10 Ways I Saved My Business & My Life - Gratitude Journal #12

posted on: March 20, 2013

There are a lot of people who have never run a business, who like to speculate at how amazing, easy, and freeing it is to run your own business.  While there are definitely some amazing benefits, it's not without a lot of trial and error, setbacks, and determination that we get to that point. There is no "easy" way to success, and I think the book Outliers: The Story of Success was able to really nail how much time it takes before you can really be "successful" at anything (10,000 hours of practice according to Malcolm Gladwell- which is around five years of full time practice, overcoming failures, and striving for improvement.)

I feel like I've finally reached the "ahhh" point in my photography business after 8-9 years, which is well over 10,000 hours.  I'd already reached a mastery point with the craft of photography before I ever started a photography business- so my only real learning curve was finding my stride in my professional photography workflow and my role as small business owner.  I've always focused on making smarter decisions that allowed me to spend more time on what I love- working directly with people and documenting + sharing beauty and love.

I'll leave the light on for you

I feel like I could have reached this point much sooner had I lived in one place and stayed in the same market for five years. However, I think the experience of multiple moves and living in different regions, big cities and small towns, homogeneous and diverse communities, inflated and depressed economies, has given me a very unique set of experiences and perspectives on what it takes to start and run a successful business as a freelance artist in a variety of situations. The first two years are definitely the hardest and where most artists decide whether they are determined enough to deal with everything that comes with running a business- after that, it's about figuring out the best ways to make it all work without sacrificing quality of life and passion for our craft.  Moving & restarting my business three times means I've had six years of experience with those first two years of getting up and running in a new market, and if you couple that with 16 years of never living in the same place for more than 2 years, you could say I'm an expert on moving and starting over in a new place.

The next 10 tips are things I've learned so far that have brought me to a place in my business where I'm comfortable, happy, and living a balanced life.  By sharing them, I hope that new business owners can avoid some of the pitfalls and mistakes I had to learn the hard way.

1. Health first, Family second, Friends third, then Business.  You cannot have a successful creative business or the capacity to solve difficult problems if you don't have a basic level of happiness that comes with putting these priorities in order.  Sleep well and eat healthy.  Sleep and food are your main sources of energy.  If you aren't sleeping well or eating a healthy diet, your batteries are never fully charged, making it difficult to deal with challenges while trying to be a decent and respectable human being.  Making sure you can say yes to spending time with family and friends also forces you to optimize productivity during your work time and streamline things that drag you down.  When you have to say no to family and friends, you feel like an inhuman jerk for putting work before the important people in your life, and you begin to resent your work for taking time away from people you love, when the problem is easily solvable by putting your priorities in line.  Work will always be there.  Family and friends may not be.  Trust me on this- it makes all the difference between being able to keep on going and wanting to give everything up.  Been there, done that, recovered and got my groove back.

2. Get dressed and ready in the morning like the rest of the world.  To someone who works from home, at first, being in your PJs all day seems like a luxury, the problem arises when you never feel like leaving home because you're in your PJs and haven't showered.  Even if you've been highly productive from the moment you woke up, physically you'll still feel like a bum in need of a shower.  When you get ready each day as if you have an appointment to attend to, there's nothing to stop you from answering the door, running a last minute errand, taking time for coffee with a friend, having a video chat with a potential client, or participating in spontaneous networking events.  The luckiest people are simply ready for opportunity to knock at any minute and are willing to answer the door regardless of what's on the other side.

3. Make friends with everyone you meet, you never know who they know.  Perhaps you've heard the phrase, "your network is your net worth"?  The more people you take time to get to know and stay in touch with, the more business will naturally flow your way.  Make it a part of your schedule to go out and meet new people and to find groups of people you enjoy spending time with.  Even if you aren't doing it in person, find ways to do it online by participating in local discussion groups or starting conversation with influential people over twitter or through blog comments.

4. Automate and Outsource.  Technology has advanced to a point where there's little need to handle insignificant repetitive tasks, and if it can't be automated, you can outsource it.  If you can train someone else to do it the way you want it done, than it's a good sign that you shouldn't be doing it, and that your efforts could be more fully directed into something that you can't train anyone else to do.  For me, this meant hiring an accountant, working with a lab that fulfills orders and does packaging and album drafts, working with a designer for my blog and website, contracting office assistants and retouchers on an as-needed basis, and countless other things so I can focus on what I do best.

5.  Learn When to Say No.  Turning down opportunities or incoming business is probably one of the THE hardest things for an entrepreneur.  Unfortunately, part of living a joyful and balanced life is being able to recognize which people, jobs, or opportunities may actually be a liability to your business and a drain on your life.  You'll have to experience a few bad jobs and clients before you know the warning signs, but the sooner you can recognize what these are, the sooner you can learn to say no so that you can spend more energy focusing on the jobs and opportunities that fuel you to keep doing what you love.

6. Take time off each week and book vacations well in advance.  While it's tempting as an entrepreneur to work through your weekends or put off your vacation for another year, it is in down-time that you will develop some of your most creative ideas, solve some of your biggest problems, and regain your perspective on the larger picture.  Time off is just as important to your mental health and success as your working time.  If you schedule your time off to include things that force you to be away from your computer (movies, spa treatments, cruises, hikes, dinner with friends), you'll be less tempted to sit down and begin working on something when you're trying to "relax."

7. If you screw up, always take responsibility and find a way to make it right.  One of the hardest things about being a business owner is fearing that our business will be trashed online, and sometimes that leads to dropping our business boundaries and working 24/7, which leads to burnout and then screwing up all over the place.  Angry clients can be calmed down and eventually negotiated with, but bad reviews are usually a result of avoiding problems or poor communication, and those can live online forever.  I've made plenty of mistakes, and the biggest difference between the result being positive or negative has all been in how I handled the errors and made them right.

8. Difficult problems are better solved in person or over video chat.  Attempting to resolve problems and miscommunication over email often leads to more problems and misunderstandings.  So many creative people get too used to working over email that they forget how powerful the human voice and facial expressions are for creating understanding in communication- not to mention it allows a simultaneous conversation, which can significantly speed up project completion and profitability.

9. Know your Exit Strategy.  Can your business exist without you?  Can you live without your business?  What if you're temporarily disabled even after you've committed to year-long projects- what is your backup plan?  What happens to your outstanding contracts and clients if you're in a coma? If you know your exit strategy for your business, than you'll know how to structure it in a way that will support your post-work goals in life.

10. Never Stop Learning & Experimenting.  The moment you think you know it all is the moment you've become extinct and irrelevant.  There is always something new to learn and the very process of learning something new helps to boost creativity and problem solving skills.  Staying in touch with what's new will keep you relevant and in the flow that brings abundance to your door.

I'm grateful that I've come to a point where I can share these thoughts with you.  I'm grateful that I've gone through the challenges of figuring out what does and doesn't work for me, and that I've seen how it's possible to overcome obstacles, to recover from failures, and to find ways to create more happiness in work and life.  My wish is that by sharing these, you will also have the strength and courage to find ways to create more happiness in your own life- whether you work for yourself or for someone else.  If you ever want my help in figuring out how to make your situation better, sign up for a free workshop with me.  I love helping others create a more fulfilling life.

Happy Spring Equinox to all the Northern Hemisphere folks!  Happy Autumn Equinox for those in the Southern Hemisphere! ;-)

{If you appreciated this post, please join me in my journey to have a greater positive impact on the world by writing your own gratitude journal and sharing it or a link to it in the comments below. I would love to read your moments of gratitude and share them with others!}

6 comments, to add [click here]:

  1. Thanks for sharing your insights! I just recently decided to take the plunge into my own business land and I can already see so much of what you talked about in the beginning. If you want success then it is no walk in the park that is for sure!I means it is really a lot of hard work but at the same time still fun. There are lots of things you talk about that I have not yet considered such as exit strategy. Thanks again!

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  2. Love it! Well almost all of it, I take exception to getting dressed every morning like the rest of the world. I get some of my best work done in my pj's. Lol!

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  3. Scott - remind me to tell you about the time a future client lead knocked on my door at home and I thought they were a package delivery. Awwwwwkward.

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  4. Hi Anne!
    I just signed up for NetworkedBlogs and started following you. I am in the beginning phases of starting a wedding planning company so this post really hits home for me. I know it is important to get up and get dressed for people who work from home but no one has put it the way you have here so thank you for that. I loved reading this post and will most definitely take some life lessons from your hard-learned ones! I just thought you should know that you've touched someone with your words. It looks like you're in the Boston area. I'd love to meet you and grab a coffee or something sometime!

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  5. Leanne - thank you SO much for taking a moment to share that!! It means a lot to me - and yes, I'm totally up for coffee! Drop me a line!

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  6. Fantastic advice!

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