I find being an owner of a small business so…freaking…hard sometimes. Actually, I find it hard most of the time. All those pretty, pretty photos on Instagram of me serenely working at a cluttered desk, or stacks of my work drying against sunny windows – glossy products of my industriousness, really don’t cover it at all.
There have been countless, countless times since I first started this business, when I just wanted to quit, when it was just too hard to keep going. Those times I would either be talked off a ledge by my husband, or I would just grit my teeth and ride the wave of overwhelming pressure until it died down a bit. As a result, I’m still here inching along, facing down each new challenge with a chest full of fear and a teeny, tiny pinch of bravery.
I’m very pig headed, you know, and comments such as “Well your business hasn’t really grown that much over time, maybe you should do something else.” just make me want to dig my heels in further and keep going. So there’s another reason why I’m still here.
This week has been full of frustration and setbacks for me. The venue that I normally run my summer camps at, was rented to someone else for the weeks that I wanted (Betrayed? Who me?). This meant that I needed to restructure my entire summer calendar, and find a new teacher to work with, because the fabulous person I had booked initially was not available anymore.
I got droopy, I whined a lot “Why does everything have to be so haaard!?”, and I spent a weekend nursing my wounded spirit with books, and evil looks. Then I did the only thing I could do as a responsible adult (blah!). I got to work fixing things.
Of course this involved performing a lot of tasks that are outside my comfort zone. I had to do face to face negotiations with actual humans (ugh!), I had to email people over and over again and be pushy, I had to be organized and assertive, and hold multiple dates, names, and details in my head. Do you know how hard this stuff is for me? I thought it was enough to just be creative and prolific. Noooooo. Owning a business means (for me) constantly confronting fears, taking small risks that feel like jumping over chasms, and having to talk to people when really all you want to do is hide, paint, and mope. Why did nobody tell me that a crack business manager doesn’t just materialize out of thin air when you register an LLC?
I don’t think I am alone. I think many artists and creatives get into the habit of working alone, and can find it hard to snap out of their introversion, and work according to other people’s rules. Many of the skills that go into being a successful business owner, are not necessarily skills that pair easily with being an artist. It’s hard. With that in mind, here are some observations I have made, that might help out new business owners that fit the above description…
Growth happens in spurts
I have noticed with my business that it doesn’t happen steadily. Things will be trundling on in a straight line, and then all of a sudden something will happen to kickstart a chain of events that promotes a little growth (and make you panic). Be patient, put in the hours and things will happen, maybe not all at once, but they will.
What doesn’t kill you, will only make you stronger
The old saying is true. All those painful experiences slowly, almost imperceptibly have been strengthening me. I am more competent and confident today than I have ever been, but I have a long way to go, and experience is really the only way to learn some things. The ageing process has also helped greatly, of course.
Learn to say no when something doesn’t feel right. You don’t have to take on every project that comes your way. I was asked to run evening art classes from home a couple of years ago, but without a proper studio space, and two kids to look after in the evening, it just felt like too much. I am considering starting a Saturday art class at a nearby studio now. My kids are older and I like the location. The time is right.
Last, but not least, have creative friends who you can turn to when things are hard. People who understand what it is like to do what you do. Even if they live in a different country! I WhatsApp with a friend in England when things are really dire. Take their advice, but ultimately, only you can decide what works for you. And revel in the fact that the older you get, the more you can get away with being grouchy all the time!