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Being a Self-Starter in Your Business

Comedian Judy Tenuda used to tell one of my favorite jokes in her act.  She says: “My mom came to me and said: 'Judy you’ll never amount to anything because you always procrastinate.'  and I said, Just wait.”  What does it take to be a self starter?  And how do you know when to start?  I am always amazed to see the things that I make time for in my life, and in my business, as compared to the things I leave undone. Some make sense. I love to cook, but I hate the dishes, so often they sit unwashed until they become a health hazard. I love running my own business, but hate a lot of the accounting bits. As I say, those things make a certain amount of sense to me.

But there are other things that don't seem to make much sense at all. I love, love, love to paint. So why is it that I will sometimes go days before I will pick up a brush? I know I need to make sales to keep the business afloat, but I often procrastinate in preparing advertising or reaching out to contacts. I am generally a joyful, positive person, but there are days when I just don't want to see anyone, or do much of anything.

Following our conversations about all the hats we must wear as small creative businessmen and women is a necessity for each one of us to be a self starter.  We’ve talked about planning your business, setting goals and seeing your business strategically.  We’ve even talked about how to stay motivated.  But how can we, who often are working alone, self motivate and create productive work ethics that put all of that planning into action?

At its core, any conversation about self starting is really about organizational skills and time management.  These are the same lessons we got in college, and have been preached by all of the self-help programs we’ve subscribed to.  So let’s take those strategies, that advice, and apply them to a small entrepreneurial creative business. 

Author Daniel Goleman says that key aspects for self-motivation are a personal drive to achieve, a commitment to goals, and initiative to take advantage of opportunities, optimism and resilience.  That’s all well and good, but what does that actually mean, practically, for artists and other creatives?  At first glance, it appears that Goleman's list of attributes are personal qualities we are born with.  How do you develop these skills if they don’t come easily, if you’re not all that self motivated?

It seems to me like anyone who has started, or is thinking about starting an art business is already motivated.  For many of us, that motivation is freedom.  Perhaps it is freedom from a boss, or a stifling corporate job.  We are motivated by a lifestyle, by a dream.  Keep that in your mind at all times.  Print it out and tape it to your mirror and above your monitor.  People don't become entrepreneurs for the money. They become entrepreneurs for a lifestyle.

So the trick is finding ways to keep our focus on the bits we love, on the lifestyle goals, and create positive habits to support them. There are so many ways to keep ourselves active and on task.  Keep to do lists, and put reminders on your phone.  Have a dedicated work space and “go to the office” every day, even if that office is a spare bedroom.  Take a shower, and dress for work.  Under no circumstances should you work all day in your pajamas.

Organize your time well.  Keep regular working hours, follow your to do list, and track your time.  Schedule yourself some dead time, reserved for your relaxation and entertainment, every day.  Try as much as you can to keep a healthy work/life balance.

Don’t ever underestimate the power of treats.  Set up some productivity goals, and give yourself a treat.  When you finish a project, give yourself a pat on the back, and then schedule a treat to reward your productivity.  That could mean a dinner out, a new pair of shoes, some great art supplies, or a cupcake.  I think you will be horrified to find out just how easily you can be bought.

There are any number of productivity strategies out there.  Look some up online and find those that work well for you.  One I found interesting was the Pomodoro Technique, where you use a timer to spend quality time, interrupted by frequent breaks.  I may seem like a gimmick at first, but it seems to work well for many people.  The point is that there are loads of ideas, systems, and products out there to help you manage your time, and your work, more effectively.  I’m not going to list them here, because this is a blog about being a self-starter.  If you’re waiting around for someone to tell you how to take the first steps, you’ve really missed the first lesson.  

Suffice to say there are endless possibilities for you to find help if you need it.  My advice would be to take it slow.  If you’re not the kind of person who is instinctively self-motivated, jumping feet first into a program that requires the discipline and rigor of the most "Type A" entrepreneurs, you may feel overwhelmed and give up.  This may feel awkward to you, and while you may want to change your behaviors over night, it is much more important to effect change that is permanent and transformative.  Give yourself a break.  People who are already completely self-motivated may not understand this, but those of us who aren’t, will know exactly what I mean.  Be sure to check back next week, when we talk about how to be more self reflective.  We’re all different, and that’s absolutely ok.  

We’re still offering a free giveaway.  I have created a spreadsheet template that I use to track all of our expenses, income, projects and the like.  Just drop me a note at the email listed below, or go to my website, and click on the tab called “give away”.  Send me your email address, and I’ll send you the file free of charge.  Use it, edit it, it’s yours to use as you see fit.

Have a great week, get out there and motivate yourself to do amazing art, and I’ll see you next week.

John Bishop Fine Art's "Conversations for Freelance Creatives" is a weekly blog/vlog/podcast that creates a community, a conversation, between creatives in all sorts of fields at all sorts of levels.  We want to discuss what we’re learning, what we’ve experienced, and whom we’ve met in our journey of running a freelance creative business. John Bishop is a visual artist living in Houston, Texas. His work is largely abstract, and explores how to turn mythic, archetypal symbols into individual experiences allowing us to see them in a new way, with fresh eyes. His work can be seen online, or at his studio at Silver Street Studios, 2000 Edwards Street, Studio 108, in Houston.

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