This year I’ve taken some big (ish) steps with my own business. I submitted my first proper tax return, I redesigned my whole website, added new services to my offer and moved into a new office space.
While none of those things were stress-free, I did them all to make sure that the future of my business – and the way I work – would be as stress-less as possible. Doing all of them made me feel really good. Even the horrors of submitting an online self-assessment resulted in a jump for joy, although the tax bill didn’t.
Here I’ll share with you a few simple ways you can manage your creative business and still keep your cool, even when you feel like you’ve got more work than you can handle. For lots of small and creative businesses, summer can be a quiet time as lots of customers are on holiday; use some of the time to reflect on how you work and maybe rearrange things to make sure your methods are stress-less and enjoyable.
#1 Get a workspace to call your own
For the last year (and more, when I was working full time and freelancing) I worked on my business from my bedroom. My computer was on the desk at the head of my bed, and at the beginning of this year I felt like I only lived in one room – and it drove me a bit mad.
I think there’s a bit of a myth about independent and creative businesses. There’s the dream that you can work from anywhere, like a fancy coffee shop or the park, but the reality is there’s only so long you can make a latte last and glare is the screen-worker’s worst enemy. You end up working at home, and it means you never get a break from work.
If you have the space in your house, dedicate a room to being your home office. When you’re in there, you’re working – and when you close the door at night work is done. One of the best business investments I’ve made has been my office space, because it forces me to focus on either work or play. Getting a workspace to call your own, whether it’s a shed, co-working desk, spare room or kitchen corner, is essential to maintaining a calm creative business.
#2 Use the right tools for you and your business
As a creative business person you will already have a whole range of tools for the ‘creating’ bit of your business – maybe different camera lenses, art materials, props, or whatever. Just as important are the tools you use for the less-than-creative bit of your business; the accounting, project management, diary keeping, and all those underwhelming parts.
Sustainability is very important to me so I have tried very, very hard to use digital tools to manage my business. I’ve tried nearly every free project management tool going, set up multiple schedules on Google Calendar and signed up for plenty of accounting software trials.
Every single time, I come back to pen and paper for nearly everything. I don’t want to – I don’t think it’s very sustainable – but I can’t seem to manage my business properly unless I write things down. I use a Filofax for blog and social media planning, and a small, un-sexy diary for workload and appointments. For accounts, I use Google Sheets and keep my receipts in an envelope. It’s a surprise I don’t have an abacus.
But it works for me. Finding the right tools for managing you and your business is important not just for the smooth running of your business, but because trying to keep it all in your head will definitely lead to stress and anxiety – the absolute opposite of calm. If you’re not sure what works, experiment with different tools for two weeks each as it’ll give you a good idea of what you find most appropriate.
A photo posted by Eleanor Snare (@ebsnare) on
#3 Make your work (and workspace) healthy
Workspaces are the hottest interior porn on Pinterest; scroll for just a few minutes and you’ll see immaculate white spaces with motivational postcards, shiny Macbooks, plates of pastel doughnuts and probably a pug. Creative workers snap their morning smoothie bowl for Instagram before “slaying it” all day on only an avocado. No-one looks tired.
And yet – so much of it is unhealthy.
Health and safety is not fancy. It’s not cute. It doesn’t come with gold handwriting on. But if you don’t get it right for your business you’ll really suffer.
So when I say these white workspaces are unhealthy, it’s because:
- They have beautiful chairs – that don’t provide any back support
- They only feature laptops – which you should only use for 20 minutes at a time
- They put computer screens in front of walls – which doesn’t allow your eyes to get a rest
- They don’t include carbs – which may be an exaggeration but no-one can do much work on a bowl of pureed berries
Work itself should be healthy too; you don’t need to (or should be) “slaying it” all the time because you’ve got to leave some of that energy for you, your mind and your body to replenish itself. Don’t crush yourself for the sake of what is – at the end of the day – just a job.
Have a look at the health and safety information that’s most appropriate for your workspace and put it into practice – for example, if you run a shop you’ll have different requirements than a home-worker, or someone in an art studio. Check those aggravating clients you have or some of the high-pressure situations you find yourself in – they won’t lead to a calm creative business or a sustainable lifestyle. And get yourself some plants; they’re the ultimate health improver.
#4 Find your team mates
There are some universal truths about working by yourself, or at least most of the time by yourself:
- You will talk to yourself almost constantly
- And either mutter or babble at your partner/housemate/friend when you see them after an ‘alone day’
- ‘Friends’ now means houseplants, and you will name them
- Some days you won’t get dressed or shower, but you’ll eat biscuits for every meal
Running a creative business often means working by yourself, or at least spending a significant amount of time alone – maybe creating, planning or managing your business. And too much time by yourself with just you and your business for company can be hugely stress-inducing (although the biscuits are good).
Finding team mates who you can share ideas with or grumble to is very useful for developing calmer, less stressful ways of working. Spending too much time with ideas in our own head can lead to anxiety or self-doubt; while your team mates might not like your ideas, they’ll be objective and often much more positive than Your Brain By Itself would be.
Team mates can be fellow creative business owners, freelancers, or people you share your workspace with. There are also plenty of networking and support groups on Facebook, which can be good if you’d like specific advice. My team mates range from seasoned freelancer friends to my sister and partner, all of who prevent me from becoming a hermit and offer excellent business advice.
Those are my four top ways to manage your creative business and help you keep calm, no matter what’s happening: get a workspace, use the right tools, make it healthy and find your team mates.
What else would you add to the list? What’s worked for you?