Those of you who have followed this blog for the last few years know that I believe in structuring a business around what you love. You also know that it is not always easy to find the business in the passion.
What better way to explain the subtleties of this sweet dilemma than this lovely post from Emma Newman, whom I was lucky enough to meet in person at my London workshop.
Thanks Emma for sharing your story. I know it will help and inspire many others.
The long winding road to doing what you love
Last April, I left a stable job to go out on my own as a copywriter. I have specialist skills, know the dark arts of writing for search engine visibility and know how the technical side works behind the scenes too. I knew that the model I could offer worked as I was already providing most parts of it as an employee, then a subcontractor. I knew what I had to do to grow the business, and had all the (intellectual) skills I needed.
That all being said, it took me no less than seven months to launch my business website. Seven months. The amount of resistance and fear I had to overcome to get that far was huge. Since launch I haven’t promoted it, I haven’t mined every networking opportunity I could, I have leveraged all my skills in the way I thought I would.
So that was just me being rubbish, right?
Years ago, I would have thought I was being lazy, but I’ve been working hard on that kind of self-abuse, and skipped straight onto thinking it was because of fear. And it was, but that wasn’t the whole story. Then I started to realise that I was in effect trying to launch two businesses at once: a copywriting business and a writing career.
Then I went to Pam Slim’s workshop in London last year and this dichotomy became glaringly apparent. I made a joke of being like a superhero with dual identities but no superpowers. But if only I had paid more attention! What did I enthuse about the most during the workshop? My Creative writing. What got a cheer in the room? The announcement that I’d just got a publisher. What did I see in my five year vision? Fabulous, eccentric clothing and a day filled with fiction writing. But I just kept telling myself that creative writing cannot support my family, and should be kept in the ‘serious hobby’ part of my brain. Business first, business first…
I tried to do both for the better part of a year. In the same time period it took me to build a business site and write a handful of posts, I did this for my writing career:
- I started podcasting my novel
- I started a short story club which now has 106 members who want to read my work every month
- I got a publisher for my first novel
- My blog posts received over 1000 comments
- I gained over a thousand followers on Twitter with no icky software
- I joined the Friday Flash movement and am writing fiction every week
- I published my first e-anthology of short stories and actually started to sell them!
And what about the ‘serious’ business? Since April, I haven’t taken on one new copywriting client, I’ve simply retained the ones I had at business launch. In December last year I was offered a position with a company that fell through as I wouldn’t negotiate my salary to the levels they wanted to pay me. But you know what, I think that my heart knew it was the wrong place to go, and that’s why I wouldn’t budge.
Taking time to step back
At some point this January I actually stopped and looked at what I was doing. I compared my progress on my ‘business’ with the progress on my ‘hobby’.
I realised that there was no way that I could devote energy to both at the same time. But most importantly I realised that I needed to stop feeling guilty about having not put that energy into my new business. What a waste! Then I asked a dangerous question: what if I put all my energy into my creative writing?
The lure of “what you’re good at”
I’m very good at SEO copywriting and online marketing. But you know what, being good at something doesn’t automatically mean that you want to build your life around it. And when you start up a business all on your lonesome, you really need to be doing something you want to build your life around.
Sometimes though, the route from ‘what you’re good at’ leads more directly to earning a living. In my case I didn’t consider anything else; I am the sole breadwinner. I need to earn enough to support my family and pay the mortgage without fail every month.
But what doesn’t figure into the equation sometimes is that to make your own business lead to that money, you have to put your whole energy into it. Not to do the core work – the bit you’re good at – but to take you past all the other bits you find hard, or hate. Like selling. Or promoting yourself in person at business networking events, or invoicing. Whatever.
But if the thing you’re doing is what you love, there is enough energy behind that to help you over the hurdles. I have experienced resistance at every stage of my fiction writing activities, because there is a lot of fear. But there is also so much love for it, and sheer burning madness to write, that it pushes me past my own barriers.
What does this add up to?
I’m going to keep all my clients as they are now (I’m very fond of them) as I am earning enough to scrape by. We’ve lived frugally for a long time, we can carry on. And the work I do for them is second nature to me now, I don’t need lots of extra-zingy energy to push past fear, I’ve already done that.
I’m taking the energy from guilt, and the bits I misfired into my business, and diverting all of it into my heart-felt vocation.
In practical terms this means that the creative writing has time dedicated to it every day. I am prioritising it guilt-free in my mind, and looking for opportunities without a nagging feeling that I should be doing that for my copywriting business. And I will use my business skills to get behind my fiction writing and try and earn some money from it, so that one, day that’s all that my energy goes into.
The take home
If you are in your cubicle and about to leave, think hard about what you plan to do next. If, like me, you’re thinking “Hey, I could do this cubicle stuff on my own and earn all the money instead of a tiny bit” then take a step back. Do you love what you do? Or are you just good at it?
And if you are secretly burning to do something else, then pay attention. That burning doesn’t stop; it just singes the edges of anything else that tries to steal energy from it. Know thyself. Do what you love, with all of your being. That is all.
Author Bio Emma drinks too much tea, has too many ideas and writes too many stories. Only one of these is true. You can read her fiction and ramblings and join her short story club at Post-Apocalyptic Publishing.