“The goal is not to simply eliminate the bad, which does nothing more than leave you with a vacuum, but to pursue and experience the best in the world.”
Have you ever sat back in your chair overwhelmed on a Friday afternoon, wondering simultaneously how you accomplished so much and so little? Do you find yourself scratching your head at the end of the day feeling like you just ran a marathon but only went 20 yards?
That, my friend, is a sure sign that your business is not sustainable.
Even though overwhelm is a sneaky bastard that creeps up around 4 pm on a Wednesday, it’s not the master of your workday. You can learn how to kick it to the curb by cultivating minimalist habits into your daily life as a creative small business owner.
What is Minimalism
Minimalism is the practice of being intentional with your resources – whether it’s your money, time, energy, or responsibilities. It’s deciding before you bring something new into your life directly contributing to your goals and ideal lifestyle.
Minimalist habits exist to make sure there’s nothing extraneous or unnecessary weighing you down, causing distress, or keeping you from pursuing bigger dreams. The only real way to escape the grips of overwhelm is by getting to the root of the problem.
I want to outline five major culprits of overwhelm and how to conquer it once and for all.
Bad Money Habits Cause Overwhelm
If you started your creative career in a corporate job before
(which is often the case), there’s pressure to match your salaried income as quickly as possible, or sometimes before you even take the leap.
You may hustle 15 hours a day, charging what you consider to be entry-level fees to grow your credibility in the marketplace. You may even find yourself getting paid in what we lovingly call “exposure” – (funny how that never pays the rent.)
You tackle your first creative projects while feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and pressured to work harder to make the end goal. What is this pattern doing for the future of your creative business?
Buiding Relative Wealth
In Tim Ferris’ book
he discusses the idea of absolute vs. relative income.
Absolute income is $50,000 a year. Relative income considers time as a factor in wealth.
For instance, $50,000 a year in a 40-hour workweek is
less than $50,000 a year in a 20-hour workweek. Or, to be even more direct, $60,000 a year in your freelance business while working 90 hours a week is LESS than a $30,000 entry-leveled salaried position. Mind-blowing, right?
When thinking about wealth and success, don’t forget about the value of your time.
Is making twice as much money worth being a slave to your inbox? What if instead of making your salaried position, you instead had a 3 day weekend to spend with your family?
Long term, what do you
of in your life?
Minimalist Habits with Money
If you’re feeling and overwhelmed working 7 days a week and still struggling to make ends meet, follow these 4 steps below to readjust your pricing to create more freedom and
relative wealth in your business:
Your Availability Map out how many days a week you would like to be working and how many days a week you would like to be off (don’t forget to be realistic here – only working one day a week most likely won’t be sustainable for the growth of your business.)
Now map out the hours during the week you will handle marketing (blog, social media, networking events, meetups, blogging, emails), admin tasks (team check-ins, invoicing, project management, planning), emails (knowing it always takes more time than you think it will), and meetings or interviews.
The remaining time, around 60-70%, will be for client work or developing your product.
This is your availability.
Your Cash Flow
Now, outline how much money you need to make to maintain your current lifestyle (given that it’s a reasonable lifestyle for your profession and stage in life, at least to begin with.)
Don’t forget to include, alongside your personal finance needs, the expenses for running your business.
Sometimes I find it’s easiest to record business expenses over 3 months to make an accurate guess. Take this number x 1.3 (for taxes or savings.)
This is your cash flow.
Plan out how much time working with each client or creating each product will take.
How many revisions or reviews will you go through? How many clients can you work with or products can you create at a time within your availability window?
This is your capacity.
Analyzing Your Numbers
Now, compare your availability window, your cash flow, and your capacity to see if the numbers match up.
Can you maintain your lifestyle working at your capacity and keep your process streamlined enough to fit within your availability? If not, keep working on all three factors until you’ve found a happy place that puts you within range of your competitors, at a fair price for your services, and a sustainable workload for how you would ideally like to run your business
(I mean you started this business for creative freedom in the first place, didn’t you?)
For Product-based Businesses
*If you sell products, determine how many products you would need to sell to make up for the time, production cost, and fulfillment to make it profitable.
Determine if your sales goals are
realistic (within range of the competition) and sustainable (enough of a profit to keep up with production and your available working hours.)
By establishing minimalist habits around your availability, finances, and capacity, you’ll find yourself feeling less overwhelmed as you learn how to say NO to opportunities that compromise your goals.
Obligation Causes Overwhelm
As my creative business grows, I find myself trapped in the feeling of obligation.
This can take a few different forms –
feeling that to exceed expectations, I must bend over backward for clients
investing in cool new studio spaces, hiring extra help, or purchasing expensive online programs
offering my services for free to friends and family
While none of these obligations are necessarily bad, and I certainly welcome aspects of each one, commitments must be intentional. Otherwise, I end up sacrificing my flexibility, or worse, accidentally land on a business that I hate!
How to Know When to Say No
Wait to sign that expensive studio lease until you’ve determined that it is a necessary and sustainable step without exceeding the amount you feel comfortable working.
Before hiring extra help, determine if the extra help will directly improve your bottom line or drastically improve the quality of your working life.
Just because your competitor has a VA doesn’t mean you need one; it can cause a lot of stress if it doesn’t make sense with your cash flow. You may end up having extra help in your email inbox but then have to work 5 extra hours a week to afford that help, completely defeating the purpose.
Before saying “yes” to every request a client, or potential client, asks of you, take a moment to decide if it’s fair. It’s ok to say no! I’ve said it before and maintained great relationships with clients.
Remember that clients are real people who aren’t out to steal your time – sometimes, they don’t even know what they’re asking for and will gladly take an alternate route. Always offer an explanation and a new solution that benefits you BOTH.
When working for trade, clearly outline the terms. Even if you’re doing work for your parents or siblings, unnecessary tension can arise when expectations aren’t met. In some cases, I do favors but say that I won’t be able to do revisions. Or I ask for an obvious trade.
If it’s a friend in the industry, we send each other invoices and make sure the value of our trading services is equal. I also stopped doing more than one trade or favor alongside client work which SAVED my sanity!!
A Minimalist Approach to Commitments
Any commitment to your business will sacrifice your flexibility for taking on new opportunities. You’ll lose the ability to pivot your business when you notice a change in the market or work from that beautiful AirBNB in Costa Rica.
So it’s a matter of choosing the right things to say yes to.
While commitments are good and necessary for growth and success, be sure to weigh every investment against your end goal and vision for your business.
Unhealthy Competition Causes Overwhelm
This one will sneak up on you.
Let me ask you – do you ever feel the need to “keep up?” Do you wonder if you should be posting more on Instagram, blogging with more frequency, investing in a new course, or creating a sales funnel (but you don’t even know what a funnel is except as a sweet treat from the State Fair?)
I urge you to challenge the rules and the status quo.
If all of your competitors going after XYZ, maybe it’s time to consider the ABC approach.
Please try something else. Stand out! Be different, and don’t wait for permission or see if other people start doing it first. You are a leader and a trailblazer.
A Minimalist Approach to Competition
If something doesn’t look fun or exciting, find an alternate path.
Wait until it DOES look fun, valuable, and worth your efforts. Don’t just follow the crowd down a path to an over-run task list and 15-hour workdays.
Lack of Inspiration Causes Overwhelm
Oh boy, inspiration can be a best friend and worst enemy to creative entrepreneurs.
As artists, we thrive off of inspiration, which allows us to do what we love every day. The mere act of creativity is a product of inspiration and not a technical skill condensed down to a formula. When it’s there, it’s wonderful.
But…. sometimes it’s not. And usually right when we need it to be.
There’s a looming deadline, and the inspiration is absent. And you’re freaking out. The worst possible thing for inspiration is anxiety.
Lack of inspiration can so quickly throw a creative into an overwhelming sense of dread and self-doubt.
A Minimalist Approach to Inspiration
Are you considering the amount of time you need to pursue your inspiration?
Is your workspace environment helping or hurting? Are you working during your best hours?
Are you getting enough sleep? Fueling your body with nutrients or caffeine? Being kind to yourself and taking breaks or working until your forehead hits the keyboard?
Have you ever considered that taking care of yourself is actually the best thing you could do for your clients as a creative?
Taking a break to walk around your favorite store or window shop could be the breakthrough you needed to finish the task in 15 minutes instead of forcing it over 5 hours and then hating it at the end?
Change your mindset and see that white space is necessary to allow inspiration to flourish. Let it work alongside you as a creative partner instead of a tool that you depend on to meet your tight deadlines.
It may just be that adding in a bit of “fun” to your workload will make you more productive.
The Pressure to Leave a Legacy Causes Overwhelm
I actually feel the strongest about this one, but it’s also the most abstract.
If your creative venture lacks a long-term vision or end goal, or you don’t have a purpose behind what you’re doing and why you’re wildly passionate about it, business is going to be overwhelming.
Being an entrepreneur is not just a career path to work less and make more; it’s a mindset.
It’s seeing a way to fulfill a bigger mission and leave a lasting legacy.
If your business lacks a deeper, driving passion, you’ll hate it. It will only ever feel like busywork. What was once your passion will become your obligation, and as you’ve already seen, obligations are a major factor in overwhelm.
A Minimalist Approach to Purpose
Be clear, very clear, on why you’re on this journey. Ask yourself often. Rewrite the story when it stops being your driving force. It’s so vital to your relationship with your business.
I encourage you to take inventory of your stress. And I’ll leave you with this parting note:
Stress isn’t always a bad thing. Good stress is challenging and motivating to do great and impossible things. Healthy stress is knowing that we are capable of growth and that things can always get better.
Bad and unhealthy distress will keep us from cultivating the good kind. Distress will keep you in a creative rut and slowly chip away at your health and happiness.
Make a plan to eliminate the stress in the category that resonates with your feeling of overwhelm. Talk to your mentor, partner, or creative community to hold you to it and develop creative ideas to beat the system and work from a place of deep inspiration, purpose, and energy.
If you want to talk to someone and need help overcoming the challenges of starting a business, I’m here to help. Sign up for a and let’s beat the overwhelm.