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You're Not A Creator. You're A Business

The title of this might seem harsh. But it's a direct and honest conversation that needs to be had if you are looking at taking your creative endeavour full-time, or even at the very least, just looking at making some money from it. If what you create, is something you want to be more than just a hobby, then let's talk about it. Let's talk about you starting a business.


"Woah, woah Jake! I'm not wanting to start a business here."


The reality is that's exactly what you are doing. Full-time, “paid for your talents” content creation is not a hobby, it's a job. If you were interested in medicine, and you wanted to become a full-time practitioner and paid doctor, well you'd be applying and preparing for a job as a doctor, right? It's the same if you want to be a videographer, photographer, design, streamer, youtuber, musician etc. (I'm going to refer to all these creative paths as a blanket 'Content Creator' for now).


That might seem really daunting, but it's the truthful fact we need to be upfront about with ourselves. Social media and its ease of access and low entry cost (zero entry cost for the most part) has slapped the shine and sparkle on a career path that needs more than just a funny, viral meme video to be successful. Further to this, you're going beyond what the medicine hobbyist turned professional doctor is doing. They look to join a hospital or practice to work at. For the most part, you aren't. Yes, maybe you just want a job in your chosen creative field within an already established business. Which is fantastic! You can pretty much jump straight over to Seek and start looking for roles now. But I'm guessing if you're here reading this, you're either envisioning becoming a freelancer or building a creative agency and receiving payment for creating content for other businesses, or receiving payment for creating your own original content like a musician, streamer, youtuber etc. You are not looking at being employed by a company, which means you are indeed looking at being self-employed, aka your own business. And when starting your own business, there are some things that will pop up that will make you question whether or not you want to keep going. So, let's introduce you to some of those now to make sure you do indeed keep going and keep chasing that dream.



Taking the leap


The biggest thing to wrap your head around, if you are wanting to achieve full time creation is not the actual creating part. For the most part, you’re probably chasing the content creation dream because you’re already creating stuff every other day, so that side of things is going to come much easier to you. What I’ve found most creators, including myself in the beginning, struggle to understand and implement as consistently as their content plans and schedules, is the business side. And the first real business question you need to ask yourself is:


“If I decided to quit my stable job and to set up my own business, am I 100% ready to do that?”


I see almost every week, someone announcing that they are “going full-time creator”, having just left their job and riding the high of chasing their dream. The sentiment can‘t help but be hopeful and inspiring and you are indeed rooting for that person. But within a month or sooner, the hard realities of what is a huge life choice and lifestyle change, sets in. Shortly after they are back to the stable job. So how do you not fall into the same trap? Well, if you’re going to take the leap, you want to be prepared for the ride, rather than free fall.


How much runway do you have?


What you need to first do (before quitting your day job) is work out how much runway you want to/can give yourself. Runway is the lead time to get your business off the ground - just like a plane take off, it’s got a certain length of time and space to prepare, engage and execute before absolutely needing to be in the air and soaring. It’s the same for you and starting your business, and the way we determine how much runway you have, is how much money you have in savings vs your monthly expenses.


Yep. The first thing you have to do in your journey as a full time creator is boring numbers and finances. Not as fun as creating, but safe to say, numbers and finances will quickly become one of your main weekly to do’s, so might as well find a way to enjoy it now.


What you really want to work out is your Minimum Viable Income or more simply, the minimum amount of money you need to live every month. This will help determine two things; one, how many months you can support yourself off savings until the money runs out, and two, your first monthly income target you need to hit when going full time creator. So sit down and write all your current expenses, bills, spending money, living needs etc. Write down anything you would like to have too that might not be a necessity, ie. some allowance per month for going out with friends. Keep in mind, we aren’t working out how to live with as little money as possible here, we’re working out what your minimum VIABLE way of living is. For some, it’ll be only the basics and you’ll be happy with that for a few months. For others, you’ll want the regular dinner with friends to keep sane. So determine for you, what expenses do you need to pay to live and what expenses would you like to pay to live happy. You want to work out your Minimum Viable Income based on needs of living and happiness, in order to sustain both a healthy mindset in starting your business and get the most out of your runway.


What I would also suggest adding to this, to really set yourself up for success, is any monthly expenses you’d incur to run your business ie. software and asset library subscriptions. Your first day of using your runway is the first day of business, which means the first day of any business expenses. So being prepared in advanced for these extra costs will help.



Give Yourself A Deadline


You now have worked out your Minimum Viable Income, which means you can now use your current stable job as a way to save for as many months of runway that you wish to have.


Think of your runway time as the amount of initial time you give yourself to see if this career path is for you. Or in other words, give yourself a deadline. Make it something with breathing room to do what is needed, but not something that gives you all the time in the world. We want to create a runway with a deadline that encourages growth and development, but also urgency, to maintain focus and determination. Too much time will open the door to bad habits or a lot of “days off” - because let‘s be real, not having to work and live off savings for a little, is a real nice opportunity to sleep in and binge a little Netflix. So how many months of savings will give you time to prepare your business, engage in tasks to set things up, and execute on bringing in clients, as well as set a little fire under your feet with an ever-approaching deadline to make it all work.


I’ll be super honest with you. When I left my first internal videography job to create a creative agency, I had a month of runway, a second child on the way and a business partner to also account for income wise. Looking back, I would have loved to be better prepared and have had acquired 6 months of runway before taking the leap. But, for my particular situation, things happened a little more immediately - I quit my job due to a toxic work environment and not wanting to be associated with such a place. Before all this happened, a colleague and I had been talking on the side about starting a creative agency off the back of the success we had had working together creating content for the then current employer. As the workplace toxicity brewed and stirred, I spent my spare time workshopping business names, logos and looks, until the shitty-ness of my employer had hit its peak and I, alongside my colleague (to then turn business partner), quit the next morning.


As I said, my runway for setting up the next venture after that was a little over a month, purely due to the reason that that's what my last pay check and annual leave pay-out gave me. I would never suggest anyone taking the same route I did, naturally it brought a world of stress, but hot damn did it set some fire under me. I had to make this leap work, because, well, I had no other option but to. So don't underestimate setting a deadline - one that gives you time to do what needs to be done, and one that has you consistently running towards it at a steady pace.


Becoming Comfortable With Uncertainty


Uncertainty is and will become your best friend (I'd go as far as saying your BFFL), it is the nature of self-employment. Some months you are booked out, money is coming in nicely and you are barely thinking about anything but managing your projects. And then suddenly, the months are quieter, you feel like you're trying to fill in your calendar every day and every client/brand is yet to officially confirm projects and your questioning your decision to do this full-time thing and you think wouldn't it just be easier to go back to working at what's it called and you just... - hey hey! Everything's ok. You're ok.


The "Business is a Rollercoaster" analogy is a very big cliché, but it's 100% correct. Uncertainty and instability took me a little while to get use to, especially when I ended up stepping away from the creative agency I had built after 3 years, and the support of a team, and set out on my very own to chase the lifestyle I wanted with my family and kids. There were months I was super stressed about finances (literally breaking down) and there were months they weren't even a thought. And even after being self-employed since 2017, there are still moments to this day where uncertainty jumps back into my life. I'm just more comfortable with being friends with it now.


What you will experience doing this full-time creator thing are some months with no projects, or maybe 1 or 2, but not enough to make ends meet. You will experience invoices not being paid on time, even after putting in precautions to make sure they are. You'll experience constant imposter syndrome and self-doubt. You'll experience rejection emails, clients pulling out of projects unexpectedly, people trying to pay you a tenth of what you're worth. And...you need to be ok with that, for as long as you're in business. You don't have to be happy about it, but you need to be comfortable enough that you can continue on with your day and focus on what you do have going on.



And as bad as uncertainty sounds, there's also a beauty to it. You are in control of your own time, your own schedule. There's not a system telling you how you'll spend your day or month or year. There's no one you need to get approval from for annual leave, or have an awkward phone call with to convince you definitely are sick. Uncertainty brings with it flexibility. I am privileged to have regular monthly clients and clients that come back whenever they need content, so my financial uncertainty right now, isn't as a full on as it once was, but even in the times where my months are quieter, I don't see it as a time to panic anymore. I see it as a time to reset. A time to catch up on the business side of things. A time to lean into my own content I've been wanting to make or try. A time to be able to go to more of my kids' school time events. Time to start a new hobby, or even time for a spontaneous day off to rest. I'm now comfortable with the uncertainty, and use it to help rebalance that ever teetering work/life balance.


Don't get me wrong, it's hard to be comfortable with uncertainty when that uncertainty of when your next invoice will be paid, means whether or not you can eat or pay rent this month. But I'd implore you to practice focus. Focus on using the time to reach out to other potential clients, or to work out ways you can work more with current clients. Majority of the time in your own business, uncertainty is the product of a process or method needing improvement. Invoice not paid on time? Implement a 50% booking deposit before starting any work on the project. Rather spend more time on creating, then emailing potential clients to only get rejected? Set up a email template to send cold leads, or fully automate your onboarding process to help filter out those without the budget or aren't a right fit. The days imposter syndrome hit, have a routine ready to go that you know will make you feel great again - and be comfortable taking that day to actually reset.


I like to think of every bit of uncertainty as the universe trying to tell me something that I can improve on. It's not a point of failure, but an opportunity to learn and ask yourself "is there something I can do or implement, that helps me not experience this again?" Will you be able to get rid of all uncertainties in your business life? No. But you will become more comfortable with it, knowing you have done what you can to decrease it happening and things you can do in the interim.


Things You Can Do Right Now


A lot of what we've spoken about here are things to prepare for or anticipate when starting your own business. But what about things you can do right now that will aid in starting your business and going full-time creator?


Firstly, I'd highly recommend applying for an Australian Business Number (or an ABN). In Australia, an ABN is needed to invoice clients, and for some clients, to even work with them. Think of it as a way for someone to identify you are a legit business. You don't need to apply for anything fancy or huge immediately, simply apply for a sole trader ABN (if you have a business partner or creating a company, apply for the relative ABN needed). This means you are applying to become an individual going into business under your own full name. So keep in mind, your full name will be the ABN business name, so if you are someone wanting to go by a brand name or name other than your original full name, you may need to officially register a business name. Make sure you apply for these on the official Australian Government websites (linked above) as third-party sites will cost extra fees. A sole trader ABN is free and registering a business name (if you need to) will cost a small reoccurring annual or 3 year fee.


Once you have an ABN, look at obtaining a custom domain from a site like GoDaddy. Why after getting your ABN? Because with an ABN you can apply and purchase a '.com.au' URL. You might not need to if the '.com' version is there, but if that's taken or you want to scoop up all the URLs to direct to your website, then be sure to have your ABN first. Depending on the type of URL you want, the price can range from $5/year to $40/year - either way, it's definitely an investment to make for that extra level of professionalism. Why does having a custom domain matter? Whether you like it or not, having an email or website that is hello@emerygrace.com.au rather than emerygrace@gmail.com is one hundred times more professional and better looking. And yes, sometimes it can really just come down to that when emailing potential clients. They can instantly see you are invested in your business and that you are a legitimate business.



For most of the main website hosts today like Wix, Squarespace and Wordpress, you can actually setup a custom email through setting up a website with them. Alternatively, setting up a custom email address with Google's Gsuite is super easy and fairly cost effective (around $9/mth). If you have your domain, you are ready to go! In terms of the website, this may be one you think about whether it's worth creating or not. At the very least, I would suggest not necessarily creating a full fledged website with all the bells and whistles, but at least creating a site that acts as your online portfolio - a place someone can go to view some of your best work, maybe a small list of the best/well known clients you've worked with, your contact details and socials. Having at the very least a central hub where people can go to get a quick idea of who you are and what you can create is such an easy thing to pass on to potential clients or quickly show whilst networking. In terms of recommendations, well, Wix is good for free-form site creation (you can basically drop and drag elements where ever you want); Squarespace is a well known creator sponsor and works more with module/block site creation (drag and drop elements with certain layouts and block formatting ie. you have a choice of an image gallery looking like A, B or C); Wordpress is the coding dream (if you are looking for a site that you can mess more with the coding to get the results you need then this is it), it is a steeper learning curve with the coding side, but means you can pretty much customise things to exactly what you want and beyond. I have used all three through my years and am currently using Wix.


And finally, reach out to everyone and anyone. You can, right now, DM or email a business, brand or personality you'd like to work with, letting them know who you are and a link to work you've done relative to the kind of content they need. Don't have a portfolio of work you can send them? Make something now! Make a product video for that microphone you have on your desk, create a brand design for a totally fake company, take a couple of friends out to a great spot for some headshot photography. Or if you want, connect with businesses or brands that would let you create something for them for free or contra (an exchange of goods/services or product). Want to know how I rented my first office space? I rented a room inside a client's business with a contra agreement for an exchange of services - meaning I made videos or took photos for them when they needed and they gave me the room. They got content, I got a work space. Making content for free is a really great way to build your portfolio, just as long as you engage with it the right way (that might be another blog post). But in the meantime, there's no harm in putting yourself out there, contacting businesses and brands to introduce yourself, what you do and see what conversations evolve from it!



You Are A Business


So, here we are. You are not just a creator, you are a business. And the best way you can succeed in following that full-time creator dream is to embrace the business side of it all. I was cautious like you when I started, but ironically, some of the business side of things are now my favourite things to do, even above the creating. The creating side satisfies our deeper passions, but the business side will give us confidence, comfort and a sustainable path to follow. So good luck, have fun, and I can't wait to hear about how you went.



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