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10 Lessons from running a business during a pandemic (2020, 2021)

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10 lessons learned from running a creative business

The end of the year is a time of reflection. I’m sharing some of my 10 lessons from running a business these last few years. Some will feel more true and others less so. Take what you need and leave the rest.

Let’s start with No. 1 – and P.S., there’s no particular order of importance with these. These are numbered as they came to mind.



1. Have a plan but don’t be married to the end result.

A few weeks ago, I revived my email list to promote Holiday Mini Sessions. There were no direct bookings from this email, but I got referrals for full-priced sessions because people knew I was making that offering.

I also did do some Mini Sessions, but the people that booked weren’t on my mailing list. Even though that email didn’t produce any direct bookings, I considered it a success because I was able to book sessions in other ways. I had a packaged offering ready to go and people decided if they wanted to say yes or no to it.

2. Ask for Help when you need it.

Asking for help when you need it – I’m not too proud to admit that my business finances weren’t exactly the way I wanted them to be. I read books like Profit First, and invested in better tools like @quickbooks which did change my accounting game. But there were still some blind spots and mindset shifts that still needed to be had.

So I invested in a coach. I followed @ginaknox for a while and honestly, if you’re not already following her, you’re missing out! Her content is ridiculously good, relatable, and actionable.


In a few months, Gina taught me how to set up my business finances so I could pay myself on a consistent basis which I had never done before. She called me out when I needed to be called out. She helped me price new offerings without undercutting myself. I know that she helped get me further and faster with her help.


You don’t solve problems from the same level of awareness that created them. Ask someone else for a fresh take on an old problem.

3. Results will take longer than you think they should.


Get patient.

Name recognition, SEO, building trust with people all take time. It’s a slow burn, at least it has for me. Keep putting in that consistent work regularly.

Sometimes you have to exile yourself from the noise of the world and even from your own expectations.

I had some stories today about medical students. Frequently, the students will look at their work and compare it to what I’ve done. This leads to frustration. I tell them, you cannot compare the ten years of experience I have doing this to your first week on this rotation. It’s not fair to you.

This makes them feel a bit better, but they want to do better. That’s great to want better results. Stay with that feeling and pair it with time, practice, and persistence.

4. Your belief is everything.

WARNING: Unpopular belief ahead!

In 2018, I left my medical job to do this business full time. I knew I would work hard, be resourceful, and was smart enough to figure it out. So that’s all I would need right?

Ehh, not really.

The thing is, and this is a thing people don’t talk about enough, is that I didn’t really believe in myself. I can say that as 2021 me, but probably would’ve been offended if you told 2018 me that. The symptom of this lack of belief was undercharging. I didn’t feel like I needed to charge market rate or enough to make my business sustainable because I had savings that were keeping me afloat.

The result: I attracted clients that were price shoppers. Because of this, I didn’t believe there were clients out there that wanted to pay me what I wanted to ask for. And to be painfully honest, I wasn’t entirely sure I deserved that.

I came from a very structured land where you get a piece of paper that validates your ability to do something, and I didn’t have that here. There’s nothing comparable in the photography world. Imposter syndrome ran wild. I spent a good chunk of time working on this.

Fast forward to 2021. I wholeheartedly believe in the value I bring to clients. I wince a bit when I think about my pricing and books in 2018.

Everything is different because what I believe about myself, my business, and the possibilities that exist are wildly different between me now and me then.

I’ve never felt better about my business because I understand what I bring to the table, the numbers to keep my business going, and how I can continue to best serve clients through the process of growing.

5. Allow yourself to be a beginner.

Perfectionism is a killer of dreams. Adults like to be good at things and when you’re not, it seems disappointing somehow. This is especially true for high achievers! Perfectionism will stop you in your tracks before you try. You become self-conscious about how it’ll look like not to be perfect or flawless at something you haven’t ever tried before. The imperfection stops you in your tracks.

I’ve caught myself in these patterns too. But I’m working on letting myself be a beginner again and again. I can choose to be hard and unyielding on myself or I can choose to give myself grace. I’ve been choosing to tell myself I don’t have all the skills yet, but I’m willing to be bad so I can get good at some of them that I enjoy doing.

Right now I’m working on #garbagepostchallenge showing up on social media again. Working on letting go of perfectionism, showing up, and making it a habit again.

6. Automating and finding the right tools are a sort of magic.

Automating is a kind of magic! Because an automation elf does a lot of the work for you so that you don’t have to! Magic right?!

Unless you find joy in answering the same questions over and over again, explaining your pricing to potential clients, and, answering the same few common questions, you may want to develop a workflow instead that does it for you!

There are different tools for different businesses so we might not use the same ones. This year I’ve found and used HoneyBook (referral link for 20% off) as a new Client relation management system, Miro as a place to map out ideas and workflows, and am looking into Calendly vs Acuity as a scheduling tool.

It saves a lot of time, makes me more organized, and I’m excited to build more workflows so things are even more seamless and saves me even more time in the years to come!

7. Listen to yourself and your intuition.

There’s a lot of noise out in the world. Everyone and everything is competing for your attention. They’ll tell you that their thing is THE BEST and will fly you to the moon and back.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying people have ill intent. I’m sure they’re selling from a place of service and value.

But what I am saying is check-in with yourself.

Ask yourself: Does this feel like a thing you want to do or a thing you feel like you have to do? Does this feel true to me and/or my business?

Invest in things, people, ideas that feel true to you. Not only because someone said you should.

Cultivating a good relationship with myself has been the best time investment I’ve made. It’ll help you know what’s right and not right while navigating a sea of noise.

8. Ebbs and flows are natural.

Ebbs and flows just like seasons where there are periods of both growth and rest are natural.

A big takeaway for me this year is that irregular income levels is normal.

What’s unnatural is getting regular paychecks unless you’ve implemented a system to make them regular for you to balance out these natural cycles. You can turn these ebbs and flows into a more steady state, but you if you’re a soloprenuer, are going to do that. Otherwise you’re riding the ebbs and flows too.

This was a mind explosion for me. I had thought that there was something wrong with my business when there wasn’t.

The sameness became so natural to me that I though things that were natural were unnatural.

Be patient with yourself. I’ve told myself I’m a lifelong learner and this was a clear example of that.

9. Taking time to rest is just as important as taking time to plan.

Your rest is important. And “resting” while feeling guilty about it isn’t actually resting.

It’s not sustainable to work all the time. Believe me, I’ve tried and have burned out.

If you don’t make the time for yourself, you end up taking unplanned time when your body stops working the way you want it to. You can get sick or have an injury. I now make resting a part of my everyday life. I sleep 8 hrs instead of seeing how far I could push myself without it. It’s been a game changer. Sometimes you don’t know how bad you feel until you feel better. Now, I can’t see myself without regular sleep and breaks.

So while you’re planning your life, you may as well plan some breaks in between so you know where they fit into your life.

10. Just because it hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t mean that it won’t.

This ties back into your belief being everything (#4). Just because it hasn’t happened for you yet, isn’t evidence that it won’t.

You haven’t struck the magic formula to date, but that’s not proof that you aren’t going to. The only reason you wouldn’t make your goal is if you stop. Otherwise you must keep going, Keep iterating, keep the faith, and belief in yourself.

10 lessons from running a creative business 2020, 2021

Conclusion

So friends, what are or were your lessons from running a business or in life this past year? Please share them in the comments below! If you want to keep getting tips like this sign up for my email list so you don’t miss out on any gems!

Related links:

An oldie but goodie!

Great for vision boarding new goals!

https://emilywong.co/creating-visual-boards-with-pinterest/

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