As we move into our ninth year in business and as the year comes to a close, we always like to look back at the past year and take it in a bit. What did we do that was awesome? What did we do that was not so awesome? How can we do it better next year? Which way should we steer this ship? How do we remain relevant in this ever changing landscape?
I don't have all the answers yet, but I do know that the answer the last two questions still remain completely on us. Which is fine. Staying small and agile is part of our plan—steering the ship is easy and pivoting on a dime is 100% possible. As I think about all this, I realized a few other truths have come to me this year and I wanted to share them. I know there are so many talented creative people out there who want to make a business and live independently, and I'm here to say, it's not easy or for everyone, but it's definitely possible.
1) You don't have to eat ramen. Or beans. Ever. Unless you want to.
Dru and I laugh at ourselves a lot because we know we are first creatives and second business people. Creative, easy! Business, hard! This venture has been a lot of 'learn by doing' and we've learned a lot over the years. One thing we always hear when listening to podcasts about other business owners and entrepreneurs is the whole 'we ate ramen for a year' or 'we ate nothing but beans and rice'. COME ON. REALLY?? So first of all, logistically, eating ramen for a year will probably either give you a heart attack or make you sumo-sized or both. Eating nothing but beans...well, you can deduce the rest. This is the truth: treat your body well. Eat well. Never compromise on food or the quality of your food. Eat happy and your body and mind will thank you. The business needs your brain and your brain needs good food. Instead of eating crap because you're a poor entrepreneur, invite a friend over that can cook and have them teach you the basics. Knowing how to cook will be the best thing you could arm yourself with as an independent creative.
We dig a cheese board.
2) Growth doesn't have to mean big.
Lucky for us we are in an industry built around freelancers. What we have learned over the years is that we can remain small and grow accordingly with our projects. We really had to ask ourselves, what kind of company do we want? Do we want to manage people or do we want to be deeply involved in projects? What we both found is that what we love is the work. What we don't love is HR. Being small means we can be mobile, nimble and a little more choosy about the work we do. We can make make major decisions quickly and listen closely to our heart and gut—not just our wallet.
Scaling doesn't necessarily have to mean adding a bunch of mouths to the payroll, but hiring only when you need to.
3) If your goal is to crush your opponent, your focus is on them, not you.
We've had a few business coaches over the years (we believe strongly in education, to the point we even take master classes on wine drinking) who have done countless SWOT analyses and continually asked us about our competition. 'Don't know.' we said. 'How can you not know?' they said. 'Well... we know who's out there, but we're not watching them.' Blank stare. What we do know is yes, they are good! We're all good. But if we take our eyes off the prize and worry about what they're doing, we lose focus on what we're doing. We are determined to provide a unique offering. To be viewed not as vendors but as specialists and masters of our craft. In order to do this we have to keep pushing ourselves creatively, to get out of our comfort zones and to stay focused on our goals. Teddy Roosevelt said 'Comparison is the thief of joy.' and he is so right! If you're constantly looking over your shoulder or at what others are doing, you remove yourself from the present and miss all the good stuff that's right in front of you.
4) Be generous with your time and talent.
This principle is an old, solid standby that if you give, you'll get. But even if you don't get, that's ok too. Giving makes you a better human, but giving can be hard. Sometimes days (or months) running a small business can be tight and we are stretched thin in time and resources. This is when we are tested most and when we feel like—no, we've got nothing to give, add or share. It's at these times we know we need to force ourselves to lean into the abundance and not the lack and find a way to push through and make it happen. We realize we have more than we think and there's always more somewhere. That's when the clouds part and things get mystical. Seriously.
5) Learn life lessons from dogs.
2018 is the year we got a dog. Her name is Kiwi and she's one of the greatest things to ever happen to us. Ever. Kiwi is a 15 pound rescue mutt that we found through the Petfinder app (highly recommended) which lead us to the Pet Rescue Alliance (amazing people) who rescued this four month, eight pound Chihuahua mix all the way from the high-kill state of Texas. We've both had dogs before but somehow this is different. She has changed us. We don't care about not being able to go out sometimes because we've got this puppy at home. We don't mind heading out in the freezing cold, day and night to walk her. And the hair. This dog sheds but we don't care! We like the dog park. Suddenly, we are dog people. It's hard to describe, but other dog people are like all cool—'oh yeah...' like it's a well known thing and everyone has been on this tip for um, centuries.
I have gained empathy by 150%. I have a new found patience. I have slowed down and become more deliberate. Things I thought really mattered before (like having a perfectly clean house) are now trivial and a waste of emotional time. I love this animal beyond measure and that love alone will add 10+ years to my life. She teaches us daily that the most important things in life are: love, food, water, treats, other dogs, play, and sleep. I'd call that a well balanced life.
37% Chihuahua, 15% Mini Pinscher, 25% Bull Mastiff. 100% Cool. Follow her @kiwi_le_dog
6) Learn life lessons from plants.
My obsession with plants began a few years ago with a couple of fiddle leaf figs and some cacti I scored (and still have) at IKEA and has grown into a fleet of green that is taking over most of the areas by all of the windows in our house. I wouldn't say that I have a green thumb by any means, but I have realized that these guys need my attention and if I don't give them attention, they will most certainly die. So, Lesson #1: Water and Sun are Necessary. Get up from your desk. Step away from your device. Go outside. Fill up your water bottle and drink it. Like eight times a day.
Taking care of these plants also sometimes means clipping the brown stuff and removing the dead leaves. Which brings me to Lesson #2: Edit. Edit. Edit. Get rid of all the things in your life that are dried up, dead and no longer serving you. Hanging on to them will only drain you of the valuable resources you have left.
Sometimes I'll notice one of my guys isn't doing so well. I run mainly on intuition when it comes to plant care, so my first thoughts are that it either needs more sun, less sun, more water or less water. Sometimes it's just a matter of moving it from one place to another and then it thrives. Lesson #3: Change is Good. We need to keep evolving. Keep growing. Keep changing. Mix it up. Get away from ourselves and our stuff and see something different. Move. Do it differently than before. Drive a different way to work. Use a different pen. Call someone instead of texting. However we can change it, let's change it. Then we thrive.
Happy holidays from your friends at Shine. May your new year be curious and bright.
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