Asking Not Asking #7: Building Confidence in Business
TINA ESSMAKER / Creative Coach
I left my full-time job a year ago to make a project into a business. I've lived off of my savings and have worked a little on the side. I'm realizing now that I have the knowledge and insight to take on well-paid contract work to cover my living expenses as I continue building out my business. I'd like to be working with clients on experiential marketing and brand development.
My challenges are: 1) I don't know the first step for beginning contract work like this. 2) I'm not very confident in marketing myself. I do have friends who are willing to support me in taking the first step. And I know of small businesses who could use my services.
Over the past year I've learned that I'm smarter and more capable than I give myself credit for. I can build an attractive quality brand from the ground up. I am good at finding and working with creative people who are aligned with the project at hand. I know I can attract the people I need to bring into my life, but where should I begin?
Building Confidence in Business
Dear Building Confidence in Business,
“When you close your eyes, you see and hear things you didn’t notice before, though they must have been there all along. It’s not that you make things up—you notice things.” Those words are from a book I’m currently reading called The Art of the Wasted Day by Patricia Hampl. Sometimes we have to open our eyes wide to see our own reflection and the world around us. Other times we must close our eyes to see clearly.
When you close your eyes, do you see yourself standing on the precipice ready to leap into what’s next? You’ve had what you needed all along, and now that you have an awareness of that, you are preparing to build another business. There’s no roadmap for what it should look like—it can look however you choose. That may feel exciting and daunting, like standing on a precipice, but you are going to do a wonderful job. From your letter, it sounds like you are not only capable of dreaming up a vision, but also planning for and executing it, which will serve you well.
So, take a deep breath. Let’s start where you are. You said you’ve discovered you can do well-paid contract work to cover living expenses as you continue to build out your business. Break this down. Define well-paid, or, in other words, how much you want to earn. Start with covering your monthly expenses, but don’t stop there. If you can make more than you need, put it back into your business, save it, or invest it. Don’t limit your earning potential, even though you only see this as a side hustle to support your main gig.
To piggyback on that advice, I’m going to ask if you keep a budget and track monthly expenses. No, it’s not sexy, but it’s important to know what you earn and how you spend it. I addressed money and financial resources in a past column here if you’d like to read more on that. Once you know the minimum you need to make each month to cover expenses, you can think about how you will charge (i.e. hourly, day rate, per project), how many hours you will devote to contract work to support yourself, and how many clients you’d like to contract with at a time.
There is much to consider when choosing how you’ll handle rates, so I’d suggest reaching out to a few trusted friends who do contract work. There are no rules. It’s your business and you can charge what and how you want, but do consider all of the experience and knowledge you have accumulated. You are not only charging for the service you are providing, but also for the years of work you’ve done to acquire the range of skills and expertise you possess. Confidently ask for what you’re worth!
Next I want you to reflect on what success looks like for both your current project turned business and your future contract work. How do the two overlap, if at all? You have finite time, energy, and resources, so plan out how you will allocate them between both endeavors. What are your objectives for each endeavor? You don’t have to know how everything will play out, but it’s important to clarify how the contract work will support your business and if the contract work is simply a means to an end. Will you only do it for a season and, if so, how will you wind down when it’s time?
Now let’s talk about what you mean when you say you’d “like to be working with clients on experiential marketing and brand development.” Who are the clients? Make a list of real-life potential clients, beginning with the small businesses you said you know who could use your services. Now list other businesses you have contacts at. Then think about businesses that are adjacent; maybe you don’t have a contact there, but a friend or former colleague does. Finally, list the places you’d like to reach out to, but have no contacts for.
There’s one more clarifying task at hand for us. I’d like you to expound on what you mean when you say you’d like to do “experiential marketing and brand development.” Are there particular disciplines or fields you’d like to focus on? What are the actual services you will offer, and what won’t you do? You can’t do everything, so be clear about your priorities. Think about what you can offer that will add the most value to your clients, be the best use of your time, and allow you to financially support yourself while still leaving bandwidth for your current business.
Now, it’s time to reach out. Do it in a sincere, confident way, but don’t think too much about it. Just do it. We are bombarded with noise every day and it’s important to remind people you are here, taking up space in the world, and you have value to offer. You must be your own advocate. You say you’re not good at marketing yourself, but you are going to have to get over that narrative. Tell yourself a new one. Maybe you haven’t been great at it in the past, but today is a new day.
We don’t like to market ourselves because it’s an act of vulnerability when we show up and tell the world who we are and what we have to offer. It’s easier to say we’re bad at marketing ourselves than to face possible rejection. Yes, rejection is a possibility, but it is self-defeating to assume that as the default. Commit to marketing yourself by committing to reach out to a number of potential clients on your list every week. Additionally, commit to reaching out to a number of friends each week to tell them about your work and the value you have to offer—they may know someone who needs what you have to offer.
Building Confidence, when I read your words, I don’t sense fear or disappointment or frustration. Your words are hopeful. You have had an “Aha!” moment and you are ready to act. You said in your letter that you have realized you are smarter and more capable than you give yourself credit for. Start giving yourself credit. Acknowledge what you are good at. Reflect on what you have already achieved. Name all of the resources you possess. Feel your community around you, ready to help. Take one step forward. Then another. And another. That is how you build anything worthwhile—step by step, moment by moment, breath by breath.
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Asking Not Asking is a bi-monthly column written by Tina Essmaker, a New York City-based coach, speaker, and writer who helps others live into their possibility. To be considered for the column, send and email to email@example.com with a short note about where you're at and where you want to be, and make sure to include the following:
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