Our doyenne Monica started Creative Plus Business and her previous business Freelance Success to help creatives develop their business skills. Here she shares why that process is so hard to embark on, and how to overcome the fear.
When I started my first ‘proper’ business in 1994, a production company specialising in documentary content, there was a local business centre offering free advice for start-ups. I must have stalked that organisation for at least a year, picking up their pamphlets and visiting their fledgling website, before deciding not to take part. There was nothing wrong with the offer, or the organisation, but I was terrified of taking that step and sitting with someone who could help me. I had a million questions and I knew I was making mistakes, but I just couldn’t bring myself to take part.
Now, as someone who offers business advice for a living, I meet people all the time who are just too scared to take the same step. The offer is safe, and the advice is trustworthy, but the fear lingers. Finding a mentor, a coach or an advisor is such a critically important step in creating success, so why is it so hard?
There are lots of people who provide advice, from those that you engage and pay (like your accountant) to those who offer it up unsolicited at barbecues (like your Uncle Ron who ran a business in the 1980s). At best it’s the sharing of knowledge, tips and tricks from people who have experienced what you’re going through, and genuinely want to help. Sometimes it’s more like a sales pitch, and the promise of initial free help in exchange for many dollars later. At worst it’s bad advice, incorrect or irrelevant, or vaguely illegal.
So why are we so afraid, and how do we overcome that fear?
I don’t want to reveal how little I know.
Knowing when to ask for help is not a sign of stupidity, it’s a sign of brilliance. It can be terribly hard to admit that you’re lost, but the paradox is that you don’t know what you don’t know. What may seem like a giant and insurmountable quandary to you could be something that your advisor sees on a regular basis.
People in the business of giving advice only exist because clever people know when to ask for help. It’s in fact the entire function of our work, so please put your fear of looking stupid to one side. If a business advisor makes you feel dumb, it’s their incompetence causing that to happen, not your lack of knowledge.
How will I know that it’s good advice?
This is a valid point. If you don’t know what you don’t know, then how can you validate the information you have been given? Rather than avoiding advice completely, I recommend seeking out multiple sources. Go online and do your own research, and see more than one advisor. I’m always happy when clients tell me that they’re trying a few places and people for help – it’s a smart way of doing business, and far more constructive than avoiding advice altogether.
I don’t want someone to tell me I’m failing.
This can happen. Part of what I do is ask my clients very hard questions about what they’re doing, and why, and how they’re measuring their own success and failure. However, failure is part of both the creative and business process, and a very important stage in learning and improving. All the best elements of my own craft and career have come from my giant stonking fuck-ups. Cataclysmic failure can also be avoided, with the right kind of intervention – and that’s when advice can help.
I’m so good at self-sabotage, I’ll probably do it again.
Self-sabotage is tricky – we all do it, it’s part of the human condition, but it can be extremely toxic for creative and business success. Perhaps you procrastinate instead of getting to work, perhaps you ignore problems in the hope that they’ll just go away, maybe you deride yourself with negative self-talk. Whichever way you’re operating, most self-sabotage is born from fear and a lack of accountability.
Talking to an advisor honestly about how you choose to shoot yourself in the foot can really help. A good advisor will have lots of tips to help you overcome these issues, and a coach can help you work out why you’re sabotaging yourself in the first place. The accountability provided by ongoing meetings could also help you figure out how to cure yourself of these destructive habits, and help your craft and your business move beyond that place of fear.
An ongoing relationship with an advisor will force me to be accountable.
See above. Ongoing visits with a business advisor are a great way to stay accountable to your own goals. The best programs are ones where you set the outcomes, with guidance, and then work towards a finish line. Your advisor is there to help you stay on track and overcome any issues that get in your way of progress. You’re not actually responsible to them, but they provide you with the illusion of accountability and help you learn to be accountable to yourself and your own creative and business goals.
I can’t afford it, and even if it’s free there must be a catch.
This is important. Before embarking on a program, make sure you examine the fine print so you can be certain there’s no costly up-sell after the ‘free’ service. Call the provider or the advisory service and ask them to explain why it’s so cheap, or what the catch might be. If they’re cagey about the details, stay away. Get a proper price list for all services and make your decision based on expertise, cost and verifiable feedback from other clients.
* A note about our NSW Business Connect program – it is free, for the first four sessions, because it is 100% subsidised by the NSW Department of Industry as part of their commitment to helping small business. After the free sessions you can choose to embark on our GROW program which is another 6 sessions for $249. There is no ‘catch’ – you’re helping the state government to help creative industry grow which is really in everyone’s best interest!
What if they tell me that my creative practice is not really a business?
For me, all those years ago, this was my fear. I had a horrible suspicion that the business advisor would question my decision to start a film production company and tell me to give up on my dreams and get a ‘real job’ instead. Perhaps I should be grateful to that fear – it’s what prompted me to start a business advisory service specifically for creatives, so those pessimistic sentiments would never be shared with creatives ever again. Again, if your advisor makes you feel stupid, that’s their incompetence and not your fault. Work with an organisation that supports creative business and you shouldn’t encounter that issue.
I think if the offer of trustworthy and affordable advice is there, take it! I like to think that advice from a trusted source is like a combination of hand-holding and guidance to help you make your own decisions and be accountable to what you want – from your life, your business or your craft. It’s another way of looking at a challenge, a little push in the right direction, a confirmation of what you already suspect, and ideally a transfer of wisdom from one person to another.
If you’d like more information about our business advisory services for creative people, businesses, NFPs and organisations, please email us and one of our fabulous team will be in touch.