Repairing Your Creative Practice: Where to Begin?

Photo by Sam Scholes via iStockPhoto

Hashima Island in Japan was once a thriving city. But when the coal mines, which were its primary industry, closed in 1974, the entire island was deserted. Today Hashima Island looks like the setting of a post-apocalyptic movie: crumbling concrete buildings, trees toppling walls, corrosion from seawater. That’s what happens when buildings are not maintained. I’m sure you’ve driven past plenty of old deserted houses with weeds the size of bushes, shattered windows, and broken shutters dangling from rusty hinges. It doesn’t take long for beautiful houses to fall apart when they’re neglected.

The same holds true for a business. Businesses require ongoing maintenance to keep in shape. Neglect these routines, and soon your business might start to look like Hashima Island.

Hopefully things haven’t gotten that bad for your creative practice. Maybe you’ve at least replaced the air filters and changed the oil, to switch metaphors. But perhaps there are some areas of neglect. Maybe you haven’t stayed up to date with your bookkeeping. Perhaps it’s been a while since you wrote a compelling blog post? Have you stopped paying attention to your project schedules and calendar, getting yourself stuck in plate-spinning mode?

The longer you neglect business fundamentals, the faster and more destructive the decay. And repairing a neglected structure can become an overwhelming task. If you had to restore an old dilapidated house, where would you begin? Where should you begin to get your business back in shape? Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes, and establishing healthy practices will require you to roll up your sleeves and start clearing away debris and making lots of repairs. But you have to start somewhere.

Here are some suggestions for where to start and how to prioritize your repairs. Start with the simplest things that have the greatest long-term impact. Getting your finances in shape is usually a good place to start. If you haven’t already, move your finances into a true accounting system like Quickbooks or Xero (one that can generate financial reports such as Profit and Loss statements and Balance Sheets).

Secondly, start recording your time—all of your time—using a timekeeping system like Getharvest. I suggest starting with these things first because they can be completed fairly quickly, and once you have them in place the information they can provide will help you see more clearly which larger projects you should prioritize next. Your money and your minutes tell a story—they reveal your other weak spots.

The third thing I would suggest is to find a focus for your marketing. Most creative entrepreneurs maintain a generalist approach, casting a wide net in order to find as many opportunities as possible. It may sound counter-intuitive, but trading in that wide net for one fishing pole with specialized lures can actually deliver more work in the long run. It has to do with the secret of narrow-positioning. You can read more about that in chapter three of my book, Blazing the Freelance Trail.

But for now, try to pin down a few projects you’ve done for similar clients with comparable needs. Create a specialized landing page with these few targeted samples. Then write up a blog post or two describing your experience working on these projects identifying the key problems you solved for each. Link these posts on that specialized portfolio landing page. Then prominently add that landing page to your LinkedIn profile.

With that in place, you can now start looking for other companies in the same industry as your examples, and share the landing page with people in that space. While there’s much more that you could do to market your practice, this is an easy first step and will get you thinking in the right way, and build healthy habits of taking initiative in marketing your work.

It can take a lot of time to turn around a business that has been neglected for years. But it’s never too late. And you have to start somewhere.

If you’d like other ideas on how to improve your professional creative practice you can read my book Blazing the Freelance Trail, or listen to my podcast 5 Minutes on Creative Entrepreneurship.

But do something today. You need to start pushing back the weeds, and clearing out the trash. If you keep at it you will transform your business from a dilapidated house into well-maintained and comfortable home.