12 Business Tips for Creative Entrepreneurs
Oh, Ted Lasso, We Miss You
You don’t have to be Ted Lasso to know that losing a soccer match because of an “own goal” is a soul-crushing way to lose a match.
For non-soccer/football fans, an “own goal” is a dreadful occasion when a player accidentally kicks the ball into their own team’s goal, giving a point to the opposing team.
It happens on a soccer pitch. And, it happens as an entrepreneur.
When you start your own business, you think it’s the big things (recessions, pandemics, giant corporations, spending cuts, trademark infringement) that can kill you. We think it’s “us against the world.” But, if we’re not careful, it’s also “us against us.”
You can lose a game by being scored on. But, you can also lose by scoring on yourself.
Too often it’s the little things – the things we do (or don’t do) to ourselves – that trip us up.
I was reminded about this on May 3. 2023 when artist Osiris Rain posted this video on Instagram challenging creatives in Charlotte to level up. He warned us creatives to wake up to the obstacles we throw in our own paths – not returning phones calls and emails, not having business cards or marketing materials, not having online portfolios that prove to potential employers that we can actually do what we say we can do – that get in the way of success. Those mistakes are avoidable. They’re self-inflicted. They’re own goals.
Osiris inspired us to share some tips and tactics we at Charlotte Is Creative have developed in the wake of our own goals. We hope our mistakes will help you avoid some of yours.
Take a bite!
12 Tips from the CIC Crew
Four Tips from Makayla
Keep that art on you!
As a visual artist, I always carry little sketchbooks with me. They’re about the size of business cards. I get them at Jerry’s or Micheal’s. The tiny sketchbooks help me work out thoughts and play with ideas. They help me capture images that pop into my mind before they’re gone. They come in handy if I am frustrated with drawing in Procreate or if I’m just bored. They’re conversation starters and are great, tangible ways to share my work and my process when people ask, “Are you an artist??”
Take those pictures!
In the era of social media, e-portfolios and websites, photos and videos are incredibly valuable. And, when you’re in the creative flow, it’s hard to remember to stop and record what I’m doing. An important part of being an artist is being able to show and share your work. How are people supposed to know what you create and how if you don’t have pictures and videos to share? How can you show that you actually do what you say you can do.
I rarely carry around the equipment to get the perfect picture. And, that’s okay. The ideal picture doesn’t have to be perfect. Leave perfection behind. Get creative! Get resourceful! Get the picture! Prop your phone up against a water bottle if you have to. Just. Take. The. Pictures.
Carry sticky notes EVERYWHERE.
I have a bad habit of having an idea or thought, believing I will remember it and then I don’t. I now carry sticky notes EVERYWHERE. Now when I have a thought, an idea or list, I can easily write it down and tab into a notebook, calendar or the like. And, it doesn’t have to live in one place. I can move it around to make sure it stays in my field of vision and on my mind. I do my best to color-coordinate them so that I know what each tab is in reference to.
I even hand over sticky notes to people I’m in meetings with to help mm and the other person remember our tasks, who is doing what and how to support each other further. Sticky notes have been a game-changer for me. And, people always find it fun and memorable.
Find your “personalized business cards.”
I collect every business card I’ve ever gotten (especially within the last year or so). And, I riffle through my pile whenever I am thinking of something or know that I need to contact someone I’ve met. It’s funny, but there’s just something about shuffling through a pile of cards that inspires me in a way that scrolliing through contacts on my phone doesn’t.
My favorite business interactions have been with people who have unique, personalized cards. I started using my stickers as business cards. They’re memorable, functional and give people a p a piece of “Mini-Makayla Original” work they can take with them. Your “bus” doesn’t have to be a card. It doesn’t have to be a sticker. Make it yours. Find the thing that works for you in making your “card” memorable, distinct to you and shares a story about your craft.
Four Little Tips from Matt
Set up a business checking account.
If your intention is to earn some or all of your income through your creative craft, avoid mingling your personal finances with your business finances. At the very least, receive the money into your business account first and pay yourself by transferring a portion of it into your personal account.
Set money aside for tax time.
If you work as a freelancer/1099 or get paid flat fees for projects, make sure to set aside roughly 30% of your revenue so you’re ready to pay taxes each year.
Earlier in my career, I worked as a freelance copywriter and I made the mistake early on of just taking everything in as take-home pay. When tax time rolled around, I was totally screwed because I didn’t have enough set aside to pay what I owed. From that point forward, as much as it hurt, I always pushed 30% of each gig’s pay into my “tax holding account” so I didn’t have to sweat it each year.
Use contracts. Every time.
Even if you’re being hired by a friend or someone you trust, contracts keep everything clean, clear and professional for both sides. In fact, it’s almost more important to do this with friends. I was hardcore burned by a “friend” in a project once. Because we were operating under a handshake. When it all went sideways, there was nothing in writing to fall back on, set the record straight and use to forge a path forward. That simple decision came to haunt me big time.
If you’re hesitant because you’re afraid of what the other person will think (e.g., “I thought we were friends” or “A contract? Don’t you trust me?”), just remember: it’s your business and this is standard business practice. For a very reasonable one-time investment, you can hire an attorney to draft a simple agreement template that you can tweak for every project.
If you’re feeling “icky” about doing this with a friend, think of it this way: If they won’t sign a simple contract, how much do they really respect you as a small business owner? Do they really value what you do? In the end, you have to ask: Is that someone I really want to do business with?
I’ve seen too many creatives grow a great audience of online followers, only to have to start all over again because their page got hacked. Two-factor authentication is an easy way to add an additional layer of security and makes it harder for attackers to gain access to your pages. Even if your password is hacked, a password alone is not enough to pass the authentication check.
Four Tips from Tim
Do It Now!
This should probably be one of Matt’s tips since he taught it to me. When “to-do list” items come up in meetings and conversations, I have a bad habit of saying, “I’ll do that later” – especially when it comes to small, uninspiring tasks like setting dates, sharing a contract or making a quick decision that I could make on the spot. Then, I walk away, get distracted, forget what I was supposed to do and I end up looking bad later.
Thanks to Matt, I’ve learned the power of stopping and attacking small tasks in the heat of the moment. Far from annoying people in a meeting, it impresses them when you say, “Let’s stop for a second and do it right now so it gets done.”
Read. Re-Read. Read again.
Here’s the other side of the coin above. Not all communication needs an immediate response. With messages popping up on our phones constantly – email, DMs, texts – I have fallen into the pit of glancing at a message that pops up, getting the gist of it and then responding instantly without really considering what the sender is asking/telling me. And, that makes me prone to make errors or look silly when I provide an uninformed response.
When you get important business communication from a client, sponsor or collaborator … STOP, breathe and read. Read it twice. (May help to read it aloud.) Then read it a third time before answering. Be sure you fully understand what the sender said before you dash off a response you can’t get back. Sometimes 60 extra seconds make all the difference.
Find proofreaders you trust.
Once you’ve taken the time to draft a thoughtful response, have someone else read it. At Charlotte Is Creative, no one is allowed to send important communication without two or even three sets of eyes on it. It’s critical because, as the writer, you know what you meant to write, but that isn’t always what you did write.
Find people that read your work differently. Some are great at finding inaccuracies or sentences that don’t make sense. Some read emotionally and can tell you when your tone may be off. And, others are gifted at finding typos. You need them all.
Don’t clap back in anger.
We’re emotional beings. It doesn’t take much for us to go from zero to 60. And, our reactions are often influenced by internal chemicals linked to our “fight or flight” reflexes. Modern life has given us the opportunity to respond to things that upset us immediately. That can be a blessing and a curse. When you read something that upsets you, it’s too easy to fire off a passionate response to the person who angered you … or to the whole world. Be careful what you throw out there. It’s nearly impossible to claw it back.
My advice is to write the angry response right away and get it out of your system. But, before you send it, walk away from it. Let your adrenalin return to normal levels. Check your facts. Re-read it with calmer eyes. Ask someone you trust to read it. Make sure the “you now” is in agreement with the “you from earlier.” After all that, if you’re still as upset and feel like what you’ve written is what you want to say, have at it.
So, what do you think?
The above are our tips. What are yours? How do you keep from scoring on yourself? Tell us at email@example.com and let us know if we can share your wisdom.