Over the years, I’ve met a number of creative artists who fall into one of two traps: I think of them as the pride trap and the cynicism trap. Avoiding both of these traps is akin to walking on a balance beam. It requires a combination of disciplines that many fail to put in place. Staying motivated requires a healthy balance of enlightened self-interest and willingness to serve. I wish I could say that there’s a magical formula for finding the balance, but there’s not. It just requires practice and experience to build up the skill.

Two Traps

Entrepreneurs who fall into the pride trap insist on doing only the work they want to do (and not listening to what their clients need). They tend to justify laziness by disguising it as righteousness. They live in a fantasy world, where people get to pick and choose what jobs and what clients they take. It often takes a severe financial crisis to provide the necessary wake-up call.

The key to avoiding the pride trap, in my experience, is listening and accepting feedback from others, even when it’s not what you wanted to hear.

Those who fall into the cynicism trap give up on their dreams and resign themselves to working purely for money to the point where the work they once loved degrades into joyless drudgery. This problem is not so easily cured. It is possible to fall into this trap and become financially successful doing something that brings little or no fulfillment.

The key to avoiding the cynicism trap is to devote time each day to doing something you love to do, whether you’re getting paid to do it or not, and block out all interruptions during that time. (Ultimately, the goal is to get paid to do it.)

Avoiding the Traps

For this post, I decided to interview my old high school classmate, Carolyn Crown, who has been running her own graphic design business for a number of years. We’ve loosely kept in touch, and I’ve watched from the sidelines as her business ventures slowly but surely gained momentum. Carolyn is a good example of an entrepreneur who knows how to unleash her creative spirit, while carefully aligning her talent to the marketplace. It’s the critical combination of traits needed to avoid the pride trap and the cynicism trap at the same time.

Dave Baldwin: What made you decide to get into graphic design?

Carolyn Crown: I actually got into graphic design by accident. I majored in communications in college and taking one graphic design course was a requirement. When I went on interviews for PR jobs after graduation, I brought along my meager portfolio from that class. People loved it. They asked why I wasn’t interviewing for design positions. And that’s how it all began. I learned by fire at the first place I worked. It was in-house for a large company with Fortune 500 clients and was high volume, high pressure, high intensity. I like the tangibility of graphic design. That I can point to a logo or a brochure or whatever and say, “Here’s what I did today.”

DB: How do you evaluate new business ideas and decide if they are practical to pursue or not?

CC: Honestly, I talk to trusted friends and colleagues about it. Solicit honest feedback. Not having the ability to devote appropriate time to a new pursuit is common. I have to weigh what I’d be giving up in order to accommodate it. And it’s a tough thing to admit to, but not all good ideas are good business ventures.

DB: Have you found that physical fitness routines have played a role in overall motivation or contributed to the success of your business?

CC: My workouts are definitely my therapy. They’re a constant I can count on when my work or personal schedule is crazy. I always work out first thing in the morning and don’t miss it unless I’m up against a real deadline or a client has an emergency. My fitness is important to me. It contributes to my mental health. Otherwise, I feel like I’d have a really short fuse.

DB: How do you go about finding new clients?

CC: I’m very fortunate in that I’ve never had to find any new clients. My client list has kind of snowballed on its own all by word of mouth. I’ve never advertised. It started with people I worked with years before I only worked for myself. They recommended friends, clients, or colleagues, and it went from there. Referrals by clients are the best, in my opinion. They cost nothing and people love to hire someone who’s been personally recommended to them. The only downside is that it makes it very difficult to turn down work because I’d be saying no to someone who was directly referred to me by a paying client. But I suppose that’s a good problem to have. It broadens my client base, which leads to more referrals. Occasionally, I’ll get a call from a new client who found me on Google. I had someone do SEO on my website, so carolyncrowndesigns.com comes up when someone searches for a graphic designer in Jupiter, FL.
To learn more about Carolyn and see her portfolio, visit carolyncrowndesigns.