When you start a project, there’s that magical feeling of excitement and possibility. You feel super-creative and full of ideas and energy – it’s amazing and so much fun! And at the end of a project, you have a sense of accomplishment, and you can’t wait to unveil your fabulous design or solution to your clients and to the world. But then there’s the middle of a project
That’s the tough and messy part of our business – that middle part where you’re dealing with headaches and issues. You’re slogging through what seems like a mountain of problems, and feeling completely chicken-pecked by your staff, subcontractors or collaborators, and your 5-mile-long To Do list. Ugh.
The middle is tough. It’s hard to keep up your excitement level, or to be motivated to tackle everything with enthusiasm. It’s like the shiny part wore off your favorite toy. But that is exactly the time when you need to kick things into high gear. In the middle, you have to communicate even more so your clients don’t wonder what’s going on. You have to keep your momentum going so your staff doesn’t lose their motivation, too. And you have to keep juggling everything so it doesn’t all come crashing down on you. The middle is messy, but so very important!
The middle is also a key part of your career as a creative professional. When you start out, you are starry eyed with the possibility of amazing clients and incredible projects, ready to show the world how amazingly creative you are. At the end of your career, you hope to look back on a fulfilling and long creative path, full of happy clients and dazzled editors. But the middle is where you can lose focus, or worse, lose all your motivation. Have you been there? Or are you there now?
Call it burnout, call it a mid-life crisis, or call it stress – the result is the same. You are exhausted from running your business, you feel like you wouldn’t recognize anything creative if it hit you in the head, and you struggle just to have your head down slogging through your To Dos. We all hit this wall in the middle of our careers, and we have to recognize it and deal with it, otherwise it could be the end of our businesses instead of the middle.
So how do we “deal” with it? Here are 5 tips for dealing with that “messy middle”:
1. You have to take care of yourself. This isn’t me being all “woo woo,” it’s a simple fact. Entrepreneur magazine has hundreds of articles that talk about how self care is absolutely critical for small business owners – and that’s you! You need to slow it down, get your rest, exercise, and eat the right things. Stress is literally a killer, and you need to make yourself healthy enough to deal with the stress that comes with the job. After all, you are the most important thing in your company.
2. Deal with your emotions. Are you scared that your company might fail? Are you angry at a vendor (or two)? Are you nervous that clients aren’t coming your way? This is all normal – every CEO from the biggest company to the smallest has these feelings. The key is to recognize them and address them instead of shoving the emotions down where you don’t have to look at them. Facing your worst fears and saying “what is the worst that can happen” is the best thing you can do. You’ll find that even if the worst case scenario comes true, you can deal with it. Doing that takes a lot of the sting out of the fear and allows you to stop blaming yourself. You can also then come up with a plan to help you keep those fears from becoming reality.
3. Ask for help. We ALL have to to do this at some point – and sometimes more than once. No single person on earth can do every single thing all alone. Whether it’s moral support, financial support, coaching, or additional employees or contractors, ask for the help you need. Don’t let your pride get in the way of your future success. Even if it’s as simple as hiring someone to help with your financial paperwork, or getting advice on how to handle time management, do it today.
4. Rediscover your passion. Too often it’s the business of doing business that wears us down. I ask my consulting clients this a lot, and I want you to really think about it now: Why did you get into this business in the first place? Whatever it was – creativity, wanting to help others, creating gorgeous interiors – how can you get back to focusing on that more? There is no reason at all to be in this business if you aren’t enjoying any part of it – and trust me, everyone from your clients to potential partners can tell when you’re burned out and lacking excitement. Here’s a big secret about being a small business owner: You are in control. So find a way to put the passion back into your company. Stop doing the things that drain you and start doing the things that ignite you!
5. Smile, laugh, and have fun! This isn’t brain surgery – it’s a creative business that’s supposed to be enjoyable. You need to have fun, to laugh, and to create joy for yourself and others. That is what life is all about! Smile more – it’s infectious and will be contagious. Have a laugh with your clients! Spread joy in your office! Think I’m off my rocker? Well would YOU rather do business with a stressed-out grump or with someone who makes you smile? Exactly. Even if you have to fake a smile for a bit, I promise you it will become genuine in no time. Life is meant to be enjoyed!
Try these tips to help get you out of that messy middle rut that we all fall into. Give yourself permission to take steps to reduce the stress that comes with our jobs. If you’re happier, I promise your clients, your team and your family will be happier, too!
PS – If you need help dealing with any part of your business, then my Business for Creatives: Designer MBA course is for you! From financials to time management to client outreach, I’ll show you how to transform your business into a lean, mean, money making machine! You can learn more here, or you can join me for a FREE telecall at 3pm EST on March 15. On that live call, I’ll tell you why Designer MBA is a can’t-miss event for creative business owners not just interior designers. Click here to register for that call right now!