biz ladies: maintain confidence in a competitive market

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today’s biz ladies post comes from regular contributor lauren venell of biz miss. lauren has contributed posts on how to accept credit cards at your business and how to price your work, and now she shares with us some sound advice on how to keep calm and stay positive in a competitive market. she offers a fantastic step by step guide to regaining that positive point of view towards your business- it is definitely a must read!  thanks lauren for the helpful advice on keeping us focused! –stephanie

*read on after the jump to see how you could win a free full-day pass to the conference of creative entrepreneurs!

CLICK HERE for the full post after the jump!

Maintaining Calm and Confidence in a Competitive Creative Market

If you are an independent creative professional, you might, like me, have found yourself sitting in front of your computer at 4pm on a Saturday, still in your pajamas, with Scandinavian color palettes swimming before your bleary eyes.  You also might, like me, have been on the verge of crying, because you just spent six hours unfavorably comparing yourself to a world of younger, thinner, and more successful creative women.

Many friends and fellow bloggers have written about this phenomenon, which is really just a symptom of the web as a whole. The same openness that allows the whole world to see your talent also allows you to see everyone else’s talent.  When the competitive pool is literally millions large, it can easily make you feel 100 kinds of inadequate because it looks like so many of your peers are doing better than you.

Now, I am not a trained therapist, and I don’t have a cure-all for feelings of inadequacy, but I can tell you what helped me break free of my own cycle of self-doubt.   If you have a success story of your own, please share what helped you in the comments below.

Step 1: Go on a media diet

I found this idea in Timothy Ferriss’ book, The Four Hour Workweek. For the most part, I don’t agree with his approach, but this one pearl literally saved my sanity by helping me out of a nervous breakdown last year.

The process is simple: for seven days, avoid all non-fiction media and severely limit your intake of entertainment media.  In other words, no magazines, newspapers, blogs, NPR, Facebook or Twitter and only one hour per day of fiction reading, fictional TV or video games.  There is no limit on music or interpersonal correspondence.  You can post things to blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. and you can write non-fiction, since the point of this whole exercise is to make you more productive and confident.  You can also to use the web for project-specific research (like collecting the links for a post you wrote) but no idle surfing allowed.

I was amazed at what this did for my productivity.  Not only did it remove all of the influences that made me feel bad about myself and my work, it freed up an enormous amount of time.  Simply because I didn’t have anything else to do, I spent that whole week making new work and talking to loved ones, both of which made me feel happy.

It’s been exactly a year since I went on my media diet, and I’m still benefitting from the long-term effects.  I’m comfortable looking at my RSS reader just one hour a week, and these days I surf with a purpose, collecting and tagging snippets that might later be useful with an awesome free app called Evernote.

Step 2:  Disprove your inner critic

I think most of us can acknowledge that we are our own worst critics, so after you’ve removed the negative external influences on your life, it’s time to tackle the internal ones.

To start with, spend an afternoon going through all of the materials that prove that you are a talented and worthy person. Surround yourself with your sketchbooks and portfolios, images of finished projects, paid invoices, press mentions and complimentary letters and e-mails.  Go ahead and include that sweater you knitted and that thank you note you received for making bake sale muffins at the last minute.  A giant pile of paper that proves your worth is a formidable weapon against anxiety.

For even more firepower, rally the troops!  Your friends, family and colleagues will be happy to commiserate with you about their own battles with self-doubt, and will have even more demon-conquering ammunition at the ready.  Believe the wonderful things they tell you.   As outside observers, they’re likely have a more objective view of your accomplishments.

Step 3: Purge and clean

You may think it’s just new-agey hokum, but I swear nothing clears mental cobwebs faster than clearing the real ones.   Anything you clean out and re-organize can open up brain space, so if it’s easiest to start with your spice rack, go for it, but I got the most mileage out of cleaning my studio.

The single most liberating thing I cleared out of my studio was my basket of half-finished projects. I knew that I had no real desire to finish any of them, but I didn’t want all the time and materials I’d invested to go to waste. So I stuffed some of them into zip-locs as “no frills” kits, some of them into quilting scraps, and some of them I just threw in a “sale” bin at my next craft fair.  It was amazing how free I felt once I’d removed all of those vague but nagging obligations.

Help with de-cluttering:

Step 4: Get a system

We all have our own triggers, but for me, self-doubt invariably follows on the heels of feeling overwhelmed.  The way I fight back is by having an iron-clad (or at least aluminum-clad) system of organization.

The system I use is based on David Allen’s book Getting Things Done.  Essentially, it incorporates the following two components:

  • Writing down every thought I want to save or act upon the second it pops into my head.  At home I use Evernote for ideas (mentioned above) and Things for to-dos.  When I’m on the go I carry a tiny notebook.
  • Breaking down every project or goal I have into concrete, actionable steps.  Even the largest goal, like “make all of my income from creative work” can be made attainable and non-threatening when it’s broken down into specific half hour chunks, like “write down the names of ten favorite artists/designers working in your medium/style,” or “buy boxes for shipping samples.”

By having a way to collect, sort, and act upon all of my ideas, I never have to worry that I’ve forgotten something, missed a deadline, or used my time poorly.  I am also able to observe daily progress made towards my larger professional goals.  This makes my life feel manageable and in control, which in turn allows me to feel confident and stress-free.

For more info on tasks managers, I’ve posted reviews of my three favorite apps here.

Step 5: Force yourself to be creative

Inspiration is a luxury for hobbyists.  If you’re a creative professional, you know that you can’t always wait for eureka moments before you make something.  Even though I often feel like I don’t have the energy to be creative at the end of a long day, I’m still consistently surprised by how quickly the process becomes enjoyable.  Additionally, even small or failed projects have the potential to inspire bigger and better work down the line.  And that’s ultimately what’s so great about making something every day: you end up creating your own inspiration.

That said, telling myself just to “make something every day,” and actually following through with it requires willpower I don’t have.  To make things easier for myself, I structured my Thing-A-Day practice with the following (very forgiving) rules:

  • I can make anything.  It can be a ten-second drawing or a two-line poem.
  • I can copy someone else’s work.  I’ll still get technique practice and new ideas from doing this, and as long as I’m not selling what I make or adding it to my public portfolio, I figure there’s no harm done.
    • I can make a project from someone else’s instructions or from a book.
  • I can substitute half an hour’s work on an existing project, like the sweater I’m knitting or the cross-stitch I’m trying to finish.
    • Work for clients counts.
    • I can make something I’ve already made before.
    • I cannot make two things one day in order to skip the next day.
    • I do not have to post the results of any day’s work if I don’t feel like it.
  • A project is finished when I am done working on it.  It doesn’t have to be complete.

To make things even easier, I only followed this program for two weeks at first.  Then I took a break.  Then I did it for a month, and so on. Though I might skip a day now and then, making something every day has become more of a habit now, and nothing makes me feel more confident than being prolific, even if some of it’s garbage.

Step 6: Meet your competition…and love them!

You know all those people whose work you ogle from afar?  They exist in real life, and most of them are really nice!  What’s more, most of them struggle with the same issues you do and are happy to share their tips for success.  It’s easy to make broad assumptions about someone’s life or talents through the lens of an artfully cropped photo, but it’s by far more useful to get the story straight from the source.  There is no better resource or booster team in the world than your fellow Biz Ladies.

There are hundreds of events around the country where Biz Ladies can gather to support and learn from one another.  I’m currently helping to organize one such event, the Conference of Creative Entrepreneurs, which takes place in Seattle this summer.  If that’s a little out of your way, here are a few other groups/events that might be closer to your neck of the woods:

Boston Design Salon

Grassroots Business Association

Workshop SF

HOW Graphic Design Conference

Summit of Awesome

Crafty Business New Zealand

Craft Mafia

NAWBO

eWomen Network

Women Entrepreneurs of Oregon

Ladies Who Launch

Women’s Network Australia

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed or defeated in such a competitive creative marketplace.  The necessity to fiercely self-promote requires confidence most of us don’t automatically have.   This is further complicated by the fact the everything we present to the world is quantifiable and therefore easily compared to others: the number of people who subscribe to your blog, “like” you on Facebook, or follow your Twitter feed.   In order to escape what can feel like pervasive judgment by a faceless yet polished media world, take some time to reconnect with what is real and personal—your artwork, your workspace, your loved ones, and your creative community.  Sometimes that’s all it takes to put the truth back into perspective.

If you have any good tips, or know of a good networking group in your area, feel free to share in the comments below.

—————–

Calling all Biz Ladies (and aspiring Biz Ladies)!  This week d*s is giving one lucky reader a free full-day pass to the Conference of Creative Entrepreneurs!  The CCE was started by five West Coast Biz Ladies who wanted to answer the age-old question: how do you turn your passion into your living?  At the CCE, independent artists, designers and crafters gather to learn, share and network with one another—this year in the beautiful and entrepreneurial city of Seattle!

The CCE depends on collaboration, so if you’d like to join this amazing group, give us your input!  Tell us in the comments which session you’d be most interested in attending and why. The full schedule is located here, and a video about the supporting the conference and awarding scholarships can be viewed here.  Please note the entry deadlines below:

  • all entries must be received by FRIDAY, JULY 2nd AT 8AM.
  • the winner will be announced on WEDNESDAY, JULY 7th
  1. Shannon says:

    The CCE Conference sounds amazing! I’d love to go, especially to the Valuing Your Work and Getting Paid for It session. I could use some guidance in pricing my work and in not feeling guilty for the prices I set, which of course shows that I need to value the work I do as much as my customers do.

    Thank you for an excellent post!

  2. Faith says:

    I can also recommend the media diet. Take a break and get creating. As you create, you improve your skills and gain insights that could be great blog content.
    It’s all about perspective. Keep in mind that of the millions of crafters out there, much of the “content” about their work is in the form of spam. In order for Web 2.0 to be useful, it needs to create value, not just advertising. So do fewer social networking sites, but make your contributions useful to others. Write an article about techniques or the history of an aspect of your craft. It will have longer-lasting appeal in the e-Web of knowledge.

  3. Thank you for this. I’m glad you’ve figured out a way to bypass some of the hurdles we face as creative types. The media diet is something I’ve yet to try, but it sounds perfectly commonsense now that you mention it. I gave up buying fashion mags long ago for a similar reason.

  4. kirsten says:

    Thank you, this resonates with what I have been trying to do, but I get so much advice to the contrary. I have been due for the media diet for a long time; I have limited my looking quite a bit, but I can’t seem to convince myself that I wouldn’t be missing something important while being proven time and time again that I would be an awful lot happier not knowing.

    I have had my business since before the internet, but I am returning to my old ways (maybe without direct mail) of interacting with people instead of trying to shove marketing down their throats; which just feels harmful to my soul, but counter to what everyone keeps saying to do. I don’t think that peoples’ attention spans are so short that they will forget me if I am not in front of them every day; heck, I have clients/mailing list people return to me after 5 years of them waiting for the right thing for me to make them.
    I think that I have answered my own insecurity of the media diet question.

    My question to anyone else in the creative community is, how can you not make something everyday? In the rules you give, it seems, I do. My intimidation of the thing-a-day is that it always seems to be make-something-new. That is my challenge for sure.

  5. Shari says:

    If you live in Atlanta, check out Lady Rogue Business Network (http://ladyroguebiz.ning.com/)! It’s all about supporting and inspiring local indie business (or working-on-it) owners.

  6. albenaben says:

    This is fantastic!! Thank you for your invaluable advice!!I’m starting from this minute to go !! I needed just that and realized that not only I feel this way!! How nice to share!

  7. Great post and just what I needed right now!!! It is easy to get discouraged as an artist/crafter, but I keep reminding me that life is a process and that I just need to keep putting my energy into what I love to do. I believe it will eventually pay off!

  8. MeAndBoo says:

    As others have said, this is quite timely for me. I have just been on a 3 week holiday, and before I left, I was so overwhelmed with all the blogs I was trying to keep up with, my Etsy store, Twitter, marketing, not to mention, the whole reason behind it, actually trying to make things. When I came back, I realised how lovely it had been to be away from all that, and rest my brain! It took me a little time to even venture back into that world. I felt my mind was so uncluttered and was reluctant to start all over again. I will take on the advice in here and also some other posts I have read and try to be inspired again. Hurrah!

  9. Vee Lee says:

    Wow. After reading this…. I feel great! There are times when I feel so small. I would asked myself how am I ever going to go from here to there? Even feeling hopeless at time.
    Thanks for your great word of wisdom. :)

  10. Sally says:

    Very intesting post. I won’t be taking any media breaks in these dangerous times, but I have other outside influences that can be eliminated. Good advice on breaking down the projects.

  11. Rachel M. says:

    Thank you for this post. I was just trying to figure out how to deal with this today…thanks for the wisdom. :)

  12. Laura says:

    Great tips for all biz women. I too fall prey to the spending six hours feeling that everyone else must be thinner, younger, more productive, etc. (I do have an MS in counseling psychology) three weeks ago I stopped turning my TV on in the morning because I didn’t want to start my day with negative and often useless news. It has made a big difference. Now I am off to try some of the other ideas. Thanks.

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