not as a marketing tool. When used purposefully, social media platforms are great channels to engage with your customers and share with them who you are and what you do, while also learning from them who they are and what they want.
You may have noticed that I didn’t suggest you ‘sell to them there.’ Rather, leverage social platforms to have authentic conversations and build relationships with your ideal customers in a way that reinforces a connection with your business, your brand, and what you are selling. This is often referred to as building your ‘know, like & trust factor’ because your customers start to recognize your name or your brand, they like what you do and how you show up, and they trust that you’re able to give them what they want based on interactions you’ve had with them in the past.
If you’ve done the work on your ideal customer and the existing market landscape, your offer is well suited to them because you understand how you can help your customers differently than what is currently available. You’ve taken the time to build a compelling brand that speaks to your ideal customers and a sales model that works for them. Essentially, you’ve made it easy for them to buy from you.
And as your business starts to make sales and grow, it’s important for you to grow alongside it. It’s time to think about scaling your business. Yes, you started it all on your own, and have very likely invested much of yourself into it, but you don’t have to continue that way forever. And in fact, you likely can’t. Knowing how to scale your business will maintain the momentum you’ve created and set it up for greater success without draining the creativity that brought you there in the first place.
Think about where your business is going long-term and how you’re going to get there. Get out of the weeds so you’re not bogged down with the smaller tasks of running the business when you’re trying to establish the bigger picture. Set some goals and ask yourself how you’re going to achieve them. Knowing where you want to go makes it much easier to set a game plan to get there. So, take your goals and break them down into milestones and bite-sized tactics.
The other piece to seriously consider at this point is how can you get there faster, easier and better. Not everything needs (or should) be done by you in order to be done right.
Hire people to help, whether they are interns, contractors, or staff, and delegate the tasks you don’t need to do so you are free to focus on the things that will grow your business and expand your profits. You can also use automated systems to help you streamline activities and run your business more efficiently. And when you inevitably start to worry about how much this is going to cost, counteract the thought with ‘how much is it going to cost if I don’t…?’ There is a cost to every choice you make, so choose wisely.
And a bonus…Self-care
One final consideration that wraps around all of this is to take care of yourself throughout the entire process. Without you, your business doesn’t exist, especially in the early stages. Make sure you listen to your body and your brain and take breaks when you need them. It is hard to do this when you are the driver, the passenger, and everything in between, but it’s so important to your personal health and the overall health and success of the business. Yes, there will be long days but there should also be a reward for your efforts. Be sure to remember that if you burnout, it’s highly likely that your business will too. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture, and why you decided to do this in the first place. You are in control of your business, so build something great that you want to be part of.
Making money as a creative entrepreneur takes work. But when it’s centered around doing something you never thought you could and living a way you never thought you would, the hard work just hits different.