I would say that significantly more than half of the independent and emerging designers that email me asking for help with their businesses are doing so because they feel like “it’s not working” and they don’t know why.
So often as business owners we’re impatient. Usually with good reason; the need to support ourselves (and maybe a family) being a very real concern.
It’s a tough dynamic because there tend to be two schools of thought on opposite ends about the creation of a creative business and then a middle ground that has bits of the two…
One is that your creativity and the process of making owe you nothing and you can’t expect to necessarily build a thriving career out of it. You should be doing it simply because you love it and because you must do it for your own happiness. (- the Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic supporters of the world)
The other is that if you’re going to build a business then you need to focus all of your energy on that one thing and there shouldn’t be a plan B. You work your ass off to be successful and make money. (- a million and four entrepreneurs)
Me, I tend to fall somewhere in the middle. While there’s a part of me that agrees with and feels Ms. Gilbert’s “create because it fulfills you and because you simply can’t imagine not” outlook, there’s also a part of me that loves the dynamics of business, and loves making money. And I think that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
So when designers say “it’s not working”, I wonder where they fall in this spectrum.
- What part of you does what you do because you cannot possibly imagine doing anything else?
- What part of you does it because you love it and also see a lot of financial potential in it?
- Are you patient enough to accept that it could and often does take years to find financial success?
- Are you open to finding other ways of making money?
- Have you quit your job and poured every spare penny to your name into this business?
Businesses take time; a business is not built and successful overnight, regardless of what you have defined successful to mean for yourself. I know you’ve heard that a million times but are you really listening?
I get emails on a daily basis from designers and brands who want to know what’s wrong; they’ve been doing this for 2 years and are barely making ends meet. To that I say, “I’m not surprised.” This takes time. As much as you don’t want to hear that, it’s true.
StartUp FASHION is a six figure business. But that took 4 years! Four years of scraping by, four years of leaning on other means of making money, four years of pushing forward despite the feeling that nothing was working.
Now I’m not suggesting that by simply accepting that success takes time, you’re all set and eventually you’ll make money and have a business that works. That’s naive.
No instead, I suggest you start by examining your business in two ways:
- First, are you giving this your all, really? Are you putting yourself into vulnerable or uncomfortable situations because you know it’s good for your business (i.e. doing speaking engagements, calling buyers on the phone, writing blog posts that feel revealing, etc.)
- Second, is there something inherently wrong with your business? Is your product quality poor? (be honest), Have you really taken the amount of time you need to in order to understand who the hell your customer actually is? Do get out from behind the computer and talk to people on a regular basis?
If you can honestly say yes to both of these sets of questions, then you’re on the right track. You’re creating something wonderful for someone you truly understand and you’re doing what it takes to get to where you want to be. And you need to be patient.
If you don’t feel that you can say yes to these things, then there’s your answer. There’s where you need to back up, re-evaluate, and make some decisions.
And then, aside from those questions, here are some great things you can do for yourself and for your business to help you shift from “why is it not working” to “oh, shit! It’s working!” (the exact reaction I had when I first started to see real financial growth in my business). Anyway, here they are:
- Read business books and take classes. Constantly. Seriously. Education should be constant.
- Create a signature piece and don’t pour money into full on collections until you’re ready.
- DIY a nice enough website and don’t let perfection keep you from moving forward.
- Talk to everyone about what you do, about what they do, about what’s happening in the industry, about what’s happening in the world; talk to strangers and loved ones and colleagues. Meet people and talk.
- Join the Independent Designers Community. I mean…how could I not mention this? Be a part of a community of others who are doing this too; others who are finding ways to make it work and building something that they love, are proud of, and that actually makes money!
Remember, you have to stick with it. Don’t stop. Keep Creating. Keep Making. Keep Going.
All my love and encouragement,
P.S. Today is the last day to become a member of the Community before we close again. We close the “doors” at 8pm ET and we won’t be opening again until September. So if you’ve been on the fence, now’s the time to jump off. Join us inside and let’s work together to build our businesses!