From Uncomfortable To Confident
Stepping into your role as CEO of your creative business
I remember sitting at my messy studio table at the end of a wonderful day of teaching workshops and a busy sales day at the shop and bursting into uncontrollable tears when my first business coach sat down and kindly asked how he could help.
I don’t cry a lot. But I sobbed. I had no idea how to answer that.
I had no idea if it was even possible to figure out “why I was failing.”
I was living two truths at the same time.
Everything was amazing and awful at the same time.
You see, my shop and creative studio were so beautifully busy. I was in year two and had built a pretty wonderful business. I had a fantastic customer base. I loved my shop, my customers and going to work every day.
I was terrific at the “front of house:” creating, serving, selling and sharing my passion. I wasn’t doing so well in the “back of house:” cash flow, time management, being the boss, understanding what numbers I needed to understand. I was terrible at delegating (it was all in my head) and strategic planning (what did that even mean?). I had no marketing plan and relied on word of mouth and social media when I had time.
I was always behind the eight ball with planning events and getting inventory in. I wasn’t growing, just busy doing. I felt I was failing at this all, and maybe I wasn’t cut out for this.
I hit burnout.
The truth was: I was living week to week, unnerved if I had a slow day and overwhelmed when I had a crazy busy day.
I was always in reactive mode, not proactive. I knew I needed to make a shift if I wanted to see continued growth, and reclaim my dream and life. You can only bootstrap and wing it for so long.
So, I dug in, put my imaginary CEO hat on and took action. I worked ON my business and found the solutions I needed.
Fast-forward: After some pretty hefty personal and business development, and lots of time and money invested into piecing together coaching and training, everything changed!
Everything turned around; my business thrived, and so did I. Fellow shop and studio owners asked me to help them, so I did. I now coach full time.
It became my mission to help other creative business owners realize it doesn’t have to be so hard.
I now have the privilege and pleasure to support shop owners around the globe. I help them reclaim their dreams and step into the role of CEO and confidently build their own business strategies.
If your current lifestyle doesn’t reflect your goals, it’s time to step into your role of CEO and make some changes. No one is good at it all! But you can learn to sharpen the business skills that don’t come naturally to you. Just like you do at your creative craft, spend time practicing and getting better a little at a time.
Relying on just hustle, heart and passion is a recipe for burnout. Trust me. I see it regularly. Let’s avoid that, shall we?
Actions you can do today to gain more confidence and control of your creative business while you are in the trenches!
The following 5 shifts will help you go from being a creative running a business to a confident CEO running a creative business.
1) Promote Yourself to CEO
There are two key roles most small business owners need to step into: the front-of-house creative and the back-of-house CEO. Both roles are important for the success of your business.
We wear a lot of hats as creative business owners. Your CEO hat is one you have to wear more often.
Understanding our role as CEO in our business is key for self-employed creatives. How we think, how we act and how we make decisions — everything — starts with a CEO mindset. Your board of directors is probably sitting at your kitchen table, so we want to make sure you perform your job as CEO well for them.
Treating our business like a hobby vs. a real business is a common mistake for many creatives. Remember, hobby mindset equals hobby pay. You have a legitimate business, so step into your role of CEO.
The CEO is a leader, visionary and intentional, a decision maker and solutions-oriented. Step into that role even on days you don’t feel like it. You’ve got this!
You can make a living out of your dreams and passion.
How to take action today:
Put your imaginary CEO hat on today (and sit up a little taller), and schedule one hour a week as a nonnegotiable CEO appointment with yourself to work on your CEO duties. This is time to work on the business development and strategy, not doing the tasks.
2) Fall in love with your numbers
Yes, you can, even if you are not a “numbers person.” Avoiding numbers is not an option for you as the CEO of your creative business. You need to become a numbers person. Think of it all as data to help you! You can’t outsource this. You can outsource the tasks of bookkeeping and accounting but you, and only you, need to understand your numbers and how they play day-to-day in your business planning. (Truthfully, this was a very weak spot for me, and it is why I felt so cash poor and overwhelmed even though I was so busy.) The numbers tell us a story. We need to remove emotion and fear and any shame around numbers. It’s just data. It informs how the CEO will make decisions. What’s working, what’s not. How much inventory to buy, where to push the marketing gas and where to put on the brakes. Once you get comfortable with your business numbers and know which numbers to watch, you will see better cash flow, profits and paychecks. Bonus: You’ll sleep better at night! I promise you this empowering and powerful shift. Even if you think you are not a numbers person, you can be.
How to take action today:
If you are not ready to fall in love and marry your numbers yet, maybe just start with a first date. Start by looking at your POS system and pulling up your average order values and looking at your top-selling products. Sometimes that is a surprise to shop owners. Start poking around and cuddling up with the numbers today. Rate yourself from 1 to 10 on your numbers comfort level and commit to raising that number.
3) Start creating systems
Systems are the key to less overwhelm and a direct line to more profits. Having systems in place is one of the key shifts that will level you up.
It’s not as complicated as we build it up to be in our head (hello, any other overthinkers out there?). Just start a binder or a Google doc and start keeping track of the tasks you do. That’s it. Simple checklists so that you can hand off tasks, simple “here’s how we do this” — opening, closing, putting stock away, setting up workshops, inventory control, newsletter email templates, social graphic templates, etc. Anything you do more than once needs an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure). Document and create systems around your events, so you don’t have to remember everything next time. Even if you are a one-person show, start documenting. I pinky swear you will also thank me for this one. Bit by bit, it’s a game changer.
Take the time to create it once, then just rinse and repeat.
Plan for success, don’t hope for it.
How to take action today:
While you are working today, notice something that you or your team do regularly that could be turned into a template, checklist or SOP, or a document that would make the next time easier, and take the time to document it.
4) Become an intentional planner
Stop winging it.
If you are not consciously choosing your steps daily, your steps are choosing you. You have dreams and visions (I just know you do). Put them on paper and put a strategy in place to make them happen. It just takes planning.
Wishing and hoping is not how a creative CEO runs her business. Shiny-object syndrome and squirrel brain run amok with us creative souls. We are wired to see opportunities and possibilities everywhere.
We NEED to tame the squirrels by creating set goals and plans. Learning to plan your days, your weeks, your months and even a few years down the road seems like a fairy tale for many. Believe it or not, there is great creative freedom in planning.
Planning out marketing saves you from thinking about it (you just execute). Planning out your target goals helps keep you on track and not worrying so much. It helps you know if you need to push the gas on something or maybe the brakes. Planning out days off means you have your health and sanity, and more time for creative pursuits and creative thinking. Not running around doing busy work! Planning out your budget gives you freedom from worrying about when you spend, etc.
Small business owners need to be looking ahead. Look ahead to your big visions and goals, then reverse engineer how you want to get there: by year, by quarter, by month, then by day. Live with intention.
How to take action today:
Brainstorm and look ahead to next month: What is your exact revenue goal, and what exactly will you sell to make that? How will you promote those revenue streams/products and when? Get out a promotional calendar and start planning!
5) Have a team
I’ve never seen a business succeed without support. Ever. We can start as a solopreneur and bootstrap for a while, but we will never be able to grow and thrive. Every CEO needs different types of support.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should do it all.
At some point early on, you will realize you need a team of people around you who will lift you up, support you and help you on your mission to build your beautiful business.
Support can come in the form of family, and the simple act of asking them to help more around the house. (I was super guilty of not asking for help and holding onto “mom guilt” for a long time. You have to let that go.) Or maybe for you, it’s hiring a housekeeper or babysitter. It also includes having trusted business advisors walk beside you. An accountant, bookkeeper, lawyer, business coach, etc., are a necessity on your team.
Support can come from finding your business BFFs to brainstorm with and your creative communities. And it will include hiring your first or 20th employee!
Don’t try to be a superwoman and do it all alone. Get great people around you. Make room for you to stay in your zone of creative genius.
How to take action today:
List out all the people you already have on your support “team.” Who is, or could be, there to help you more if you reached out (at home, on your trusted business team, staff, etc.)? Then list out specific things they could help you with and/or create a list of missing roles you can work to fill that would make your day-to-day easier.
Time to don your CEO hat and smile.
Over time, small shifts turn into large leaps.
To fully step into a confident CEO role, we first have to be courageous and bold to take the action steps I’ve listed. You’ve been brave in the past; you can do this, too!
Brave actions give us confidence. Confidence helps us become more competent at the skills we once found hard. Like driving a car or learning a creative skill. It gets easier, but we have to start with picking up the brush or getting into the driver’s seat for the first time. Give yourself grace and time as you learn. It’s going to be messy, but bit by bit, we can shift and get more confident in our role as CEO.
Being a creative AND thriving, successful creative CEO is totally possible. You’re ready. Take action today!