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running a creative business | making profit-based decisions

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I wrote a post answering a reader’s question about how I balance business and the rest of my life.  The short answer is I struggle through it.  Sometimes successfully and sometimes not.  You can read the long answer HERE.

I received an e-mail from a fellow creative-business owner and blogger, Cassie from Lovely Weeds, about balancing different aspects of our kind of business.  Here is her e-mail…

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I can’t tell you how helpful your business posts are. A creative business is such murky territory! I know you just posted about balancing work and family, but it got me wondering about how you balance the online side of your work with the physical part. That’s my biggest struggle right now.

I have a tiny blog that I love writing, and a retail business where I sell my own handmade and repurposed furniture and goods from a consignment shop and at two local fairs each year. I love both “jobs” and don’t want to cut either out, but I’ve had a hard time finding the most efficient way to use my time for both. My retail business is what makes the most profit, and I have some really exciting things happening in the spring (I’m making a mini-shop from a trailer, ta-da). At the same time, I feel my blog is coming to a crossroads where I need to make some changes that involve more of a time and financial commitment from me – if I’m going to take it seriously.

I know it’s important to diversify (thanks Building a Creative Business 2.0!), it just feels like I’m not doing either part of my business justice right now – no matter how hard I work at each.

I would just love to know your take! Do I need to prioritize one over the other?

Cassie Thompson

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I think this is such a great topic and something I’ve had to work through over the years, so I thought I would share the whys behind my own decisions in the hopes that it will encourage others, like Cassie.  And for those who aren’t business-owners, it might be interesting to “peek behind the curtain.”

First of all, to those business owners who feel this way, if you don’t read anymore of this post, read this…

You cannot do everything well.

Don’t feel like you need to.  Don’t feel like you’re failing if you can’t.

I recently shared about the time in my business where things really started taking off.  In a six month period, I got three magazine features, two new freelance writing/photography jobs and was invited to join two retail spaces.  I felt like I needed to say yes to everything.  We needed the income and honestly, I was so excited about each opportunity and afraid of missing out, that I couldn’t say no.  I didn’t think about how I was going to fit everything into my schedule.  I just said yes and plowed head-first at a frantic, break-neck pace.

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Because I love what I do so much, I didn’t feel that for a while.  I felt on the edge of being too busy, but I felt like I could manage it all.

And I did.

But…

It meant that I hardly ate and, when I did, I wasn’t making healthy choices.  It meant that I was going to bed at 1:00 in the morning most nights, waking up again at 7:00 to get my kids ready for preschool.  It meant a brush was in my hand or my fingers were pecking away at a keyboard every spare second.  It meant living in sweatpants.  It was unhealthy on many levels, as you can imagine.

I then took on a third retail space and accepted a book deal and started the process of launching a paint line and I started to crack.

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Just like you, Cassie, I felt like a failure in my successes, because I wasn’t doing anything really well.  I was getting by, but I couldn’t make my retailer spaces as great as I knew they could be.  I was having to rush through my book and didn’t go back and fix as many things as I would’ve if I had the time.  I was posting “reruns” on my blog, because I didn’t have the time to create new content.

Once I met my existing commitments, I had to take a big step back and assess my business.  I knew I couldn’t do everything I wanted to do, so I had to make some choices based on numbers…what was most profitable.

It was a very difficult thing for me to do, because I enjoyed all aspects of my business and I didn’t really want to drop anything.  I also didn’t like making choices just based on profit or profit-potential, but that’s when I had to have a big-girl conversation with myself.  That was really the first time I viewed myself as an entrepreneur and business owner, not just a stay-at-home mom who turned a hobby into something that was making some money.

 It was a business and I needed to treat it like that.

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So, I looked at my profit and expenses.  And it was evident what choice I needed to make.

I was stunned to see that 70% of my expenses were going towards stock to resell in my retail spaces.  I would also estimate that I was spending about 80% of my workweek on those retailer spaces…shopping, painting, pricing, tagging, styling, etc.  I then saw that about 80% of my profit didn’t come from retail, but from my blog and other freelance writing and photography projects.

I was spending most of my time and capital on an aspect of my business that only brought in 20% of my profit!

What would happen if I dropped the retail space and put more time and energy into aspects of my business that were most profitable?  I knew the answer, but I avoided it for about a year!  I just didn’t want to give up retail.

After about a year of continuing to do nothing to the best of my ability, I finally made the tough decision to leave my retail space and just sell occasionally online and at one or two events each year.

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I had a knot in my throat as I made that call and I shed some tears over it, but I felt like a weight had been lifted once the decision was made.

Every business is different.  Even every season of a business is different.  Businesses are dynamic and need to be pliable, which is why diversity is important as well as looking at your numbers regularly to make sure you’re keeping on track and making necessary adjustments.

Diversity doesn’t mean you do everything, though.  It means you do a few strategic things that work well together to maximize your profits and minimize risk.

So, if you find yourself torn in a few different directions by your business and feel like you’re failing amid all of your successes, it’s time to take a look at the numbers and see what they may be telling you…

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Comments

  1. Every season of a business is different.

    That’s exactly what I needed to hear. I say that to myself regarding my family and personal life all the time, but never thought of my business like that. I’m in my retail season. That’s where my momentum is, so that’s where my energy needs to be. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for my blog, there’s just not room for my blog the way I was doing it. Retail is a bigger slice of my pie chart, so it’s ok to give it the most attention.

    It’s absolutely amazing that in the midst of everything you do, you are still willing to encourage and inspire people like me who are still figuring things out. Miss Mustard Seed is a pretty incredible thing.

    (P. S. How ironic is it that my site is under construction – migrating from Blogger to WordPress – when the biggest blogger in America decides to share my link? I’m trying really hard not to read too much into that…)

  2. I am not a”big” enough blogger or online seller to worry about this….yet!
    Thank you for a great insight of what is hopefully to come.

  3. Marian, thank you for your thoughts on this! It helps to read insights of someone who was once where we are and has moved ahead. Cassie, I am kind of in the same boat as you are and it can be very confusing at times. My blog is tiny and not anywhere close to what I know it can be. There is so much I need to learn to enable me to accomplish that. My Etsy shop has had some sales, but not nearly what I would need to break even, let alone make any money from it at all. I have thought about giving up at times, but not anymore. The issue for me is mainly a failure to plan ahead. It’s not my thing, but it needs to be. As a creative person it is so easy to get swept up in the process of getting designs out of our heads and make them a reality. So, recently I have started breaking each area that I need to move forward in up into pieces, beginning with the question “What is it that I want to accomplish?”, followed by “What is keeping me from accomplishing it?”. That has allowed me to focus at the specific roadblock ahead and given me the opportunity to address that area specifically to move on. It is a continuous process that has helped me get unstuck. So now, everytime I run into a snag, I ask myself those simple questions, come up with a plan and solve the problem. Good luck!

  4. Janice F says:

    Great advice and much needed for me at this moment, too. I too have a small blog that I have not been able to work on as I would like. I hold down a full time job and have an Etsy shop. Being retirement age has its ups and downs, too….with energy levels and financial concerns. I will take all this into consideration because I want to really excel in my Etsy shop in order to supplement my income during retirement. Thank you for encouragement and very, very wise words!

  5. What a timely post this was for me, Marian, thank you. My blog and business has grown so much over the last 8 months and amazing opportunities are coming my way. And I too, feel like I can’t say “no”, fearing that another opportunity won’t come along. But after a very stressful week trying to meet several deadlines, and having a “melt down” out of sheer frustration, I realized that I have to let go of some things. I love this creative business so much that I have created from scratch….yet, I haven’t felt much joy with it lately. Time to cut back and do fewer things, but do them well! Thank you for sharing.

  6. Hi, Marion
    I’ve followed you for a long time but have not commented much. I just wanted to say that I have admired how you have balanced your work and family life. I’m retired, probably your Moms age or older, : ) and I know it can be a challenge to balance life with even ONE area of business going on. I also seem to be one of those people with too many ideas and not enough time so I can relate to everything you said. Right now I sell at two occasional sales a year and blog about it, mostly to share with our customers what we will have for sale at our next event. I am not trying to make money on my blog.I love your style and your decor ideas!
    But I have another blog called, The Balanced Life so your post fit right in with my other interest! As an older Mom, I think you are very wise in the way you are handling your many responsibilities. Kudos to you and your success!

  7. Great timing. Thanks so much for this post Marian.

  8. Timely post & so appreciated! With a struggle to find the balance…how to blog & fill my etsy shop all the while keeping my booth full and a monthly barn show.

    I was given some great advice from Kari Ann of Thistlewood Farms. Set a New Year’s goal to blog twice a week. The reason…I’m also a retailer. Setting an initial goal for myself that seemed doable & go from there. Your post reminded me that I can’t do it all!

    Thank-you for sharing your story

  9. Hi Marian, its been awhile since I’ve lurked over here :) but i always appreciate your business posts. I appreciate your honesty in where you’re at and what has worked or not worked for you. You are definitely my online mentor. I wish my website was better, and I make all kinds of lists of ideas for posts, but it is never very inspired or interesting. I’m learning still, and praying a lot that God will open the right doors and help me to grow where I need to. I’m excited to go on my first overseas trip this spring for a brocante / photography trip. :) I’m excited to see where that might lead or what I can learn in that opportunity for my future. Thank you for all of your inspiration.

  10. Hi Marian,

    Thank you so much for sharing your difficulties in running a creative business with the rest of us. Although I did not have a retail business of my own, I have worked at and still work in retail as a home furnishings consultant in addition to running my own Etsy shop, and working a three quarter-time job at a non-profit organization. Every cell in my body screams to JUST work on my blog and creative pursuits but because I’m carrying high student loan debt, I have no choice but to continue working elsewhere to make ends meet. It’s very frustrating and disheartening to say the least, but stories like yours inspire me to keep moving forward, even though I don’t know whether I’m coming or going most days!

    Thanks again for sharing your always uplifting stories, Marian!! You’re an inspiration :)

    Wishing you blessings and continued success,
    Mary

  11. Julie M. says:

    Great advice! I’m a CPA and this is exactly what I tell my clients: determine what you do well and do it! Diversify as much as you can in terms of products and clients, but keep in mind you can only do so much. Don’t lose sight of how you want your life to be. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it will happen.

  12. Sarah says:

    For 5 years I’ve wanted to do interiors bc it’s what I love most but I lack confidence! At church yesterday we had a great service about stepping out in faith (which I try and do) but with this I’m scared! I prayed about not being as good as others and failing so when this was the first post in the fb feed and I read the article it again showed me He’s there and I should just do it! So thank you! your making differences in ways you don’t even know?

  13. Thank you for sharing this, Marian. I remember reading along as you shared some of these choices in “real time,” and I was impressed with you then as I am with you now. You’ve always been a role model for women. I almost wrote “women with small businesses” or “creative women,” but no, really just WOMEN. We all struggle to do too much, and it’s incredible to have a role model like you who shares those choices about finding a way to do fewer things better. Thank you.

  14. So unbelievably well said. I’d love to sell in a retail space but just can’t seem to justify the expenses that accompany it. So I too have been more focussed re-doing my website so I can sell online better and do more freelance writing. Thank you Marian for saying it out loud so I know I’m on the right track with my decisions

  15. Just wanted to say thanks for all of these business posts. I really enjoy reading them. I always find them fascinating and inspiring.

  16. Antonella says:

    Love these posts. I can glean so much of your wisdom and they are helping me shape my vision for my business. Thanks

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