I began working professionally as a software engineer at a very young age, I was seventeen. After meeting my now husband shortly afterwards, and working in the European, American and South American corporate worlds for five years, we decided to go on our own.
In a few months, my husband and I will celebrate ten years of being full-time entrepreneurs and business owners, working on three different businesses in three different industries, different countries, sometimes simultaneously. These are technology (CultureSpots – six years), art (VeruDesigns – four and a half years) and specialty coffee (ElevateCoffeeBolivia – one and a half years).
All three businesses are expressions of our passions and things we love to do every day. We are multi-passionate people. We love more than just one thing in life, and we allow our lives to reflect that.
As we approach our tenth year, we feel pretty certain that entrepreneurship is something we will do for the rest of our lives. The idea of working for someone else is too foreign. And of course, this feeling stems from knowing that we can (not only) support ourselves financially, but that we can provide for the kind of lifestyle that we want. This didn’t happen overnight of course. The financial stability, and the confidence in ourselves, is something that emerged over time, through a journey of failures, mistakes, and as a result, many successes as well.
Looking back, despite working in three seemingly different industries, the underlying principles on how we handle all three are the same. But if I were to begin talking about our first and most important lesson, it is this: Before creating any action plan, get as much clarity as you can on WHAT you want from your art business, financially and personally, and WHY you want it.
The level of clarity you have answering these two questions, will become your most important guiding light in making the most important, difficult, but also mundane everyday decisions in regard to how to run your business - what to do and what NOT to do, what to say “yes” to, and what to say “no” to. Having this guidance is critical, because as you’ve already noticed (or will soon), there are countless approaches on how to run your business shared by an infinite number of “experts” online and offline.
I’m not saying these experts are not worth listening to, they are, but the goal should never be to find “the best expert” and then imitate their ideas on how to run your business. Instead, allow yourself to become aware of the library of perspectives that are available, and then intentionally choose what is right for you. Based on what? Based on your unique WHAT and WHY.
As we look back at all our businesses, and specifically the instances when we made our biggest mistakes, we agree that the lack of clarity and commitment to these two important definitions (what and why), have been the main reason for our pains and disappointments. Without a firm stance on what you want from your business, you will feel uncertain, aimless, and fearful. The market/your potential clients are not something you can control. Even less so when you create art. It will be imperative that your actions stay as much as possible in alignment with what you want in the first place, and not what you “think you should do” out of fear and uncertainty.
Let me use VeruDesigns as the example to illustrate what I mean. There are two things I’ve wanted from the beginning:
WHAT #1 – To be a financially self-sustaining business: This meant that it had to pay for itself completely. Not only cover all the expenses and rent, but also the TIME that I spend on it (salary), since it will take time away from my other businesses.
Notice that I don’t demand from it to be my “only” or “primary” means for income. Why? Because I have two other businesses that partly do that job. And, because I have a second goal/expectation for VeruDesigns; this could be different for you and that is OK.
WHAT #2 – For it to be a means of expressing myself and my creative impulses honestly, freely, joyfully and consistently in my life. Being clear about this desire has been so important. In my case, and this might be different for you, I never wanted to be in a position where I had to make art every day, ten hours a day. VeruDesigns is something that I do because I want to, not because I have to. I did not want to lose this freedom. I never wanted it to become an obligation in my life. I love how pure my art making is, and it is very important to me that it stays this way.
Before sharing a quick summary of how these core definitions shaped my business, it’s important to highlight that the financial expectations you have for your art business are the most important factor in your decision making process. It’s important to understand that you will have to sacrifice some of the pleasure you get from your art in order to fulfil your financial expectations. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that either.
Here is a very brief snapshot of how it went. Within the first year in business, VeruDesigns reached a financial point of being able to cover all the expenses on its own. By the second year, it was not only paying for its expenses, but the rent of my studio and it was paying me a salary of $95/hour. By the third year, VeruDesigns was generating a profit of several thousand dollars on top of paying all my expenses, rent and salary, of course. By the fourth year, after participating in exhibitions at several prestigious galleries, retail spaces and boutiques, as well as magazine features, several opportunities emerged to take VeruDesigns to a whole other level of income.
Before I go any further let me clarify something very important. A brief summary of points, like the one above, never ever tells you the full story of anything. Please do not assume that it was all up, up, up for VeruDesigns. It wasn’t.
Yes, at the end of the first year, I was able to cover all the expenses of the year. How so? After eleven months in business, I had only a handful of sales. Eleven months! Can you imagine how discouraged I was at this point? And then it happened. I sold my highest priced piece. I put the price so high on purpose so that nobody would buy it because I loved it too much. But that was exactly the piece that someone wanted. With this sale of almost $2000 I was able to cover my expenses of the year.
Do NOT compare your journey with anyone else’s. Ever. Just like we should never compare two people who are very unique in their own right. By some people’s standards, VeruDesigns took way too long to become stable. But by others it was a quick success. No version is true. It’s simply a journey. Period. Now, let’s go back to the importance of your WHAT and WHY.
The first year was the period of time I learned the importance of having clarity and commitment towards my WHAT and WHY. The biggest mistakes I’ve made so far happened during this time. What were they?
I allowed fear to control my decisions. As a result, I did exactly what I didn’t want to do.
I began working every night, and all my weekends to make “more art” and have “more pieces” that I could show to the world.
I participated in two street art fairs (the only ones in my entire VeruDesigns journey). I know that for some artists this is a beautiful experience and it can be an excellent business activity, but for someone like me, who already worked full-time on a technology business, this was not how I wanted to spend my weekends. But everyone kept telling me that this was the way to “sell”. So I did. I didn’t sell anything. And I lost money.
I lowered my prices, in the hopes that people would want to buy my art. The biggest mistake ever and the biggest lesson ever!! NEVER undervalue your art. Never give in to what people say. You own your worth. You own your pricing.
Once I realized my mistakes, I vowed to never again fall prey to fear, and I haven’t. I became crystal clear on my what and why, and despite making a couple of new/different mistakes in the next few years, I never repeated such a hard year again. Four years later, VeruDesigns managed to become exactly what I wanted.
The most important thing I can say about any action plan is this: Focus. Don’t do many things on a mediocre level. Instead, focus on only a handful of things but do them as excellent as you can. Allow me to share a final but very different kind of example of how my clarity served VeruDesigns very well, towards the end of my 4th year. I was challenged with a very different kind of problem - growth.
I received two incredible opportunities to take VeruDesigns to a whole new level. One of them implied joining a well known fashion design brand. Yes. The money would’ve been incredible. The visibility for my brand (