What I've Learned in My First Full Year of Business
Although Anchored Creative Studio was founded in 2016 (almost three years ago!) mid January 2018 to January 2019 encompassed our first year of full-time business for me. As the creator of Anchored Creative Studio, I’d always wanted to run this studio as a full-time gig. Lots of things prevented me from doing that, but the biggest one was fear of the unknown.
A little over a year ago, my part-time design job was eliminated. Although I started to apply to other part-time jobs, I realized that I was in the position I’d always wanted - to run my studio on a full-time basis. I was a year of high highs and low lows; of learning so much about myself and the types of people and companies I like to work with; and the boundaries I want to set in order to keep Anchored going for a long time.
Here’s a few things I’ve learned:
Lead your clients - don’t let them lead you. This is the big one. Any not-so-ideal client experience I’ve ever had was because I let them lead the process, the contract, and/or talked down my price. Everyone likes structure, and the more structured your process is, the better the chance that it will run smoothly and be successful. I learned a ton this year about standing up for myself and taking charge.
Find people who make you feel like you’re not alone. Being a solo business owner is lonely. You spend a ton of your day alone in a coffee shop or home, with your main interactions being with your clients. You don’t have coworkers to bounce ideas off of, or to ask an opinion about a sticky client situation. This year, I found some amazing business besties - both in-person and virtually - and have found it to make a giant difference in finding camaraderie and making the struggle feel a little less crazy.
Admit your mistakes and learn from them. If you want a job that’s without confrontation and conflict, being a business owner is probably not for you. In this year alone, I’ve dealt with a ton of issues that require having tough conversations with clients - including out of scope requests, lack of payment, and ending professional relationships. From all of these situations, I’ve learned to do a postmortem check and see what I could have done better, and what processes can be put into place to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Find clients that fully trust you. This piece of advice may sound obvious, but took me awhile to really understand the nuance of it. Of course anyone who hires you will place some amount of trust in you, but there are still clients who attempt to drive the entire creative process through endless tweaks and lack of commitment to a specific direction. They should be able to trust your expertise, and create a true collaboration.
Learn to say “no.” Perhaps the toughest lesson. I struggled with saying “no” to clients that I thought wouldn’t be a good fit all year, which resulted in rough client relationships and forced me to further examine my need to take every client that inquires with me. I also struggled to say no to existing clients, going over the set number of revisions, or adding in additional deliverable that weren’t included in the original scope. I’m now less afraid of setting up boundaries, and more confident in my own voice and skills.
Trust your gut. Whether it’s for a creative direction, choosing a logo, or accepting a client - It’s usually always right.
Create passion projects. I’d often put off passion projects, citing that I was too busy, and they weren’t directly connected to an income stream. But spending more time on passion projects has not only reinvigorated my creativity and allowed me to take risks, but also helps create portfolio pieces to attract my ideal client. It’s something that I’ve found is necessary to make time for.
Know that time and experience brings answers. As one of my favorite songs says, “take your time, don’t live too fast / troubles will come, and they will pass.” Letting time pass and gaining experience brings clarity. Don’t respond to that email immediately, and table a project if you feel stuck. All will come.