Making Intentional Investments for your Creative Business
Knowing what to spend your hard-earned cash or business capital on is difficult, especially when there are hundreds of paid subscriptions and apps that promise organisation, ease of life and a more productive work day. After all your free trials run out, you could be looking at spending thousands on tools which aren’t really essential to making your business a success.
But how do you know which could be worth it, for your creative business?
Today I’m sharing what I invested in when I first started freelancing and, looking back, what I could have invested more in or done without.
The tools to create what you sell
This includes whatever applications, materials or services you need in order to complete your projects successfully. As a graphic designer, I required the necessary applications to create artwork and a machine to work on. This means I subscribed to a year of Adobe Creative Cloud and upgraded my Macbook Pro 13” for an iMac 21.5”. No getting around those, they’re the language my business speaks.
If you’re a photographer, this could be a new lens or 2, editing software and accessories like a tripod or countertop studio. Striking out as a life- or brand coach? Maybe it’s a new laptop and graphic creation software.
You will need to market yourself and you’ll need to market your brand. As a creative, I understand how very scary that thought is! But as you go along, it gets a little easier and you develop a marketing voice that’s not pushy, sleazy or fake. It’s you and it’s all about sharing why what you do matters to your clients and why they need it.
A brand image
From taking the time to develop the core of your business to diving deep into the profiles of your dream clients and a professional quality logo and other visual brand assets, this is an essential part of growing your reach and giving your brand a recognisable face. In order to create an outstanding website, opt-ins, social media profiles, business cards and a services menu, you’re going to need a cohesive brand image.
And all the work that goes in before the visuals? That’s what’s going to set your brand apart and attract the right clients. Before I begin any designs for my clients, I send them my Brand Discovery Workbook, to get to the heart of who they are and their stylistic preferences, their values and dream clients. This is not only helpful in establishing a branding system that is unique to them and their business, but it also sets the tone for their communication and outlines their business goals so they can create a solid marketing strategy.
To act as your home-base, that your clients and your audience can return to time and again, it’s important to have a website. No. It’s essential to have a website. We’re living in a digital age and we need to be found online, with a great website backing up our social media and claims about how amazing our services are.
Oh, and you need a blog. You don’t like writing? Me neither - it’s not my strongest suit. But you need one. You need to share your experience and knowledge and build trust with your potential clients. You need a reason to drive people back to your site every day. You don’t have to take my word for it, read here, here, here, here, here and here. Convinced? Great.
You don’t even have to go custom Wordpress here. If you’re comfortable or familiar with Wordpress, purchase a template that you could update to your brand colours and add your graphics to make it feel more like yours. If you’re not too sure about Wordpress, invest in a Squarespace website. Their templates are beautiful and clean and with their drag and drop functionality, it’s so easy to customise for your brand.
I’m pretty sure, regardless of your industry, business cards are essential and great business cards are even better. Give your clients and peers something to remember you by and include your website. For me, it also meant welcome packets (for local clients). For your brand, it could be pricing guides, a media kit or printed portfolio of work. Source a local printer that you can work hand-in-hand with if you’re interested in building a long-term relationship for future printed goods. Or get your cards done online in small quantities.
My only sadness is that I didn’t get these done earlier, but I am sure they came at the right time for my business and now I couldn’t imagine not having my own branded stock photography. I worked with a local photographer (my wedding photographer, actually!) so I got him to do some headshots for my profile pictures and about me page to put a (professionally shot) face to the name. If getting a photographer to shoot for you seems to intimidating, have a look for stock photography that captures your brand’s essence and use them in your website banner, blog graphics and social media images. Then dust off your DSLR (or borrow a friend’s) and get someone you trust to shoot your headshot. Watch a few Youtube videos on editing or hire a professional to edit a few for you.
Oh goodness, I was too late to this and wish I had invested in it earlier. Speaking from a place of love and experience: find an accountant and get accounting software to eliminate waking up in a cold sweat at 4 in the morning because taxes. There are so many cloud-based accounting options that are well priced and easy to use, even for the non-mathematically minded. Then find an accountant that can set you and your business up for provisional taxes, tell you how much to set aside each month and help with your business returns. This outlay of cash will save you so much time (tears and grey hair) in the end.
Client & project management
Another thing I wish I had invested in sooner was a project management system. After my notebook (and head) got a bit too full I started looking around for an app or software that would allow me to track projects, due dates and tasks. At the moment, I’m using a Motiv + Asana blend and it’s working out well for now. I feel organised and aware of my daily commitments and to-do’s. If you’re running in a service based business I highly recommend setting yourself up on a client management app that will allow you to see your weeks or months at a glance.
Even excluding the paid-up-front investments such as my brand image and iMac, these investments rack up a running cost of at least R2500 a month (thanks, USD$/R exchange rate) and I haven’t even spoken about the nice-to-haves such as social media schedulers, design resources, rent & small expenses.
When starting out, be intentional with your financial resources and use them to promote and grow your brand online and in person. Don’t get locked into yearly subscriptions that don’t make sense for your industry or your season of business.
What were you bigger investments in growing your business and how did you decide what to invest in and what to pass up? I’d love to hear about your journey so leave a comment and let me know.