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My 3 biggest mistakes as a creative business owner

Today, I made a mistake. It’s far from my first mistake as a creative business owner, but it made me think about all the other mistakes I’ve ever made and what I’ve learned from them.

Fortunately, it was an early-caught, easily fixable mistake that only cost me my time – and potentially three Substack subscribers – but it was a mistake all the same.

I got caught up by shiny objects and thought that starting something new was going to solve a problem that I had, instead of trying to solve the problem on the platform I’d already built.

What actually happened, though, was I diluted and segmented my one fledgling audience, and by trying to serve them – in theory – I’d ended up serving no one. Which is usually the case when we do things in an attempt to try to please everyone. Read more about it here. 

I honestly thought I’d moved past that in a lot of ways, but it turns out I hadn’t. I was just able to catch it faster, pivot sooner, and stop myself falling into the shame spiral – and in a lot of ways, that’s probably better than never having made the mistake in the first place.

As creative business owners, we need to give ourselves permission to make mistakes – and learn from them

Like all of us, I learn from mistakes. Once burned, twice shy.

But, for years, I was so wary of doing things wrong that I didn’t take any action at all in case it would be perceived as wrong.

I couldn’t see the value in making mistakes, only the consequences of everything falling apart. Gosh, it’s hard to be a perfectionist and try to live up to your own impossibly high standards!

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it took me years to take action on my business.

I had a million excuses why it wasn’t the right time. 2010 was too late to start as a travel writer. It had already been done – I’d missed the boat. What did I have to offer that someone else wasn’t already doing?! Why bother with Instagram?!

Oh man.

I look back now and I wish I’d had the courage and conviction that I have now back then. But, although I can’t turn back time for myself – I can share the three biggest mistakes I’ve made as a creative business owner to stop you from making them too.

After all, there is room for everyone and a rising tide lifts all ships.

So, without further ado, here we go. Here’s hoping you can learn from my mistakes – and give yourself permission to make mistakes as a creative business owner, too.

1 – Thinking that there is no space for us/the market is too saturated/we don’t have anything to add to the conversation.

For years (almost a decade) I let this one hold me back from what I actually wanted to do. It also made me resent people who were out there doing it – entirely illogically – because they had what I wanted, and it wasn’t fair. 

Truth is, nothing is ever fair.

If we want it, we have to go get it. We have to get really clear about why we want it – and what it is we want. We have to think about what we have to offer that makes us special; ie. why someone would choose to work with us over someone else, and then we have to come up with an action plan.

It might take a while for the ball to start rolling and pick up speed and for us to get where we want to go – but that time is going to pass anyway. We might as well use it taking action steps towards our dreams.

Worst case scenario, it might not work, but I can promise you you’ll have learned a lot along the way and be a lot clearer about where you want to be.

For example, I spent nearly a decade wanting to be a travel writer and talking myself out of it because I was too scared to take action.

Then, after I finally did take action, I spent the next decade being a travel writer. Five years in, I realised that I actually didn’t want to be a travel writer at all. But fortunately I was a lot closer to knowing what I did want – like to offer creative mentoring for creatives and creative business owners – so I was able to put some of the groundwork in for that instead.

2 – Waiting until we’re ready and feel like we have things 100% figured out before taking action

If I could go back and tell my smaller self anything it would be this. You will never feel 100% ready. You will never feel 100% ready even if someone tells you you’re 100% ready – and if they do then chances are you’ll feel even less ready because now there’s pressure from other people expecting you to be ready too.

You can spend all the time in the world beating around the bush and running through imaginary scenarios in your mind and trying to plan every step out and figure it all out and come up with counterarguments to any resistance you might have; but then you’re not only missing out on the fun that comes from figuring it out, but also wasting valuable time and energy running through things that might never happen.

Truth is, nothing can teach us more than actually taking action. No university course, no workshop, masterclass, mentorship, program, book, etc. We can pay the best teachers in the entire world – and as a mentor I want to be there to support you – but unless we can take action, it won’t ever go anywhere.

3 – Thinking we can’t change our minds

Ever heard that saying “you’ve made your bed, now you’ve got to lie in it?” Nothing kills a creative business or a creative business owner’s spirit like believing this is true.

A big part of the creative journey is creative thinking – which means coming up with novel, original, and useful ideas and solutions to problems. It does not mean inflexible, rigid thinking that makes us feel like we’re backed into a corner and we can’t go anywhere.

We need freedom. We also need limitations. But it’s only by meeting these limitations that we can start to get really clear on what we want to offer the world – and what we don’t. And then we can start to shape our business, our business plan, and ourselves as business people to better suit our clients, our niche/industry, and ourselves, which are all equally important pillars of a successful business.

How can making mistakes make us better creative business owners?

Without making mistakes and learning from them, we can’t be the best creative business owners we can be.

We can’t pivot our offerings to suit the marketplace. We can’t get feedback from failed launches and failed experiments – which, as much as I hate to say this, give us heaps more value than successful ones (just not always monetarily, obviously…)

Without making mistakes and learning from them, we’re more likely to do what I did today – get distracted by shiny things; think the grass is greener, and not trust our intuition when it’s screaming out at us. And we’re more likely to try to scatter our offerings, try to please everyone, and end up pleasing no one.

Fact is, as creative owners, we need to make mistakes. It’s the only way kids learn, and it’s the same way we do, too. But we don’t have to make all the mistakes. We don’t have to feel like we’re blindfolded, trying to dodge potholes while walking down the street in the middle of the night. This isn’t an “I fell in that hole so everyone else deserves to fall in it too” situation. 

It’s just that the sooner we normalise that making mistakes is a big part of being in business, the less scary they become. The easier it is to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and pivot. And a great way to learn how to do that is by engaging the services of a creative mentor.

How can working with a creative mentor help us better navigate mistakes as a creative business owner?

Whether you’re a creative looking to branch out or a creative business owner looking for some support on the journey, as a creative mentor, I’m right there walking down that dark road with you. I’ll be by your side to make sure you don’t get tripped up by any of the potholes that have caught me.

And if – and when – you do encounter others, then I’ll be there to catch you and help you get back up on your feet and teach you how to use each and every mistake as a creative leap to help you move forward. 

A bit like how I’ve managed to eke today’s mistake into a Substack post and a blog post! Win win. 

If you’d like to hear me tell you about more of my mistakes and my lessons learned, feel free to sign up for a free discovery call, where I can regale you with torturous and humorous tales of mistakes I’ve made so you don’t have to for the full 15 minutes. Otherwise, you can check out my mentoring page and read my other blog posts to find out more.

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