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When we first start our businesses, we’re typically overflowing with passion and interest. We’re very much “in the trenches”, focused on bringing a dream to life. We learn a lot, test everything, and fail fast. And as our specific ideas get clarified, many creative entrepreneurs have a tendency to move their business in the direction of their interests.
This means new branding, new offerings, and sometimes all-new business models. It also means frustration and burnout when we begin to think, “This brand no longer reflects me.” Unfortunately, what we’re doing here is focusing on what our interests are, rather than focusing on the purpose our business serves.
In essence, creative entrepreneurs fall into the trap of believing that development of oneself should coincide with the development of the business. However, that isn’t always the case.
With the uptick in creative businesses hitting the market, we’re constantly seeing messages that tell us to “follow our passions” and “build a business we love.” With this sort of messaging, however, I worry that many are pursuing a passion for a gig or hobby, rather than focusing on building a business. And while there is nothing wrong with pursuing our interests, a business simply isn’t viable without an audience (and paying customers).
To really build a creative brand from your passions, you also have to think about things from a business perspective. When we only connect our new business to how we feel or what we are interested in at the moment, we’re not addressing the needs of our audience or even the demand for our services. And these are the things that keep a business afloat; your passion alone can’t sustain you.
I’ve also noticed another trend of creative entrepreneurs desiring complete fulfillment from their business—creatively, financially, personally. Expecting your business to fuel every part of you is a bit like expecting one person to meet all of your needs. We have different relationships in our life because different people connect with us on different levels; no one person can do it all, and the same goes for your business.
So how can we as creative entrepreneurs (especially those of us who identify closely with what we’re creating) readjust our interest in our business to focus on what it can do for others, rather than what it can do for us?
One of the keys to succeeding as business owners is to be looking at our audience to seeing what they want and need. What services you provide, which products you’re making, who you want to work with, what’s helping your business grow and what isn’t—all of these are important components that go into building a brand and business that you and your audience resonate with.
These facets of business also become easier when you separate who you are as a person and what your business provides. Thinking on behalf of your audience, not on behalf of yourself, is what will move you forward.
Focusing on audience first can also help remove a lot of the turmoil and personal identity crises around your business, as well as support a more cohesive brand. Making decisions based on your audience’s needs means that decisions will be filtered through that lens, rather than what you may be feeling in the moment.
Extreme stress, burnout, and even identity challenges come up a lot in my discussions about branding with creatives. We want our business to reflect who we are, and we want our passion to come across. But while people are so focused on how they portray their services (and themselves) via their brand, they tend to neglect the why. Viewing things from your business’s “why” means asking yourself (preferably before you start a business): “Is this a viable business model? How is this product/service serving a need within the market?” Essentially, why are you creating what you’re creating?
Now don’t get me wrong—channeling a passion into a business is a noble effort, and you can create a business based on passion and demand. But if you’re looking to build something for the long haul, you need to make sure there is interest first and foremost. Your “why” should help you craft a business that serves both you and your audience.
Removing the expectation that your business should evolve and shift as much as you do is the best first step towards building a lasting business. Separating yourself from the business is also the best way to ensure that everything filters through the perspective of your “why,” rather than how you’re feeling or what you’re learning in the moment. But separating yourself from your business is more than a mental shift; it’s a physical one, too.
A viable business should be something that can exist without you working in it day after day. Working nonstop within your business makes it harder to separate yourself from your brand on a mental level, as well; you’re one and the same. Speaking to the creative business owner (more so than the freelancer), I believe a business should be able to work without you present 100% of the time. While this may not be possible from the get-go, you ultimately want to work on your business to steer it in the direction of your “why,” which is where you’ll be able to project your passions in a more impactful way.
It will better serve you, your business, and your customers when you are not as physically tied to your business. Your brand is not inextricably linked to who you are as a person, so take steps to untangle yourself and really focus on the “why” and where you’re going. Remember: You are not your brand.
This is a much deeper topic that I’m still exploring myself, but I plan to continue this discussion, so stay tuned. If you’re struggling to separate you from your business, I’d love to hear from you. And if you have tips for creating a business that honors both your needs and your audience’s, please leave a comment below!