7 things I have learned in 7 years of running a creative business


Saturday 1st June marked 7 years since I ‘officially’ launched my business. I have in fact been self-employed for 9 years, but 7 years ago was when I said to myself, ‘right, I’m going to do this properly’. I got support from the Prince’s Trust, wrote a business plan, and designed a range of greetings cards, and launched on 1st June 2012.

I have a come a long way since then! Gradually giving up on the greetings cards altogether, to pursue a balance of illustration, a range of prints, and pet portraits. This version of my business is still taking shape but it definitely feels like a better fit than the greetings cards were. Like everyone says, self-employment is a rollercoaster. Emotionally, physically, financially. I’ve learned so much and wouldn’t change a minute of it.

Me in my natural habitat (I look a bit grumpy but it’s just my concentration face!)

Me in my natural habitat (I look a bit grumpy but it’s just my concentration face!)

Reflecting on the last 7 years, here are 7 things I have learned since that launch day in 2012…

  1. Your business is always going to be a work in progress. At first I heard/read someone say this about websites - but I’ve come to realise it’s true of many different facets of my business. Things change so much as I develop my work and achieve goals, and set new ones. It’s always going to be transient and unpredictable. That’s part of the magic of it. Scary sometimes, but this career path certainly isn’t one that is clear cut. It’s wiggly, covered in grass, and forks in completely different directions. It sounds cheesy but it’s true; it’s all about the journey.

  2. I do not like being told what to do. I’m not sure if this is because I’m so used to working for myself, but any time someone gives me advice I haven’t asked for, or tells me to do something a certain way, I feel myself recoiling. I’ve only recently have realised how headstrong I am, in terms of my business. I used to always say I’ve been making things up as I go along, but actually, I’ve started to believe that I do know what I am doing (to an extent!). I think my repulsion with being told what to do (which luckily doesn’t happen that often) is definitely a sign of this!

  3. There is no magic formula for success. In the early days of starting my business, I would devour business advice on blogs and in books. It got to a point where the stuff I was reading started to sound familiar - I already knew all of what was being said. I’d been searching for the advice that would somehow lead to the key to success. But then I realised, there isn’t one. It’s just about doing the work, and continuing to show up.

  4. Slow & steady is the most natural way to work for me. I’ve often felt like I just wanted to make all of the ideas in my head happen immediately. Writing ridiculously long to-do lists to achieve in a very unrealistic time-frame. Now I have a much better understanding of what is actually do-able for me. I’m quite a slow worker, especially with creating new artwork or bringing ideas to life. It’s been really refreshing to acknowledge this, and just allow myself the time I need instead of pushing myself to rush through or do things as quickly as possible. The work takes as long as it needs to.

  5. Don’t underestimate the importance of values - both monetary and personal. This has been a recent realisation for me, but has really helped me to have a deeper understanding of my work and its place in the world, and what it might mean to those who buy from me. It adds a lot of layers to the work I do and has really helped me to take my business more seriously.

  6. Understanding money and the parameters of what I can earn, and what I need to earn, is really important. When I first started out, I had written a business plan with some financial projections. In all honesty these were almost a complete stab in the dark. I’d never really thought about how much work it might take to actually make that much. Now, I have new systems in place to help me actually plan my finances and my workload, and set realistic targets for myself. I only started doing this in November last year and it has been unbelievably helpful!

  7. Time off is just as important as time spent working. I cannot stress this one enough! In the early days I would work all hours, through the evenings and through my days off from my job (I was working 4 days a week in retail), forgetting to take a proper day off. Because what I was doing didn’t feel like work, I just didn’t think to have a break. Cue walking to work one day, and having to turn around and go home feeling nauseous and dizzy. I couldn’t remember the last day I spent having a rest. It’s taken me a while to get a better handle on the work/life balance. I feel much more in control of it now. I rarely work past 5:30pm, and always have a Sunday off. I still work part-time 2 days a week, so most weeks I work 6 days. If I’m feeling particularly tired I will make sure I listen to my body and have a proper rest. I’m lucky to have a dedicated room at home to work from, so I can close the door on it at the end of the day and properly switch off!

    Phew! So there are (almost) all of my words of wisdom…I could probably ramble on about it all day. Running a creative business is a constant learning curve. For me, remembering that being myself, learning from failures, and continuing to show up, are the best things I can do.