Creative Business: When Things Go Wrong

Obviously when you are running a business, you don’t plan for things to go wrong. However, when you are hustling and working hard towards your goal, things are going to occasionally go sideways. No one is perfect, and so it goes without saying, no business will be perfect. You are going to make mistakes, and these can range from: printing something the wrong size, accidentally offending a client or incorrectly estimating how long a project will take to complete. (I will note here that I have made all of these mistakes at some point!)

When I have made mistakes in my business and when things have gone wrong for me professionally, I have a found the following things can make all of the difference:

  1. Remember that all successful creatives have made mistakes in their career.

As I mentioned above, no business is perfect. If you take the time to talk to other business owners, you will find that  one of the biggest unifiers of successful entrepreneurs is failure. But what makes a successful creative different is that they have the courage to accept these mistakes, and move forward. Knowing that I am not alone and that other’s have made big mistakes as well has helped me tremendously.

I remember the first time I had a client who was unhappy with me. I had worked super hard on the project and though they were happy with my work, they were furious at the cost. I had explained my rates over and over, but looking back, I probably didn’t do a great job at explaining the time that I had to put into the project. My client felt that I was taking advantage of him, and I felt like my client was taking advantage of me. I was so anxious about what to do — I wanted to be paid for the work I had poured into the project and I had been counting on that money. However, I struggled knowing how to handle the situation in a way that we could both win. Thankfully, I was able to talk to another business owner who had been in the same boat before — they helped me decide what to do and eased my stress about the situation.

  1. Remember that every client is different and that you are not a good fit for every client.

In the past 5 years, I have worked with dozens and dozens of clients. All of them have had different personalities, opinions, and creative views. This has made it a constant learning process for me on how to work with different types of people. Most of my clients have been a dream to work with, but occasionally, I have had some challenging clients. Sometimes the fault has been mine, sometimes it hasn’t… and sometimes it is just a matter of different creative views!

So if this has happened to you — take a deep breath! Everyone has different creative opinions and that is part of what makes our world so beautiful. If we all envisioned and created the same type of art, the world would be a boring place. We need different perspectives, different opinions, and different definitions of beauty.

I used to beat myself up when I couldn’t create the “perfect” design for a client. Now after several years of experience, I recognize that when a client approaches me, one of the first conversations I need to have with them is to determine if me and my design style is a good fit for them. And I have learned that sometimes I am not. You will have to learn to say no to clients! It is hard, but it will save you hours of headaches and anxiety in the long run.

But what do you do if you already agreed to work with a client, only to find that after hours of work, you have different creative views? This brings me to my next point.

  1. Stay calm and positive and “own up to your mistakes.”

In any bad professional situation, staying calm and positive is essential. It sounds obvious, but sometimes you have to stop and remind yourself! Staying calm can help you hear out an upset client without turning anxious or defensive. Staying calm can help you think clearly through how you may have miscalculated a cost, missed a deadline, or misprinted a final design. And staying positive will help you to continue to be creative — when I am bitter, resentful, or upset, my designs are NEVER good.

So whatever trick or game you have to do to help you be positive, do it! I know for me, working out and exercising has solved dozens of design problems, and helped me work out aggressions so I can stay positive and calm when I revisit the frustrating situation.

And at times, when all was said and done, I realized that I have sometimes been at fault. Maybe I hadn’t done a great job at calculating my time or been late on a few emails. I have always tried my hardest, but again, nobody is perfect and I have been the culprit. Own up to it! Sometimes all you need to say to a client is, “I am sorry, this was my bad.” That can instantly turn around a bad situation and get you on your way to making it good again.

  1. Learn from it and let it go!

Sometimes when things go bad, it’s not your fault and it might really be nobody’s fault. That’s just one of those stinky parts of life. When that happens, the only thing left to do is to let it go. Let it go, and realize that these lessons and failures will actually make you a better creative. If there is anything that I can say with conviction, it is that the failures and things that I have done wrong have made me a better designer. Though some of them have been tough, I  have learned more lessons from 1 failure than from 1,000 successes.


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