How To Overcome The Feeling That You Should Just Give Up

What do you do when you feel like you’re working so hard with nothing to show for it?

silhouette photography of man wearing fedora hat
Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

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Have You Ever Felt Like Giving Up?

I recently had one of the weirdest emotional moments.

In the span of one month, I felt the high of doing $10,000 in a single week just six weeks after launching my company Craftsman Creative, quickly followed by the low of getting furloughed for the summer from the TV show I was a senior producer on.

Recently, though, I had a moment of such extreme clarity that it just overwhelmed me.

I was simultaneously excited and completely terrified…

When you own your own business – as an artist, a creative, a startup, a freelancer – in the early months you’re really doing everything.

You’re not just the CEO, but the Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Technical Officer, VP of Sales, Content Manager, and the face of the company, the one who has every single interaction with every single person your company comes in contact with.

It’s…a lot.

I have been studying and learning about generating awareness for my company for the last few months. I realized early on that my audience wasn’t large enough to generate the kind of revenue I was aiming for with this new business.

I started doing whatever I could. I added partnerships (a HUGE win), took a dive into Facebook ads, Google ads, SEO, content marketing, and more.

Leading up to this breakthrough yesterday, it seemed like I was putting in all of this work with very little results to show for it.

That feeling is just terrible. It can eat at you and cause you to quit before things start to work.

I’m a firm believer that there aren’t any shortcuts in creative industries. Audiences, revenue, traffic, sales – everything takes time.

The graphic that kept coming to mind was this one from Visualize Value:

If we’re not continually putting in the work for a long enough period of time, we could give up before it starts working.

I could see, yesterday, the incredible amount of things that a company has to do in order to be successful. The difference between those companies and mine is that they have people to help with every single one of those jobs, whereas I’m responsible not just for the work, but the results of every single one…

Marketing, clients, sales, product, finances, growth, partnerships, etc – any two of those jobs would be enough to need another employee to hand off part of the work.

We solo-creatives don’t have that option.

This is especially hard when every part of our business is on the left side of “this is pointless” from that image.

That’s what it feels like to be doing all the work and not yet seeing the results.

The overwhelming feeling yesterday came from the clarity of seeing everything that still needed to be done while at the same time seeing the signs of success for the things I’d been doing for the last six months.

  • the email list has been growing day over day, independent of me publishing or sharing a link to sign up.
  • sales of the courses are occurring more per week than 4 months ago
  • partnerships are easier to create since I have more clout now than when I started back in April.

I’m not saying it’s all a breeze from here on out, but it’s nice to finally get a sign that things are headed in the right direction, rather than the feeling like “I’m working so hard, but for what?”

Two important takeaways:

  • Don’t avoid doing the important things you need to do in your business. Your business won’t grow on it’s own in the early months (maybe even years) without action on your part. No one else is going to do it for you.
  • Don’t give up. Most things work if you do the work. If you work on your marketing, improving your product or service, get better at sales calls, improve your website, create a budget – these things can take time to go from being a constraint to a strength in your business. Don’t give up before things start working. Keep going.

What’s one thing you can do today to improve your business?

If you need help answering that question you can work with me on getting your business to the next level.

Your Business Can Only Have One Goal

I took some time off this week for the kids’ fall break and made our way down to Bryce Canyon. Highly recommended if you get the chance to visit!

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One of the best changes I made in the last week was removing Instagram and Facebook from my phone. They have become huge time-sucks in the last few months, and I really wanted some of that time back.

Will power wasn’t enough, so I whipped out the old DELETE button and finally took care of those distractions.

That wasted time was replaced with something I’ve been saying I want to do more of, but my actions weren’t yet supporting: reading more!

This week I read a book recommended by Shawn Twing from Tiny Little Businesses.

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The Goal is a fictional story written by Eli Goldratt & Jeff Cox. I didn’t really know what I was getting into, but boy am I glad I had the newly-found free time to read it this week.

What follows are some of my favorite ideas and principles of the book and how you and I can apply them to our creative businesses:

In the book, a fictional company is up against the wall and has three months to save their plant from being shut down. Hundreds of workers, a multi-million dollar company, all gone if they can’t turn things around.

The plant manager runs into his old physics professor who starts asking him about the business and starts to ask questions that reveal he knows a lot about businesses and organizations.

The professor lands this one on the plant manager:

Your problem is you don’t know what the goal is. And, by the way, there is only one goal, no matter what the company.

This was a bit of an eye-opener. It makes sense now that I read it back having the context of the whole book now, but when I read it it hit hard.

It’s surprisingly easy for us creatives to have many goals with our business:

  • create amazing work
  • reach lots of people
  • make a good living

But the truth of the matter is that we can only ever have one goal.

One outcome that we’re looking for.

The trick, however, is to have that goal be multi-faceted.

For example, in the book, this fictional company UniCo decides this:

So this is the goal: To make money by increasing net profit, while simultaneously increasing return on investment, and simultaneously increasing cash flow

That word by is helping them a ton. The goal is to make money, but they get there by increasing net profit, increasing return on investment, and increasing cash flow.

The fictional “guru” who is helping the company through all of this helps them to get even more specific by focusing on three measurements — Throughput (sales), Inventory, and Operational Expense (the money the business spends in order to turn inventory into throughput.

I realized I had the same problem with my businesses. Too many goals, not enough clarity.

I needed to focus on the one outcome that mattered most, that all of the other efforts could be measured against.

Knowing that would allow me to be not only more productive but more certain that I would reach the outcomes that I was after.

What did I come up with?

The goal of Craftsman Creative is to help as many creatives as possible to start, fix, and grow their businesses.

Everything else is measured against that. Does my marketing help reach that goal? Does the content I’m creating — courses, newsletters, podcasts — help reach that goal?

Notice that I didn’t have any mention of money in that goal. That’s not the goal of this business.

My belief is that the money will come the more people I am able to truly help. If there isn’t any money coming in, then it is a sign that I’m not doing a good job helping people in a valuable and tangible way.

There’s one other takeaway that I want to shine a light on from the book:

You have to learn how to run your plant by its constraints

​In this book, the author introduces the theory of constraints — that your business can only operate as well as the weakest link, or bottleneck, is able to keep up with the demand on it.

In the example in the book, the plant had two machines that had more demand on them than they were able to keep up with. That was causing all SORTS of problems, and because of those problems, the business was on the verge of being shut down.

Instead, though, by identifying the bottlenecks in the organization the plant manager was not only able to save the plant but turn it into the most profitable in the entire company.

Step one is to identify the core problem or constraint in your business and then to adjust the rest of the system around it.

Meaning — if the constraint is the fact that you cannot create enough work because there are so many hours in the day, then you need to adjust your business accordingly.

  • If you’re making enough money, then you can hire some other people to help you create more work.
  • If you’re not making enough to do that, then increase your prices.

You can quickly see that by identifying the weak links in the business, everything else becomes that much clearer.

One other example. What if you sell digital products that don’t require any extra time or effort to sell once they’re created?

If you aren’t making enough money, then your issue isn’t with inventory or anything like that, it’s with getting enough traffic and awareness to the company so that you can sell enough product to make the money you need to support your lifestyle.

The constraint in this business is awareness. Focus your effort there and everything else will start working better.

These two concepts — out of many in the book — were well worth the tradeoff of doomscrolling social media for a few hours of reading every day.

What is the one goal for your business? Remember, you can only have one.

Identify the biggest constraint and then adjust your business around it to see the biggest results in the least amount of time.