October 24, 2013

Starting a Creative Business - 3 important concepts to understand before you start

It has been 5 years since the the beginnings of For Strange Women began to form in my mind and manifest into strange perfumes. Before this I thought I had to live a life that required me to "find" that perfect creative and flexible job in a sane and healthy work environment... and the search itself was exhausting. Once I realized that my dream job was a figment of my imagination, I was able to design it from scratch... after all, I was a designer. Since then I have been aware that I can guide creatives like me to do the same, because some of us just can't be content with a "real" job. Here are a few things that I am asked frequently, and they are a little difficult to answer, but I realize they are extremely important in helping a creative entrepreneur figure out how to begin.

1. How do you decide what is is you are best at/supposed to do/commit to?

Stop thinking of it as a commitment. The thought of commitment itself is paralyzing, especially when you can not imagine just where something will take you within 5 years. In college, I spent most of my time writing and recording music, and sewing, (even though my degree was video production), and after college I taught myself graphic design and photography. I have worked as a screenprinter, promo photographer, stage construction crew, graphic designer, and videographer/video editor. Now I am making perfume and continuing to learn new things. It would be easy to be discouraged 5 years ago, having no training and little experience with the art of perfume. Although we are all told that we should use our existing skills and education and build upon them, I also think that learning new things and being curious is often discouraged for no good reason other than fear. I was not convinced from the beginning that perfume would become my life- I had no idea. So don't overthink it, just play.

2. I have all these great ideas and no motivation to do them- what is wrong?

Anyone can tap into the realm of collective (sub)consciousness and receive great ideas. If you don't act on them, you can be sure the idea will move on to someone else who will. Making the ideas actually translate to real life is the talent that entrepreneurs possess. 

3. I'm a designer and I can easily brand other businesses but it feels impossible to pinpoint what my own branding should be... why can't I settle on my own brand and how did you?

a. This goes back to the commitment issue. Start with something that works, even if it isn't perfect, and know that it's really ok to change it later. As an example, check out these early photos and graphics from FSW in 2009- it has evolved a lot.
 This all may look similar to what I do now but the details for me have changed many times. My ideas, style, and inspiration is ever evolving and the more time I spend doing what I love, the more solidified my expression becomes.

b. Also, recognize your ego, which is your false sense of self. A "brand" is like taking your ego and inflating it to uncomfortable proportions, making it really difficult to create a public face for yourself that also feels authentic to who you are. If you were to accurately brand yourself, it would be a mess because you are complex and multifaceted, and your life is probably a mess too (hey, mine is). In design we are trained to simplify, which is easy to do with someone else's ego that we only know superficially, but not with our own.

The best way to find a comfortable medium is to journal a LOT. Ask yourself detailed questions, like "If I could have any 3 people on my board of directors, who would they be and what would be their input on this brand?", and "What are the 5-10 most important messages/ideas that my brand needs to always express?" Then start building your brand based on the things you have written down. Separate your "sense of self" from the project- when in doubt consult what you have written as guidelines in your journal and stick with them as if someone else had written them.


  1. THANK YOU for this post!!! The commitment thing is one of my biggest roadblocks, I think. I am always thinking I have to find a certain *thing* that I'll stick to forever...or at least for a long time...and then I feel stuck. I appreciate this encouragement!

  2. Very appreciative of this post!

  3. Thank you so much for this, it is immensely helpful. It is so difficult to navigate what you want to convey, and separate your ego a bit. Sometimes what i want to convey seems to contradict what would be a wise marketing move. I think you shall be on my board, Thank you again.

  4. I really enjoyed this article! I have been following your brand for a few years, perhaps after your Etsy interview. It's great to have inspiring creatives who really know who they are and convey that through their brand. I have had my own brand for a few years and tried new things to find what fits. I'm glad you touched on being spread and having it be okay. That has been my life long struggle, finding the balance through all the different mediums I enjoy. Also, those were great words about how a brand is inflating your ego to uncomfortable proportions, too true! Thanks for your words!

  5. I am struggling with this exact issue right now. I was so worried that any initial branding would make or break me forever... This will help save me some more sleepless nights. Thank you so much for sharing this! Wonderful advice :D

  6. PERFECT!! I have long run after any hobby, interest, or Big Idea that came along, and never focused enough to make any of them as successful as they could be. It's the curse of the multi-talented, maybe? (<--- not taking myself too seriously, here...) :) I have just this year decided to hone in on two things, and within the last month have decided I have to hack one of those off as well. We have to also learn to be patient with ourselves if our focus takes a little while to come to us - but then trust our guts when we are getting nudged a certain direction and stop fighting amongst our Selves.

  7. Thank you for this excellent article! I've been struggling with several things you addressed.

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