biz ladiesLife & Business

biz ladies: maintain confidence in a competitive market

by Stephanie

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


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

Suggested For You


  • I’m thrilled to have some confirmation that I’m on the right track, since sometimes it feels like I never get enough done, or I’m not doing the “right” things. I use David Allen’s GTD system myself, just started a MAJOR studio overhaul, and try to create something every day, even if I only have a few minutes to spare. Thanks for writing this — it was a great boost!

  • What a timely post. The last few days I’ve been feeling a bit paralyzed by the pressure to get certain projects done. Last night, after looking through other peoples craft fair pics, I decided I need to take some of the pressure off myself. I then forced myself to sit down and get some work done even though I wasn’t feeling ‘inspired’. The results were a handful of great new cards to show off at my own booth in July!

  • Ah, great post…and great timing. I was overwhelmed with emotions recently, and didn’t know why or how to deal. As a matter of fact, was kinda feeling like maybe I was a bit of a crappy person for feeling insecure? Right? I mean, right?

    Your first point “Take A Media Diet” resonated ten folds with me! I am going away for a little bit and decided that is exactly when I will do this. I realized, for me, as much as I love socializing IRL with my online friends, I need the solitude to find my own voice. Listening and reading all the do’s and don’ts and must does or fail starts to be more “noise” than helpful advice to me. Thank you for letting me know I am not alone!

  • What a timely biz ladies article!! I needed this encouragement. The session I most wish I could eavesdrop on is “Valuing your work and getting paid for it”. This is so hard! Especially since the people who know the most about my work (my family) also understand/value it so little. Believing that people out there value it enough to actually pay what it’s worth is hard when you’re getting started and you’re sitting home alone in the middle of the week.

  • I love this post!
    I especially agree with the advice about meeting others in person.
    Most of my good friends are photographers just like me :)
    And we all have the same goal-to fill the world with beauty.
    Thanks for this!

  • I’d LOVE to attend the Starting a Brick and Mortar Shop session especially because I’d love the ability to share work person-to-person vs in the virtual world alone. I think the connecting and community that comes with having four walls is something that would really help me thrive!

    Thanks so much for offering this opportunity! :)

  • What a great post! So many good ideas and they all seem so practical. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts, tips and links. I borrowed a tip a few years ago, and I’m sad to say I can’t remember where it came from: “Make 10 calls by 10:00 AM”. I’m in sales and I was needing a small, daily task to get me going and to help me be productive not only short-term, but also long-term. I wrote this on a post-it note and placed it on my computer monitor so that it was the first thing I saw in the morning when I sat down at my desk.

    It was very helpful and even though I didn’t do it every day, I still think of that as a “back to basics” way of keeping on task. Like you stated, it doesn’t have to be “10 calls by 10:00 AM”, it can be something else that applies to YOUR passion and career.

    Perhaps that tip will help someone else out there!

  • Conference of Creative Entrepreneurs sounds fascinating! Thank you for posting such great advice here on Biz Ladies.

    Another great conference is coming up as well: “Turn Your Passion Into Profit”, a Spark & Hustle Conference in Atlanta. Save $200 with Promo Code HEIDI: http://ht.ly/24LOI

    All the best!

  • Having just launched my website last week and feeling a bit nervous about keeping it afloat and interesting, this post is super helpful. i wish i could go to the seattle conference but i will look into another possibility. having a connected community is essential! thanks.

  • First, thanks for this great post. It resonates for me on so many levels, from limiting ‘media time’ to showing up to create.

    One of my intentions for this year is to develop a business plan for an online business. I’ve started the process, and the Conference of Creative Entrepreneurs seems exactly suited to my needs right now. All of the sessions look useful, but I’m particularly curious about attending Valuing your work and Getting Paid for it. Pricing is crucial to sales, but equally important in building interest and credibility. And how you describe the value and benefits of your offering can make the difference between a business that thrives and one that languishes.

    Although I’m a writer and marketer, this will be the first time that I’m applying my skills to my own business. I feel that I have some gifts to share, but also so much to learn from instructors and fellow participants.

    Thanks for saving a spot for one of us. I’m keeping all fingers crossed.

  • Thank you for a wonderful post!

    In regards to CCE:
    ‘Building Community with Your Art and Craft’ tops my list because, for me, going outside myself, interacting with and supporting others is an integral part of not only the creative process, but a fulfilling creative lifestyle.

    Getting out into the community, turning the focus away from myself and my self doubts and instead helping others always gets me back on track!

    Smiles, Erin

  • I’ve left a long term, demanding, corporate career to stay home with my children 3 years ago. I have spent this time learning how to essentially stay home and all that it entails (shopping, cooking, cleaning…surrounded by other mom’s who seem to have mastered the game).
    Then– since I’ve started blogging, I have definitely experienced the ‘confidence rattling’ element of being surrounded by virtual creativity and talent, and the overwhelming task of learning the world of social media and technology.
    Long-story-short…this post is not only helpful to a ‘business owner’ but also to anyone trying to enter a new territory in their lives- and feeling overwhelmed, uninspired, unproductive, and less-than-confident.
    Thank you for sharing.

  • Thank you for an excellent post that really helps put things in perspective! I’m in the process of building my new furniture upcycling business and it can be very intimidating and overwhelming. When I am feeling not quite good enough, I go back to the creative side of things and plug away at my projects. Reminding myself why I’m doing this really helps and lights a new spark!


  • this is SO great and right when i’m in need of it. I totally suggest women join something like the Boston Design Salon, or start one of their own. It has been invaluable to me in terms of support and guidance from other women.

  • Thanks for this! and I echo the media diet as a fruitful path. Another tip is to recopy your lists and scribbles. I have a folded up sheet of paper in my pocket all day for jotting and sketching. At home I transfer that stuff into a ruled notebook. The copying process is easy to sit down and start; but it often tweaks new ideas into better ones.

  • A great post showing up just when I needed it. I’ve been wanting to go to the CCE, especially to hear the talk about promoting your work through print. I’d love to find out more!

  • Great post. I liked the sentence ‘Inspiration is a luxury for hobbyists’.
    It reminds me of a Pablo Picasso’s quote: ‘Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working’. I totally agree. Once you put your hands at work ideas always flow.

  • I so want to go to the CCE! All of the sessions sound useful, but I’m especially interested hearing Promoting Your Work in Print. That’s one of the next steps for me…

    Thanks for the opportunity!:)

  • Long time reader, first time poster here. Really good stuff, I am going to start my media diet right after I get caught up on Real Houswives of N.J.

    I totally agree about studio makeovers, I’ve been planning an outdoor workspace and this was just the kick in the butt I needed. I’ve fallen into creative self employment by default, I can’t find a job so I am selling the things I make. Great to read that some of my instincts are spot on. My sister has a book that suggests getting dressed down to shoes every day even though you work at home, I’m in a jaquard robe and fuzzy slippers as I type this, but I did wear a dress and shoes for a few hours today while I was updating my blog and writing classifieds.

  • I really love the idea of getting together with people who craft. If I won the pass, I’d have a hard time passing up the session about creating community, but I would. My heart is in activism, and I would love to attend the session about craft activism. I’m all about making the world a better place.

  • BTW– I love the idea of creating something every day. I’m going to try that, and I’m sure I’ll have a great time. Right now I’m working on starting my crafting business, and I’m doing something for that every day. But I’m not working right now, so I can do both.

  • Your tips are GREAT!! Thanks!

    The CCE session I most want to attend is Organizing An Indie Craft Show because I did my first craft show this past May, and I want to make it a regular thing and professionalize it like the Craft Uprising (which I hope to attend as well!) I think sending me to this workshop would not only help me, but all the indie crafters in my region! And I’d love you forever!

  • I’d LOVE LOVE LOVE to attend – especially the Guerilla Marketing For Your Small Business with Jessie Oleson. I am a huge fan of Jessie’s creativity, and marketing is the area where I struggle. I’d be thrilled to hear her wisdom.

  • I would love to hear more about Guerilla marketing techniques for skills no matter the context. Be it searching for tweets or hitting the streets I think the possibilities are endless and would love to learn and hear more about what those possibilities might be!

  • Thanks for the tips! I would love to attend the chat on guerilla marketing for the small business. I am trying to launch my own company and have hit a wall as far as marketing goes, and thus, my budding business has hit a wall. It would be great to learn what I could do to make it happen. Thanks for the constant inspiration and good luck to all those ladies going for it!

  • Great tips! Time to Implement!

    I am looking forward to Taking it to the next level- my business it growing and I am having trouble deciding what to keep, delegate or dump. I need some advise!

  • Thanks so much for this sage advice. The cycle of self-doubt and the feeling of being in overwhelm still raises its head even though I’ve been in my own business for 15 years now. Perhaps more so as I worry about the younger, thinner, more creative new kids on the block. Your post makes such good sense! Thanks.

  • Wow…it feels so good to know I’m not the only one feeling “inadequate”. I just started my blog so I’ve been exploring a lot of other crafty blogs that are so awesome. Judging by all the comments so far I see we all need this community of like minds. I am going to explore whether or not there is a creative group in the Denver area.
    The conference sounds incredible, but unfortunately I have a show that weekend. Maybe next year!
    Note to biz ladies: I’d love some info on how best to ride out this economic slump.

  • Interesting post, and helpful. However, when I started clicking on the links (ignoring the deadline that I am about to blow right by LOL), I found many of the sites seem abandoned, with information about events from last year and last spring. So, a warning, I guess. Back to work for me!

  • It’s a toss-up between the guerilla marketing and the teaching your craft. I am just getting my business off the ground and the guerilla marketing might be just what I need to make that first sale (my products are on the higher end, so even one sale would be great!). But I also love teaching and would love to figure out how to do more craft teaching to supplement my income. Thanks for the giveaway!

  • Thank you so much for this wonderful article. I’m just at the outset of my endeavors into a career as an independent creative professional. I have found myself stopping short because of that nagging little voice of doubt that chimes in as I become more and more aware of the competitiveness of the creative market. Nothing silences that voice like information, learning, and logic. Thanks again!

  • It’s funny that you mention Evernote because that’s what I used to keep this wonderful article at my fingertips when I need it. I love that I can clip what I need, and not have to search for the blog again later. It saves the link, so I know where it came from, and let’s me better use the information that I find.

    I know I need to take a step back from some things, but it can be very hard to do sometimes.

  • Great advice! I totally agree that cleaning out your studio helps clear the mindcobwebs. The conference sounds amazing! I’d love to attend the Small Object Photography and Selling your product online workshops. Thanks for the article & opportunity!

  • Creating and Connecting Creative Communities would be of serendipitous timing! I’ve been speaking about creative networks with multiple people and my next business endeavor involves this very topic. Thanks for sharing this great opportunity!

  • This is my second post-just had time to read the post more carefully and I loved it! Thank you for the wonderful tips-so awesome.

  • thanks so much for this article – i am reminded of how many more similarities crafty people have than dissimilarities. and this makes me feel more connected rather than down. i’d love to attend the conference in july – especially the It’s Not Just 9-5 session :)

  • Thanks for the heartfelt and useful post! I love the media diet – definitely going to try it. It’s a great idea in terms of fighting insecurity but I also think it’s important to force yourself to come back to your own point of view and not get swayed by what everyone else is doing. Love these posts! THanks so much.

  • I’m in the idea and research phase of
    starting a creative business and while conference sessions like Selling Your Work Online, Valuing your work and Getting Paid for it, and Guerilla Marketing will be great for me, I’d love to see more in the conference geared towards complete newbies. Sessions about how to actually turn an idea into the beginnings of a business or how to nail down your creative business ideas and vision would be great for me. Can’t wait for the conference!

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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. :)

  • 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.

  • 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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