I’ve been self-employed for four years now, and running my online tarot business for about two of these. It’s not a long time, I know, but it’s long enough to have experienced a steep learning curve when it comes to earning an income pretty much by my wits.
Some of the lessons I’ve learned have been obvious. Like… if you don’t crack on and do your work, you won’t earn an income. If you deliver over and above what you promise, folks will like and trust you and will return over and over. If you understand your ‘target market’, if you know who you work for, it’s easier to build a relationship with these people and thus to create things they want to pay for.
Other lessons have been less obvious, learned the hard way, or the slow way, or delivered by sudden revelation. One such discovery for me in 2015 was this: you can plan and plan and plan and plan…but you probably won’t know how any of this will turn out. All you can do is try. Feel your way through.
2015 was a year of experimentation for me and my business. I didn’t plan to open a shop at all, but an accidental order that I never placed meant that it just kinda happened anyway…and it’s been a real success. When I created my online tarot course – an experimental ‘passive income’ product – I had no idea what would happen, only that I really wanted to make it. Astonishingly, it’s been my bread and butter this year. On the other hand I poured resources into building a social network with plans for a monthly charge…but when I launched it, nobody would pay. C’est la vie. I live/work and learn, and I’m so incredibly excited to find out what will come next.
But this isn’t about me and my business, it’s about you and yours! Will 2016 be the year you finally quit that job and launch your own project, following your arrow to work that feels truly you? Or the year you plan to up your game in your existing business and outshine all of your competition? Will the new year see you plotting a completely new career path, or is your business resolution simply to slow down and stop working so damn hard?
Wherever you’re at, to inspire you I’ve collected together the wisdom of a bunch of incredible queer women who are proudly doing their own thing. These are folks who are learning as they go — because that’s what it means to ‘follow your arrow’. There’s no one way to run a business, all we can do is share our stories, our successes and our failures, our ‘what works for me is..’, and all the wisdom and experience we gain when we commit to making a living from doing what we love.
Riese Bernard, CEO, Autostraddle
Take at least one day off a week to do something you love or spend time with the people you love ’cause you’ll burn out if you don’t feed your INTERNAL FIRE. Also, pay it forward and spread good karma — I wouldn’t have ever felt comfortable asking Autostraddle readers for financial support if I didn’t give it myself to the media I appreciate. I don’t know that I have any grander motivational words to offer, ’cause honestly doing what you want to do is going to be very difficult, maybe even impossible, so there’s no greeting-card or inspirational-poster-style words I feel honest imparting to you. Try to have fun, I think, would be my advice.
Miyuki Baker, Artist, Activist and Academic
Fail big! Try it out! You might not have figured out all the kinks in your plan, but if you find yourself prolonging the leap, it could be time to just close your eyes and do it. On the side of more practical advice, write out who all are your mentors. Figure out what parts of your life they mentor you in, and make sure you have mentors or role models who have successful businesses. Seek out their advice and don’t be afraid to ask for help. People are usually honored to be asked for help as long as you’re specific about what you need help with.
Willow Zietman, Blacksmith
Businesses are organic; they grow. Being a professional craftsperson or artist doesn’t mean buying a giant studio right off the bat and making crazy huge things by the thousands. Start where you are, doing what you can. If you can spend a few minutes of your lunch break designing pieces, do that. Can you rent a few hours a week at a maker space to make small things? Do that. Can you sell a few pieces? Even better. Go slowly, and know that a small step forward is still a step forward.
Alexandra Franzen, Writer
In a storm of “business” and “marketing” advice, much of which feels contradictory and overwhelming, there is one piece of advice that always shines true for me. It is this phrase: “Do what you say you’re going to do.” That’s it. Make promises and keep them. Follow through. Don’t cancel. Don’t flake. Be punctual. Show your clients that you can be trusted to hit the mark.
This may seem “too simple,” but you’d be amazed by how many business owners can’t seem to do this.
If you can build a reputation for yourself as someone who does what she says she’s going to do, you will shine brightly, you will be respected, clients will love you and talk about you, and in time… you’ll have plenty of referrals and tons of work and sales and all that great stuff. An impeccable reputation is the best “marketing strategy” on earth. Simple and true.
Caroline Entowitz, Fashion Designer
A lot of times, I look at what I do and compare it to the designers and designs that inspire me and naturally my pieces come up short. I used to really beat myself up about it, but then I started reminding myself that they all probably did some not so great work at the beginning also. So now I have a bunch of designs that I really don’t like from really great designers that I look at when I feel like I am a talentless hack. Otherwise, comparing yourself against the best can be totally discouraging.
Emilie Wapnick, Founder, Puttylike
One of the biggest challenges when starting or growing a business is the fear and anxiety that comes along with increased visibility. This has been the biggest year in my business since launching 5 years ago. I did a TEDx talk that went viral, signed with a literary agency, and our community/customer base doubled in size. Despite all of these successes, I felt more fear than I ever have. The fear never really goes away, in fact, it seems to grow in proportion to the opportunities that come your way. All you can do is get better at accepting it and at working around it.
The other thing I learned this year has to do with criticism and empathy. As Puttylike grew, I learned how to handle unsolicited criticism (and other, ruder forms of commentary) with more grace. For me, it involved learning how to be more empathetic. When I get a nasty email, I try to think about what kind of life the writer might have, or what they might have been through for my message to cause them so much anger or strife. It can be a total fabrication of my imagination, doesn’t matter. I’ve found that when we try to understand where someone’s coming from, and how they see the world, it can lead to better outcomes, or at the very least, help ease the pain of unsolicited criticism.
Tieara Myers, Spiritual Teacher, Psychic and Healer
Do it. Just do it.
If you have a burning desire to create your own business, honor that. That is a part of your soul speaking with you. It is a part of why you are here. Do not let your dreams fall away. Where there is a will, there is a way. Honestly, you will figure it out as you go along. All the right resources will show up. As you are going along, I’d say don’t try to do it alone. Get support from the community, FB groups, a mentor, a coach, a new business group of friends. You will need the support as you birth something new into the world. It makes a world of a difference.
Tara Brown, Coffee Roaster
There’s no gatekeeper when you’re starting a business, nobody to read your application and say “You are good enough to be here.” There’s no clear external validation at the beginning at all, which is a strange feeling if (like me) you’ve been seeking it all your life. I kept waiting for permission and then realized that there was nobody to give it to me. I just had to trust myself.
ALSO fun fact: if you give your business the name of a human person (I borrowed the name Cora from my maternal grandmother) everybody will assume that you named your business after yourself. This is either funny or annoying, steer clear of first names if it mostly sounds annoying.
Beth Maiden, Tarot Reader and Writer
Don’t expect to get everything right straight away. Understand that this is a huge experiment — you’ll make unexpected right turns, and experience moments when something you thought was a sure-fire hit comes to nowt. It’s helpful to be organised, it’s great to make plans, it’s grounding to know where you want to go… but know that when you’re following your heart, things have a way of taking you off-course. Try not to control everything, and let your intuition have a part in what you do. This can be scary, but it’s also a huge part of the fun.
Want more inspiration? Follow Your Arrow is a fortnightly series featuring interviews with queer and trans freelancers, solopreneurs and business owners — check out the entire archive here.
Do you or someone you know run a business that should be featured on Follow Your Arrow? Email beth at autostraddle dot com and tell us all about it!