Top 5 Lessons I Learned in my First Year as a Full-Time Creative Biz Owner | #BizBirthdayBash

So I'm about 3 weeks late for writing this post, but chalk it up to another lesson learned: I'm horrible at finding time to blog. But anywho, let's cut right to the chase: Cami Monet Watercolor & Calligraphy is officially ONE YEAR OLD!

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Last year, I took the leap from nine-to-fiver to full-time artist on September 16, and honestly? That day was terrifying. I didn't know if I was going to fall flat on my face or end up working as a barista at Starbucks and setting up a GoFundMe to feed my cats. Luckily that didn't happen (although I can make a mean latte with my Ninja Coffee Bar a.k.a. best Valentine's Day gift ever. Yes, that is an affiliate link because trust me, ya need one.)

But what did happen is I had a ton of mistakes, total flops, little victories and big wins. And I became best friends with Google and some actual real people too. Like my #bizbestie Elisabeth of ElisaAnne Calligraphy!

we totally accidentally on purpose coordinated for this shot. and i love it.

we totally accidentally on purpose coordinated for this shot. and i love it.

Backstory: we both coincidentally went full-time with our businesses on the VERY SAME DAY, so we kept in touch with each other as our businesses grew. It was so handy to have someone to reach out to who was going through the same struggles as I was at the exact same time. So of course after a year of emails, texts, DMs and Facetime chats, we knew that we wanted to do something to celebrate our one-year business anniversaries and you know, actually meet in person too. (P.S. Elisabeth is literally one of my favorite people ever, and our weekend trip was SO. MUCH. FUN.) And that' how our #BizBirthdayBash was born! We wanted to give back to everyone who followed along on our journeys and share the things we did right and the things we did wrong in our first year to help anyone else with the big dream of being their own boss. So we met halfway in Savannah, Georgia to host our fancy-schmancy webinar on the morning of September 16! (And holy moly, y'all we are so grateful that almost 500 of you signed up and more than 100 of you fabulous people tuned in live! SO cool!) 

We also spent a lot of time sipping tea and lattes, chasing cats, making serious headway on a Harry Potter puzzle at a bookstore and geeking out over historic architecture in between scarfing down fancy chocolates and yummy meals. It really was such a relaxing getaway! (And y'all we stayed at the cutest AirBnb above a bakery. I mean, how does it get any better than that??)

Did you miss the party? Don't worry you can still download our party favor: our 100% FREE and 100% awesome PDF guide “Top 100 Tips & Tricks Every Creative Biz Owner Should Know" that spills ALLLL the beans on productivity, client management, marketing, taxes and more!

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So yeah, let's dive in to those lessons learned, shall we? Buckle up buttercup because it's about to get wordy.

1. Say yes to saying no.

Y’all I can’t even tell you how many projects I took on just because there was the oh-so-tempting promise of money. And at the beginning when you’re starting out, anything with a dollar sign attached to it looks like fair game. I said yes to every styled shoot that came my way. I took on projects that had me cursing my clients, and I struggled with trying to deliver things that weren’t even in my wheelhouse. Yes, I could do them, but does that mean I should? Think of it this way: every project you say yes to means you’re saying no to something else. And if you say yes to the ehhhh projects, you won’t have room for the dream projects. I'm a total people pleaser through and through, but I've definitely learned that overcommitting and being busy isn’t a sign of success, and there is opportunity cost that comes with every project. 

Of course, I think it's definitely a good idea to experiment and try different projects. I mean, how else will you find what you truly love to do? You'll start to reach a point where you can be more selective because you're truly honing in on that sweet spot where you talent and demand meet. 

"I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.” - Steve Jobs

ACTION TIPS

  • Say yes in the beginning, but become more selective as you grow.
  • Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should.
  • Make a list of the all things you do actually do and the things you don’t. And stick to it. (Example: I am a watercolor artist, not a banner cutter outer.)
  • Create a list of referrals to have on hand when people ask you for the things that a) aren’t in your wheelhouse based on the list you made or b) have you already dreading them c) don’t have time for or d) don’t move your business forward. I love sending my friends work, especially when I know they're a perfect fit for a project. (Which means I just served that client by NOT taking on the job! Oh snap.)

2. Charge your worth.

Whew, lawdy y'all, this is one of those topics where I can get on a soapbox and go wayyyy off on a tangent, but let's keep it short for clarity's sake. Bottom line: your pricing can truly make or break you. And when I first started my business as a side-hustle, I was headed right down the "break" path.

Thankfully in my charge-$30-for-a-logo phase, I was still working full-time, so it wasn't as big of a deal. But I knew once I went full-time with my biz, that making three cents an hour wasn't going to cut it, so I took a big scary leap and raised my prices. By a lot. And guess what? I still got clients. Nobody died and called me a greedy monster. And I was able to match my corporate income in the FIRST month of going full time. My secret? I started pricing by value, instead of by time. 

I think it's super duper easy to get sucked into the 'hourly rate' trap, especially when the first words out of a prospective client's mouth are, "oh, what's your hourly rate?" We're wired to think in terms of billable hours, but as a creative, this pricing model just doesn't work for us. (Or are least, not well!) The work we're providing isn't quantitative; after all, your clients are paying you for the creative talents/ideas/skills you possess, not just the hours that go into creating the end product. Plus starting out in that time-tracking mindset already starts you off on the wrong foot with your clients because now y'all want two different things. Your customer is hoping that your calligraphed vows only take an hour so they can save a buck, and now you're in a position where taking 20 minutes to write each word sounds like a profitable game plan. Not good. 

But you know what, even if those vows do only take you an hour (in which case, good for you, Speedy Gonzales), why should be paid LESS for completing a project faster? As you get better at your craft, odds are, you will complete projects faster. If you're pricing hourly, you're shooting yourself in the foot. Pricing is much more related to the value a customer puts on the art you're creating for them and the experience you have, rather than the time it actually costs you to make it. My favorite illustration (heh) of this is the Picasso Principle. 

The Picasso Principle: A woman recognized Picasso on park bench and asked me to sketch a portrait of her. Picasso agreed, pulled out his sketchpad and got to work. After five minutes, he ripped the sketch off the pad, handed it to the woman and said, “That will be $10,000.”  The woman was floored. “Ten thousand dollars! Why, it only took you five minutes to draw that sketch!”  To which, Picasso replied, “No, madam. It took me 30 years”

Charging your worth allows you to deliver the best service possible without feeling like you need to slap another "billable hour" on the invoice, leads to more enjoyable work (how awesome is it to feel valued AND get paid?!) and lets give your clients what they really want —solutions to their problems. Creative work is valuable, and you deserve to be paid for it! I explain a little more about this on Sablewood Paper Company's blog The Stationery Pricing Taboo, Part III! Go check it out!

Okay before I go off on more pricing tangents and make this the #longestblogpostever, stay tuned for more upcoming blog posts about the top pricing mistakes I made, how your pricing reflects your brand, and how to add more value to your offerings without spending a dime. I get reallllly passionate about helping other entrepreneurs actually make money, so i got lots to say, peeps. Have something you'd like for me to cover about pricing? Shoot me an email at cami@camimonet.com and let's chat!

ACTION TIPS

  • Start by simply picking a number and let go of getting hung up on the math. Ideally pick one that makes you uncomfortable. Odds are you probably didn’t get it right the first time, but don’t let the fear of messing up hold you back. Set a price. Own it. Get paid. And adjust as necessary.
  • Have a goal in mind for your yearly “salary” and break it down so you can see what it will actually take to reach that goal.
  • Don’t price by time, price by value.
  • Ways to bring in more income: Raise prices (increase your fees without increasing cost by adding value) or just raise your prices where you finally aren’t losing money, increase your sales volume, lower overhead (bye-bye course subscriptions), fix under-performers and prune (aka drop the non-profitable shiz), diversify your income, create scalable products/passive income (like online courses and digital downloads)
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3. Systems are your secret weapon.

I know we’re all creatives and free spirits, but you cannot run a business on Paypal and post its, y’all. You need to have systems so you don’t lose your mind and so your business can grow while you can get back to work on the things that matter.

After all, systems help free up your brain space. And Lord knows I need more brain space.

I have workflows set up in Trello for each invitation client that outlines EVERY SINGLE STEP of what I need to do (everything from client gifts to emails to send). (You can also set this up in Dubsado with a workflow and have automated emails.) As you tweak your workflows, you’ll know where the hangups where/where you can improve things/where you can bring in help/etc. The Trello for Business course changed the game for me on this!

But let's dive in a bit to my all-time favorite system, BEST BUSINESS TOOL EVER (yeah, it's legit), and organization bae: Dubsado. It’s my number one system for organizing everything in my business, from client invoices, contracts, design proofs, lead captures, questionnaires, and more. I honestly can't recommend it highly enough, and if you've been around me for longer than 5 seconds, you'll hear me gush all about it. (Bonus: having streamlined systems makes it easy-breezy for clients to work with you, which means your client experience is top-notch, which means you charge more. Oh yeah, we just went full-circle.) Want a behind-the-scenes look at how I use Dubsado? Check out my How to use Dubsado as a Designer webinar where I go over all my tips and tricks here!

ACTION TIPS

  • Sign up for Dubsado and organize your freakin’ life! Use code 'camimonet' for 20% off your first month or year.
  • Get a bookkeeping system. I use GoDaddy Bookkeeping, but Dubsado also has a bookkeeping system. (It's your one-stop shop, y'all!)
  • Sit down and write out every step for different processes of your business. Think if you had to hand your business over to someone; would they able to manage the biz without you? Great businesses rely on great systems, not great people. But great people come up with the great systems!

4. It will take longer than you think.

One of the hardest things about going full-time is not having a team to pick up the slack. There will be emails you need to handle, random orders coming in, client crises, etc. all right in the middle of a huge deadline. You may think you are a super duper fast worker, but the reality is you can really only knock out three major tasks per day. THREE. (Or at least, that's my reality!)

When I was working at my magazine job, I would check the clock at 3:00 and think ‘Yes, only 2 more hours!” Now when I look at the clock at 3:00, I think, “CRAP I ONLY HAVE 2 MORE HOURS.” The time goes fast, and it can be exhausting to try to keep up.

Allow yourself buffer time/margin/white space for projects. I've worked on lots of custom projects that have taken longer than expected or my own poor planning has left my rushing around like a crazy person. There’s almost always something that goes wrong with shipping/client response times/that important details of WEEKENDS. Even if we sometimes work on the weekend, other businesses don’t and that can screw up shipping times when you don't plan ahead. Time management is crucial, and that's where all those systems come into play to help alleviate that pressure and scale your business. 

ACTION TIPS

  • Leave at least 5 days of ‘buffer room” for each project.
  • Set realistic goals for yourself so you don’t set yourself up for failure.
  • Before beginning a project, account for shipping time, weekends, holidays, vacations, other projects currently being worked on and labor time for yourself.
  • Don’t be an optimist.
  • Have projected deadlines for each stage of the project and note them in your calendar.

5. A well-constructed client experience will make you irreplaceable.

Humor me for a minute here, and pretend you're buying a plain white t-shirt. You go to Wal-Mart first only to be greeted by never-flattering fluorescent lighting, cash register beeps and squeaky shopping cart wheels, and you find the white shirts crumpled up on a metal shelf riddled with neon yellow price tags. It's only $5.88 (Roll-back prices, y'all.) You pick up some eggs on the way out, clang your WD-40-lacking buggy to the register, and then tell yourself that you're never going to Wal-Mart again. (Why is it always a lie??)

Now let's say you head to Anthropologie for a white tee. You pry open up those heavy wooden doors into boho Narnia. It smells like a Hawaiian orchid garden mixed with eclectic coolness, and you feel like you could finally start living your organic, artsy princess dream-life that revolves around a perfectly fluffed white duvet, hand-painted tea cups and twinkle lights on your porch. You find the same cotton white shirt that's nearly identical to the Wal-Mart version, except this time it's folded exquisitely on a live oak farm table and the price tag is letterpressed with gold foil. It's $68, and you can't imagine a better deal than this versatile white top that you're going to wear all. the. time. You buy it, along with 5 new candles, a ring dish and the cutest stationery, and tell yourself that you're only shopping at Anthro from here on out. 

Same product. Different experience. 

And that's why we'll pay 10x more the price for the same end-result. 

Think about how you want your clients to experience your biz. This is where those little minute details can lead to big profits and uplevel the value that lets you charge premium pricing. Give your clients white-glove service that will keep them coming back.

Examples: sending client gifts, adding GIFs to your emails, infusing “you” all throughout your brand, having a high-end color palette and cohesive design, having systems set up to make it as easy and seamless as possible for your client to book with you/work with (*cough* DUBSADO *cough*), exceeding expectations, adding extra bonuses, handwritten notes, throw in a free print, beautiful packaging, social media shoutouts and storytelling, sending a Spotify playlist with your proofs, anticipating needs before your client does... so many little things that make a BIG difference!

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou

ACTION TIPS

  • Buy a product from yourself and mail it to yourself too. Put yourself in your client’s shoes to see where there are hangups, difficulties or places to add personality. Or have a friend go through the client experience with you to give you feedback.
  • Embrace Southern hospitality, y’all.
  • Anticipate your client’s needs and surprise and delight them along the way.
  • Always under-promise and over deliver.
  • Communication is key.
celebratory cupcakes from our #bizbirthdaybash webinar!

celebratory cupcakes from our #bizbirthdaybash webinar!

And there ya have it: my biggest lessons from this past year! I can't wait to start planning next year's #BizBirthdayBash with Elisabeth! Be sure to check out her top 5 tips... #4 is a MUST!!

Check out Elisabeth's Top 5 Lessons here!