The landscape of the creative small business community is ever changing. Topics, marketing approaches, and even goals trend and then fall to the wayside. It’s completely normal to see certain types of marketing come and go, but there has been a theme in the last couple of years that at first, didn’t really stand out to me. But now it is everywhere.
As a designer, this post will be written from my perspective, so fellow designers, this one’s for you. Raise your hand if you’ve started to feel less successful than you thought you were. Does a lot of that stems from this new narrative that you need to be a “six-figure business” or book “$10k+ months/projects” every single month or project?
When did this whole thing start?
I first started noticing this jargon being used constantly by some designers offering coaching, mentorships, masterminds, etc. earlier this year. I think it stuck out so much because I was seeing a sharp down turn in income and inquiries. So seeing people posting about their $100k earned in only 3 months was making me feel pretty down.
Recently, I came across this article written by Layla F. Saad all the way back in 2016 about coaches promising the world in the form of a six-figure business and how that type of coaching will fail you and your business. It got me thinking about how some designers are pushing this narrative that if you don’t charge so much per project or if you don’t make a certain amount of money per month/year, you’re not doing well enough. And especially in a year that a lot of small businesses had to close, I think it’s a really insensitive approach to selling their expertise to help others grow their business.
The reality of success
You know the first time I felt successful, like I was legit and had made huge strides in my business? When I looked at my calendar and all the current and scheduled projects were websites. I niched to offering solely websites back in 2017 because it was my zone of genius and where my passion lies. When I saw that all my projects now and in the future were my favorite thing to design, I was so happy.
Now I’ve achieved other amazing goals in my business:
- working full-time with my husband
- booking a 5-figure project
- being able to invest in our brand
- supporting ourselves with income from our business
I think there is a real disservice to business ownership to bank all of your success (pun intended) on how much money you make because you’re leaving a lot of joy and pride on the table.
A bit of a disclaimer…
Not every coach or educator in the design space teaches with this message. I’ve had amazing conversations with dozens of other designers and learned a lot from Fiona of The Brand Stylist, Morgan Rapp, and Tabitha Emma. And there is definitely nothing wrong with us all making money. Wanting money is not greedy and not the root of this issue, at least to me. Let’s start with…
When is it enough?
First things first: what is a six-figure business? When we’re talking about a $10k month, is that profit or income? What expenses would you have to make that amount? There’s just a lot of wiggle room, room for people to compare and lose their own sense of happiness with their business.
While I believe many designers undercharge and should be making more, there’s a pressure to charge over $10k for every design project and that’s just not realistic. You are just as valid a designer if you charge $2k for a day of work or $5k for a brand. Higher prices does not always mean higher income. More approachable, affordable brands make a ton of money.
The question is do you like working with clients that can afford $5k? Are they your dream clients? Then don’t out price yourself so that they can’t afford you! You’re not always solving $10k problems and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Don’t forget why you started
The best way to achieve success is on your terms. I’m sure a huge reason you started your business was to make a living doing something you loved to do. Many coaches can guide you when you feel stuck or unsure of what to do next to achieve your goals. But many educators are teaching the exact steps they’ve taken to accomplish a milestone (sometimes only one time) and don’t take into account your strengths, weaknesses, expertise and skills, or what you want to do.
When you transform your business into something you don’t even recognize simply to make money, what’s the point? Pursuing creativity and inspiration is just as important as making money.
Aligning your goals to more financial growth and booking more dream clients will lead to more income naturally. You don’t have to do anything in your business that you don’t want to do because someone else, who you are investing a lot of money in, is telling you that’s the only way. The most successful entrepreneurs do things the way they want. Booking more fulfilling and aligned clients will still lead to more income, the two aren’t disconnected.
More freedom to be you
I’m sure at least one reason we all started a business was to have more freedom. An educator that approaches your business when you invest in their guidance by telling you what to do and not how to properly position what you want to do is hurting your business, plain and simple. Have you noticed how a lot of designer’s businesses are starting to feel cookie cutter? This is a huge reason why.
When you base your success on your goals, the sky is the limit. You’re able to try new ideas and see what your audience needs from you rather than fit a mold of offering x, y, and z whether there’s joy to be had in that or not. You also can get rid of anything you try that you don’t like. Coaching especially, being such a one on one experience, should not fall apart if you want to offer something new or pivot. The coach is there to make sure your changes you make move you forward.
I know I saw the most exponential growth in my business when investing back into it which is another issue with a lot of educators in the design space. The narrative being pushed lately talks about big growth and a lot of money made but how much money was spent? Building your team not only allows you to make more money, but you are helping others also achieve their goals and building a sustainable business. If you burnout, the money stops.
Wanting money isn’t bad but…
Earning money by being unethical, whether intended or not, will never be ok. One of the main ways I’ve seen designers “boost their value” to charge more money is call themselves strategists. But here’s the thing, strategy is a whole other beast in terms of branding. True strategy, including positioning, messaging, and more, is not just something you can say you are and then be a bit more intentional when choosing colors. It’s a skill to be learned.
Design in and of itself has value. Your worth is not based in what you charge. You can absolutely charge an amount of money that makes you feel respected and paid for your skill, process, results, and expertise. But we’re letting money drive too much the direction our businesses are taking. You attract those dream clients when you offer what you can deliver best. Wealth will come when you are confident and the go-to expert in your industry for your special gift and niche. Hitting significant milestones in your business shouldn’t feel like, ok I hit six-figures so what’s next?
Tie your new growth to something meaningful. Have you been wanting to buy your first home or start a family or travel the world or just live comfortably without money worries? All of that is valid, just as much as being a millionaire.
Small business can be about both making money and living a life you could only dream of and you don’t need to sacrifice one for the other. The toxicity of the design community is leading to comparison and people who were previously happy feeling less than. What are your goals and how do you want to achieve them?