I knew that I needed to leave the normal nine-to-five work world. The only problem was that I didn’t know what I could do instead. I was in my early twenties, overwhelmed and seriously stuck.
At that time I never would have guessed that soon my hobby blog would lead to working for myself full-time, first as a web designer and now as a business coach and strategist for passionate small business owners and bloggers.
The years in my journey so far have taught me a lot about caring for myself as a creative person, about short term inspiration, how to keep producing interesting work over the long term – and what to do when you lose the spark of inspiration.
While I stopped designing websites for clients after six years, I view most of what I do in my job as a business strategist as creative. I help people ask the right questions. Questions that uncover new solutions, get organized and work in a way that creates better results.
It’s collaborative, fun and fascinating.
So, today I’d like to share two truths and a lie about being a full-time working creative:
Truth: You have everything you need and this is the right time.
When you first start doing something new, it feels like you need to uncover hidden answers, find new skills and log about a million hours of practice. While those things might feel true, and some may actually be true, so is this: Right now, you have more capacity than you know.
The more business owners and creative people I work with, the more I see how much smart people get stuck in information gathering and preparation. It looks productive at first glance, but often goes beyond research and becomes procrastination disguised as preparedness.
Procrastination disguised as preparation takes many forms. It can be taking online courses instead of writing your next post or working on your book. It can be attending free worksheets instead of teaching your own. It can be designing an elaborate website, instead of inviting a past client to work with you on a new package. It can be networking instead of maintaining your existing network.
All of these are good ideas on their own, but time intensive tasks that aren’t tied directly to how you earn a living are slippery slopes. Especially for creatives, who have trouble putting their tools down. And most especially for people living without a salary.
Instead of getting ready, get moving!
Take test clients, become friends with people who are a little farther along a similar path than you are and have honest conversations with them about their work. It’s normal to think about where you want to be, but the only way to get there is to start doing what you can, today.
When I don’t know the way forward, asking myself “What would I do if I knew I had everything I need, and this is the right time?” helps me stay scrappy, focus on possibilities and take action.
Truth: It doesn’t count to know things. It only counts to act and deliver.
This lesson that I didn’t want to learn for a long time. I’m a researcher by nature. I can google my way through most problems, and I love imagining new solutions. That curiosity is core to my work, and has served me well in life. And for any other good students out there, it’s a way of approaching the world that’s particularly favoured in school.
Where it can get me in trouble is when I take in new ideas, my mind puts them into the “I know that” category. Then if I see the same idea again later, I’ll think “I know that!” and feel knowledgable and eventually like that’s old news… even if I’ve never tested it myself for any length of time, or tried to see how effective it is. Psychology backs up that a common bias in how we think is that we wildly overestimate our knowledge and abilities.
A subtle way that I often see this play out is the difference between knowing things and passively taking in information, versus engaging with a concept to the point that you interpret it, apply it to your situation, put it into action, measure your results and then adjust your approach. Instead, every day we shift into cruise control and out of curiosity in hundreds of tiny ways. For example, if you eat breakfast daily, do you do that before or after you have coffee? At the start or end of your morning routine? How does that really work for you? Most of us don’t even register these as choices, because we’re on autopilot.
Practically speaking, we do this by necessity. There is constant information coming at us, and our brains need to filter most of it out. It’s prioritization. But think about how this impacts your work, productivity and how you approach your routine around working every day. I’ve read thousands and thousands of blog posts, tutorials and online courses over the years.
Can you imagine the results I would get if I just focused on one area of my life and put some of those ideas into action?
When I realized how much of my knowledge around my work – blogging, online courses and business – was collecting dust in my mind, I decided to curb my “information as entertainment” habit and focus on fully using the tools and strategies I already had.
It turns out that learning how to make more use of the website, tools, and productivity techniques that I’m already using is a low energy, simple way to save money, earn more all at in one move. Instead of looking for new solutions, try deepening your understanding of your current solutions.
A lie: What you get depends on how hard you work.
Oof. This isn’t how the world is supposed to work, right? I’m an achievement oriented lady. I loved school, being productive and watching my accomplishments stack up. I approached my work the same way when I was first working for myself. It kind of worked. It succeeded in making me quite busy, but it was busyness without a plan and that took up a lot of time.
When I ran my lifestyle blog, I published five times per week, got between 40 – 50 comments per post and had monthly advertisers. It sounds successful, right? It was, but it was earning me very little money. I assumed that publishing frequently would create success, but I didn’t have a detailed written plan for how I would make a living, and I didn’t know just how many pageviews I would need to rack up to make my project sustainable. (It’s a lot!) It was 2010, and this was before affiliate marketing and income reports were being published. I was in the dark.
Your comment count and twitter followers don’t show up on your balance sheet at the end of the month, so it’s crucial to be careful how you measure your success.
If I’d stepped back I could have seen that I needed to make my products and services more profitable, worked with a business coach to question my assumptions and raise prices. I could have saved myself literally years of “hard work” that making it more difficult for me to thrive. I thought that putting in more time in my business would get me better results, but in reality I just took the income I was earning and by working so much I drove down my average hourly rate. It took work with someone skilled on my business model and revenue planning to understand what the problem was, and how to fit it.
This trust comes down to another: If your heart is set on making a living for yourself, you owe it to yourself to start in a small way today, try new things, experiment and work at a side hustle. Don’t leave this to chance. Have someone look at your game plan to make sure you’re moving in the right direction in your work.
If your heart is set on making a living from your work, you owe it to yourself to discover what you’re most passionate about, and design your day-to-day experience to get as much of that as possible.
You owe it to yourself to actively question your ideas about what makes a blog or a website successful.
To research, and test, and work with people who are actually doing that for themselves. An you owe it to your future and your big dreams to experiment, try new things, and ask big questions, until your intuition and direction is louder than the loudest voice in the room.
Kyla Roma is a digital strategist and business coach who teaches gutsy small business owners, bloggers and creative entrepreneurs how to shake off uncertainty and confidently grow their business. She helps clients uncover unexpected opportunities, create profitable systems, build community and double down on their strengths. Her step-by-step and measurable approach makes social media, content marketing, business growth and digital strategy less stressful and more profitable.
Learn more at kylaroma.com