A week or two ago I wrote a post on 5 of my greatest design challenges, and I was sweetly surprised by the response I received from readers. It’s nice to know that my struggles are relatable, and I loved reading through the feedback from all of you.
This week I thought it would be fun to share a similar post on a different topic: business. If you’re an entrepreneur and creative business person, I have a feeling that you can probably relate to a handful (if not all) of these, too.
P.S. Thank you for bearing with me about yesterday’s post (or lack there of!). We’ve had a whirlwind of a week that’s included a move to a new apartment (and no internet), and it’s thrown things out of whack around here. I appreciate all of the emails, and I’m grateful that so many of you check in on a daily basis. Now that we’re all settled in, we’re back in the swing of things. You can count on our usual daily posts for the remainder of the week!
1 | Differentiation
Last week I reviewed a book on the blog called Purple Cow by Seth Godin. The whole premise of the book revolves around making your business remarkable; a purple cow among the boring black and white cows that everyone is used to seeing.
In order to be remarkable, you have to be different.
When I first started Elle & Company in January 2014, I entered into a saturated market full of talented designers who specialized in brand design. While my style and aesthetic was characteristically mine, I blended in among the countless others in the industry because I was just another “black and white cow.”
I knew I needed to change things up a bit in order to attract potential clients, but it was a struggle to find out what that looked like for me.
It wasn’t until I stopped looking to other successful designers and started doing what worked best for me that I began to differentiate myself little by little.
Blogging, Squarespace, and my 2-week process are the key distinctions that make Elle & Company different from some of the other designers out there now, and it’s only benefited my business for the better.
2 | Pricing
I don’t even want to know how much money I was making per hour when I first started my business, because it was probably a tenth of minimum wage.
I was so scared to price myself competitively for fear that I would scare away potential clients and customers, but what I was really doing was diminishing the value of my work and giving people a reason not to take me seriously.
While you can’t start out at a ridiculously high price point when you’re first starting your business, it’s important to price yourself reasonably (especially if you’re trying to take your business full-time).
Money is what separates a business from a hobby, and in order to do what you love, you have to be compensated for it to keep your business up and running.
I’ve said this a lot on the blog recently but it’s because I’ve been there and I see hesitation among others in the industry who get so focused on the passion side of things: it’s okay to make money.
Related post: My No-Fuss Formula for Pricing My Services
3 | Criticism
Last week as Jake and I were looking through our referrals in Google Analytics, we came across a disheartening website whose primary goal is to slam other bloggers.
There were a couple pages dedicated solely to Elle & Company and against my better judgment, I read their feedback. While I would love to say that I let the comments roll right off my back, it stings a little and it’s difficult not to take flippant, harsh comments about my business personally.
But when you put yourself out there, you’re bound to get criticism.
I’ve learned the difficult reality that you can’t please everybody and not everyone is going to like you, and that’s okay (especially when you’re trying to appeal to a niche audience, anyway).
I wanted so badly to respond to each ugly word and set the record straight, but instead I’ll use it as motivation to keep pushing toward my big goals. I secretly love the Frank Sinatra saying, “The best revenge is massive success.”
4 | Time management
I remember day-dreaming about taking my business full-time and choosing my own hours before I started Elle & Company. It seemed glamorous to work from home and dictate my own schedule, especially when I looked at the Instagram feeds of full-time creative entrepreneurs that I admired.
Boy, was I wrong.
There’s really no “choosing” your work hours when you have a business; the work chooses them for you.
I’ve never worked longer days or put more time and effort into a project like I have for Elle & Company. Even when I go on vacation, I’m never really “off;” I have a full inbox to come back to and a week’s worth of administrative tasks to account for (not to mention that you don’t really get “paid time off” as a business owner).
It’s become crucial to develop good time management skills. I’ve had to really crack down on scheduling out my workday and setting boundaries on the number of Skype calls and breaks I take.
I set office hours so others have expectations of when I’ll be working and answering emails, and I’ve had to cut back on checking in on social media (even when it’s business related).
I feel like this will always be an area that I could improve upon, but I’m learning more and more about organization and time management with each passing week.
Related post: 5 Ways to Boost Your Productivity
5 | Being taken seriously
A family friend of ours was asking me about my business a week and a half ago, and although they probably meant nothing by it, they mentioned how surprised they were that my business was seeming to do fairly well.
It isn’t the first time that I’ve heard a comment like that, and I think it has something to do with being a 24-year old entrepreneur who works from home.
I’ve struggled to get others to take me seriously in the past, especially those who are older than me, so I’m extremely cautious about sharing high quality content and keeping a professional tone on the blog.
I’ve learned that the more I take myself seriously, the more others take me seriously, too.
6 | Reaching an audience
This is one of the most common struggles for any business owner, and it’s one that I had a difficult time with when I first started Elle & Company last year. I’ve talked about this on the blog numerous times, so instead of sounding like a broken record, here’s a roundup of posts on how I expanded my reach:
4 Secrets for Exponential Blog Growth
How to Build a Loyal Blog Audience
Share Your Secrets
8 Common Misconceptions About Content Marketing
Transitioning Your Blog to Grow Your Business
My Secret for Rapidly Growing My Business
7 | Saying no
People pleasing and business are like oil and vinegar; they just don’t mix.
And as a huge people-pleaser and perfectionist, I had to learn that lesson the hard way. I said yes to any and everything, and I ended up being burnt out and frustrated in the long run.
Taking on projects outside of the scope of what I offered kept me from taking on projects that I truly wanted to work on, and my creativity and stress levels suffered as a result.
I’ve learned that people can (and will) walk all over you if you let them, especially in business. And while I feared the disapproval of others, I’ve also learned that people tend to respect you more when you set boundaries and stick to them.
8 | Competition
Competition is inevitable and necessary in any industry.
When I first started Elle & Company, competition was frightening because I hadn’t yet found my niche, but the longer I’m in business and the more I differentiate myself from others, the more I’ve come to appreciate it.
Without competition, we wouldn’t be as encouraged to innovate and push ourselves to come up with new ways of doing things. Our free market society is driven from competition; it’s a good thing.
Keep in mind that competition in business is different from competing with people themselves; the jealousy and envy game is another issue in and of itself.
The truth about business is that it's always changing and evolving.
Just when you think you've got it figured out, a new challenge pops up. There will always to be more to learn (usually by trial and error), but I've seen that it's all part of this fun whirlwind of a journey.
What are your greatest business challenges and how have you overcome them?