Fresh out of a teaching position and brand spankin’ new to the world of entrepreneurship, life as a freelance calligrapher meant learning on-the-go!
I had all the passion and drive a young artist could need, but zero business background or money sense.
They say Experience is the best teacher, but my hope is that these tips will save you a few years of unnecessary “lessons” if you’re a new entrepreneur. Here are a few mistakes I made in the beginning:
1. Not Setting Office Hours
Working from home means hair in a top-knot and yoga pants all day. Praise hands! But it also means endless distraction possibilities.
“The kitchen is a mess… I should clean that real quick.”
“Coffee date at 10am? Why not?!”
“Today feels like a good day to go shopping!”
You guys– these are real, daily struggles of mine!
Setting actual work hours for yourself—even though you technically have all day long—is so important for productivity for a couple of reasons. First, when I treat my business like a real 9-5 job and take it seriously, my clients do as well! They begin to respect my office hours for email and calls, not expecting me too respond at 11pm to a question that could wait until 9am.
It’s also important because when you give yourself a time limit for work, you tend to get more done! The freedom to finish before bedtime is a recipe for stress and poor time-management skills. Give yourself a limit of, say, 2 hours to work on a particular project. Odds are, you’ll finish it and be able to move onto another project quicker so you can end at 5 and start on dinner!
2. Undervaluing My Work
When I say undervaluing, I also mean underpricing. I can remember one of the first pieces I ever sold. A beautiful watercolor mountainscape with calligraphy overlay. I probably spent 5 hours on it and sold it for… $20. *Facepalm*
I practically gave it away for free!
My thinking at the time makes sense… sort of. I was new to the craft, not a “real” artist, and no one would buy it if I raised my prices anyways. I was constantly apologizing for my prices.
Now, I wish I could shake my young calligrapher self and say “YOUR WORK IS WORTH MORE!” It took one conversation with Ruth Simons from GraceLaced to understand that if I don’t value my work, others won’t either. She graciously told me I needed to raise my prices in faith.
So I did.
And guess what! Everyone scattered and my inbox was crickets for months! … Just kidding!
What really happened was that people began to take me more seriously. They referred me. They asked for my “professional opinion.” I was driven to perfect my craft even further. And my business grew.
3. Copying Others’ Work
Do yourself a favor and unfollow a few of your favorite artists on social media. (Don’t tell them I told you to). I’m serious! Odds are, you work is emulating theirs a *little* too closely, or you’re going to their page for “inspiration”.
Are you taking the quiet time necessary to silence the visual noise around you and develop your own unique style? If you browse Etsy right now, will you find a hundred other artists with prints that are eerily similar to the ones you offer? What’s your flare? What makes you stand out from the crowd? Figure that out and you will soar!
4. Not Niching Down
Truly, the riches are in the niches.
I didn’t believe this until I experienced it for myself! I was trying to do all the artistic things… wedding suites, watercolor portraits, custom maps, envelope addressing, cute prints, quippy greeting cards, calligraphy quotes… Basically I allowed people to tell me what they want, and I figured out how to do it. While this produced profit for a while, it ended in exhaustion and lack of JOY!
Now, I specialize in custom calligraphy heirlooms and legacy pieces, and I’m okay with graciously saying no if a client requests something that’s outside of my wheelhouse. Most likely, they will respect that and then I can recommend a fellow creative who might be able to better fit their needs!
If you’re trying to reach everyone, you will reach no one.
5. Not Setting Real Goals
For a while, the first thing I’d do in the morning was check my email and respond to client inquiries. Sounds normal, right? Well, I quickly realized that this set the tone for my day. I spent the precious first minutes of my day (you know, the ones where your focus and energy are at their finest) reacting to others’ requests, instead of proactively working towards my goals. Now I don’t respond to emails until I’ve accomplished the #1 priority on my to-do list.
I say this to explain how I spent so much time in my business reacting to client requests and product orders that I never sat down and actually visualized what I wanted for my business in 5, 10 or 20 years!
It feels so obvious now, but setting goals and a vision for your business (and life in general) is crucial for setting a trajectory you’ll be happy with down the road.
We all need direction. So find out what you want and set tangible goals to get there!
What will you do THIS WEEK to get you closer to where you want to be when you’re 60?
6. Trying to Do ALL the Things
When you’re just starting out, sometimes you don’t quite understand just how much there is to do. Turns out— there’s a LOT!
As the new CEO of a business AND the chief creator, I had to learn how to wear many hats at once! I ran myself into the ground trying to do it all alone.
I decided to invest in a few helpful courses like Ashlyn Carter’s Copywriting for Creatives, and Jenna Kutcher’s Instagram Lab to learn more about being a creative entrepreneur. Eventually I even hired someone to whom I could delegate tasks that I felt unequipped to handle, so that I could focus on what mattered most—my artwork!
A true leader knows when and how to delegate in order to move the needle forward in her business!
7. Not Dreaming Big Enough
Why is it that we encourage our best friends to chase their dreams, but we tend to doubt our own abilities to do so?
For WAY too long, I assumed my little business would stay just that—“little.” When friends asked, “How’s your little calligraphy thing going?” I wouldn’t correct them. I’d talk about my job (this thing I pour my heart and soul into from 8am to 8pm most days) like it was a little hobby.
I kept myself small.
So naturally, my business stayed small as well.
But let me tell you… nothing changes if nothing changes!
I finally realized that if I wanted to have a big impact leave a meaningful legacy, I was the only person holding me back. I set big (like, HUGE) goals for my business and started talking about it!
So, my friends…
Dream big, make a plan, and get after it!
I hope this was helpful!
Remember, we all start somewhere.
But if you’re on your way to a life of entrepreneurship, tuck these nuggets away for the future.