Creative Business 101: Optimization Hacks to Get Your Platforms Working Together – Part One: Social Media

Competition in the Creative Business world can be tough, so don’t make things harder by competing with yourself!

To run a successful business, most people will operate on multiple platforms in order to maximize exposure and attract a larger audience. This sounds great on paper, but without proper planning, all of these various platforms can end up competing against one another and causing your workload to grow exponentially with every platform you add!

In Creative Business 101 we have learned:

In the next three posts, we’re going to take all of this a step further. We have killed some self-doubt, identified our audience, and learned how to provide value to our audience with great creative content. Now, what do with do with it?

These optimization hack articles will tackle the following questions you might have about how to optimize your platforms to build a better creative business:

  • Where is the best place to put each type of content?
  • How do you get your platforms working together instead of competing for attention?
  • How do you use your platforms to draw in your “true fans” and build intimacy?

Are you ready?

We’re going to break this up into three sections:

  • Part One: Social Media
  • Part Two: Blogs
  • Part Three: Newsletters

If you don’t have all of these platform types up and running, don’t panic! This article will demonstrate the potential role each of these platforms plays in your ultimate goal to convert strangers into fans.

If all you have at the moment are your socials, that’s okay. That’s all we’re talking about today. I do want you to start thinking about how to grow your business, so be open to setting up a blog and newsletter in the future. I’ll be sharing why this particular trifecta of platforms is so powerful for creative business entrepreneurs.

Part One: Social Media

Social Media is one of the easiest ways to start interacting with your audience. Before you have a website, blog, or newsletter, chances are you’ve been hanging out on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or something similar. Social media is probably the best place to meet your audience, and begin to develop a personal relationship with them. Let’s take a look at what makes social media so powerful.

Social medias are:

  • informal and friendly
  • fast paced
  • community oriented
  • quick to update
  • easy to share

I won’t discuss individual platforms here, as the benefits of each essentially come down to the above stated list. Your preferred social media accounts (whether it’s one or all of them) can all be used in the same way. You want to use social media to provide great creative content AND to actively seek out and engage with your audience.

How to Use Engagement to Boost Your Social Media Following

While a website, blog, or newsletter can be a bit of a one-sided affair with you as the talking head, social media is all about the back and forth conversation. Social media naturally forms itself into tight-knit communities of likeminded people, whether that’s through Groups on Facebook, or tags on Instagram and Twitter, it is very easy to find people who are interested in the same things as you are interested in. And it’s easy to find people who are interested in the things you make.

Because you know your audience, you can use social media to engage directly with the people you know will love your work. Check out the feeds of accounts that catch your eye. Comment on their posts. Ask questions. Introduce yourself, not with a sales pitch, but with a few details about you that might connect with their interests. Have genuine conversations.

When you are interested in other people, they naturally become interested in you. Use this fact to your advantage by forging connections and friendships with potential audience members.

How to Use Creative Content to Build Followers

When you engage with social media users, they are likely going to come check out your feeds too. This is where your content is either going to draw them in or turn them away. You might have had a great conversation on someone else’s post, but if they come to your feed and see a disjointed collection of personal photos and memes, they’re probably not going to click that follow button.

The Best Creative Content for Social Media

Social media moves fast. You want bite sized information that people can read and react to quickly. An interesting image, a quippy caption, an engaging question, these are the things that people are drawn to on social feeds. If you can hook someone’s interest in the first line of text, many will stick around to read a longer caption, too. Experiment with what types of posts get the best conversations going and stick with this.

Beware of “like” traps. Some content inspires a quick scroll by and like, but nothing more. “Likes” are the least valuable kind of social media interaction. They are little more than a social proof that other people are interested in your post.

What you want is dialogue.

How Do I Use Social Media to Create Dialogue With My Audience?

If all you post are pretty pictures, or other people’s quotes, you are unlikely to get much actual interaction on your posts. Visual artists know this phenomenon well. Beautiful feeds full of artwork might get a lot of likes, but people tend not to comment. It’s pretty, but it’s not personal. You can’t build a relationship with scroll-by-“likers.” There has to be a story that bridges a connection between you and your audience.

How do you tell a story?

Have a Theme.

Theme’s are a kind of story. On a very visual platforms, like Instagram, it’s important that your feed have a cohesive visual look. You can achieve this by sticking to one filter, or using a particular colour scheme. This helps followers identify your posts quickly when they are scrolling through their own feeds. On less visual platforms, you can still have a theme in that your post cohesive content and use a consistent voice. Your theme is a story about you. People should be able to scroll through your posts and have a strong sense of who you are.

Show Your Face.

You are the narrator of your story. You don’t want an entire feed full of selfies, but you do need to show your face often enough that someone checking out your feed for the first time has an immediate idea of who you are. Chose pictures that show off your personality, whether that is serious and contemplative, or whimsical, or completely off the wall. Break up these snapshots with other content, but make sure that there are at least one or two photos of yourself displaying to browsers at any given time. When people see your content, you want them to picture you with it. You are the most important part of your story.

Micro-Blog.

Micro-blogging is like the flash fiction of the blogging world. Mini stories about you. You can treat your socials as a kind of micro-blog. Try new ideas here, test out what gets traction and what doesn’t, and then use that information as material for expansion on your blog or newsletter.

Posting a link to your latest blog post is a great way to optimize your platforms, but if you don’t engage your audience’s interest with a caption, they’re going to scroll right past your link without reading the headline. Engagement is key to converting followers into fans.

Whether you are sharing your own original content or you are sharing inspirational content from someone else, NEVER let it sit there without a caption. Connect it to a personal experience, ask a question of your audience, grab their attention. Share your story!

The Ultimate Goal of Social Media Accounts for the Creative Business Owner

If you only have social media and no other platforms your goals are these:

  1. Engage with potential audience members in their feeds.
  2. Create a feed that inspires engagement from casual browsers.
  3. Have an easily recognizable “look” to your content, which highlights who you are as a creator.

Discussion

I hope this breakdown of how best to use your social media platforms has helped you to understand how to get the most out of these indispensable creative business tools.

Do you have any other questions about social media use as a creative entrepreneur? Which ideas would you like to see me expand on in the future? What is your favourite social media platform for your business? Let me know in the comments!

Next Steps: The Blog

Ultimately, you want all of your social media posts to direct your audience back to your blog or website. Blogging is an extremely effective tool at the hands of any creative business owner. Next week, we’re going to talk about websites, and specifically the inarguable power of the blog.

Why? Your website/blog is the next level of engagement with your followers. This is where you move past the “trigger finger” reactions and lightening fast comments of social media, and narrow your audience down to those who are more deeply engaged with your story.

These followers will browse your online store and linger over long-form articles because they are genuinely interested in you. Followers who make it to your website or blog are more invested in your work than those on social media.

You just leveled up.

Stay tuned for next week’s Creative Business 101: Optimization Hacks to Get Your Platforms Working Together–Part Two: The Blog

Creative Business 101: The Best Way to Create Valuable Content and Build Your Audience

Creative Business 101: The Best Way to Create Valuable Content and Build Your Audience

Every creative entrepreneur wants a bigger, more engaged audience. We want more eyes on our content, more people sharing our stuff with their friends, and ultimately, more buyers for our work. But how to you go from knowing who your ideal audience is to actually building that audience for your platform?

It’s all about valuable content.

If you are new to this series, you can check out the other articles here:

The Best Way to Create Valuable Content and Build Your Audience

If you are reading this piece, you should already have answered the question “Who am I creating for?” and have a pretty good idea of who your target audience or ideal audience is. If not, make sure you read the last post for Tips on How to Identify Your Audience.

In this article we will discuss:

  • How to provide value to your target audience
  • How to take what you know about your ideal audience and apply that to ideas for creative content
  • How to target multi-genre or multi-interest audiences in a cohesive way

How To Provide Value to Your Audience

When you’re starting a creative business and brainstorming ideas for what to put in your newsletters, blogs, or social media posts, it can be very overwhelming. Many entrepreneurs put off building their platforms because of this. We know what we’re “supposed to” do. But when it comes to actually doing it, we draw a blank.

If you have been dragging your feet over taking those first steps to building your audience, I have a pretty good idea why.

You don’t have anything to say.

First of all, that’s a lie. But what if I told you that your content is not really about you, anyway. Your content is about the value you provide to your audience. In order to provide valuable content for your audience, you have to stop thinking about yourself and think about them.

Why are they interested in your work? What other interests might they have that connect to your work?

Valuable content can be entertaining, educational, inspirational, or motivational. You do not have to pull ideas out of thin air. You can do things that have been done before. Find inspiration in the articles and posts that you read and love, then figure out how to make that idea work for your audience.

Valuable content is all about your audience. It is something you curate with them in mind. You are the merely the glue that holds it interesting bits together.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
–Helen Keller

The Easiest Way to Create Content Catered to Your Audience

Don’t try to reinvent the wheel here. The internet has been around for a long time, and we have a pretty good idea of what kinds of articles we are drawn to when we have time to kill. And you don’t have to be some kind of super genius algorithm hacker to figure it out. Here are some easy ways to apply basic blogging techniques to your own creative content:

1. Lists

Have you ever read a Top Ten list? Lists are a great way to start producing creative content. You can make a list about anything that your audience might find interesting or entertaining. Anything, that is, that connects your audience to your work.

If you are a romance writer, you won’t probably want to post a list about the funniest ways to die. As entertaining as you might personally find this topic, it’s not about you. It’s about your audience. You want to drive the right kind of traffic to your platform.

Depending on the kind of romance you write, you could to a list of everything from romantic getaways and best valentine’s day gifts, to hilarious safe words and underrated sex toys. What would your audience like?

2. How-Tos

No matter who you are, there are some things that you are good at. Have you ever followed an online How-To type article? Did it work? Was it a terrible fail? Either way, you have material.

The How-To is a great way to bring your audience into your creative process, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Many people in your audience will be amateurs themselves, and targeting burgeoning creatives is a great way to build one leg of your platform.

If you are an artist, for example you can do an How-To for basic skills in your craft. Or you can share something that you’ve tried that didn’t work out with a “How-Not-To” twist. Or go all in on a fail and share “How to Ruin a Painting in 5 Easy Steps.”

3. Inspiration/Motivation

This is one of the most popular type of blog post, and you can spin it a number of different ways.

If you have recently overcome a challenge, share a personal anecdote and a favourite quote to let your audience know that you are in fact human. Motivational stories, even about seemingly insignificant moments, can really strike a chord with people. I shared an experience with teaching my children how to skate, and what that taught me about writing, and my followers loved it! Sharing our failures is a great way to connect with your audience.

You can also share quotes, passages, and images that have inspired your creative work. A science fiction writer might showcase futuristic landscapes by artists which have inspired them. This draws the right kind of people to your feed. If they like the artwork that inspired your novel, this will make them curious about your novel. See how it works?

The Possibilities are Endless!

If you are interested in exploring this topic more, I’d be happy to brainstorm more ideas with you. Let me know in the comments!

“All knowledge is connected to all knowledge. The fun is in making the connections.”
–Arthur C. Aufderheide

How to Target Multi-Genre or Multi-Interest Audiences in a Cohesive Way

I said earlier that you are the glue that holds your content together. You might write in different genres or paint in different styles or record many different types of music, but in the centre of it all is you.

I know I said it’s not about you. Just listen.

The content is still not about you. It’s about your audience. But the way it all comes together and becomes cohesive? That’s all you, baby. You are the part of the equation that will keep your audience with you instead of one of those other platforms (or as well as, we can share!)

When you’re trying to find ways to tie multiple genres of work together, potentially with separate audiences, connection is the key. You need to think of ways that you can connect your interests/ideas to each other.

An author/blogger friend of mine expressed frustration with how to express three seemingly unconnected aspects of her identity in one platform. She’s a writer, a make-up artist, and a cat lover.

Any of these could be its own platform, but if she focuses on them each individually it all falls apart. She either has three separate platforms to grow, which would need separate accounts, and be completely overwhelming. Or she ends up with a random collection of make-up videos, writing updates, and cute kitty pics that looks more like a personal account than a business.

You may have many interests that inform your work, and as different as they are, you are the glue that holds them together. There is something about each of them that you connect with, and your connection is what will connect your audience.

Here were some of my suggestions to her:

  • Do a mood board for your current book (writing or reading) and do a post it with a make-up tutorial using the same colour scheme
  • Do a cosplay of your favourite literary character
  • Dress your cat as literary character (or attempt to dress your cat and take video of the calamity)
  • Share a picture of your cat along with a cat-themed passage from a favourite novel (there are so many books with cats in them!) or a quote from a writer about cats
  • Share a quote from a writer about beauty, identity, or strength, and share it with a look that makes you feel the same way

This technique works for multi-genre writers as well. How can you connect readers from one genre to readers from another and target them in the same post?

  • Share two of your favourite characters, from different genres, and compare and contrast their personalities
  • Compare one of your characters to a character from a different genre
  • Ask your followers a “Would you rather…” with a question from two different genres
  • Compare and contrast mood boards
  • Chose a theme and relate it to books from different genres

The ways to connect our work to our audience and our audience to us. Look for inspiration in the posts and articles that you like to read and brainstorm ways that you can do something similar in your own words.

Discussion

How are you feeling? Do you have a better idea of how knowing your audience helps you create valuable content and build your platform? What topics would you like to see next?

Upcoming articles will address:

  • How to Synchronize Your Platforms
  • How to Turn Your Platform into a Brand
  • How to Convert Followers into Customers
  • and more!

If there is anything else you want to know, please ask! Thank you for joining me in Creative Business 101. Happy creating!

Creative Business 101: Tips on How to Identify your Audience

Creative Business 101: Tips on How to Identify your Audience

Have you ever stopped to wonder why you are a creator? Many of us create as a hobby, for personal pleasure or relaxation. But if you are starting a creative business, you need to reframe this question.

“Why do you create?” becomes “Who are you creating for?”

In this post, I will share some quick tips for identifying your audience and how to use that information to design content that will appeal to your ideal reader or customer.

Creative Business 101: How to Identify Your Audience

What is an Audience, and Why Does it Matter?

When we talk of “audience” in the world of creative entrepreneurs (or any kind of entrepreneur!) we are referring to a pool of potential buyers of our work. Your work might be a novel, a painting, or a hand-knit sweater. It could be a song you’ve put out on YouTube or a film you’ve made. Even if you are not ready to sell your work, you can still make connections with your future customers. These people are your audience.

Identifying your audience is the first step you need to take when you decide to transition from being a hobbyist to a career creator. Who are you trying to reach? The answer seems simple. We want everyone to love us and buy our stuff. We want fame and riches and global recognition of our awesomeness, right?

(Okay, if you just nodded your head, go back and read Defining Success as a Creative Entrepreneur.)

The trouble is, if you cast your net too wide it doesn’t get deep enough to catch any fish. If you try to market yourself to everyone, you end up attracting no one.

How to Identify Your Audience

You cannot market yourself or your work to everyone on the face of the planet. We all like different things, and respond to different personalities. Identifying your audience comes down to two things: who you are, and what you do. This becomes: who is going to like me? Who is going to want what I have created?

Many creators don’t really stop to think about these things until after they have completed a project. We feel inspired, we work in a wild frenzy of creative activity, and after some crises of faith and existential dread, voilà! We have a thing!

If you have never considered your audience until this moment, that’s okay. I’m going to help you out. Once you go through these tips and you do know your audience, your next project will be much easier to market!

First, let’s talk about you.

“To Find Yourself, Think For Yourself.” –Socrates

Who Am I?

I don’t necessarily mean this in a deep, existential way. But if you know exactly who you are, this part will be easy. When I ask “Who are you?” I mean “How do you present yourself to the world?” Here are some questions to consider:

  • How old are you?
  • What is your gender identity and sexual orientation?
  • What are your religious beliefs?
  • What are your political beliefs?
  • What is important to you?
  • What charities and causes do you support?
  • What kind of people do you like to be friends with?
  • What kind of people do you not get along well with?
  • Are you a cat person? A dog person? Do you like animals?
  • What kinds of food do you like?

This is basic stuff, but it’s surprising how many people never really sit down and think about these things. Go back to the days of those 20 questions surveys you used to be tagged in back in the early days of social media. Take a few, just for fun.

Now how many of these basic info-bytes make it into your work? Is the protagonist in your novel similar to you or different? Do you draw themes for your art from your personal belief system? Do you curse like a sailor or prefer a family-friendly dialogue with your friends?

These are all important clues in order to answer the next question.

Who is my Audience?

It can be difficult to make the leap from “Who am I?” to “Who do I create for?” because it isn’t always a conscious part of the process. Think of a particular piece or project you want to find an audience for. Think of one, ideal person coming along and seeing your work and thinking “Yes! This is exactly what I’ve been looking for!” Who are they? Who will get the most out of everything you’ve put into this piece?

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Level of Education
  • Political Views
  • Income Level
  • Religious Views
  • What is important to them?

Your audience might be exactly like you, or they might be quite different. For writers, your audience might be more similar to your protagonist than to you. For example, if you are a middle aged woman writing a YA romance, your work is more likely to appeal to a 15 year old girl than someone who is married with children, and a full time job.

On the other hand, if you are writing a science fiction novel about climate disaster and you are passionate about saving the environment in real life, your audience will likely share this passion with you.

Example: The Timekeepers’ War by S.C. Jensen

I am going to demonstrate the different between “Who am I?” and “Who is my audience?” by using myself and my first book as an example. You don’t need to have read The Timekeepers’ War in order for this to make sense. [If you have, great! You’re my favourite ;)]

QuestionsS.C. JensenAudience
Age?3618-45, geared toward 20s or people who remember their 20s
Gender?FemaleMainly women
Race?WhiteAny, characters are racially diverse
Sexual Orientation?BisexualAny, queer friendly
Level of Education?Bachelor’s DegreeAny, but must be curious, have a strong vocabulary, and be interested in exploring “big” ideas
Level of Income?Upper Middle ClassAny, especially people who have experience with poverty
Religious Beliefs?AtheistAtheist, agnostic, or spiritually curious
Political Beliefs?LiberalSocialist, or people who like to explore many political models and belief systems
Interests?reading, SF&F, outdoor activities, cooking, new medicine and scienceSF&F, readers, dark humour, sci-fi concept art, alien species, post-apocalyptic preppers
Place in life?married, homeowner, business owner, mother, well-balanced and contentyounger, still trying to figure out where they fit (or remember this feeling), ambiguous identity, searching for meaning in life, discontent, questioning everything
Discovering your audience example, The Timekeepers’ War by S.C. Jensen

You can see where there are a few places where my audience and I diverge from one another. Partly this is because people change, and we often draw on past experiences in our creative work. Sometimes it is easier to discuss difficult themes and ideas after the fact, and our work will resonate with both people who are currently experiencing similar issues or who have in the past.

Remember, the more specific you can be in identifying your audience the easier it will be to market your creative business or product.

“Your Attitude is an Expression of Your Values and Expectations.” –Zabid Abas

I Know My Audience, But How Does This Help Me?

Once you know who your ideal audience is, it’s time to produce some content that will interest them. If you are stumped about what to write about on your blog or socials, imagine your audience. What is your ideal reader/buyer interested in right now?

  • Does your work tie in to any current public events?
  • What interests do they have?
  • Have you read any books or seen any movies that would appeal to them?
  • Can you provide insight into a problem they might be facing?

You must use what you know about your ideal audience and apply that to everything you put out into the world. Your content is the bait you use to lure future customers to your feeds. People can’t buy your work if they can’t find you, and they won’t buy your work if they don’t find a personal connection with what you post.

How Do I Cater My Content to My Audience?

As a Writer:

  • book reviews in the genre you write in
  • top 10 books you look forward to reading this year
  • current events with parallels to your novel
  • personal stories that parallel the issues your characters deal with
  • entertaining tidbits in your shared interest categories
  • book nerdy posts about how to select your next read, organize your bookcase, or how to handle the emotional turmoil of a book buying ban

As an Artist:

  • behind the scenes in your studio
  • sketches to finished piece
  • other artists who inspire you
  • practical guidance on how to select a piece of art, how to hang a artwork, how to critique a work of art
  • news stories that connect with themes in your work
  • personal stories that your ideal buyer will relate to

As a Musician:

  • behind the scenes in your studio
  • live recordings
  • footage from performances
  • stories about your experiences as a performer
  • news stories that connect with themes in your work
  • venues reviews for areas you have performed in or would like to perform in

These are some idea to get you started, but as you can see knowing your audience is the key to producing creative content that works.

Be Valuable

In Creative Business 101: Defining Success as a Creative Entrepreneur we discussed the importance of providing value in your content. In order to do this, you must know who your audience is and what is valuable to them.

Use your platforms with intention, and focus on the platforms you feel most comfortable with. I spend most of my time on Instagram and WordPress, because this is where I like to hang out. Others enjoy the Twitter or Facebook experience. You don’t have to do everything at once, but whatever you do, you must product content designed to appeal to your ideal audience.

Discussion

Is there anything else you need to know about identifying your audience? Let me know in the comments and we can brainstorm!

If this article was helpful to you, please like and share so that it is easier for others to find.

As always, thank you for reading!

Creative Business 101: Defining Success as a Creative Entrepreneur

Do you ever think about all the things you have to do in order to “make a living” and feel overwhelmed? Does that overwhelm stop you from pursuing your dreams?

I know that fear well. My husband and I are small business owners–we own a trucking company and I am a freelance business writer–and I am in the process of turning my fiction writing into a full time job. I have learned a lot in the past ten years about what it takes to turn your passion into a career. I still have a lot to learn, but I’d like to share this journey with you and help ease some of the fears you may be feeling.

How to Define Success as a Creative Entrepreneur

What Does Success Mean to You?

There is something to be said for the safety and security of a regular job. Anyone who has considered starting their own business knows the hardest thing to do is to step away from a regular paycheck and into the vast financial unknown of self-employment.

If your passion is creative–if you are a writer, artist, musician, or actor–making that leap is even more difficult. Society tends to think of creative pursuits as hobbies, not careers. Most people can’t imagine anyone making a living in a creative field. Sure, there’s your Beyonces and your J.K. Rowlings, but statistically we know it is more likely that we’ll win the lottery than to become wildly rich and famous as an artist.

And becoming wildly rich and famous is the epitome of success, is it not?

Redefining Success

Many people hold full-time jobs and create as a hobby and are perfectly content. But for those of us who are driven to create more than anything else, whose work days are consumed by the desire to get back to our true passion, it is not enough to create as a hobby.

Yet becoming a creative professional doesn’t seem possible. When you consider a creative career or starting your own business, the biggest concern you are likely to have is this: How much money will I make? Can I make a living this way? Will I be able to survive?

The Starving Artist Myth

Society tells us that being creative is not “a real job.” The world, which consumes vast amounts of creative products every day, simultaneously tries to sell us the Starving Artist myth.

I’ve written about this myth and the other toxic mindsets that creative people and entrepreneurs face in my articles 5 Toxic Myths About Creativity and Imposter Syndrome: Why You Are Self-Sabotaging (and How to Stop!) I encourage you to check these articles out, and identify any self-defeating beliefs you might be holding on to.

But I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The work of creative professionals is all around us, from the digital art on our favourite websites, to the songs we hear on the radio, to the books we read and the movies we watch and the clothes we buy. The list goes on. And the people who create all the products we buy and the media we consume are not working for free.

Creative Success

“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” — Albert Einstein

Creative Work Has Value!

Success to most people is defined by recognition and financial security. I have good news for you: It is absolutely possible to achieve success by this standard as a creative person!

But it does not happen right away. And almost none of us will succeed by the impossible standard–of wealth and fame–upheld by society.

So, what is the point of chasing a dream so unlikely to “succeed?”

Achieving success as a creative person requires a shift in perception. When you are taking your first steps toward a creative career, it is important to let go of traditional definitions of success. You must redefine your goals in terms of value.

Why Value?

It can feel entirely pointless to maintain a blog when your posts get fewer than 10 hits a day. How are you supposed to write a newsletter for an empty mailing list? Why should you sweat over the perfect shot and caption when your Instagram feed has more crickets than comments?

Because success starts with value.

It may take years before you are able to quite your day job and become a full-time creator. You may have to make changes to your spending habits and your material expectations in order to “make a living.” Financial success and public recognition will not happen overnight.

But your skills and experience have value NOW. In order to be financially successful, people need to be able to find you. Your audience is out there. There are billions of people in the world, and there are thousands of people who want exactly what you have to offer. That is a big enough pool of future customers to make any creative person a financial success. But they have to find you first.

Great Expectations

Measuring your success in financial terms when you are first starting out is a recipe for failure. I fell victim to the trap of my own expectations after I released The Timekeepers’ War. I had no idea how to market myself as an independent author. I just wanted to write. I wanted my books to sell themselves. I had slaved away on that project for years and I wanted to see some kind of return!

But I didn’t have a foundation in place. I released my book into the wild and let it run free…

And it disappeared.

Feelings of frustration and overwhelm quickly became resentment. It built up in me for years until I hated even thinking about my blog or drafting my next book.

I became frozen by my frustration.

But being frustrated was not my problem. The frustration was a symptom of a bigger problem. This is what really threw a wrench into my gears:

I was focusing on my own success (or perceived lack thereof) rather than on providing value to my audience.

I was putting the cart before the horse.

It’s tough to motivate yourself with “success” as your only measurable. For one thing, it means different things to different people, and even different things at different stages in your career. For another thing, success takes time! You aren’t going to write one blog post and skyrocket to the top of Google’s search results.

So what do you do in the meantime? Where do you start?

You start with value. What is your ideal audience interested in? How can you help them? Because you can provide value at any stage in your journey as a creative or an entrepreneur. You don’t work for the audience you have, you work for the audience you want to have in the future.

A man should have duties outside of himself; without them he is a mere balloon, inflated with thin egotism and drifting nowhere.” –Thomas Baily Aldrich

Who Are You Creating For?

I want you to stop thinking about yourself for a minute. Stop thinking about you want from your creative business and start thinking about your future customers. Who are they?

Who is your audience?

  • How old are they?
  • What kind of education do they have?
  • Are they married? Do they have children?
  • What are their hobbies and interests?
  • What are their beliefs and values?

How do you provide value to your audience?

You have skills and knowledge that are valuable. You have to share it with the world in order for your audience to find you. It’s as simple as that. And when you start out, being of value is not going to immediately translate into financial gain. Your success as a creative person will be defined by how well you connect with other people, and how much value you can provide for them.

What has value?

  • entertainment: tell funny stories or share fun facts on your blog, let people hear the outtakes from your last recording session, share a sketch that went wrong, take people behind the scenes and show them what it’s like to be you, make your audience laugh!
  • education: share your tips for how to be successful in your creative field of choice, share books and videos that have helped you or inspired you, review products you use
  • inspire: tell your story, talk about your challenges, talk about your successes, let yourself fail and share what you’ve learned

Strategies for Success as a Creative Entrepreneur

Success for the creative entrepreneur boils down to value. It sounds simple enough, but can be difficult in practice. I have some strategies for how to build success as a creative professional and I will be sharing them with you in the coming weeks. I plan to cover topics like:

  • How to identify you audience
  • How to provide value to your audience
  • How to optimize your website, blog, newsletter, and social media accounts so that they are working together instead of competing with one another
  • How to convert your followers into customers
  • and more!

I hope you’ll join me on this journey and we can walk together on the path toward success, however you choose to define it.

Discussion

What has been your biggest struggle with getting your business (creative or otherwise) off the ground? What is holding you back? Please let me know in the comments if there is anything you’d like me to cover in this series. Thanks for reading!

Creative Business 101: 5 Toxic Myths About Creativity

When you think of artists, or writers, or musicians, what is the first thing that pops into your head? One of the greats? Or some reclusive weirdo who seems perpetually at odds with “the real world?”

Creativity is often viewed as a mysterious thing. Something some people have it and others don’t. It can drive people to do incredible things. Or it can drive a person mad.

These dichotomous images of blazing success and blistering failure are burned into our cultural retinas. Often when we feel blocked in our creativity it is because we have internalized society’s ideas about what creativity is, where it comes from, and who is allowed to be creative.

What if it’s all a lie?

What if all our notions about creativity are wrong? Where does that leave us creative people?

Let’s take a look at 5 of the most toxic myths about creativity that could be standing between you and success.

#5 “She’s so talented!”

We all know people who are better than us at something. Maybe it’s math homework, maybe it’s painting, maybe it’s public speaking. It is tempting to believe that they are simply talented in a way that we can never be. In fact, having to work at something can feel discouraging.

But the fact is, talent has very little to do with skill. Sure, some people have a natural inclination towards some things more than others. While that might give them an initial boost, what really makes people “talented” is good old-fashioned hard work. No one gets good at something without trying, failing, and trying again. What separates average people from the talented ones is this: Talented people work harder.

#4 “You must suffer for your art.”

This myth is particularly toxic because it validates a lot of negative behaviours and mindsets that we really should work to fix. The very parts of our brains that help us to be creative–asking why and what if, deconstructing ideas and analyzing them, thinking differently from other people–can leave us feeling overwhelmed, isolated, and alienated from society.

Instead of seeking help when this happens, creative people often choose to numb themselves through substance abuse and self-harm. Depression and anxiety are common in creative people.

There is an idea out there that truly powerful works of art come from a place of great pain and suffering. While it is true that creativity can provide catharsis for past trauma, you do not have to suffer in order to be creative.

Treating your depression, anxiety, or substance abuse will not block your creativity. In fact, getting help for your mental health will more likely unleash a wave of ideas and inspiration that you can draw from for years to come!

#3 “He’s a starving artist.”

This is a big one. The starving artist myth allows people to take advantage of you and your creativity. It is the myth that makes it okay for people to suggest you work for free “for the exposure.” It is the myth that causes you to undervalue your own work.

See, we have this idea that you can’t make money as a creator. Writers, artists, musicians, crafts people… we just do it for the love of creating. We don’t actually expect to make a living at it, do we? That would be crazy.

Well, call me crazy, but I like to eat. I like to have a roof over my head. I like to be able to buy new shoes for my kids when they outgrow their old ones. And just because I’m a writer doesn’t mean I should have to work another job in order to do those things.

Creativity is a highly sought after commodity in the world. We need creative people to design our websites, to write ad copy, to entertain us with music and stories, to decorate our spaces. Your skills are valuable. The world wants and needs your skills. So whatever you do, don’t undercut your earnings by devaluing your own work.

#2 “Wow! What an original idea!”

Creative people often get blocked by this need to “be original.” We try so hard to be different from everyone else that we run out of ideas entirely. Why? Because original ideas do not exist. Like perfectionism, the quest for originality is a wild goose chase. Quit while you’re ahead.

I talked about this in my post “But I have Nothing to Say!” and Other Lies. You do not have to have a completely new idea in order for your work to be worthy of an audience. The way you approach a familiar idea is what makes your work interesting and unique. Your “you-ness” is the real product here. That is what you do that no one else can do.

#1 “She’s a bit of a loner.”

Are creative people introverts or extroverts? Most people would answer introverts. But they would be wrong. The truth is, creative people can be introverted or extroverted or anywhere in between. The idea that creativity is some kind of mad genius magic that only works in total isolation is about as crazy as it gets.

Even if creative people prefer to do their actual work in solitude (which not all of us do!) we cannot create in a void. We are all inspired by the works of other people. Successful creatives have a strong network of other creative people to bounce ideas off of, share with, and get feedback from. If you’re an extrovert, these connections might happen in galleries and coffee shops and other public places. Introverts might prefer online groups and the intimacy of small critique circles. The important thing is that we share our work with others.

Conclusion

So there you have it. Anyone can be creative. You don’t have to have an innate talent, you don’t have to be depressed and miserable, you don’t have to be perpetually broke, you don’t have to have a “new” idea, and you don’t have to work alone.

Can you think of any other myths about creative people that might be getting in the way of your creativity?

If you are still feeling creatively stifled and don’t know where to turn next, check out my post on Imposter Syndrome.

Let me know what you think in the comments!

Creative Business 101: What to Say When You Have Nothing to Say

“There is nothing new.”

Anyone who has ever attempted to create something new has come across some version of this lie.

How can I write a book or a song, paint a picture, or start a business that is completely original? “There is nothing new under the sun.”

Well, guess what? You’re right.

That is not the lie.

The lie is the subtext of this thought. The lie is that we we think this means:

“There is nothing new, and therefore it is pointless to try.”

“I can’t say it better than it’s been said before, so why bother?”

“It’s been done before.”

WRONG.

People have been creating stories, images, ideas, and more for thousands of years. Why do we do that? Is it because we have all of these brand-new-never-been-seen-before inventions that pop into our skulls like a bolt out of the blue? No. It’s because ideas evolve. One thing sparks a slightly different thing, which goes on to spark a few more.

Human beings are especially primed to understand and love stories. We love stories because they follow recognizable patterns, but surprise us with their details. We see the same archetypes represented throughout literary and art history. They get little makeovers to suit the current generations, but the tropes have been around for a long time.

This is why books that follow a traditional structure become so much more successful than the experimental ones. This is why popular music follows particular trends. Why art can be categorized by the period it was created in. It’s even why we can pass five different sandwich joints on our way to work.

No one likes new ideas.

New ideas are scary. It takes people a really long time to warm up to new things. If you think you are going to become a successful writer/musician/artist/entrepreneur by doing something completely new and original…

It’s not going to happen.

Or at least, it’s very unlikely to happen that way. First of all, coming up with something truly new and original is extremely difficult to do. Second of all, even if you could do that, people would be too afraid to give you a chance.

If you want to pursue your passion for the sheer joy of doing what you love, go ahead and try for those new ideas. But if you really want to build an audience or a customer base, it’s best to stick to what people know.

But I don’t want to be like everybody else!

You aren’t. And that’s what makes this whole crazy thing work. Listen up.

Whatever you are working on right now, you have been inspired by those who came before you. Your book could be inspired by an artist, your song could be inspired by a sandwich joint. It doesn’t matter. The point is, creativity does not happen in a void.

Are there any completely original ideas left? Not many. Can you still make your project original?

Of course!

You are unique.

Whatever it is you want to do has been done before. But it hasn’t been done by you. The way you do it will be just a little bit different from the way the next person does it, and this is how you find your audience.

You are the secret sauce, my friend. The way that you take all of those little bits and pieces of inspiration and mash them together is your brand. No one can do it like you can. Even with the exact same set of inspirations, with the exact same creative prompts, with the exact same business proposal, you will execute it differently.

Because there is no one exactly like you out there.

If everybody is special, then no one is special.

Okay, now you’re just being a downer.

Let’s take a moment to think about why we like the things we like. What do you like best about the bloggers you follow, the restaurants you eat at, the music shows you go to?

Would you rather go to a crowded chain restaurant where the server barely makes eye contact and you have to jump on your chair, waving your arms in the air just to place a drink order? Or would you like a small, family run business where the owner comes out and tells you how much your patronage means to them?

Would you rather go to a massive, sold-out stadium concert where you can barely see your favourite band? Or would you rather see them in a smaller venue, meet them with a VIP pass, and get your T-shirt signed?

Would you rather browse endless, sterile how-to blogs that read like an instruction manual? Or do you want to hear personal anecdotes, have your questions answered in the comments section, and provide feedback that affects future articles?

I can probably guess your answers.

So what makes you special?

The bits of yourself that you share, along with your process, that help people get to know you. To care about you. Essentially, it’s intimacy.

Intimacy matters.

In an increasingly digital world, intimacy has become more important than ever. We lack basic human connection in almost every facet of our daily lives. Even our relationships with our friends and family are filtered through screens most of the time.

Your project is a reflection of you. Even if you are doing a cover of your favourite song. If you’re writing fan fiction. If you’re duping recipes from Krispy Kreme donuts. There is a piece of you going into the final product (hopefully not literally into the donuts, though.)

Big famous writers, musicians, actors, and business people don’t have time for all of their fans. They might pay someone to answer fan mail and have scheduled meet-and-greets or do select interviews. But it is impossible for someone to keep up with thousands, if not millions of fans.

That’s good news for us little guys. That’s what gives us the edge. We don’t have to have a completely new and original idea. What is original these days is our ability to connect with our fans, followers, and customers. Intimacy is our edge.

Quit worrying about being original, and start being yourself.

What do you have to offer that no one else does?

Yourself. You must show people who you are, engage with your followers, fans, and customers. Give them a little piece of you beyond the “product.”

I’m a speculative fiction writer. My first book came out in 2014, The Timekeepers’ War. Is it the best book ever written? No. Is it completely original? Again, no.

Why should anyone buy my book? It’s pretty fun, for one thing, if I do say so myself. But this is the biggest reason I hope readers find my books:

I want to connect with them.

I love getting comments on the blog, or my Instagram account. I even started my Facebook page up again, so you can find me there, too (please do! It needs all the help it can get).

And I always, always, always respond to emails, comments, and DMs from my readers. I love it. That is my true passion. Connecting with people.

Connection is a win win. I get feedback on my published work and then apply that to my next book or short story. My fans make a difference to me, to my work, and I hope I make a difference to them.

And that is something no big-name block buster writer can offer them.

There is nothing new. So What?

Get out there. Share your work. Find your people. Start that business. Meet your fans and customers and start letting people in on who you are.

You never know. Your next super-fan might be watching.

Creative Business 101: Imposter Syndrome aka Why You Are Self-Sabotaging (And How to Stop!)

There comes a time in nearly everyone’s life when they are struck by a sudden fear that they are a fraud. No matter how much evidence you have for your skills, success, and potential, there is a niggling little worm in the brain that whispers “You’re a fake! You’re a loser! This is never going to work!”

In fact, the more successful one becomes, the more likely they are to suffer from these kinds of anxieties and insecurities. It’s called Imposter Syndrome.

Who Gets Imposter Syndrome?

Everyone is vulnerable to Imposter Syndrome, but some groups of people more so than others.

  • Entrepreneurs who see a sudden surge of success are more likely to be hit buy fear and insecurity than those who have had to build their business up slowly over time.
  • Creatives are more susceptible than those in traditional occupations because there is so much social pressure to have a “real job.”
  • Women and minorities are more likely to doubt their worth than others.

If you fall into more than one of these categories, you might be at higher risk than others.

10 Signs You Suffer From Imposter Syndrome

  1. You don’t think you’re anything special.
  2. You think others can easily achieve the things you have.
  3. You feel generic and replaceable, a placeholder in your field.
  4. You give other people credit for your success, thinking “I couldn’t have done it with out so and so’s help.”
  5. You feel uncomfortable when others praise your skills and achievements.
  6. You believe your connections are more valuable than your actual skills.
  7. You believe people who praise you are just trying to be kind, or you mistrust praise as flattery with an ulterior motive.
  8. You attribute past successes to luck or being in the right place at the right time.
  9. You believe you haven’t worked hard enough to deserve the success you have had.
  10. You are afraid that other people will realize you aren’t as great as they thought, that you have somehow tricked them into believing you are better at your job than you really are.

2 Symptoms of Imposter Syndrome That Are Hurting You

If you frequently find the above thoughts passing through your brain, you might be suffering from Imposter Syndrome. Unfortunately, the damage of Imposter Syndrome is deeper than just self-consciousness. Your fear of being a fraud can actually drive self-sabotaging behaviours.

Overworking Yourself

Some people, when struggling with feelings of inadequacy and a fear of being discovered as a fake, believe they must work harder than anyone else in order to make up for their perceived deficiencies. These people show up early, stay late, take on extra projects, and work themselves to the bone. Then, after they do all that extra work, they try to minimize their efforts as if anyone else would do the same thing!

Procrastinating

On the flip side, the belief that you must be perfect in order to be worthy can result in a paralyzing fear of starting anything. People suffering from Imposter Syndrome will often make excuses for why they can’t take the next steps they need to make in their business or creative projects, because they are convinced that failure is not an option. Failure will expose them as the frauds they are!

Cure Yourself of Imposter Syndrome

Negative thoughts have power over us when they are allowed to fester and squirm around our brains unchecked. The longer they exist without being challenged the more real they become to us.

If you believe you are suffering from Imposter Syndrome there are some simple steps you can follow to shine a light on that wormy dark place in your brain.

The Emotional Rx

  • Acknowledge the negative beliefs to yourself, and identify them as toxic thoughts.

The Social Rx

  • Talk to someone close to you about them: your partner, close friends, family members, and colleagues. Share your experiences, and listen to theirs. You may find comfort in knowing that others have the same thoughts and fears.

The Mental Rx

  • If these beliefs are out of control and are taking over your life, seek the help of a mental health professional. In fact, seeing a counsellor regularly can be a great tool for setting and achieving your goals, even when you aren’t suffering from negative thoughts.

The Physical Rx

  • Learn a new skill, completely outside the sphere of your usual work. Allow yourself to be an amateur. Allow yourself to fail and to learn. Get comfortable with not being perfect. Then see if you can apply this newfound freedom to your professional life as well!

Conclusion

As more and more people are working from home, pursuing creative work, and starting their own businesses, it is important for us to talk about the very real threat that Imposter Syndrome has on us and our livelihoods. Fortunately there are many resources out there to help you if you are struggling with negative beliefs about yourself.

Discussion

Have you ever suffered from Imposter Syndrome? How did you handle it? Do you have any advice for others in your field? Please share in the comments!