How To Run A Creative Business: An Essential Guide for Entrepreneurs

When starting my creative business, I went to a sales tax seminar one time, and the expert leading there said, “It’s your business to know your business.” And that stuck with me – because I didn’t yet feel like I really knew my business.

I mean I knew how to plan a super creative shoot. How to take great pictures that helped my clients grow their businesses. And how to communicate well and add bookings to the calendar… but did I know how to RUN a creative business? 

Deep down, I knew. The answer was no. Anxiety flooded my veins every time I thought about how much I had left to learn.  

But the nervousness I felt at that moment was important. It forced me to grow and to learn and to conquer self-doubt until I could say, “Yes! I know how to run a business.”

As much as it bugged me, that tax expert was right. Even as a creative business owner, you can’t simply create all the time. At some point, you’ve got to learn how to RUN your creative business.

Where To Begin: Learning The Ins And Outs Of Your Creative Business

When you first start trying to run a business, it can be tempting to outsource the parts you don’t want to learn. But it’s actually a good idea to first get in there and try it yourself. 

Learning the ins and outs before you take on outside help can be invaluable to the future of your business. I know. It can feel overwhelming… and it will take time. But it’s SO worth it…for a couple of reasons.

Why you should learn the back end of your creative business:

  • The legalities of your business and how you operate are your responsibility. There is some inherent danger in trusting that to someone else right off the bat. 
  • You’ll know what you need/want (or DON’T need/want) in someone you hire to take over those responsibilities. Then if they’re not doing a good job, you know how to spot that and avoid more trouble.

As you grow your business, try to understand everything required of every part of it. You don’t need to be an expert on it all, you just need a baseline understanding. Then – when it’s time to outsource – you’ll trust yourself to hire the right people and to make the right decisions.


Pro Tip

The #1 Mistake to Avoid  

While it’s important to learn the ins and outs of business, don’t get stuck in the learning phase. When we’re too scared to move forward, sometimes we hesitate with faux productivity. We learn, learn, learn. But at some point, you have to put things into practice.

Learn a little. Then work. Learn a little more. Work a little more. Learn. Work.


Give It To Me Straight: The 10 Best Pieces of Business Advice for Running Your New Creative Business

Ah. Those early days…I remember them well. Back then, you could have described my business style as…well, unfocused. I didn’t know what to focus on, how to be productive, or how to manage the million and one tasks I needed to have done yesterday. 

When you feel that way, a lot of the time, you’ll find you’re wasting time by spinning your wheels. So if you don’t know where to spend your time…pick one thing to focus on and start there.

Here are the 10 best pieces of advice I’ve received for running a creative business: 

  1. Be an organized professional from the start.

This is SO pivotal when you’re new to running a business. Take yourself seriously, and others will, too. You may not have reviews or experience behind you yet, but if you show people that you’ve got discipline, drive, and a desire to improve, you’re going to earn their respect. 

One of the easiest ways to earn respect is to get organized and professional in every interaction you have with your customers and clients.

Start looking professional with things like:

  • a reasonable-sounding email address, an email signature, and a professional-looking website.
  • timely and tactful communication
  • clear expectations and set “office hours”
  • regular check-ins with your clients and customers to see how things are going
  1. Get legal. 

Getting all your legal ducks in a row can seem pretty intimidating, but it’s actually easier and cheaper than you might think. This is one of the most important but overlooked elements to effectively run your creative business.

Here’s a handy checklist for getting legal. (Everything on this list is  either DIY, free, or relatively cheap.)

Start getting legal with a/an:

  1. Systematize and map your process. 

Your process is the journey your clients or customers take with you – from the moment they discover you until the moment the sale or service is complete. 

A planned process (to help you run your creative business) will serve as your lifeline. It will not only save you a lot of time. It will also help you structure a positive and consistent experience for your clients/customers.

Some questions to ask yourself: 

  • When someone reaches out to you, what happens next? 
  • If someone buys your product/service, what’s next? 
  • How will you take payments? 
  • How will clients sign agreements? 
  1. Tailor your service. 

In a world where we can see everyone’s content and ideas, it can be tempting to copy what you see. But don’t try to do what everyone else is doing. True success lies in your secret sauce. When you focus on what makes you unique, the competition disappears.

How to find the recipe for your secret sauce: 

  • Ask your customers/clients about their experience with you. 
  • Don’t write off the praise you receive. Pay attention to what they say they appreciate about you. 
  • Find out why they preferred you to the next person. 
  • Lean into your strengths and tailor your service to reflect them.
  1. Manage your time. 

Track your business day – everything you do and how long each task takes. In fact, do this over a course of several days/weeks, and see what insight you gain about how you manage your time. 

Tracking will help you:

  • understand your pricing structure
  • communicate your value with confidence
  • determine where you can make changes for increased productivity.
  • decide what to outsource
  1. Take on only what you can handle.

To begin, a big mistake people make is taking on too much too soon. When you can’t deliver on your promises, you ruin your reputation before your business ever even has a fighting chance.

Give yourself plenty of breathing space. You don’t need to take on everyone right now. You need to serve well, and being able to serve well takes time and experience. 

To get a handle on how much you can handle:

  • Take on less and do more. Go above and beyond for the few clients/customers you take on in the beginning.
  • Track how much time/commitment you need for each client/customer/project. 
  • Take time to tailor your experience and improve your craft, so that you serve your customers well.
  1. Be visible. 

Not into the whole social media marketing thing? The good news is you don’t need a huge social media following to run a business. The bad news is no one is going to know about you if you don’t make yourself known. 

Go ahead and get yourself out there by:

  • Talking about your business with others. 
  • Building a great website that is easy to navigate. (This is big. It’s the first place people go to make sure you’re legit.)
  • Being active on social media AS your business (and NOT your personal life). You don’t need a day-to-day content strategy mapped. Just show up, show your face, and start building that like/know/trust factor. 
  1. Trim the fat of your relationships. 

Now is the time to start being choosy with who you spend your time with. The truth is: not everyone is good for you. And when you’re betting on yourself or starting a new venture, this truth becomes clearer than ever. 

Boy, does everyone have a freakin’ opinion. But if you’re starting a business, you’re already riddled with self-doubt. You don’t need their doubt.

What to do instead of tolerating nay-sayers:
  • Above all, only YOU know your true capabilities. Spend less time with people who don’t get it or who don’t believe in you, and more with those who do. (The people who truly believe in you will see your ability to succeed beyond what even you can currently see. You’ll lean on them a lot during the hard times.)
  • Focus on yourself and what YOU want right now (and for the future). Take the necessary steps to achieve those goals.
  • Get connected in a community of like-minded people or business owners. They’ll be so good for your soul and you’ll likely learn a lot. 
  1. INVEST in yourself. 

You are worth it and your business needs it.

Grow your skillset and focus on your personal and professional growth. Learn what you can about organization, business, marketing, pricing, and more.

Explore your hangups and self-doubts. Therapy was IMPERATIVE for me as I left my day job. You’re going to be facing a lot of things you didn’t face when you worked for someone else and a healthy mindset is key. Read books, find mentors, and invest in education for yourself.

  1. Keep going and keep growing.

Once you see your creative business growing, know you’re already doing something right! 

There will still be growing pains, but having a desire for improvement and continuing your education will take you a long way. Below are some of my favorite resources to make sure you’ve got systems in place for managing your growing workload. 


10 Must-Have Business Programs And Resources For Creative Business Owners

Each one of the programs and resources listed below I either use or have used in my own business, and I can guarantee they make a world of difference.

  1. Dubsado 

If I could only ever recommend ONE program again, it would be Dubsado. Hands down. After all, this nearly all-in-one system will get and keep your business functioning smoothly. As a business management platform, Dubsado helps you to manage and track everything. (Your clients, tasks, invoices, contracts, workflows, and so much more!)

I shared why Dubsado is my favorite client management system in a previous blog post here.

Ready to make your business life so much easier

Save 20% off your first month or year or Dubsado. 

  1. Mile IQ

Tracking business travel can be a pain. Mile IQ makes it easy to track your mileage on your phone. Now you can catalog your drives – without having to manually log each one. Amazing!

Try Mile IQ for FREE

  1. Quickbooks or Freshbooks

Frustrated by bookkeeping? Both of these are great options for tracking your income as well as your expenses. They make filing taxes so much easier!

Try Quickbooks and save 50% 

  1.  ShowIT or Squarespace

Having a website is essential for getting found by your ideal clients and customers. Both of these website platforms can help you create and manage your own professional-looking website with ease.

Get a month free on ShowIt

  1. Flodesk

It’s important to note, you won’t need to build an email list right away, but when you do start sending email newsletters, look into Flodesk. Mailchimp may be a popular, cheaper option, but it’s not nearly as beautiful or easy to use!

Try Flodesk now and save 50%

  1.  Plann

Overwhelmed by social media content planning? I hear you. Fortunately, there are tools to make content planning easier. This is my favorite content planner for social media. By far! 

Get a $10 credit with Plann

  1. Stripe

I use Stripe for my payment processing. I love that it provides the option to take bank transfers (save $$ on fees!) and customize your receipts (easy organization!)

  1. Canva 

Have you been secretly wondering how everyone on Insta gets such professional-looking graphics? Surprisingly, they don’t all have on-staff designers. 9 times out of 10, it’s Canva. Canva makes DIYing design and branding SO easy.  Like, ridiculously easy. 

Join Canva now 

  1. Passion Planner 

Overall this is my FAVORITE planner (and I’ve tried a ton!) Passion Planner lets you choose between a Sunday or Monday start, has large spreads, and even has a pocket in the back for your stickers. It’s easy to customize and perfect for keeping track of your business calendar. Whenever you purchase, they also donate a planner to someone else in need.

  1. Acuity or Calendly 

Using a scheduler is one of the easiest ways to become instantly more professional and organized. You can start these for free and then upgrade as needed.

Side note: If you jump on Dubsado (linked above), you get a scheduler there, too. Devoted schedulers can be just a bit more robust. And they’re so easy to set up, so you can hit the ground running.


When In Doubt: 5 Go-To Experts for Creative Entrepreneurs 

It’s important to realize you can’t become an expert in everything, but you can follow experts you trust. Here are some of my favorite follow-worthy experts to help you run your creative business (who also offer TONS of helpful resources!)   

  1. Taxes + Financials – Amy Northard, CPA 

Otherwise known as The Accountants for Creatives, these CPAs provide help and DIY resources for some of the most frustrating parts of business ownership. With their tax and bookkeeping help, you can confidently become your own CFO. 

  1. Legal Help + Contracts – Rachel Brenke

As the host of the Real Biz Talk podcast, Rachel deep dives into common entrepreneurial topics. And her website is where you can find the contract templates that will help you rest easy at night. 

  1. Legal Help + Contracts – The Legal Paige

Similar to Rachel, I’m talking contract templates galore. Paige also hosts a podcast with plenty of legal, finance, and business tips for creatives and online businesses.

  1. Community + Business Resources – The Rising Tide

In brief, Rising Tide’s goal is to cultivate a society of small business owners who believe in community over competition. (Something I can get behind!) 

On their website, you’ll find guides, templates, and generators available for free to help the creative business owner. The real draw to Rising Tide, though, lies in the TuesdaysTogether Meetups. Join to connect with local creatives and entrepreneurs + access all the monthly educational content.

  1.  Online Education – Creative Live

Designed to help you learn the skills you need to live your dreams, Creative Live Classes have everything. From marketing to investing, and from building a social media following to finally mastering Excel. A low-cost membership will get you access to thousands of classes taught by top experts, but you can catch them live for free! Another to check out is Skill Share!


The Bottom Line: The Not-So-Secret Key To Success In Business

Surprisingly, it’s as simple as two little words: keep going

Try again. Learn a little more. Ask questions, seek out experts and learn from others. But just keep going

More often than not, there will be a day when every part of your being will want you to quit. You’ll think: “That’s it. I gave it a shot, but I’m clearly not cut out for this.” 

And for that day, you can quit. 

Take a breather. Sulk if you need to. 

After that, get up and try again tomorrow. Then learn some more. And keep going. 

Because quitting is often the only difference between the ones who make it and the ones who don’t. 

Ready to start showing up as a true professional business owner? 

With this in mind, if you’ll be in the Austin, Texas area, be sure to check out the heartfelt brand experience

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