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.
Read our interview with Miyuki here.
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.
Read our interview with Willow here.
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.
Read our interview with Alex here.
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.
Read our interview with Caroline here.
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.
Read our interview with Emilie here.
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.
Read our interview with Tieara here.
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.
Read our interview with Tara here.
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.
Read our interview with Beth (that’s me) here.
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!
I relate strongly to the words of Emilie Wapnick and Tara Brown’s permission seeking. This was fun and encouraging!
Agreed – the whole idea about having permission to figure out the best way to run your business is simple but so hard to really embed. Best of luck for 2016 @ivar!
Thank you, Beth! Last year I tried the New Year’s Tarot spread you suggested and it turned out to be wonderfully accurate and helpful (though I stubbornly rejected some of the advice, it was educational to review the year and see how well the predictions had prepared me for it).
Now I just need to calm down my inner Knight of Swords as I gallop through 2016. :)
Thank you for all the advice and best of luck with your business!
well, this was everything
Your personal brand needs you @carmenrios
Thank you, all of you. This is one of my favourite series here on AS and today’s was especially wonderful.
Yay! So glad you liked it. Here’s to a year of more amazing interviews :)
Love! I closed one business last year and this year am working to join in on my family’s business of rental houses. My brother started 7 years ago and got my parents to join in. My wife and I are working on buying our first as part of having a diversified retirement plan. It is a bit scary, but I do feel so much better having family and friends who know the ropes and are willing to share information and insights!
Oooh, sounds interesting. This is a whole level of business we haven’t explored yet in Follow Your Arrow – the kind of business you can sell or buy parts of. Hope it goes well @shewasnice!
I’m finding grad school less overwhelming if I think of it as sort of like being a freelance academic, and I love this column for helping with that. And for reminding me that everything worth doing is also worth struggling for.
Thank you, thank you so much Beth! There’s such an avalanche of entrepreneurship info out there…so it’s great to hear some fabulous nuggets from fellow LGBT folks. Somehow that’s extra meaningful.
May you and your business enjoy peace and prosperity.
Agreed! Thanks @shiner
This was a great snapshot of some really solid advice. Apparently going on the journey to start my own biz this year, and it’s fun and scary and glorious.
Also, I had never heard of Puttylike before but the word “Multipotentialite” totally jives with me really well. Now that I know it I don’t know that I can think of myself in my career in any other way, so thanks for the introduction, Autostraddle!
This was an awesome depiction of some truly strong counsel. Evidently going on the adventure to begin my own business this year, and it’s fun and terrifying and heavenly.I have own psychometrics business.
I would also add reengineering process tips. Reengineering is a fundamental rethinking and radical redesign of business processes to dramatically improve important current performance metrics such as cost, quality, service, and speed. Check out https://fluix.io/help/business-process-reengineering
There are four basic requirements for reorganization to be considered true business process reengineering:
1. Fundamental: Fundamental questions should be asked. For example: why do we do what we do? What do we really need to do this, and how do we really need to do it?
2. Radicalness: the point is not in superficial “combing”, but in rethinking the whole business and, if necessary, its radical transformation.
3. Scale: Business process reengineering is not done for small improvements. On the contrary, it is done for an essential process in the company’s activities.
4. Processes: Reengineering only applies to processes, and a process perspective is one of the priorities in such projects. The organization of corporate structures is not his primary focus.