Let’s face it: Starting a business is scary, especially when you’re doing it alone. We here at Maker Mentors are familiar with the struggle: stay at your comfortable, full-time gig, or make the break and go out on your own. Of course, that’s what our community is all about—sharing the journey and learning from each other about what works and what doesn’t. And every person’s journey is different—what works for some, may not work for everyone.
With less than a month to go to the Build a Better Business Conference, we asked our esteemed panel of speakers to share their wisdom and advice for anyone starting their own creative business.
Ilise Benun, Marketing Mentor
You’ll never please everyone.
I never actually prepared to start my business — I got fired, got mad, and decided I was never working for anyone again. It probably wasn’t the smartest strategy but almost 30 years later, I can say it has worked for me.
Since then, the best advice I’ve received is that you can’t please everyone. So I do what I think is best and don’t worry about who will and won’t like it. That works for marketing, for pricing, and especially for doing creative work for clients.
Jamie Hoffman, UncommonGoods
Invest in great photography.
This doesn’t mean spending money on a fancy camera, but rather choosing well-lit and creatively propped locations that will show how your product will live in the real world. The more thoughtful you are about telling your story through images, the stronger the customer’s connection to your work will be.
Focus on your clients.
My business isn’t about me, and that was a very gradual realization. As someone who frequently comes up with new ideas and gets distracted by exciting opportunities, it’s easy to lose sight of the most important reason I’m in business as a freelance content marketer: to drive meaningful results for my clients. For this reason alone, the type of businesses and individuals I’ll even consider working with has gotten much narrower over time.
My goal is to create my best work for each and every client I work with, and I don’t want to put myself in a position where I’ll generate anything but my best results for them. This is something I’ve been told many times throughout my interviews with entrepreneurs like Guy Kawasaki, Ramit Sethi, Tara Gentile, and more. I truly believe there’s a reason why so many of the world’s most successful businesspeople have an intense dedication to creating for their customers, as opposed to simply creating the products and services that are the easiest for them to put together on the fly.
Stanley Hainsworth, Tether
Use your intuition and build on what you already know.
When I was working on the client side with in-house agencies, I worked with a lot of agencies, both design and advertising. As I worked on projects with them, I noted what worked and what didn’t along the way. These thoughts and notes were the start of the blueprint, combined with all my other experiences, to help form Tether into what it is today.
Scotty Russell, Perspective-Collective
In order to make people care about you and your story, you have to prove that you care about them.
I’ve always wanted to build a business based on principle of service and giving value to others, because I believe in order to get to where I want to be in life, I need to help others get to where they want to be. This foundation is how I built my online audience across multiple platforms. They are invested in what I create, and support my business at each turn.
Following this advice has enabled me to pursue my passion of creating, teaching, and speaking. This philosophy exploded my online reach across multiple platforms and transcended my audience into a community. Give your readers value and build relationships. This will lead to a loyal tribe converting from consumers to customers. These people will follow you and give you the most powerful advertising there is out there — word of mouth.
Bring energy and excitement to every project, and do some things just for fun.
When I first started out as a freelance illustrator I didn’t really have a strategy or business plan but I had lots of ambition. As I began to send out samples of my work and build my client list I mostly remember the feedback from art directors who said, “You have such a great energy and it shows in your work!” That feedback continues to keep me fueled. I’ve learned that you never really know what piece of art is going to catch on and lead to other projects.
The more I connect with people the more I discover that opportunities are everywhere if you keep your eyes open and maintain a good relationship with your clients and contacts. Most often it’s the things I create just for fun that lead to bigger and better things. It’s important to nurture your own creativity and equally important to nurture the relationships you have with other artists and clients. There are endless ways to collaborate with others, but first you have to collaborate with yourself, and we can be our own toughest client. My motto is “Be Your Own Biggest Fan!”
Alex Mathers, Red Lemon Club
Go ‘all in’ with one business, rather than focusing on many projects at the same time. A successful business requires a commitment to making it work through real focus.
Gabriel Laliberte, Prettygrafik
Focus your efforts in the right places, rather than trying to manage everything at once.
This allowed us to really understand the difference between active and passive income, and build a business model where we didn’t have to be involved in the management part of the company on a daily basis, but rather on creating and doing what we love the most.
Building a business around your passion will require smart thinking and a clear understanding of how to generate passive streams of income. This is something I focused on in the past several years and it has paid off.
Andreea Ayers, Launch Grow Joy
Be flexible and open to changing your course as you are growing your business.
What works when you first start out might not work down the line. And invest in other people to help you!
Arianne Foulks, Aeolidia
Take advice from the people who matter most: Your perfect customers or clients. The ones you would work with again in a heartbeat.
Build your business for them.
Rather than getting advice from mentors or colleagues, I spent all my time learning from my clients. I listened to where they were stuck and what their struggles were, and particularly to any critical feedback about what I was doing for them. I was wide open to making changes to what I was doing, and adjusted for the future each time I hit a bump in the road.