If you work for yourself, you’re in business.
Whether you like it or not. This is why you should think like a CEO, at least some of the time. As a self-employed creative, I never saw myself a business owner. I was a freelance writer. And now I’m a coach.
You might see yourself as an artist, a musician, actor, producer, director, designer, photographer, illustrator. Very few of us ever act as if we’re also the head of a company.
Yet sometimes we need to think like a CEO, and take an overview of what’s working for our business, and what is not. Even when we are also the entire workforce.
It’s important to see the bigger picture.
It’s easy to get so caught up in your deadlines, your to-do lists and getting the next thing done that you never step back and look at the bigger picture. We’re too busy working in our business to work on it.
But stepping back to take a wider view is how you get to work smarter, not harder. How you make best use of the time, energy and effort you put into what you do. And how you build your business around your values and the lifestyle you want, instead of constantly feeling compromised and squeezing life into the gaps around work.
So take time out, regularly, to take an overview of how you’re working, where your money is coming from, the direction you’re heading in. To review your processes, your systems, your results, your health and happiness. And check it’s all working for you.
We discuss all of this in my group coaching course. But if you’re a one-man (or woman) band, here are some things to consider.
Do the maintenance
Like most creatives, I love new and shiny ideas. The writing, the making. I love the deep conversations with my clients, creating workshops, running experiments.
What I don’t love? Updating my accounts. Chasing invoices. Paying bills. Answering emails. Filling out insurance forms. Reading contracts. Marketing groups and workshops. The boring detail work of writing, like copy-editing and proof-reading.
These are the dull, everyday tasks we expect everyone else to do in an efficient and timely way, but which we often resent or avoid. Because we’re creative. We perform, we entertain, we make stuff for a living. We don’t do admin.
This is also why so many creative businesses fail. You must do the maintenance: deal with the finances; market and sell your work; do the admin. So use your CEO time to consider how to do it as painlessly and efficiently as possible.
Be willing to invest
A successful business invests to grow. You should too.
Invest in your health
The biggest asset your business has is… you. So take good care of yourself. Look after your body. Take care of your mental health, too. Without good health, success is meaningless.
Invest in training
Keep sharpening your skills. Whatever you need to know, there will be someone, somewhere teaching it online. Often for free. You might also invest in courses, workshops, conferences—or employ an expert to come to your workspace, set up a system for you, them teach you how to use it.
Invest in growth
This is about time, as well as money. Read a book that might help your business or your personal growth. then do the exercises, apply what you’ve learned, rather than rushing on to the next life-changing book/course/talk. Be willing to sit with discomfort, to try new things even if you fail at first. And to admit what you don’t know.
Invest in equipment
You might think you need lots of time, a dedicated workspace and expensive kit before starting a new venture. Often that’s just fear talking, another form of procrastination. Start before you’re ready. Use whatever you have already to explore a new idea. Beg, borrow or hire anything else you need. Then if your idea works, invest further. Buy what you need. Then find a way to make it pay, to recoup your investment.
Invest in support
If there’s a job you hate doing, outsource it as soon as possible. You don’t have to do everything yourself. This can be anything from transcribing recordings to doing the ironing, your accounts to the cleaning, admin to website maintenance, sales and marketing to cleaning your windows. If it frees up more time and bandwidth so you can do the things you’re good at, it’s worth considering.
Invest in coaching
I’m a coach, so I would say that. But a good coach can help you see more clearly, push you out of your comfort zone, encourage you to experiment and play big. As well as setting deadlines and keeping you accountable. They can change everything with one searching question, one observation of the stories you’re telling yourself. They help you see how you’re getting in your own way.
When investors look at a business, they want to know how much money it has in the bank, what machinery/equipment it owns, the goods it has in stock. As a solopreneur, you might want to build different reserves.
I’m currently trying to work at 70% of capacity: so if I have 10 hours available to work, I only schedule in 7 hours. I’m enjoying the breathing space that creates, and slowly losing that sense of always being behind. I’m also getting more finished, as I’m not trying to do too much at once.
Don’t ask what else you can do – ask what less you can do. And take breaks, to replenish!
Build a safety net, a financial cushion for emergencies. Then start putting a set amount of your monthly income into a development fund, to use on your business. I put 10% of my monthly income into a development pot, 10% into a personal pot to spend on fun stuff, guilt-free. Depending on your circumstances, for you it might be less – or more! But make sure you have a little to spend on yourself every month. Otherwise the work might start to feel empty, pointless.
There’s nothing worse than running out of batteries, paint, printer ink, loo roll, washing powder when you’re mid-flow, and having to stop to deal with it. If you’ve got the space, buy in bulk (it’s cheaper) and have reserves of everything you use regularly.
Learn at least three meals you can prepare from store-cupboard ingredients, quickly and easily. It will get you through the busy times.
Get more help than you think you’ll need. Grow your network as wide as you can. Don’t rely on a few key clients, outlets or customers.
A CEO will continually assess where the bottlenecks are, where the company is wasting time, materials or money. You should do the same. Putting up with stuff is draining, and it holds you back.
Make a list everything you’re tolerating. Repairs, household jobs, admin, other people’s behaviour, your own bad habits, clothes that don’t fit, stuff you don’t use, overflowing drawers and cupboards, health issues, annoying clients.
Put aside time every week to deal with niggling little jobs: sort repairs, sew that button back on, deal with the pile of papers and magazines gathering dust in a corner.
Each month, also choose one of the bigger issues and deal with it. Sack the client who drains the life out of you and put your energy into finding a client you like working with. Set new boundaries with friends, family, co-workers. Update your accounts and put a system in place to handle money stuff regularly. Get help or support on something.
Slowly, you’ll reduce what you’re tolerating. And see your energy and creativity soar. There will always be new challenges. But once you get into the habit of dealing with these as they arise instead of leaving them to fester and grow, life becomes a lot easier.
Review, review, review. Then make a plan.
Just as a company has board meetings and team meetings, you need to take regular time out, to check you’re moving in the right direction.
I do a quick review at the end of every week, then take an hour or two monthly to look back at the previous month and plan out the next one.
Every three months, I take an afternoon – often away from my home office with my journal to hand – to assess how I’ve done, where I’m going, and what I want to improve. And to make a new 90-day plan.
You’ll develop your own questions, and metrics to measure as ytou go along. But it’s not just about income, clients, sales, productivity, results. It’s also about bigger questions:
- Am I happy?
- Am I having fun?
- Am I honouring my values?
- Do I have time for my friends, family, other interests?
- Is this working for me?
The 80/20 rule can be useful.
Who are the 20% of clients who create 80% of the problems? What are the 20% of activities that generate 80% of your income? There are always people, tasks, activities that sap the life out of you, and people, tasks, activities that deliver ways above others. Looking for both can help you decide what to do more of – and what to let go of.
When you think like a CEO, you see the cost of these things. And you take action. You get more of what you want, less of what you don’t. And as your company’s sole shareholder, workforce and board of directors, you’ll thank yourself for it!
We discuss planning, reviewing, investing in yourself and generally thinking like a CEO in week 9 of my 10-week coaching course on growing your creative business. The next group starts on October 3 at 7,30pm UK time for up to 12 creatives of all kinds. We meet for 90 minutes each week on Zoom to discuss a different aspect of the creative life, from finding your focus and dealing with blocks to marketing, pricing and building new income streams. Interested? Find out more here.