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If there’s one thing I’ve learned since becoming a coach it’s that people are scared. They’re scared to make a mistake. They’re scared to take a step toward the unknown. They’re scared to walk away from their current reality even if it’s not something that brings them joy. And I get it. Taking risks is scary. Because sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you want it to–that’s what makes it risky–but sometimes it does. 

When I left corporate, guess what? I was scared too. 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 and not an easy decision. If this sounds familiar and you’re feeling trapped by a corporate 9-5 that moonlights as a funeral for your creative dreams, I’m here to tell you that it is possible to make a living as a creative entrepreneur.

From my experience, I’ve found there are four key areas of focus when building your creative venture. The first area of focus is to thoroughly sketch out your business idea and the impact it will have on your day-to-day. This is the planning phase, so really think through the journey as you 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? 

Consider your expenses and necessary savings so you are not stressed about money during the building phase. You want 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. Don’t wing it and hope for the best. Know what you are doing, why you are doing it, and what you can expect based on your action plan. Because 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 plan and design a business that shows off your creativity but also aligns with who you are and your motivations. You want to be clear on what you are doing, why it matters to YOU, and why anyone else should care enough to pay you for it. 

Getting into an empowering mindset is critical at this stage because everything is new and unknown. You don’t have a benchmark for your progress and you’re more likely to be influenced at this stage by what you think–or what others think–you should be doing. Truth be told, there are many different approaches and opinions on what you need to do when building a business and any number of things you could focus on at the early stages. 

What I recommend to my clients is to be rock solid on who they want to be as creative business owners and how they envision their creative venture will bring their ideas to life. If you’re on the brink of a creative venture, it’s important to dig into your idea and establish a mindset that completely supports the business proposition, generates excitement about the opportunity before you, and builds confidence in your ability to pull it off.  In short, build a mindset and a foundation that has you financially, mentally and emotionally prepared for what’s to come.

Once you have sketched out your business idea, the next step is figuring out what you’re selling and to whom. You need an enticing product or service tailored to meet a specific need in the market in order to attract customers and make money. The easiest way to come up with something aligned with your creativity that other people will pay for is to conduct market research. You want to discover what products or services are already available that are similar to your own and figure out how you’re going to strategically differentiate what you do from existing competitors. 

To do this, you need to have a pretty good 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. Being creative is definitely an edge at this stage because you’ll want to pull on your right brain thinking to establish something that differentiates you from your competitors and meets the needs of your ideal customer at the right price to fill a gap in the existing marketplace. Leverage your creativity and come up with something memorable for your customers…whether it’s a different product or service they haven’t experienced before or the way you market and brand your idea. Do something creative to honour who you are and grab the attention of your target audience. This leads us to marketing and sales… 

Marketing and sales are all about building on what you’re selling and clearly identifying how you’re going to put it out there. Branding, messaging, customer relations and service, PR, advertising, awareness and engagement… These are some of the aspects that relate to your marketing and sales activities and will need to be considered as you establish how you’ll attract customers and how you’ll interact with them once they enter your sales process.

In the early stages of launching your business, 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 covet your product or service. Think about how you want your business to look, how it sounds, and what kinds of feelings or emotions you want your business to be associated with. Also think about what kind 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.

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A fantastic (and free) tool to support your marketing and communications efforts is social media. It’s a powerful communication tool because 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. My recommendation is to 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 like a human being, not like a marketing bot. When used purposefully, social media platforms are a great way to engage with your customers and share with them who you are and what you do. 

Notice I didn’t suggest ‘sell to them’ or ‘use your social media as a sales channel’. Sure, it’s a great avenue to meet potential customers, and yes, you’ll likely make sales because of what you do on social. But use social media to talk to others and have authentic conversations so you can build relationships and reinforce connections with your business, your brand, and your product or service. In my opinion, the objective of your social media content should not be to close a sale. Rather, the goal is to cultivate connections and provide information about your product or service to generate interest and let them where to find you once they are ready to purchase. Be sure to include links to where you ‘live’ online so they can purchase what they’ve learned about–and decided they want–by following you on social. 

This is often referred to as building your Know, Like & Trust because your customers start to KNOW your name and 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.

As your business starts to make sales and grow, you’ll want to consider the best way for you to grow and scale alongside it. 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 appropriately 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.

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The other piece to investigate at this point is who or what can help you get there faster, easier and better. Not everything needs (or should) be completed by you in order to be done right, and automated systems can streamline activities to help you run your business more efficiently.

When it comes to people, hire those that can help you take care of the tasks you don’t need to do yourself so you are free to focus on other things that will grow your business and expand your profits. This can be in the form of interns, contractors, part-time or full-time employees. Assess what type of support will allow you to build your business in alignment with the growth you are currently experiencing and desire for your business. 

And when the inevitable thought around cost creeps into your mind and you start to wonder 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. Choose wisely.

The last piece I want to touch on is how to take care of yourself throughout this entire journey you’re embarking on. 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. 

There will be long days but there should also be a reward for your efforts. Be sure to remember that if you falter, so does your business. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture, and why you decided to do this in the first place. You’re in control. Build a business you want to be part of. Making money as a creative entrepreneur takes work. It pulls on your passion, your energy and your determination. But when it’s built around your why and doing something you never thought you could or living in a way you never thought you would, the hard work hits differently.

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