I started my first blog back in 2011.
May 18, 2011 to be exact. How do I know this? Well my first post still exists. You can read it here. (But not yet! You have a whole email to get through first before I lose you to the time machine/rabbit hole known as the internet. SO keep reading then you can satisfy your curiosity by seeing what the 2011 version of me found so interesting to write about…)
Back when I started this first blog, I had just ONE intention: get the thoughts and ideas swirling in my head out and “on paper.” I felt like I had things to say and every day that went by without saying them felt like a waste of creative potential.
My own self-doubt was my greatest challenge, so just hitting ‘publish’ on a post was a HUGE win for me. The more posts I published, the less fearful I felt. The more confidence I gained.
Once I got a handle on my doubt and cultivated the self-discipline to sit down and actually write, my One Intention evolved.
I actually want people to read this, I thought. So I shared links to my blog posts on Facebook with my friends. And on Twitter with people following me. And people started to read my posts and share them. I started to build a tiny audience of people who cared about what I was making and what I had to say.
For the next three years, it didn’t even occur to me to try and turn this creative outlet into a business. I let pure passion and curiosity direct my time and attention. I taught myself design and Photoshop. I honed my voice and my writing skills. I learned how to stick to a content schedule and to get over my perfectionism. I figured out what I believed in.
All of these things turned out to be essential in building a strong foundation for the creative business that would evolve from it all by 2014 when Made Vibrant was born. That’s when my One Intention became finding a way to turn my creative expression into something of value for others, something my small audience of people might pay me for.
Now… why am I sharing all of this with you and taking you down Made Vibrant Memory Lane?
It’s actually to illustrate a point that I think could help SO many of you out there, especially those of you still searching for a way to turn your skills and passions into a business. It starts with this advice:
Focus on trying to walk before you try to run.
I know you’re probably searching for the blog posts or the online programs or courses that are going to give you that one magical shortcut — the thing that is going to take you from no audience to a paying audience like yesterday. And it’s only natural for you to want that, especially with how many more resources there are now online about how to start your business.
Trust me when I say this, though:
Searching for a shortcut is actually just distracting you from the one tactic guaranteed to be effective: putting in the TIME.
Every day and month and, yes, YEAR that goes by while you try to plan out the perfect strategy, that is all time that you could have spent actually making something, which is the foundation for any profitable creative business. Time you could have spent honing your voice and your skills. Time spent figuring out what YOU believe in.
It’s all too tempting to focus on the big, complex, well-oiled machine thing right out of the gate. You want the polished brand, the booming blog, the online products bringing you passive income, the adoring audience with thumbs and hearts and comments at the ready, the segmented content based on interests, the podcast interview requests, the book deal and the sponsored travel.
If this is what you’re chasing down though, it’s likely that you’re going to find yourself with a lot of half-baked ideas, more spinning plates than you can handle, and a lot of unmet expectations.
Instead, I recommend doing what my 2011-self did. Begin with ONE intention: to get your ideas out of your head.
Hone your message. Develop your confidence. Figure out what you want to say. Better yet, figure out HOW you want to say it by going within to understand who you are and what makes your perspective on the world one-of-a-kind.
To put it simply: focus on the foundation first.
All big, beautiful trees must begin with a seed, right? This seed may be a simple beginning, but it is powerful with potential. From it, a network of strong and sturdy roots begins to spread, creating a foundation that will support whatever complex growth this tree might undergo in the future.
What I would do if I was starting a creative business right now from scratch
If I was starting my business over from the beginning, here’s how I would start simple and layer in the complexity as I grew.
1. Begin by making things FOR YOURSELF.
Practice getting those ideas out of your head and into reality. What is your craft? How can you improve it and develop your own unique recognizable style or approach to what you do? Do you enjoy what you do? Would you still do it if no one ever paid you for it? There isn’t a shortcut to making things, so start TODAY. Quit strategizing and start making.
2. Share your work (consistently).
Once you know your intention is pure and your craft is somewhat focused, you’re in the best place to connect with an audience. However, you can’t build an audience of people who value what you do if they can’t see what you do. Create a portfolio. Share your writing. Post your artwork. Take on pro bono work. Whatever you need to do to make your work visible, do that. Stay connected to your audience with a newsletter or through email correspondence — social media changes all the time but email is still the best way to maintain a line of communication with your audience that you control.
3. Identify ways to package your skills.
AFTER you’ve spent time building an audience and you know you have something that connects, consider ways that someone could pay you in exchange for your skills, services or work. Then… ask. Avoid making assumptions about what people will or won’t pay for. Instead, test those assumptions by making the ask and learning from the results.
4. Evolve, evolve, and evolve some more.
It’s entirely possible that you’ll go through several ideas — some winners, some losers — while you figure out a business offering that connects with your audience AND makes you sustainable income. That’s okay. That is the core challenge of being a creative entrepreneur. If you can’t find a way to enjoy that process of trial and error, well it’s possible that owning your own business may not be the right path for you.
5. Optimize your processes and deepen the connection with your audience.
Many people make the mistake of trying to over-optimize before they have any sustainable revenue streams, and this is what leaves them completely overwhelmed and exhausted. (I’ve been guilty of this myself.) It’s probably not all that helpful to distract yourself with automation and list segmenting and marketing to new audiences if you don’t even have a product or service offering that is working yet. Remember, focus on the foundation BEFORE you add unnecessary complexity to your business. That is the key to not completely burning out before you land on something that works.
I know we all want to skip ahead to “the good part.” The part where it’s all working smoothly, we’re making a sustainable living, and we get to spend our days creating and doing what we love.
But trust me, for the sake of your creativity and your sanity, begin with the roots and THEN branch out as you go, when it makes sense.
If you give yourself permission to block out the branches for now, to focus on the foundation—planting the seed or strengthening the roots—you may finally get that “shortcut” you’ve been hunting for in the form of some good old-fashioned hard work.