… and it is my belief that you only need to start with 2.
“I want to start a creative business, but I have no idea if I’m capable.”
Does this sound familiar?
If you’re a creative human being on this planet, there’s a chance that you’ve got some imposter syndrome around starting any creative endeavor—whether that’s a business, a project, a performance… etc.
Allow me to take you back to a time before I found design as a viable business that I was actually good at.
It was 2019. I was managing a restaurant in New York City, auditioning for Broadway shows, and facing enough rejection every day to be devouring personal development books. (I couldn’t afford therapy. Lol.)
From a creative confidence perspective, I wasn’t just starting at zero. I was starting at negative. (And if you’re a fellow actor reading this, there’s a good chance your confidence might rank in the negative numbers too. It’s not you, it’s the industry. But that’s a tangent for another day.)
I also had a burning entrepreneurial spirit, and I knew I was smart and capable enough to start something. But I had only gone to school for acting, and unlike some of my peers who had grown up messing around in photoshop or studying other creative topics, I had nothing. I just had my theatre training, a growth mindset, and a whole bunch of instagram ads from influencers trying to sell me social media courses.
Then, of course, the pandemic happened. And I (luckily) stumbled face-first into a whole design career because I was bored.
Looking back, there are so many things I wish I had known back in 2019. But one of the most crucial things I wish I had known is that there’s really only 4 qualities you need to be successful—and honestly, friends, you only need to start with 2.
How I Believe This Works
You know this meme about college?
I think the 4 qualities in question work the same way, except, imagine the center of this triangle says “Choose Two or More”. However, unlike the meme, the end goal is to get all 4.
Let’s get into it.
Quality #1: A Great Work Ethic
How would you rank yours?
Not to get all ~thought leader~ on you, but I think having a great work ethic is the key to sustaining success. I might even go so far as to say this is the only quality you need, but it’s a hell of a lot easier if you pair this quality with another one from the list.
If you have a great work ethic, the other qualities are attainable.
If you don’t have a great work ethic but you have 2 or 3 of the other qualities, you can certainly find success, but it might be hard to sustain.
The best part about work ethic in general is that (I believe) it can be worked on over time. Often times, when you have a lack of work ethic, it’s actually perfectionism, fear of other people’s opinions, fear of the blank page, or lack of inspiration.
Take some time to figure out what it is about your creative work that you are avoiding. Then, come up with some ways that you might overcome your avoidance. (You can also Google this, too! For example, you could type in, “How to Get Over Perfectionism”.) There are plenty of guides online with exercises you can do to overcome these issues and improve your work ethic.
Quality #2: Good Taste
A lot of people might list “talent” here, but I’m going to list “taste” instead.
The word talent is so loaded. Talent feels like something you’re born with. Something you have no control over. Something raw & easy. And I don’t love that.
Taste is a worldview that you, yourself, can shape. Perhaps you’ve been shaping it already, and you don’t even realize it.
Here’s an example.
Before my design business was even a glimmer in my eye, I can look back and say that I had a particular taste. It manifested in the restaurants I brought my friends to, the places I wanted to hang out in, the countries I wanted to visit, the music I wanted to sing, the books I wanted to read. My taste was specific, and it was curated.
Some people didn’t get my taste. But that didn’t matter, because I shared it with others, and people knew what it was, even if they couldn’t describe it. I was an incredibly easy person to shop for (and still am!). Taste is a vibe and an energy.
You might be wondering, okay what does this have to do with talent, though?
Lots of people have raw talent and no taste. You might have been born with singing abilities, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to use your voice in a way that others will enjoy (or want to pay for).
A NOTE ON TASTE
Taste is subjective. But, there’s a difference between different taste and bad taste. It’s impossible to explain, it can only be felt.
Do you have good taste?
Quality #3: Creative Skill
At some point, you will need to develop skill. Skill is practice. Skill is experience.
Skill will allow you to charge livable prices for your creative endeavor. Without skill, no one is going to pay you (enough, at least) to create things for them.
Unfortunately, skill is the quality that keeps people from starting, because people think they can’t start without skill. And especially as adults, we hate to be beginner.
Hot take: you don’t have to start with skill. In fact, I didn’t! When I first started, I did so many free projects where I was able to experiment with working on client sites, developing my process, and building my actual skill of design.
If you do have skill, you might be thinking: woohoo! I have skill! I can charge $$!
…. but do you have taste? Do you have work ethic? 😉
If so, pass go and collect $200 (or, probably more tbh).
Quality #4: Biz Education
…. and I do not mean in the traditional sense.
To me, education is more about context than it is about cold hard facts. Whether it’s business, marketing, trends, culture, services, products, etc… to me, those things all fall under the umbrella of education.
There’s creative skill: how you sing, how you design, how you write, how you paint. And then there’s education: how you submit for an audition, how you write a proposal, how you write a blog post for SEO, which brushes to use for a specific canvas, etc.
Skill and education go hand in hand, and you might develop those skills together. Keep in mind: there are amazing, hard-working, technical designers with amazing taste who have absolutely no idea how to run a business. And there are also designers whose work isn’t quite as amazing but are also making absolute bank.
Some of my favorite ways to learn more include podcasts, downloading free guides from Pinterest or people’s websites, reading books, following other successful creative people on social media, and taking online courses.
Education is everything, and doesn’t always have to cost money.
I want to make it clear that you will not ever be done developing these things. There is always something to learn, there is always skill to be cultivated, your taste will be ever-evolving, and work ethic is a constant struggle.
So you might be thinking, “I know which two (or more) I have. Now what?”
Here’s what you can do today to start moving the needle forward.
IF YOU HAVE: Work Ethic & Good Taste
Start experimenting. Message a friend of yours and say “Hey, I’ve been thinking of trying out photography (or insert other creative skill here) and I am looking to see if I’m any good at it. Wanna go somewhere and shoot this weekend?”
IF YOU HAVE: Good Taste & Creative Skill
Ah, a creative genius, I see. Today, go on Pinterest and type into the search bar something along the lines of “how to get clients”. You’ll find a whole bunch of ideas from seasoned professionals that you can use to finally get paid for your amazing work.
IF YOU HAVE: Creative Skill & Biz Education
You may know every square inch of Adobe Photoshop and how to land a high ticket client, but you may feel like you just don’t get what people want. Today, take a trip to the trendiest coffee shop near you—the one bustling with people, a line around the corner, etc—and pay attention. What about this place makes people line out the door? Journal about it and write it down.
IF YOU HAVE: Good Taste & Biz Education
You are in such a good spot, bestie. Once you tackle your work ethic, the skill will be easier and easier to obtain. But tackle that work ethic first and the rest will follow. Consider reading this book to get started.
IF YOU HAVE: Creative Skill & Work Ethic
Make a list of 5 successful people in your field (or do a little instagram stalk) and pay attention to the technical qualities that makes their work successful, as well as the overall vibe and energy of their work. What makes other people drawn to it? Reflect on it in your journal.
IF YOU HAVE: Work Ethic & Biz Education
Taste will be the name of the game for you, my friend. Because once you’ve established that, the creative skill is sure to follow. Today, buy this book and follow the prompts for 12 weeks. Thank me later.
Hey, I'm Sarah Kleist.
Brand builder, website designer, and performing artist on a mission to help creatives and business owners step into their digital spotlight.
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