Next spring, I’ll celebrate my fifth year in business, and I couldn’t be more excited about this creative career that I built from the ground up! I have thousands of sales at the Energy Shop on Etsy, I’ve recently doubled my blog traffic, the Marketing Creativity email list has thousands of subscribers, and I’ve reached my start-up goal of being a full-time work-at-home Mom. But, I’ve been keeping a secret.
For all the marketing strategy, shop fundamentals and selling tips I share, there’s one secret ingredient that I often leave out of the recipe. Though I KNOW it’s the guiding force behind my success, I’ve always considered it a given – the thing everyone already knows is required.
However, I now realize that just because everyone knows there’s a necessary ingredient doesn’t mean they always remember to include it. It still needs to be listed on the recipe! And that’s what this article serves to do today.
Here’s the REAL Secret to My Success
We often look at the online empires of others and marvel at the success they’ve found: hundreds of thousands of followers, thousands of sales and a steady flurry of sharing and support. It’s very easy to get caught in the comparison game right then and there and tell yourself: I don’t have anywhere near that reach! I’ll never make it in this business. In other words, we tell ourselves that the successful people around us have something we don’t, as if the decks been stacked in their favor.
Oftentimes, when you stumble upon a seemingly overnight success in the form of a best-selling shop or popular blogger, it’s easy to be blinded by their fame.
I’ve cracked the code on this. If another business seemingly finds instant success, it’s possible this is their fifth try in business (as the Energy Shop was mine). It’s possible that they bought an email list or an already-established brand. It’s possible that a few Etsy top-sellers are buying their own sales (where you see pages and pages of “anonymous” reviews, covered by one or two buyers’ feedback on top). The bloggers that appear to big stars overnight most likely bought an already-existing domain or redirected traffic from another well-established blog they’d been working on for years.
Don’t compare yourself to them! The rest of us start with our very first customer or our very first reader. And from there, we just. keep. building. The REAL secret to my own success is: Persistence. I am constantly forcing myself to keep going when it seems like nobody’s …
- supporting or
And it happens ALL THE TIME. Sometimes, even when my business is thriving on paper, to me it still feels like nobody’s out there. Here are:
1. Create and Remind
To me, creating is both the best and worst part of the job. When your work feels on purpose, it’s easy to get swept away in the creative process. It reminds me of childhood, when an afternoon of playing was gone in a flash. My days are often so fun that weeks, even months go by in a flash of inspiration. I love that about being a maker, and I’m sure you can relate.
To grow your business, however, you sometimes have to do things with your creations that you’ve never done before – such as, list them online for sale or show them at a market. Other times, you want to create something you’ve never made before in order to expand. The project quickly becomes overwhelming and exhausting.
And what’s worse? Sometimes you release your glorious, passionate creation into the world and nobody even notices it’s there! How many times has this happened to you? And how many times have you ditched the new creation altogether out of sheer disappointment?
Disappointment is a real danger in creative, passion-based businesses. It will cause you to drop a project when it doesn’t get off the ground as you’d expect. You forget that it’s not only your job to create that product, it’s also your job to help it find success.
That’s why, for every new project I release, I launch it with a 3- to 6- month marketing plan. It’s not enough to create a product, you also have to make sure people know about it. And oftentimes, the first announcement is only the beginning of the campaign – especially when you’re selling a quality product at a higher price. People need time to consider the offer, but don’t let them forget about it. Make a few notes that span the next few months in your calendar to gently remind your customers that your new creation exists.
2. Dissolve Your Attachments to the Desired Outcome
This reiterates the theory that every new product, project or idea you create needs at least 3- to 6- months before you can decide whether it’s a success or failure.
My favorite example of this are the monthly Create Happy Hours I started hosting in August 2014. The first live webinar boasted nearly 100 sign-ups, which is phenomenal for a self-hosted, self-promoted live call. I expected a huge turnout and hired someone to help moderate that many people during the hour-long session.
When only a dozen people attended live, I was ready to quit the idea altogether. It was easy to write it off as something people just weren’t that interested in and deem it a waste of time.
Instead, I decided to commit to six months of live calls, announcing the topics and air time so that people could save the date. The live attendance hasn’t improved much, but I did find a way to repurpose the calls. Each month, I turn that topic into a course and challenge for members of The Luminaries Club.
It’s worked out brilliantly because I’m able to share insider secrets live (it’s seriously juicy info!) for those who can attend while laying the groundwork for challenges I was going to create anyway inside the membership program. The project was able to find success in a different way after I’d dissolved my attachment to the original desired outcome.
3. Track Your Progress
One of the most empowering things I’ve ever done in my creative business was to share my income reports for a year of full disclosure. It helped me remember WHY I started a business and the original goal I’d set back in 2010 when I began this journey.
Creative businesses are personal. Therefore, as creative business owners, our perspective is always too close. It’s difficult to see past the tip of your own nose! Sometimes this business feels like a lot of giving without return. When I started to record stats and calculate a true hourly wage for myself, I realized how much this career offers and how far I’ve come.
Here are more personal strategies I employ when I feel like giving up:
What I Do That Works:
- Remember why I started. When I started out in 2010, my ultimate goal was to be a work-at-home Mom so I could have both a fulfilling career and the ability to always be there for my family. I try to never forget the gratitude I felt when I received my very first sale.
- Talk it out with my husband (someone who’s watched me grow from the ground up). When I was building The Luminaries Club, my husband and I walked through the neighborhood while I wept about how scared I was. A creative career is demanding, and building something that’s never existed before is hard work. My husband reassured me, reminded me that this stretch was not going to make or break my entire business and helped me look toward the future at all that was still to come. His listening ear and calm advice is such a gift, and one he gives me often.
- Pull a card. In other words, take some time out of your day for reflection and listen to your inner wisdom.
- Review my progress. The income reports for 2014 have really come in handy this year. Anytime I’m having a slow month, looking back over the year helps me realize it’s only a temporary stall.
What I’m Trying Next:
- A social media cleanse. Since August, I’ve wrapped four major projects and I’m 80% done with another. Nobody would question my productivity right now … except for me. After all that I’ve made happen, I’m still waiting for something to happen! I’ve returned to my clickaholic roots, incessantly checking email and social media for updates and notifications.
This is a pitfall because when you check for feedback hundreds of times per day, and you get 10 clear signs that you’re on the right track in business, that positive feedback goes unnoticed. The lack of feedback you received the other 290 times you checked social media and email dominates your performance review instead.
I’m currently on a social media cleanse (except for the work I’m doing to grow my Pinterest following), and I’m not using Facebook or Twitter. I automate blog posts and tweet or share from the other sites I’m on, but I don’t visit the site itself. This cuts my incessant “waiting for something to happen” time in half, and the point of the exercise is to reduce my usage of social media altogether.
- Improved accountability. My clickaholic tendencies are actually a form of procrastination. It’s HARD to wear all the many hats required of you in a creative business, and especially so when it feels like nobody’s interested and it’s all for naught.
I have several ways to keep myself accountable. I know (and often coach to others) that if you don’t show up and give this business 100% every day, you can’t expect a return. Anybody can create something and put it online, but that does not entitle you to a thriving business. Somebody has to show up everyday to keep it operating!
I keep editorial and marketing calendars, but the most effective accountability tool is sharing your deadlines and to-do lists with others. I found a lot of success with public deadlines, such as my behind-the-scenes post and the progress logs we keep inside The Luminaries Club.
What do you do to stay persistent in creative business?
Thank you for this post…I definitely have my days when I think, ‘Why bother writing a blog post? Nobody reads it anyway’ and i have to keep reminding myself that everyone with a blog started the same way. Thanks for the dose of encouragement and inspiration!!
Those days are the toughest! Thanks for adding, Annette. All the best <3
I’m listening, Lisa ! I listen to everything you have to say, and you’re THE biggest influence on my online journey so far. Sometimes your nuggets of wisdom take a while to sink in, and even longer for me to action, but I assure you I’m listening! (I’m also ridiculously persistent by nature….)
I very much appreciate it, Lucy! Thank you so much for the kind words <3 I see your persistence, and it will continue to come in handy for your growing business.
I so needed to hear this… TODAY! Yesterday was a most discouraging day for me, and while I’d shaken it off, mostly, this morning, your words really lifted me up and put me back in the saddle!
Excellent! That’s my favorite kind of feedback <3 Thank you.
There’s this scene in the movie “The Perfect Storm” where George Cloony’s character has just been told he’s got a great work ethic; he retorts with “I don’t have a work ethic, I just have work.” That’s partly me, but I don’t mean it in a nose-at-the-grindstone-all-the-time kind of way… more in a way of … I always have something to do, and if one thing is making me feel really unmotivated, I have no trouble putting it aside and working for a while on something else.
Have I been trying to figure out what colors to paint some mugs, and I’m just not feeling the love…? Then since I also have a few ideas for blog posts sifting about in my mind, why don’t I put those mugs away for 24 hours, go pre-write some blog posts, and then maybe do some website maintenance on my listings or update my email templates or keep assigning Instagram hashtags to my products for that fancy app I bought that pulls in photos of my work from my customer’s Instagram accounts if they use the hashtag I give them? Or maybe I’m stuck in writing the description for the next round of yarn club, but it’s lunchtime and a good friend is free… the work will still be there when I get back home in an hour, and stepping away from it might do my mind good.
Then I also go for walks to clear my head, knit to focus my mind, read to relax, talk with friends, bounce ideas off my husband, and let myself sneak in an afternoon off every now and then.
I have an ultimate goal, a True North, and the sight of that keeps me going. I’ve worked for small mom-and-pop businesses. I’ve worked for medium-sized locally owned businesses. I’ve worked for big box corporations. The best of all of those was the small one-person owned bookstore run by the owner and about five of us worker bees… better than that was owning a yarn store with two good friends. But the best of all has been working for my own creative business. That keeps me moving forward even on the worst days. Like you said early on in your post… persistence!
Thank you for adding, Lorena. It’s very difficult to fight our own unrealistic expectations and remain self-motivated, but you offered some great perspective.
Hi Lisa, thanks for the encouragement. I’ve just recently started my blog, I think it’s my 4th or 5th one. The others were just practice. They didn’t get any readers because I wasn’t following my passion. Now that I’ve found my passion, it’s certainly much easier to write regularly. It’s challenging to start a blog from scratch because you often don’t get many views. I get excited when I look at the analytics and see that one person has clicked through from Pinterest – YAY!
So thank you for the encouragement to keep going. I’m stubbornly determined to persist in this venture!