5 Hard-Earned Business Insights
Hey there, Superstar. Do you love your job?
Come on, be honest. Do you LOVE it?
I do! I love my job! I love my job with a passion so intense my heart has become a supernova. The solar flares bursting forth from my ribcage cause the faces of those around me to glow with sunburn. I love my job that much.
I’ll be honest though, I’ve only loved my job this much for about six weeks. “Hold up, something’s funky here,” I hear you thinking. The Bookkeeping Artist opened its doors in October of 2016. That means I’ve been an artist entrepreneur for almost nine months. How could I be self-employed, making money, and not love it?
Well, I made some mistakes. Some big ones. In fact, for the first six months BKA was in operation, I was figuratively blind, nearly broke, and miserable.
Why? Oh, Superstar, let me count the ways! I was driven by the wrong things. I was trying to do too much. I wasn’t attracting my ideal clients, and worst of all, I wasn’t honest with myself.
Superstar, don’t be like me.
I am writing this article because I have a dream. A dream that one day you too will be a wildly successful artist entrepreneur. I dream that one day you too will make money, follow your passion, and make the world a more artsy place. I don’t want you to make my mistakes.
So I am giving you the resources you need to succeed. Starting with this blog post, here are the five hardest lessons I learned after six months as a creative entrepreneur.
Learn from this list. Get inspired. Go out and make that crazy dream of yours comes true.
Keep in mind however…
1. You Can’t Start a Business Just for the Money
This was my number one mistake as an early artist entrepreneur. I started my business with no other motive than to make money. Of course, the power and confidence of being my own boss helped, but ultimately I was driven by that sweet, sweet paycheck. Just as I had always been driven by that paycheck.
I spent my early twenties bouncing from one part time job to the next, fully entangled in that starving artist mentality my friends and I glorified in college. Even after I overcame that unhealthy lifestyle, I started a business so that MY dreams would come true, MY pockets would be lined, and MY lifestyle would change. I opened my bookkeeping business with that one goal in mind.
It took me six months to realize that business does not equal more money, and that entrepreneurs were not all get-rich-quick, greedy assholes. In fact, as I became a better bookkeeper and could peer behind the curtain of profitable businesses, I realized that most entrepreneurs were just the opposite. The most successful “businessmen” were not in it for money, they were in business to help people. They had a product, a skill, or an idea that could change someone’s life for the better. They wanted their products to succeed because it was validation that they were, in fact, making lives a little easier.
For months my own business struggled because I was focused on the value clients provided me. Instead, I needed to focus on the value I was providing THEM. Sure, I know a lot about money, but until I turned that knowledge into systems that saved my clients time or classes that empowered creative entrepreneurs, my business was dead on arrival.
Bottom line, start a business to help people and the money will naturally follow.
2. You Need to Know Your Ideal Customer
The moment I booked the biggest client I’ve ever had is the same moment I realized my business was failing. This moment also precipitated the ginormous, six month revelation I’m discussing today, so perhaps I should give you a bit more background.
Today I am a money mentor for artist entrepreneurs. I educate, empower, and support creatives who want to turn their unique skills into their full-time passion. Before that, however, I was just a humble bookkeeper; helping small businesses track their financials, prep for taxes, and maximize profits. That was first iteration of the Bookkeeping Artist, and it gave me the knowledge and confidence to be the business expert I am today.
Fast forward six months, and there I am wrapping up the biggest client I’ve ever had. They were a construction firm, with three different companies under their name, and some of the sweetest people I’d ever met. (Seriously, if you need a custom home built, I know the guys you need.) I was hired for a short-term project, and in our few weeks together I updated their tech, cleaned up their records, helped their teams get organized, and put their expense tracking on autopilot.
They were so happy with my work they wanted to hire my company year-round. We are talking double the amount of money they already paid me, every month, for the rest of forever. Superstar, I took a deep breath, and I said no.
WHAT! I can’t believe it either! I TURNED DOWN MY HIGHEST PAYING CLIENT TO DATE! And I don’t regret it. Although I would not suggest that business owners follow in my footsteps, it was the right decision for me at the time.
You see, I’ve been an artist my entire life. I was originally attracted to bookkeeping because of the value I saw in it for fellow creatives. No one else was teaching us to be smart with our money. No one else was talking about budgets, or taxes, or how to run a business and actually turn a profit. Everyone either gave eloquent speeches about the “Starving Artist” or laughed at us for trying. I decided that I’d had enough of living paycheck to paycheck, of sacrificing my passion for my “career,” and I set out to be the money expert creative businesses needed.
I had to turn down the construction company because they were not my ideal client. As I explained above, I needed to focus on the value I provided clients, and I knew someone of my background was of the most value to artist entrepreneurs like myself. Once I honed in on my one industry and my one area of expertise, my business exploded. I was more excited about who I was helping, and my potential clients were more excited to work with me as a result.
You can’t be everything to everyone. It took me six months to stop stretching myself too thin by trying to become an business expert in every industry. Get ahead of the game, Superstar. Focus on your ideal client from day one.
3. You Can Only Handle One Thing at a Time
By now we’ve all heard why multitasking is bad for your brain. (And if you haven’t, you can read my take about it here.) Well, six months into owning a business I realized that taking one thing at a time is good advice for just about everything.
In my scramble to get my business up and running I knew I needed a website. And a Facebook. And an Instagram. And a Pinterest. And cool videos. And ways to manage all those platforms. Oh, and my business certifications. And I had to register with the state. And I needed my first client. And I needed a mailing list. And, and, and! You see my problem? I was completely overwhelmed!
When starting out it may seem like you need everything at once, especially if your business is to be your only source of income. Believe me, I understand. But just as you need to focus on one ideal client in one niche, you must also focus on mastering one skill at a time.
Give yourself a month to set up your website. Do your research. Secure your domain and host, then begin building. Layout every page. Test every button. When your website is functional and you know the ins and outs of your platform, then move onto the next task.
Maybe you decide set up your mailing list next. Spend one month mastering that. Spend the next month learning Facebook’s algorithm and automating your posts. Give yourself a month to refine your client onboarding system, and so on.
Taking these important tasks one at a time, and allowing yourself adequate time to master them, will ensure that your business functions smoothly while you step away to learn new skills. It is important to keep your business arsenal up to date, but if you distract yourself with too many tasks at once the result will be you curling up in a helpless puddle on the floor, and a business that can’t run because so many of its parts and pieces are only half finished. Not being able to focus spells disaster for you, your business, and the customers you could have helped.
Don’t do it, Superstar. Resist. One thing at a time.
4. Get Really Good at Your One Essential Service
You, the smart, attentive reader that you are, may have noticed a trend here: ONE ideal client, ONE task at a time. In keeping with this theme, I also realized that I needed to focus on ONE essential service.
It all goes back to delivering real value to my clients. I want to be an expert, and not just in one industry, but in delivering one fabulous product as well. You wouldn’t hire a plumber to work on your car, even if mechanics and plumbers sound similar on paper. You understand the difference, and so do your clients.
That’s why even though I’ve packaged content throughout the Bookkeeping Artist (link to my homepage) in many different ways, the heart of all my systems is still just bookkeeping. My entire product line is designed to get you better educated, better organized, and to hold you accountable so your own business can run efficiently and profitably. I’m extremely specific about my one service and my one niche as well, so that my ideal clients can easily find me.
It sounds so simple when I type it out to you now, Superstar, but believe you me, when I first started BKA my life seemed anything but simple. Not only was I trying to please every person on the planet, I was constantly overtasking myself and thinking of new services I could advertise (with no regard as to whether they were services I was capable of or even interested in delivery). Take it from me, no one trusts you if you claim you can do everything. Be honest about how great you are at ONE thing, and you will find the clients that need you.
5. Be Open to Change
The last piece of advice I can give you, Superstar, is to be open to change. It was devastating to realize that six months of hard work was almost entirely wasted. Fortunately, I did come to these five hard realizations. Realizing what I was doing wrong was not enough to save my business, though. I could have kept my business exactly as it was, dangling by a tiny thread, for years if I wanted. Believe it or not, many business owners do. They realized that something is wrong, but they don’t have the knowledge or the willpower to fix it.
I never want you to be in that situation. It is a depressing, frustrating, and exhausting way to live. But I found my mistakes early, and I was willing to change. My business today is thriving as a result.
With these five essential things in mind, your business can too.