How My Business Has Never Been Better

I started my career and worked completely alone for 4.5 years. It came to my attention that I was about to fall apart into a million pieces, so I hired an assistant. Things got a lot better. I felt that, while the workload was lessened a bit, the real benefit was feeling less alone. I felt like I had someone to share the failures with and the highlights, like someone really cared about my business other than me (and my Love, of course). And then, a year ago, we stopped working together and I’ve been back on my own since then.

I was nervous about how it would go, since my business has only grown over those years with a lot of different balls in the air. One big thing changed though, from the time I hired someone to the time that ended: I fully realized what having a business is all about.

I stopped seeing business as transactional
and instead saw it as community-driven.

The moment I started seeing every email as a real person with feelings, it became much easier and more motivating to keep up.

Let me just say: running a business can be lonely.

Most of the professionals I know have assistants or even teams to help out with odds and ends. I’ve always been a loner and prefer it that way. I like to know that I am the one doing the work. I also have trust issues, as I feel many people who have started a business do. I don’t trust that others will do the work as well as I can. Delusional? Probably. Maybe. Eh…

Going into this past year I was worried. I really feared that everything would fall apart. I feared I wouldn’t be able to keep up with all the emails or remember all of the things I used to forget. So, here’s my report, and my lessons learned.

My 24 hour email policy has been incredible. I’ve been able to respond to emails honestly, efficiently, and in half the time it used to take me.

I’ve never, in all my career, assistant or not,answered emails
as thoroughly, thoughtfully and quickly as this past year.

The only thing that changed was a commitment to the people behind the emails. I wanted to show them that I care and that my responses hold heart. I wanted to show them that their words are important, no matter if they are offering me a job or not, kind words or criticism, or if they’ve sent 3 emails to bypass the word limit. I see you…

Here is a great example of how my organization and emailing has helped my business. Years ago, you would be lucky if you heard back from me within a month, let alone a day. Even with an assistant, emails would get missed and never remedied. But now, since I started my new email policy, I get an email at least once a week solely to say how grateful the writer is for my quick response and professionalism. I’m not saying this to assert that my business is somehow better; but for me, I’ve grown leaps and bounds, and it is showing (and bringing in more business recommendations). That really means something.

I deal with emailing creatives a lot. I have to, to invite speakers for my Promoting Passion Convention. Only about 1 in 15 people will email me back within a 48 hour period. Maybe about half will write back within two weeks, and half will never respond. I am astounded at how difficult and alienating it is to get in touch with creative professionals, so dealing with emails in a quick and professional manner can really go a long way.

Another thing that I’ve decided to do this last year, which was easier than years past, is to say no better. I’m still absolutely awful at it. I’ve already agreed to 5 things in the first half of next year that I’m regretting. But, I did get better. I’ve turned down about 25 jobs (some big, some very small) for this new year in the past few months alone. First, it has been easier because I’m not paying an employee, so I had the extra financial wiggle-room. I know this is a luxury and I very much appreciate what a fortunate situation that is to be in. Second, I started to truly value my time more. Life is for living, let’s not forget that.

I started noticing that there is a very direct correlation between my organization and my health. When I am organized (for example, finishing taxes on a monthly basis instead of all at once, or keeping my office clean), I feel more clear-headed and ready to be inspired. When I can easily settle into a routine without worrying about all the loose-ends, I am so much happier.

My business has never been better. Period.

As a creative, that is important for health, wellness, and sanity. Most importantly, it is essential for my inspiration. To reiterate, these are the ways I managed to do it all on my own (after years of practice, mind you):

  1. Behind every email is a person. If you met in a coffee shop, chances are you’d feel a lot more kindly to that person, so imagine every email is a coffee shop encounter. A really good one. And respond as though you were standing there in person. Emails can be annoying. And not every email is worth the time. But most are, because most are really nice people with kindness in their hearts. Call me a hippie, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we are good to each other.
  2. Say no so that you carve your career into what you want it to be, not what others want it to be. That will lead to a healthier and happier life, and will earn you more expertise in what you want to do.
  3. Give priority to organization so that your creative brain isn’t distracted by clutter. 
  4. Write a comprehensive, timed to-do list at the end of every work day for the day ahead.

The past year has been transformational for me in these regards. With that daily to-do list, for example, I am hyper focused. I also feel a greater sense of accomplishment as I work my way through my day.

I’ve become really good at taking care of
myself without feeling disadvantaged.

I used to look at other professionals and whine that I don’t have help and therefore I can’t achieve what they can. Yes, that is a valid argument in some situations, but not most. I’m a one-person show and heck yes, I’m proud of that. You should be too, no matter where you’re at.

Let’s face it – most of us are not in a position to have a team of people working for us. And, something I’ve come to terms with is that right now in my career, I have no desire for that. I’m much happier when I’m working alone on the whole. I don’t aspire to hire a team. Maybe in the future I will, and I’m open to that mindset changing. But for now, I’m going to keep blasting the Alice in Wonderland soundtrack in my little office while chain-drinking tea and smiling dreamily at my imagination. Alone. Because as entrepreneurs, we can do that.

What changes have you made that
give you a healthier creative life?

Will you take any of these changes
and apply them to your business?

  • January 8, 2018 - 7:45 am

    Julie McCullough - Brooke you said everything I have wanted to say! Organization to your day is key. If you get unfocused you have a map to get you back on the right path. I have been working on my own for 15 years and have had assistants off and on. The key with or without an assistant is the organization. This year to have a healthier more creative life is to make exercise/mediation part of every day and it is in the schedule. What I am really focusing on is getting fully transition to a completely creative business again (it’s too technical right now). Thank you for sharing what you have learned and your schedule.ReplyCancel

    • January 8, 2018 - 7:50 am

      brookeshaden - I love to hear that you also focus on organization! That is awesome. It’s such a weird thing to talk about in creativity, but in the end, I can’t be as creative if I’m not organized. Hugs!!ReplyCancel

  • January 8, 2018 - 8:01 am

    Sabrina-M - Hi Brooke,

    Being alone in your business is something that never botherd me so much. What I do miss is a person who has an honest opinion of what I’ve made and helps me to go a step further sometimes. So I’ve joined a few communities and that has been great but it would be nice to have a rendezvous in a tearoom once in a while with someone. Now I’m hoping i don’t come over as a sad little lady because that’s not at all the case.
    Anyways I’m trying to go one step further with my business and spending a lot of time looking for galleries and shows where I could exhibit. It would just be awesome if there was a gallery out there that would love me as a permanent artist, but then again isn’t that a dream we all have.
    The only thing I keep messing up is time management. I’m awful with sticking to a schedule although I know it would help me out a lot. But deep down I’m a “go with the flow” kinda person and health issues don’t always play in my favour.
    But I’m never going to stop what I’m doing now that I found my one true passion, it’s the thing that keeps me sane 😉
    Hugs and love,
    SabrinaReplyCancel

    • January 8, 2018 - 8:15 am

      brookeshaden - If ever you need a hand, I’m here 🙂ReplyCancel

      • January 8, 2018 - 8:43 am

        Sabrina-m - Thanks Brooke, you have been a great help already with my portfolio reviews. They gave me push I needed to keep going and trying to believe in myself. <3ReplyCancel

        • January 8, 2018 - 6:51 pm

          Gallagher - I’m ready for the tearoom meeting as soon as I make it to France. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • January 8, 2018 - 8:13 am

    Dezarai Love - Hi!
    1) you answered my message on Instagram quickly and were kind to me :o)
    2) Same for me with organization and health
    3) This year I have a threefold organization system, my calendar, my notebook and my to do list on my phone (Wunderlist) and I find that as long as I follow my schedule everything runs super smoothly
    4) I’m learning when it doesn’t run smoothly to just keep going which is hard for me sometimes as I am a perfectionist and also sometimes a procrastinator but I’m doing much better
    5) And my schedule has greatly helped my art, I’ve created two pieces so far (still working on one) and am applying for my first gallery to see if I’m good enough to get in
    6) Love tea and Alice in wonderland ReplyCancel

    • January 8, 2018 - 8:15 am

      brookeshaden - 1) Yay!
      I think syncing your to do list and calendar, etc., is so great. I’m currently looking into apps that will help me with this!ReplyCancel

  • January 8, 2018 - 8:17 am

    Norma - Hey Brooke,
    I also like to work best on my own, (doing that for about 15 years) even though I can work perfectly with others. It can be handy if someone helps me sometimes but I think you also can use your creativity to overcome the difficulties you find with making each image. I don’t think I would ever work wit a team.. it would’t feel like it’s my creation anymore I guess.

    I hear you when you talk about planning and organizing so you won’t be distracted.. I have the same. I plan a lot but most of the time things turn out differently! haha I keep on trying.

    Last december a quit a horrible parttime job (after 11 years) and feeling so free!! I want to have more time for my fine art and this was the first step. That makes me happier because I can spend more time on my creative life. I think It will make my healthier also because I have a whole weekend (I used to work on most saturdays too) in which I can spend more quality time with my boyfriend, my horses, do more traveling, make art etc. I am feeling more freely with my business also because I have more time to find photography jobs, so 2018 promises to be a good year for me! The only thing that can be a disadvantage is when people don’t pay in time because I am now completely depending on their payments completely without my parttime job but.. I am used not to have a lot of money so I don’t think it will be a big problem.

    Have a great and loving 2018!

    smok from Norma
    (smok is a kiss in Groningen, where I live : ))ReplyCancel

    • January 8, 2018 - 8:21 am

      brookeshaden - Oh I so hear you about depending on that income….such is the life of a freelancer, eh! It’s really hard to track down payments sometimes when all we want to do is create!
      Smok! < -- I love that!ReplyCancel

    • January 8, 2018 - 8:39 am

      Sabrina-m - 2018 Will be awesome for you Norma, I Just feel it in my bones <3ReplyCancel

  • January 8, 2018 - 8:21 am

    Karen Olson - About mid-year 2017 I felt my brain was about to explode. Juggling a part-time job as operations director for a non-profit arts center and learning new software for my own business was far too much for my brain to handle. I reached out for help from other creatives and worked with a content creation mentor and took several productivity classes. The result was amazing! I too want to do all the things in my own business and keep learning and growing but I couldn’t do it completely alone, I needed to call in those who could cheer me on and share their expertise and processes.

    I learned skills that will take me onward in a calm manner with passion. Organization and batching processes is the key to forward creative movement.ReplyCancel

    • January 8, 2018 - 8:22 am

      brookeshaden - I LOVE that you reached out for help. I’m betting that is something that a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with. I know I used to. This past year has been my year of education, and it has been amazing. Kudos to you!!ReplyCancel

  • January 8, 2018 - 9:45 am

    Nicole Small - Hi Brooke.

    The idea of being organized and staying organized has been one of the most difficult things for me to do. My goal is to work on this and in addition to that, to find balance between myself and my creative work. I have continually driven myself several times close to burn outs because I sometimes just cant stop.

    There is one decision that I made 2 years ago that I will never turn back on and that was closing off the idea of working with a team to working and creating alone. Working in solitude, I love it.

    It took a long time,( too long), for me to realize that I did not have to keep myself in a position where I had to depend on finding others to work with in order to bring my creative works to life. I became very bitter and irritated during the lengthy empty periods from not creating, but this was my own fault. I came to a point where I did not want to feel dependent on anything but myself for any creative idea or vision I had. Working alone meant I could create anytime and anywhere of my choosing. Nothing was never going to stand in my way again.

    Once my mind transformed into this new approach, I went into reviewing a lot my ideas from my sketch book from it being collaborative projects to solo projects, ( self-portraits). Although a lot of my ideas will be hard to transform into a single self portrait, it has been an amazing journey so far.

    (reading this back I realize that I may be coming off as a negative person, but this is the complete contrary. I am happy where I am and what I am slowly becoming. I guess when I talk of the past history of my journey, I still feel the sting of all the rejections I had come face to face with).

    Thank you Brooke for listening and inspiring.

    Sincerely,
    NicoleReplyCancel

    • January 8, 2018 - 11:09 am

      brookeshaden - I love that you have come to a place of acceptance and excitement with where you want to be!ReplyCancel

  • January 8, 2018 - 10:07 am

    Katrin Auch - You are inspiring me to better with my organization! Just wanted to let you know that and give you a book recommendation. Enchantment and Pastwatch by Orson Scott Card. Both deal with time travel in a unique way a Dr Who fan might appreciate. Enchantment is completely different take on Sleeping Beauty (and you know I love fairy tales) and Pastwatch is about trying to save our future by changing our past. OSC is a bit of a controversial figure, and a very uneven author, but when he is on, it’s good.ReplyCancel

    • January 8, 2018 - 11:08 am

      brookeshaden - Thank you for those recommendations! I love OSC in what I’ve read, so I will definitely be looking into those suggestions. Thank you!ReplyCancel

  • January 8, 2018 - 1:17 pm

    Steve Owens - Brooke

    Thank you so much for your inspiration! In 2016, after much soul searching and meditation, I left my full time job to return to photography (after a 20+ year absence). I have never felt as free and alive and healthy! I do at times struggle with organization as maintaining social media sites, website updates, marketing and email correspondence just don’t fuel me as creating does.

    Your course and blog postings are a blessing! I too prefer to work alone the majority of the time. Though I dislike New Years resolutions I have promised myself to get out of my creative cocoon more to connect with other creatives and the community.

    BlessingsReplyCancel

    • January 8, 2018 - 1:38 pm

      brookeshaden - Hi Steve! That is very inspiring and I am so glad to hear that you are feeling better than ever! How wonderful it is to marry business with passion when done with care and integrity. Well done!!ReplyCancel

  • January 8, 2018 - 2:33 pm

    Afsaneh Javanmard - Hi and thanks for all of your insparation , for 2018 I promise myself to read and write more , to be able to show and talk about my artwork . My goal is to start new business and fallow my goal. I always wait to make everything perfect and start my new business , but it my never happened to find a perfect moment ,which i decided to start now in this year. I am working on my new website because the person I trust , messed up everything on my website. right now i cant see my old website either I am hoping and working hard to upload my new web ASAP . Also my next goal is to finish and graduate this year form UNLV and have my first solo show.
    Thanks for your helpReplyCancel

    • January 8, 2018 - 2:49 pm

      brookeshaden - I hope you reach all of your goals!ReplyCancel

  • January 8, 2018 - 5:07 pm

    Monica Doin - It’ wonderful how close I fell to your ideas and tips. Thanks for sharingReplyCancel

  • January 8, 2018 - 6:08 pm

    Leslie Barton - I’ve been listening to your course. Even though I’ve been a photographer for 30 years I love listening to your perspective. I too have had full time help and now just myself. I’m pretty organized but my issue is focusing on what matters most and choosing and sticking to one creative project thru to completion. I’m good with job deadlines but lack focus with my own self-imposed deadlines. What to do?…ReplyCancel

  • January 8, 2018 - 8:14 pm

    Gallagher - I don’t really have a business yet, but I think I will copy this post to a word program and save it. So if I ever have a business problem I can reread it! 🙂
    You know it is funny, I have never even considered highering an assistant, even in my plans and dreams of major success there was never an assistant. I really prefer working alone. Even when I am working in my greenhouses for hours on end in extreme heat and humidity when somebody helps I find it annoying, and I not even sure why! LOL
    I love that you always answer people emails, I can’t stand it when someone never emails back!
    Thank you so much for the post, I loved it! Smok!ReplyCancel

  • January 8, 2018 - 10:22 pm

    Debbie - Loved today’s message. Healthier creative change for me is allowing myself to spend holiday break learning as much as possible about editing in Photoshop. Glad I took that time to do, as photography is not my profession, but my passion. Started new healthy lifestyle journey so that when my son graduates this year, I’ll be ready for pursuing my dreams. Maybe one day this will all lead to my new business.
    Organization is not my strong skill, but have spent the last year attempting. I keep list on MS Outlook schedule, task, and OneNote, but I like the list app you shared. I’ll keep working on that.
    Lastly, my work asked that emails are returned within 24 hours and I do that for most, even if it’s to tell that person I’ll get back to them. It make me feel good and then that person feels acknowledged. I then add reminder to email so I don’t forget.
    Keep up the good work Brooke.ReplyCancel

  • January 9, 2018 - 2:10 am

    Bob - Thank you for the message. Social media has been plagued recently with much negativity, so at least to improve my creative health I deliberately am spending less time ‘browsing’ and more focused. I find riding my exercise bike help clear my head at times and focusing on improving artistic aspects of Photoshop. I plan on a revision of my website with newer images so this is at least one new years resolution. Your work is inspiring, so many of my instagram posts (robertbarford) tilt toward this side. I must admit I do my best work alone sometimes, although I must admit a seamstress or MUA would help at time. I keep up with my emails, and hate them to pile up!!ReplyCancel

  • January 9, 2018 - 6:02 am

    Anna - I work a really demanding full-time job and of course there are a million things outside of work that I want to do. In order to lead a more healthy creative life, I have to schedule the things I want to do. I wake up a few hours before work in the mornings to focus on art stuff and meditation. I go to work then come home to go to the gym and get ready for the next day. On weekends, I try to dedicate at least 2 hours to my creative endeavors. The list goes on but these are the takeaways 🙂
    I like the timed list idea, I have tried it but it doesn’t always work for me. However, I am so grateful that I am not alone in feeling that no one can run a business like me. I appreciate the “coffee shop” email idea. I really enjoyed this blog.
    Another thing that I make time for is learning: On my way to work, I listen to a podcast (Chase Jarvis LIVE or the Art of Charm), at lunch I watch your creativeLIVE course and then before bed I read a few pages from books that will help me grow. Then I read a few pages of books that I enjoy for fun 🙂ReplyCancel

  • January 9, 2018 - 2:41 pm

    Claude Hurni - Hi Brooke
    Thank you for this post. I don’t have my own business, just some small random jobs alongside photography school. But in both areas I struggle with organisation. In a recent Instagram post you mentioned that you didn’t feel motivated to get up in the morning, but you did it nonetheless. I’m currently where I just would stay in bed an do nothing. All the projects, be it free, paid or for school I do in the very last moment, sometimes quality suffers under it. I just started reading Getting things done of David Allen since its method seems to work for many people.
    One thing I try to do is to get in touch with all things photography more. Blogs like yours, tutorials, actually going out and shoot.
    I can always take something out of blog posts like this although I’m not in the exact same situation. I also really like David duChemins blog posts. Chase Jarvis is sometimes a bit too “sensational” for me, although a few years ago I watched a lot of videos from him.ReplyCancel

  • January 11, 2018 - 6:33 am

    Alice Saga - i am SO the same, i just wanna be with me and do my creations in my time. the only times i wish i had someone to help is when i have too much to carry or simply put need someone to help with small things. thanks for sharing brooke. love/ aliceReplyCancel

  • January 14, 2018 - 8:35 am

    Jon Miller - 1) What changes have you made that
    give you a healthier creative life?

    answer: I decided to mentor a person to really put time into teaching and showing them how this business works. She is excited to be learning and she has been doing really well. She has good energy and that I needed to tap into to help me get a grip on the injury. So we are helping each other in reality. I called off a relationship that for the past 5 years has done nothing but constantly degraded me. We are still friends just no longer living under the same roof and that way I do not have to listen to the negativity 24/7/365 This has lifted a ton of BS off of me. I feel I was being held back because of this negative energy. It was amazing in that as soon as we separated a lot of positive activity came my way. My energy picked up a notch or two, financially this is moving in the right direction. One time for sure I smile more, laugh more, enjoy the outdoors more and started shooting more. I entered 3 images in a art show and all 3 was accepted, I even got all 3 off to the show 2 weeks earlier. I learned I need to align myself with positive people, people who want to see you succeed and have the success you desire and not try to drag you down.

    JonReplyCancel

  • January 14, 2018 - 1:27 pm

    Georgia Martin Baker - I just want to Thank you for all you are and do you are inspirational!, best of luck on your trip to India.ReplyCancel

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