State of the Union 2017 for Made Vibrant

Wandering Aimfully Through Creative Business

State of the Union 2017 for Made Vibrant

Here's what went well in 2016, plus how I want to steer my business, Made Vibrant, in 2017.
Caroline ZookCaroline Zook Caroline ZookCaroline Zook

Written by

Caroline Zook

Last year I kicked off 2016 with a post idea that I stole from my friend Paul Jarvis titled “State of the Union, 2016.” To continue with the tradition, today I want to kick off 2017 by sharing with you the highlights from this past year (2016), what lessons I learned, and where I think this new year could be headed. Let’s get into it!


What Went Well in 2016

Painting!

It’s hard to believe that my obsession with acrylic painting originated only a year ago because it has become such a huge part of my daily life. At the beginning of 2016, I knew I wanted it to be the year that I really started to embrace my identity as an artist. I knew creating art was central to my core being, but there was a part of me that was still lacking confidence since I wasn’t “trained” as a painter. I knew the only way to overcome that insecurity would be to create A LOT of work, which is why I challenged myself to a year-long painting project, Abstract Affirmations Daily, creating and sharing one hand-lettered abstract painting a day.

Even though I wrapped up the project before the year was over, without a doubt I can say my “plan” to gain confidence and find my voice definitely worked. I don’t think you can go through that amount of paintings or spend that amount of time (around 400 hours!) without gaining confidence in a skill! I formed my own processes, experimented with all kinds of mixed media, changed up my style several times, and now I can look back on this huge body of work with immense pride and joy.

When I originally had the idea for the project, the business side of me wanted a way to justify the time I knew it would require (and the cost of my art supplies) so I wondered if I could sell prints of each of the pieces. That may have been the biggest surprise of the year with the Art Shop bringing in over $10,000 as a revenue stream.

Previously I had the notion that physical goods are hard to make any money on because of the low margins and high time/cost investment. I still believe that to be true but selling prints has shown me that if you have something people like and support and you’re willing to put in the effort and overcome the hurdles that pop up along the way, physical goods are definitely a viable (and fun!) business opportunity.

Color Your Soul

This was the other big win for me last year. Color Your Soul was something I had envisioned for over a year — a kind of hybrid monthly mindfulness subscription that was part community, part online learning, and part content/art discovery all built around one monthly theme.

Now, four months in, I can honestly say it’s my favorite thing I get to work on every month. I pour such love and care into every single aspect of the subscription, and I can see that come through in the responses I get back from subscribers. The biggest surprise has come in the form of the private Slack group that accompanies CYS. I’ve been blown away by the quality of conversations and connections forming there. It’s such a beautiful thing to see other soulful creatives sharing their insights and their challenges, getting feedback on ideas and helping each other. In a way it makes me feel grateful to be somehow offsetting some of the more surface-level interactions that social media so often facilitates.

Now that I have a few months under my belt, I definitely intend on trying to up my marketing game for this offering, mainly because I’m that confident in the experience it provides and I’m not sure I’m doing it justice by keeping it largely hidden from sight. Color Your Soul is definitely one of those things that for me blends art and commerce beautifully and I want to be able to show people you CAN actually earn a living off of some weird idea that is hard to explain. It may take longer and be harder to do, but it’s worth it.

I went back an re-read my State Of The Union from last year, and one of my goals for 2016 was to throttle up the intersection of creativity and personal growth in my work. Looking back at Color Your Soul and my Abstract Affirmations project, I feel I definitely followed through on that intention and it’s allowed me to carve out a little niche that feels 100% me. The fact that I am making a sustainable living doing that? Well I can’t ask for much more than that.

Moving to Oceanside

On a personal note, the best move I think we made last year was moving to a condo in Oceanside, CA. Finding this place is a perfect example of why I say “you get what you settle for” because we turned down tons of potential properties before we found this place, which we actually discovered by accident. It popped up on Zillow outside the general areas we had been considering, but with its modern style and location just two blocks from the ocean, we decided to check it out. I’m so glad we did because it only took us a day to snatch it up before anyone else could. Despite a little plumbing snafu that forced us to move into an empty unit for two months, living here has been beyond a dream. The natural light and panoramic views of the California coast have me waking up to gratitude every single day. I’m someone who draws a lot of inspiration from my environment, and I definitely think this home has played a large role in making last year so incredibly rich and joyful for myself and Jason.

Fitness

I honestly can’t believe I’m even saying this but… 2016 was a good year for fitness. For years I’ve struggled to stay consistently active. I’d find something I liked (barre workouts, for instance), go all in for about a month or two, and then something would knock me off the wagon and I couldn’t get back on.

Around June of last year though, Jason and I made the commitment to start working out again together, despite the fact that working out as a couple has not worked well for us in the past. (Picture me throwing a temper tantrum because Jason told me to use heavier weights. It wasn’t pretty.) We joined a local gym here in Oceanside and stayed consistent for about three weeks when… the gym went out of business. Now, in the past I would have taken that as a well-timed sign form the universe that I am simply not meant to be “a fit person.” But, determined not to lose our momentum, we worked out a deal with our property manager to use the small “amenities” gym of a condo about a half mile walk from us, and we actually stuck with it!

With the exception of a few trips (many of which we actually worked out in hotels while on the road — who are we?!) we’ve been able to work out about 3 days a week. In no way is my health perfect but I feel really great about the slow, steady and most importantly SUSTAINABLE progress I made in 2016 to making it a real lifestyle shift. I still hate the gym, but at least now I have a love/hate relationship where I can see the benefits it’s bringing to my life, benefits I definitely want to keep making a priority.

Now… let’s talk about what didn’t go so well…


What didn’t go so well

Better Lettering Course

The proof is in the pudding, folks. If you neglect a revenue stream, it will show up in the sales. Better Lettering Course was my first online course and it has brought my business over $100,000 since its creation (that’s nuts considering it’s a $20 course!) But, in 2016, with my focus moving to painting and creating other courses, I no longer felt inspired to tend to that community and improve that low-priced course. Sales went from about $3,000/month at the beginning of the year to about $500/month in the last part of the year. I still am very passionate about hand-lettering, and I have a lot more to teach on the subject (including iPad Pro lettering and more digital topics that have become relevant since the course was created in 2014), so I have a plan to update and revive the course to give it new life. Stay tuned for that in the next month or so.

Being glued to screens

I spent way too much time on a screen in 2016. Even though I feel I was able to cultivate more balance in my work schedule by taking walks, spending time painting, reading, etc., the time I DID spend with my phone in my hand or in front of my laptop was not spent very intentionally. If I’m being honest with myself, I got way too sucked into the trap of trying to “keep up with” technology, which probably just stems from a place of not wanting to be left behind in my business. Too often I felt stretched thin, in a comparison mindset, and, honestly, kind of addicted to the validation of this little screen in my hand.

As I took a step back over the holidays, I was reminded that it’s not the amount of Instagram posts or one’s use of Snapchat that ultimately determines the growth of a business. It’s doing things differently and authentically enough that you create real connections with other humans who want to share your work. I’m going to do my best to remind myself of that in 2017. While social media can still be useful and fun, I want to make sure I’m keeping my usage in check.


What’s ahead in 2017

Travel!

Last year Jason and I were finally able to pay off our debt, putting us in a position to spend more money on something we both highly value in 2017: travel. As of right now, we have three big trips planned for the year: a family trip to Asheville, NC; a two-week vacation exploring Italy with two of our friends who moved to Sydney last year; and a week-long trip to Iceland for a friend’s wedding!

To say that I’m excited would be an understatement. I think back to three years ago when we were over $100,000 in debt, living modestly and busting our butts to build the foundations of our businesses. These trips were just a dream at that point, but with smart saving, hard work and values-based living, we’ve been able to design a life with enough financial room for the things we care about.

ps. Jason and I also have a fun side-project to share our travel adventures in the future, so you’ll be able to explore these new places with us!

More unconventional projects

While I love online courses as much as the next person, I really want to stretch myself to create more things that go beyond what’s typically seen in the online business world. I want to embrace experimentation, put aside my fear of failure, and try out some things that are a bit unconventional. I have no idea what this means specifically yet, but ideas have been brewing in my head for new art experiences, short films, interesting product pricing (like the Vibrant Stuff Bundle!) and fun software tools. I want to continue to challenge myself to create things that are beyond what you all are seeing out there in order to keep you (and ME!) inspired.

Learning to focus

Man, this is what I struggle with the most as a creator/business owner. I come up with a plan, but then I lose interest in following through when a shiny new idea comes along. I’ve enlisted the help of the self-discipline master himself Jason to act as a sort of project manager for me and to implement a level of accountability to my focus. Like anything that you want to improve within yourself that doesn’t come naturally, I think it takes time and intention to slowly shift those habits over time. Rather than declaring some resolution to focus more this year, I’m viewing 2017 as my year to learn how to focus, acknowledging that it will take time and practice to cultivate this skill.

More writing

It’s funny, I’ve been writing consistently through my newsletter for three years now and yet there’s a part of me that still struggles to call myself a “writer.” I see similarities in this lack of confidence with my hesitance to call myself an artist in 2015. That’s why I want to continue to make writing a priority this year, and i want to work to integrate this more fully into my identity as a creator. Could this mean there’s a book on the horizon? Who knows. You guys will just have to stick around to find out.


My word for 2017: LIGHT

Finally, for the past few years I’ve chosen a guiding word for the year and I know many of you do the same. In 2015 my word was SAVOR; in 2016 it was CURATE; and now my word for this year is LIGHT.

Here’s how I see that potentially manifesting in my life, though I’m sure it will change and take on new meaning as the year unfolds:

I find it interesting that for the past two years my words have been verbs, while “light” is more of a noun. That shift reflects a broader shift I’ve seen in my growth journey which is that the past two years I’ve been focused a lot on DOING, and now I’m sensing a move toward BEING.

I used to be largely focused on what I want to be creating and how I want to be creating it. But now I find myself more interested in how I show up in the world as a person, separate from the things I’m creating. Just an interested observation I thought I’d share!

Alright friends! That’s the state of things around here. I’d love to hear how your 2016 went — what worked? What didn’t? What’s your word for the year? Feel free to hit reply and I’ll do my best to get back to you. I love hearing from you all and getting to know you better.

Looking forward to another year of growing together and navigating this thing we call life!

State of the Union 2017 for Made Vibrant

(Big Fat Takeaway)

Running an authentic creative business is about asking yourself what you want more and less of in your life, and steering your business to fit your evolving personal values.

IT IT

This article written by

Caroline Zook

Artist, designer + writer passionate about helping soulful creatives grow into their brightest selves. Lover of bright colors + even brighter people! One half of the crazy duo running these parts!

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