4 Steps to Kickstart Your Creative Career

Last week, Syl of Via Calligraphy & I sat down with a glass of red wine together (/on the internet) and taught a free webinar called Business Is The New Black, where we summarized the 4 key steps that we each took to propel our creative businesses to success. Afterwards we did a Live Q&A that was so packed full of some of our best advice ever, we decided to keep the recording and replay it for you guys here. If you’re unable to watch the video, or if you’re more of a reader than a watcher, I’ve put together a little summary of it for you here!

In the beginning of the webinar, we talk a bit about who we are and how our career trajectories have been very similar - we are both artists at heart, and have both gone through periods of being very unhappy and "stuck" when working jobs that didn't inspire us, or allow us to be creative. We've both taken non-traditional paths and have made unconventional choices (for example, we have both dropped out of college - I actually did that twice, haha). Over the past several years, we've discovered that in this day and age, it is actually easier than ever to go against what we were raised to believe a "successful/stable career path" looks like, and create out own careers while breaking down the "starving artist" stereotype.

The rest of the webinar is primarily about the 4 main steps that we've both taken in order to go from having a creative hobby to successful creative business. Those steps are:

Step 1 - Define the Heart of Your Business.

This is all about figuring out your core values, so you can begin to stand out as a brand and not just another commodity. Having clear & defined values helps to set the tone of your business and how you use your voice. Another element of defining the heart of your business is to focus on a niche. We touch on the saying “if you’re everything to everyone, then you're nothing to no one”. Which basically means that if your marketing is too general, it just won’t resonate. You need to carve out your niche in a way that makes your business easy to understand at a glance.

Lastly, we talk about the importance of making your competition into your community. Some of the best relationships that we've both had within the context of business have been with ladies in our exact same position. Our services overlap, our products overlap and we serve the same market. But we work as a team to talk shop and figure out how to grow together, we bounce ideas off one another, and we even refer each other for work when we can!

Step 2 - Make Money Moves

Obviously we love what we do, but at the end of the day, we all need to pay our bills and money is just as important as creative freedom! So, we have a whole section on how to be as smart as possible about your finances as a business. First up, we discuss the concept of creating a Pricing Structure instead of charging by the hour. It’s great to have a number in mind that you are aiming to make per hour, and there are certain situations in which charging hourly makes sense. However, it is best to have a set of flat fees in place that are based on a mix of your hourly rate, your business expenses, your education, skill, expertise, and experience. Once you’re at a certain level - all of your experience, skill, and practice will allow you to work much faster than you did when you first started. So if after 5 years of experience in your field, you’re able to do a job better and faster, it doesn’t really make sense to be making less money, does it?

Next, we talk about planning out your profit for the year and then breaking it down month by month. There is a time and a place for “winging it” - and your profit plan is not one of them! It’s super important to set a financial goal for the year, and then work backwards from that number to create realistic, actionable steps towards achieving it. You should regularly check in with yourself to see how you’re doing. Your profit plan has to be specific, and include each and every income stream you will be using to achieve your goals.

Finally, we touch on how to diversify your income. To avoid the financial stress that comes with the "feast & famine" nature of working for yourself, it is essential to diversify your income by establishing multiple income streams. This way, you’re not relying too much on any one client or type of project, and have the flexibility to say No to projects that don’t align with your brand. Diversifying doesn’t mean diluting your focus, though - it’s more about taking your niche and finding ways to package into new income streams. This way, you’re not adding services or products that are outside of your expertise, you’re expanding your income potential by diversifying your offerings.

Step 3 - Get Your Sh*t Together

This section of the webinar is all about making sure that you have your business set up to onboard clients, work through projects with them and take payments in a streamlined fashion. Having a clear set of systems in place will save you time, reduce your stress and simplify life for both you and your clients. Using a Client Management Program is essential, so you can set up your systems and keep them running practically on autopilot - from that first inquiry all the way through to your final invoice. (I use HoneyBook which means I get to give you a free trial and 50% off) Each project should follow a formula - usually something like this: Receive Inquiry - Send Quote - Book client using a contract & taking a 50% deposit - Complete work - Balance Payment due upon completion.

Similar to your systems, you should have a defined set of policies in place, and they should be clearly indicated to your clients. Most of my own policies are based on past experiences and situations that I don’t want to repeat. Your policies are totally up to you, and are there to enforce your boundaries & preserve your mental health, but also ensure a good relationship with your client. It’s much easier to maintain a respectful, positive relationship when you are clear and professional about your policies from the very beginning.

Step 4 - Market Your Magic

This part of the webinar is Syl's bread & butter, since by day she is actually a Digital Marketing Specialist! First, she talks about the importance of optimizing your Instagram. Instagram can be stressful when we focus on it in a negative or self-critical way. It's actually an incredible marketing tool when used mindfully and with intention. When we are not being mindful about how we use Instagram, it is easy to look at how our posts are performing and get discouraged. But you can actually make many little tweaks to your marketing on IG to stand out, show more of who you are as a person and not just what you do as a business, and get people to want to buy from YOU.

A huge part of any successful marketing plan is the ability to create original content and stand out in a saturated market. Are you constantly looking for ideas from other creators and trying to stay on top of every hashtag project and trend? If you’re looking for trends and copying what’s already out there, it's important to remember that what is a success for someone else, might not be a success for you. People on Instagram now have such a low tolerance for BS and can spot authenticity so easily, it’s time to prioritize doing things that are true to you and aligned with your values and your voice.

Lastly - and this is a big huge important one - we talk about SEO. We’re often asked how we find our clients, and to be honest without sounding too full of ourselves, we don’t find our clients - they find us! And the way they’re finding us is through Google. We spend time regularly making sure our SEO (or Search Engine Optimization) is up to speed. Marketing on social media is a great start, but clients who work for major corporations and brands are not really sifting through Instagram during their office hours to find vendors. They’re googling. So to be a top ranking site, you’ve gotta consider the keyword focus of your site and how attainable that particular keyword will be for you.

Phew! Okay so that is the gist of the educational part of the webinar - the Sparknotes version, basically. Full disclosure, at the end of the webinar we announce that we have created a full-blown, fabulous, premium online course that dives even deeper into each of those topics. We both absolutely hate feeling "salesy", but we believe so strongly in this class and honestly wish someone had made something like this for us when weI first started out, so bear with me while I tell you about it a little bit:

The course is called The Badass Brand Academy, and we've poured our blood sweat and tears (and a little bit of red wine) into creating it so we can provide our fellow creatives with the hard-earned knowledge to run their own successful businesses. In the course, each of those four steps I described before is actually a full Module, where we break each topic down in detail and give you a well-rounded business education, as well as a monthly Live Q&A in the course's private Facebook group.

The course is designed to take you from feeling overwhelmed, confused and uninspired, to feeling like a confident, badass business person with a roster of dream clients at their fingertips. Absolutely no pressure to enroll of course - but if that sounds like something you could use, you can do so here (for a limited time only!)