Friday, 9 March 2018
It was the summer of 2006 when I made the decision to wind down my work as a freelance sign writer, and spend more time on my art. It had long been a dream of mine to work as an artist and taking the plunge was an exciting and scary moment. Looking back now, I can see just how naive and uneducated I was on the whole business side of things though. Yes, I could paint and draw, it was my passion (it still is) but I was an utter novice in those early days when it came to the deeper aspects of earning money and keeping a creative business rolling along.
There's also the emotional side of running a business that I knew nothing about, it's not just about making pictures and selling them - believe me, when you set up a business you literally invest not only your money, but your heart and soul into it.
So today, I'm sharing a few things that have helped me grow my business over the years, and how to navigate the soulful side of working for yourself - the emotional side is a really big part of it and I was completely unprepared for the solitude/loneliness element of working as an artist from home. I had come from working as a sign writer, where I travelled up and down the country working with lots of people for several weeks at a time on contracts. It was hard work and a very transient existence in some respects as we were always on the road, but there was always company and familiar faces so you never felt isolated.
One thing I've discovered over the years is that it is super important to keep yourself connected with other people if you work by yourself. I have days where the solitude is blissful, and truly enjoy my own company - other times, I suffer from cabin fever and feel desperately lonely and isolated.
Making plans to meet friends for coffee, or spending quality time with family is absolutely essential when you're a solopreneur. I've also learnt that if I recognise those negative feelings creeping in, a phone call to my sister or partner, or a natter online with a couple of good friends can help to shift that, and I feel more connected again. If nobody is about and I feel this way, I'll go for a walk for half an hour or so, just to clear my head. And sometimes I go to a coffee shop with a notebook and pen, and enjoy the buzz of being around others while dreaming up new ideas, or emptying my brain of all the fog.
You have to be disciplined and this isn't always easy if you feel tired, you've got the kids off school or the house needs a tidy. There's no boss to tell you what to do, as that would be you - yep, you're the boss, sounds cool doesn't it? But it comes with responsibilities - you have to take charge and do things, you're only answerable to yourself after all, and if you don't do it, it won't get done. For me, discipline is the thing that keeps my ship afloat, if I don't show up and do what needs to be done each day, my business flails.
You're also going to have times that feel scary and out of your depth - this is usually indicative of a time to grow and expand, yet moving into change can feel really frightening when we've been used to doing things a certain way. Habit is comfortable and safe right? But in order to grow as a person and as a biz, you need to find the confidence to step up and say "I can do this!"
I've got myself an emotional support kit that I've created over the years which helps me to feel better equipped when life chucks things at me like this. Yoga and meditation are a huge help (and I try and do this every day). Cultivating a daily self care practice has become essential, for years I have unconsciously put myself last (as I feel many women naturally do) and focused on my family, but I've learnt that time looking after me actually gives me more energy to navigate all the ups and downs in life.
Walking, exercise and journaling are good tools to clear the mind, there's nothing like an hour in the woods on a brisk walk, or ten minutes thrashing everything out on paper to clear the head.
And if, after all this, there is still a feeling of being scared or stuck?
Ask for help, or learn how to do what it is you need to do to get to where you need to be.
It's no use pretending you know what you're doing if you don't, you're just going to wind up going around in circles getting nowhere if you do that - so don't be too proud to say, you know what? I don't know how to do this, I need some help. There are a gazillion websites, mentors, books and resources that you can utilise now, you just need to find someone who you click with and whose teaching resonates with you.
I am learning new things every day, and that helps me to enrich my life and grow my business too. It's a win-win. We're never too old to learn something new, and the beauty of the internet is that there is so much information at our fingertips, you couldn't pick a better time to start a business with all the incredible resources that are now available.
Here are a few really good websites that have, and continue to help me and business thrive:
The Girls Mean Business
The Creative Business Network
Dare to Grow
The other side of the coin to all of this of course, are the good feelings: the excitement of creating your art, the delight of making your first sale, getting a painting accepted into an exhibition, of earning money from doing what you love. It can feel euphoric and wild and utterly wonderful and the best bit about it is, is that you engineered that yourself. You did it.
Satisfaction from creating a product, marketing it, and finding customers who love what you do and who buy from you is something that still feels amazing to me now, after working for myself for 18 years. It spurs me on, my self belief blossoms and it gives me the confidence to continue.
Every achievement, no matter how big or small is all down to things you learnt and implemented. When you overcome the tough parts and realise a dream, hit the jackpot, make the sale, meet the goal - that was you. Give yourself a high five for that, give yourself a high five anyway, just for showing up and deciding to make a go of it each day. That takes courage, willpower and dedication. It's a rollercoaster ride working for yourself, but my goodness, it's worth every minute.