7 Deadly mistakes that will kill your creative business

Now that everyone has a second cousin or daughter in college who’s a “whiz” with editing and layout software, true creative professionals have a lot more competition.

We have to be ever more vigilant in finding good clients, explaining our value to our clients, and then over-delivering like crazy.

And starting a business is tough! It requires much more than just creative talent. Even if some of us creatives and dreamers have great ideas, we often lack the financial know-how and pragmatic approach to realize and market our creativity and skill.

So is that it? Is it too late to realize your dreams?

Absolutely not!

The truth is, all manners of artisans and creative entrepreneurs have tons of opportunities to make our dreams come true – but only if we use our resources in the right way.

So whether you’re just launching a business or planning a growth push for your veteran creative business, here are 7 deadly mistakes you’ll want to avoid to increase your chances for success.

1) We love our original ideas too much

Sometimes, we hold onto our original ideas as if they were our children.

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We hesitate and fret and are afraid to reshape and remodel our “perfect” concepts until they fit the market and appeal to the target audience…and ultimately, bring in profit.

We harbor these reservations even though we know, rarely (if ever) is a first generation idea – a prototype – ever a finished product. That’s why we proofread, and market-test, and create a freebie version, to see if people want it.

And when we find out that, yes! People DO want it…but with X and Y and Z, and F and Q aren’t really as exciting as we’d hoped…we have to be brave enough to strengthen and improve upon our ideas until clients and buyers are singing our praises on social media.

PS – Want a REAL challenge? Try this painful, terrible, amazing exercise that forces you to become a better designer.

2) We avoid visualizing our ideas on paper

An idea is abstract – to make it work in the real world, we often need a plan and a clear marketing strategy in place. (This is why journaling is so widely-used in weight control and mental health.)

Unfortunately, sometimes we creatives don’t feel the need to visualize our concepts on paper, for a variety of reasons:

  • We’re too afraid to commit.
  • We’re too unsure of the details to write something concrete down.
  • There’s so much to write that it feels utterly daunting and too overwhelming to know where start.
  • We feel that actual words on a page create a rigid, unyielding box we’re forced to follow.

Have you ever felt the following ways (or something entirely different?) – leave us a comment!

If we follow our instincts exclusively and introduce our services or product without proper planning, we’ll inevitably face trouble…in finding the “right” clients, in creating steady income we can live off of, and much more.

3) We struggle to accept constructive criticism

We creatives pour our heart and souls into our businesses…which makes it tough (TOUGH) not to take constructive criticism very personally.

Even though the opinions of others often relate to our entrepreneurial skills rather than the quality or value of our product, we easily get offended and stop listening.

What we don’t realize is that constructive criticism is vital – we rely on feedback on many other occasions, ranging from job interviews to meetings or auditions. That’s how we polish our skills and develop professionally as well as personally.

Receiving a dose of constructive criticism is nothing short of a blessing – and we all should learn to appreciate every piece of it.

4) We forget to define our target customer

Another vital mistake we often make is forgetting who’s at the other end of the transaction.

Thinking about our own preferences and needs for this service or product, we simply fail to define our target audience – without this knowledge, it’s nearly impossible to market to them!

A service or product will only be marketable if it offers a real value to its customers.

Don’t forget to paint a clear picture of who you’re addressing, including customer demographics, geographical locations, preferences and interests.

5) We find collaborating problematic

So you’ve got this awesome idea, and you’re terrified to tell anyone who matters. Why? Because you’re afraid:

  • Afraid they’ll steal it.
  • Afraid they’ll criticize it (see #3).
  • Afraid they’ll laugh at you.
  • Afraid they’ll tell you it’ll never be successful.

The truth is that for a successful launch (whether it’s your business or a passive source of income), we need the advice of other people.

But not just any people, and certainly not family!

Set up a small advisory board of professionals who have no emotional investment in you, and yet value your ideas and effort. It might be your supplier, someone you met at a networking event or a person who you know and can rely on their opinion.

Every extra voice counts – just make sure you select people focused on your development and growth.

6) We aren’t great at digital marketing

The web offers what is probably the cheapest and most varied repository of marketing opportunities – especially for artists who are just beginning to market their work.

Still, while we’re often very tech-savvy, we’re creatives, not marketers.

In order get the most bang for your buck (or time) with regards to digital marketing, you need to understand how it works and use this knowledge to your advantage. Or hire a marketing expert to help you get your business name or product out there. (Can you offer a partnership/collaboration to trade services or create a profitable relationship for you both?)

Just a couple very simple examples:

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is of vital importance for marking your presence on the web.
  • Posting your work online will help you to build a strong and loyal community around your art, helping you to further promote your work across different online social media channels.

7) We rely on third-party selling channels

When we do create passive sources of income, many of us prefer to use third party ventures (think Etsy, Society6, Café Press, Zazzle, etc.) to publish and sell our work.

While these can be great platforms to test our product ideas and handle transactions, we should also almost always have our own websites.

By having your own website, you’ll have absolute control over each and every aspect of your online presence. Visual presentation, profit margin, pricing, product materials used, the checkout process, etc. – you’ll be finally able to give your audience a great experience to make your product – and brand – even more likeable and engaging.

Final thoughts

Creative business is a tough one – and many creatives fail not because they don’t produce great work, but because they’re not great at business.

To improve your chances for success, make sure you don’t fall victim to any of these mistakes, believe in your work, and don’t be afraid to push for its value to be recognized on the market.

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About Isabel Wiliams

Isabel Wiliams is an accomplished businesswoman and Content Marketing Specialist at BizDb.co.uk She combines a deep background in Internet Science with intense expertise in New Technologies. She is a seasoned educator lecturing about leveraging the potential of the Internet for professional development.


  1. Great Post Isabel! I struggled tremendously on “selling” my services for months… Not knowing my target audience, not taking advantages of digital marketing etc…

    I focused heavily on learning how to “sell” and spent a quite a hefty amount of money on marketing and sales training and it is paying off 10 fold!

    I now am taking advantage of digital marketing and really enjoying the “selling” process of my work…

    It’s awesome!

    http://www.digitalmarketer.com is a great resource to tap into.



  2. Isabel, I laughed at your first sentence about the cousin or daughter because I am saying the same thing all the time…someone’s nephew or mother has a computer, therefore they are graphic designers. Funny, but not funny. In fact, downright maddening. I see the most awful designs out there and feel short changed.

    Does anyone have input about Outsource.com? I feel like they may be ripping me off. I don’t know if I’m losing bids to some guy in India who will do the project for $5, and the client has no taste in design. There was one project I REALLY wanted to bid on and had the experience, client testimonial, and design to show… but it would have cost me over $10 to submit my bid.

  3. Loved this post. #2 is something that works well for me in particular.
    Clients seem to universally understand and agree on the time-saver of reviewing sketches before production,

    If that fails, let them know it’s a cost saver, too. I can still sketch faster than anything I mockup in an Adobe app. Helps in user experience too – low fidelity helps sell the concept (or not) early on.

  4. Great post! I totally agree with the 7 mistakes…

  5. Point 7 raises some issues I’ve been having as I look into selling my work on-line. The third party sites do offer convenience and smooths the selling process, but you’re right about controlling your brand and marketing. For me, I live outside of North America so my issues regarding sourcing materials, storage, and shipping overseas (just for brevity’s sake) are numerous. Do you have any tips on how one can get started with handling their own store?

  6. Where does the author lecture? I am friends with the man who took this picture and this was a stock image he shot of a model almost ten years ago. He says the model’s name was not Isabel Wiliams.

    How can we believe anything your site publishes when you make up pretend authors? You’re just trying to drive traffic and increase ad revenue.


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