The Resilient Creative Business

Here’s the story of how I built a resilient business.

man on edge of cliff
Photo by Sead Dedić on Unsplash

In the fall of 2009, I’d been working in the film industry for a few years. It completely shut down as the economy went through the biggest recession in my lifetime.

A friend and I were in the middle of raising money for a feature film. We were even making some progress, but it all stopped overnight.

I had to take a job selling cars – I couldn’t find anything else. I got married a few months earlier and needed to provide for my new family. It was the only job I could find that would pay me enough for the life we had started together.

So, I did what I always do – I got to work. I figured out what would lead to making more money and more sales. I did months’ worth of training on the cars that I was selling in a matter of weeks. I got Porsche, Audi, and VW certified by Christmas, and became one of the top sellers that month.

I still have the Audi watch that they gave me for selling the most Audis of any salesman in December.

The quick success, it seems, was too much for some of the other salesmen. Rather than working harder, they decided to lie about a sale that I made – they claimed that I stole the customer from another salesman.

I was working at my desk, putting in the info from the sale, when all of a sudden the computer locked me out. Confused, I tried logging back in when the phone at my desk rang. My boss, the general manager upstairs asked me to come up and talk…

He told me that I was being fired for lying and theft of company property.

And just like that, my job was over. Income, gone. It was the only time I’d ever been fired in my entire working life, and still is to this day.

What I learned from that experience is that I never wanted to have a boss again. That way, I could never be fired ever again.

That single point of failure was just too risky for me and my family.

Working For Myself

Fast forward to 2017. I technically have a business, but it’s not great. My business partner and I are making maybe $150k total in a good year – which, after expenses and taxes and overhead, means we’re barely taking home $50k each.

The business isn’t working. The partnership is strained. The clients we have aren’t happy with the work we’re doing and we’re struggling to find new projects.

I end up going over $15k in debt to keep the business afloat and to try and save it, but it doesn’t work.

While I had removed the possibility of getting fired, I found new points of failure in my business. There was no way to save it.

So I need a business where I can work for myself. I need to remove all the constraints and the single points of failure. And, it needs to be a business that pays me enough to have the lifestyle that I want.

It’s not a big ask – low six figures would do it.

No boss that could fire me, no single points of failure…

a resilient business.

Into The Unknown

But I had no idea how to build it.

Who was gonna teach me? Who was gonna help me?

I bought courses. I signed up for seminars. I followed people on Twitter and bought their books and signed up for their email lists.

It was a tough lesson, but I finally realized that more information wasn’t the answer.

I had to build it myself.

So I did what I always do. I got to work.

I started by making sure I had enough money – the first point of failure. I now needed to have enough money to provide for my family of five, our house, everything. Cash flow in a business is like oxygen, it can’t survive without having enough of it.

The first thing I did was find a big client that was going to keep me busy – and paid – while I worked on the other areas of my business. Now I could breathe.

I started adding more clients. This time, however, only clients that I wanted to work with. I removed the single point of failure of only having one client.

If one client represents a huge percentage of your cash flow, it’s no different than the risk of having a boss that could fire you.

Get more clients.

I built systems for the other constraints in the business – sales, marketing, finances, and growth.

I found new partnerships – ones that were beneficial to both of us, rather than dependent on each other. Partnerships where working together wasn’t just 1+1 = 2, but had an exponential possibility, where 1 + 1 could equal 3, or 5, or 20.

I started creating and leveraging assets that I created rather than only trading time for dollars, which diversified the ways that I made money so that the business became even more resilient.

I built a resilient business over the last 3 years, and now I’m building two more this year. Craftsman Creative will be a resilient business in about 12 months from when it started. Benchmark App within a year as well.

Building A Resilient Business For Yourself

It’s a framework that’s built using a process that works.

Now that I’ve figured it out, the only thing I want to do is to help others to do the same: To build their own resilient creative businesses.

The process is straightforward. You start by building a solid foundation and systematically build on top of it, one brick at a time.

If you do the work, it works.

The process inevitably leads to a resilient business that supports your work and the lifestyle you want for yourself and your family

I’m devoting a huge part of my time, focus, and effort to helping other artists, creatives, and freelancers build resilient businesses in 2021.

I’ve created a 12-month, interactive coaching program. It involves monthly training, accountability, a community of peers on the same journey, and one-on-one coaching to give you everything you need to build your own resilient business.

If you’re ready to get to work, I’m excited to join you on the journey ahead.

Validating A New Product Idea

When you get a new idea, do you immediately start building it out because you’re a creative and that’s the fun part??? Yeah, me too. This time, though, I’m taking a different approach and validating first.

incandescent bulb on black surface
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Listen to the audio version of this post:

https://share.transistor.fm/s/a51a73b4

Last night I finally pulled the trigger on putting together a new product for Craftsman Creative.

All year I’ve been trying to crack an all-inclusive business training course. Essentially, how to create a successful creative business.

I’ve had the idea up on the Craftsman Creative site since March! Not a single person has pre-ordered (obviously, look at the way I set it up…).

I also priced it at $997 because I KNEW the value that I was gonna deliver with this product.

(There’s an inherent problem in that statement – read it again and see if you can find it…)

Over the last few months I’ve talked about this idea with a number of friends in creative industries while building my other business, Benchmark. These conversations were made for a podcast to promote the app, but I’d always take a few minutes after ending the recording to ask about my idea.

Through those conversations, my assumptions turned into insights, and I started to see what people really needed and wanted, and how I could help.

I was debating when/how to launch this thing – when was I going to have time to build it? What if I build it and no one wants it like before?

Underlying those questions – what if I fail?

But then the perfect moment of serendipity. During the launch of The Durable Business this week, the dudes over at Tiny Little Businesses shared something that I’ve known about but forgotten:

The Importance Of Validating Your Ideas

I’d been thinking all backward. I was starting with an idea and then immediately jumping to how-can-I-scale-and-optimize-it-while-simultaneously-building-it!

Hear how that sounds? A bit backwards and crazy, right?

Rather, the way people do this process successfully looks like this:

Discover > Validate > Build > Scale & Optimize

From The Durable Business

I was all out of order.

Thanks to the timing of all this, I was able to reset and think about the idea (the “discovery” phase), the audience I was seeking to serve, and ways to validate it, rather than build it.

That lead to a late-night, post-thanksgiving work session that I documented in detail on Twitter.

It felt a little like Mark Zuckerberg in that scene from The Social Network where he’s building and coding and drinking and writing about it all in real time…

But I digress.

I traded what could have been weeks of creating a product, perfecting the website, writing an email sequence, then rewriting that sequence, then scrapping it and doing it all again, for about two hours of work.

My hope is that by doing things in the right order, I can save myself from the fear of failure, and validate before building a product that no one wants.

So, what’s the product?

Well, think of it as a product/service super-combo.

Coaching without the five-figure price tag. Community without having to be on facebook. Interactive learning and doing rather than an info-dump.

A new way to build a resilient creative business.

Meaning:

  • your business makes enough to pay you what you want.
  • you have control over when, how, and why you work, who you work with, and what you work on.
  • You upgrade your revenue, your clients, your work/life balance, and your mastery of how your business operates.
  • And, most importantly, because it’s built right it can withstand any shifts in the economy, your industry, your clients, or your audience. That resiliency means you’re building for the long term success, not a quick flash in the pan that can be wiped out overnight.

What does that look like, exactly?

A 12-month, interactive program to help you build the creative business you’ve always wanted. Monthly training on how to grow your business in a systematic way – first with the foundation, then one building block at a time.

A community of companions on the path – taking the same journey you’re taking. You’re not alone, and a community helps you remember that.

A private email list, only for those who are on the journey. A private podcast feed if you’d rather listen to the training instead.

Monthly, interactive, live video calls to get the community together but also to reinforce what we’ve learned and help those who are struggling.

Weekly accountability – it’s important to show up and to keep your commitments, and the program holds you to that.

All of this in order to get you the results you’ve been working so hard for in your career –

  • control over the results in your business
  • overcome the fear of failure and the resistance to doing the work
  • clarity of how to build a business that works
  • freedom to have the life you’ve wanted for yourself and your family

Now – for the offer.

Remember, I’m testing and validating rather than building first, so I did a minimum viable sales page just to see how everything goes. (Again, check out the twitter thread to see that all come together in real time…)

You can go to build.craftsmancreative.co and sign up. If you’re not ready to buy, then enter your email to get the free month of training I’m going to do next month (if enough people buy…)

If you are ready to build your own resilient business, then sign up soon. I’m limiting the preorders to 20 people, and have set the price at 90% off for this weekend only, to make it as easy a decision as possible for my friends, email subscribers, and readers.

See you on the other side!

RPM Planning For Creatives

The RPM Planning System is my secret to getting more done and achieving more in my professional and personal life. The system guarantees results.

white printer paperr
Photo by Eric Rothermel on Unsplash

This post is part of the 60 Day Project – one post a day to help you prepare your business for success in 2021. Subscribe using the button below to get new posts sent straight to your email.


Years ago I was listening to a Tony Robbins talk tape, and in it somewhere it had a number you could call or a website you could visit to talk with their team.

I was looking for answers. How to start and grow a business. How to find more success. How to get more control over the results I was experiencing around my work and my finances.

I got on a call, and while I couldn’t afford the coaching, the kind person on the other end of the line offered to send me some of the tapes that I didn’t have access to.

She literally told me to copy them to my computer and then send them back so I wasn’t charged for them.

Well, I took full advantage of the opportunity, ripped the audio to my laptop, and saved them all to dropbox for safe keeping.

The saleswoman suggested I start with a set of tapes called Time Of Your Life.

A ten-day program on productivity? That’s what she thought I needed to work on?

Turns out she was right, and the RPM system taught in that program has accounted for a massive chunk of the projects I’ve been able to accomplish over the last 10 years.

RPM – The Rapid Planning Method

Tony’s signature productivity program is known as RPM, or the Rapid Planning Method.

RPM also, however, stands for Results-focused, Purpose-driven, Massive action plan.

He’s getting a lot of mileage out of that acronym…

The goal of this productivity system is to help you get the results that matter most.

It’s not a to-do list.

It’s not about “getting things done”.

If you’re someone who wants to create, make, or produce – whether it’s products, or artwork, or creative projects – this is what RPM is best suited for.

While I can’t walk you through every step of the process (get the tapes for that) I do want to cover two parts that have played a massive part in my being able to start two businesses and a new blog this year, write every day, and survive the insane year this has been financially.

Let’s start with the three aspects of the philosophy, and then how to apply it to your weekly and daily planning.

Results Focused

The biggest shift you’ll make using RPM is from thinking about tasks to thinking about results.

Tasks are what you do every day, results are what you want long term.

I don’t know about you but I don’t get up in the morning excited about a long to-do list. I do, however, get extremely excited about making progress towards the big outcomes that I want in my life.

Shifting from “what do I have to do today” to “what do I want to achieve today/this week/this month/this quarter/this year” is massive, and is the first step.

You begin by writing down some results you want in both your personal and professional life. 5-7 each is a good number.

Maybe you want to lose ten pounds. Strengthen your relationship with your partner or kids. Get an extra month of expenses in savings. Grow your revenue, or increase profit margin, or create a new product.

Write them down. These serve as the results that you’re going to work towards and that will inform what you choose to do on a daily basis.

Purpose Driven

Once you’ve got your list of 10-15 results you want to achieve and before you start diving into action, we need to add in one extra step.

Not for arbitrary reasons. But because the difference between those that get a ton done and accomplish their goals is rarely because of how hard they work. It’s the reasons behind the goals that drive them to continue on whether it’s easy or hard.

With each one of the results that you’ve written down, take a few minutes to write down the reasons that result is important to you.

Some questions may help:

  • What will it mean to get this result?
  • What will you become when you reach this result?
  • What will this help you do?
  • Who will it serve?

List out as many reasons that can inform the purpose behind the goal.

Only then can we shift into taking action.

Massive Action

Big goals are achieved by taking the appropriate level of action. Just today I had a phone call with someone who was asking me about what it would take to 10x my business – 10x more leads, 10x more value per customer, and 10x more revenue.

I was surprised that it wasn’t going to require 10x more action. It wasn’t going to take 10x more time.

It mainly requires thinking 10x bigger. Thinking about leverage. Thinking about the people you work with and the systems that are working in the background.

Massive action doesn’t always mean more time or more effort. It is more of a shift in mindset.

What this looks like is listing out all of the different ideas that will help you get closer to the result that you’re after.

This is where we can look at a weekly and daily practice of implementing this RPM system for your creative life and business.

Weekly RPM Planning Session

Each week, take 30-60 minutes to revisit your goals and the results that matter to you. Make any additions or take out any that aren’t serving you anymore or have been achieved.

Take a look at the results that you want to accomplish and pick a few that are most important to you for the week ahead.

Add to your list of reasons and expand the purpose that’s driving you to get that results.

Then write down all of the big actions you can take this week to get that result.

Do this step for each and every result that you want to work towards this week.

Then, to take it one step further, roughly map out your week. Pick a day or a block of time during the week that you can devote to that result. I’ve found it more effective to put all of the actions for one result into as few chunks as possible, rather than work on every results every day of the week.

Being able to go deep on something each day will get you more progress than spreading those tasks over the whole week.

Try to get one or two blocks of a few hours into your schedule for the week. Getting them into your schedule or calendar before the week starts will prevent other tasks or invitations from holding back your progress.

Daily RPM Planning

Each day – and it doesn’t matter if it’s first thing in the morning, or at the end of the day in preparation for the next day – take 15 to 20 minutes to revisit your plan for the week and get more detail on the work you want to do for the day.

Schedule when you’re going to work on your project. Write down the people you need to communicate or follow up with. List out any other actions that will help you get the result you’re after.

I’ve started using Roam Research for this, in conjunction with a physical planner. I get up early and my morning routine is about an hour of prayer & meditation, and then 15 minutes of RPM planning in a physical planner.

When I get to the office I put my tasks from the planner into Roam so that it lives on my second computer screen all day. I can then tick off the tasks that I’ve accomplished and capture new ideas or tasks throughout the day, and then more easily copy & paste anything that needs to be done tomorrow if I didn’t get to it today.

The Results Speak For Themselves

When you’re constantly reviewing your high level goals and results for your life and business, you can’t help but focus on them and make progress. Exciting goals turns into exciting days working towards them.

In 2020, despite a global pandemic, I was able to start two businesses, create two of my own courses, film and produce four (and soon six!) courses for other creators, start a new blog, film a season of a television, produce two separate documentary projects, and more. In my personal life, I’m spending more time with my wife and kids, we’re in a position to finish the year with more money in savings than we’ve ever had in our 11+ years of marriage, and we are looking forward for everything to come in 2021.

Whatever system you choose, the important principles are to focus on the outcomes first and let the tasks be determined within that context, and to revisit your goals and results often to not only measure them but to keep them top of mind.

Doing so will help you get whatever you want from your life and business, which is a pretty great way to live your life.

Want help? Check out the different ways that I can help you reach your goals in 2020 and beyond.

How Do You Know If Your Project Is Successful?

Being able to verify and measure your project success is one of the fastest ways to grow your business.

person in red hoodie standing on snowy mountain during daytime
Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

This post is part of the 60 Day Project – one post a day to help you prepare your business for success in 2021. Subscribe using the button below to get new posts sent straight to your email.


Seems weird to talk about data and analytics this early on in the process of this 60 Days Project, but here we are.

(Because it’s important).

How do you measure the success of your creative projects? There’s no one right or wrong way, but I would argue that not measuring is a quick path to feeling like a failure, lacking control over the outcomes, and ultimately giving up.

There are a few ways you could measure the success of a creative project:

  • Did it get finished and sent out into the world? (Launched, published, released, etc.)
  • Did it make a certain amount of money?
  • Did it reach a certain amount of people?
  • Did it make you feel good?

Some of these are more “hard number” measurements, while others – “feel good” – are much more subjective.

One of the first things I did when I set up this 60 Days Project was lay out the things I wanted to accomplish with it, and then set up ways to track and verify if those things happened.

Here’s what it looks like for this project:

Goals:

  • 10,000 visitors to the website by December 31, 2020
  • 1,000 email signups
  • 1 post per day, no excuses

Now, the last one is pretty simple to track. Did I write something? Did I hit “Publish”?

How to track email signups and site visitors, though?

Well, for that, I had to do a little bit of technical stuff. You know, the part that most creatives shy away from because they “don’t know how”. What follows is the simple & painless process I used to ensure that I can measure how this project is going:

Tracking Website Visitors

I set the website up using WordPress. That way I can track visitors to the site in one of a few ways: using their built-in tool, Jetpack, or connecting it with Google Analytics. I chose the latter since I already use GA for my other websites.

It will show me – not 100% accurately but good enough – how many people are visiting the site each day/week/month during this project.

I know that I need to average ~167 people per day to the site in order to hit that goal, so that will help me focus my efforts on things that get people to the site.

Here’s a screenshot from my other site, Craftsman Creative

Tracking Email Signups

For the email side, rather than using any built-in forms that come standard with the WordPress theme I’m using, I connected my ConvertKit account and created a few new forms to collect emails on the site. (If you look around, there’s one in the sidebar, one at the bottom of the post, and one right here:

These all capture emails and put them under the same “tag”, specifically, “Subscribed – 60 Day Project”.

That way when I publish new posts, I can send them directly to the people who asked to get them.

I know that I need about 16 signups per day to the email list, so I can track that inside my ConvertKit account – which is how I choose to track it – or I could set up a “Goal” in Google Analytics to track that as well, though that requires a bit more setup.

The total subscriber view in ConvertKit

Isn’t This A Ton Of Extra Work?

Not really. The whole idea with this is you take a few hours at the beginning of a project to set up your goals and how you’re going to measure them.

Then, ensure that you have a way to track them on a regular basis. Whether that’s just using the insights on your social media app, or a more robust tool like Google Analytics, it’s essential that you can quickly see if your efforts are working or not.

You don’t want to get to the end of a project only to realize you’re not anywhere close to hitting your goal.

So, with two months left in the year, take a few minutes today to set up some way to track your data and see how you’re doing at working towards reaching your goals.

Want to learn how to create a project from scratch in the next 90 days? I put together a course JUST for that purpose. It’s called Make Something, and walks you through the rest of the process I use for creating successful creative projects.

(Use the code Craftsman for $50 off the price of the course)

The 60 Days Project

Introducing a new written project aimed at helping artists, creatives, and small business owners to get prepared for the winter and the new year.

person using laptop
Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

Toward the end of October 2020 I listened to the most recent conversation between Seth Godin and Tim Ferriss on Tim’s show.

From that conversation, I had one of the clearest moments in my creative career – an idea for a project that fit the framework Seth laid out in the conversation:

  • A “generous” project, one that benefited others more than it benefitted me
  • That I would do “even if it would fail” to meet my own monetary goals
  • That had a set of constraints that would help me reach the outcome
  • And incorporated a little bit of “magic” – the creation of tension for the reader.

Deciding On A Creative Project

What I decided was the 60-day project.

One email/blog per day. 1,000 words or less. Each on a topic or principle that would help the audience – that’s you – to get what it is I think you really want for yourself and your business:

What we really want, [as creatives], is to have control over our financial security, agency and independence, and predictability in times of chaos and uncertainty

Shawn Twing – Tiny Little Businesses

We may say that we want to “start a business” or even “make money with our art”. What we’re really saying is what I just wrote above.

We want control. Certainty. Freedom.

If that’s you, then I’m glad you’re here. Over the next two months – every day until December 31, 2020, I’m going to write everything I know about how to get control over your creative life and business.

Why? Because this year has been really hard on artists, creatives, and small business owners. Really hard.

Rather than add to the downward spiral that is the year 2020, I’d rather contribute to making it a positive time. A time of growth and progress and certainty and joy.

This is one way I know I can do that.

Join Me On This Creative Journey

So – check back here every day, or sign up below to get the daily posts in your email inbox.

I’m excited to join you on your creative journey.

Daren