10 Past Business Mistakes: How to Learn From Them (Part 2)

From lacking sustainable business systems to not knowing how to put money back into my music to thinking I would stay the same person for ten years, I made numerous mistakes as a business owner in my early 20s. (One pro - I'm impressed I figured out how to do my taxes.)

Go back ten years, and you'd find me writing songs and reading books all day while having really simple thought processes about money. I thought as long as I kept my expenses low, I could have a decent life wanting nothing and playing it small. But honestly, extreme frugality got old after awhile and the thought of dragging my husband through more music business drama was out of the picture

I'm thankful for our unique experiences, however, and everything I learned has me looking forward to a future of experimenting.

Here's five more lessons from my past self.

1. Image and style are not the devil.

Early on, I struggled with the role my image played in relation to my music. Even though music is an auditory experience, at a live show or online it becomes a visual experience as well. I was not comfortable with this because I was not comfortable with myself. I read into comments, glances, and shady things said about my looks by all kinds of people.

As time went on, I didn’t even feel comfortable putting myself on the cover of my CDs. (I had earlier CDs with my picture on them though, and those always sold because people liked to remember the experience where they saw me perform live - even though I didn’t think this music was as good as my other CDs!)

Hiding while putting on a boot.

At this point, I’ve learned from a lot of confident and fantastic women (both in person and online) that having a sense of style and displaying your image is nothing to be ashamed of. It can actually be kind of fun. In fact, it’s a shapeable section of an evolving art piece that is your life and expression.

2. Entertain the little things.

I was always seeking some big picture about the way life “should” be and what spiritual role I “should” have in the world. It was exhausting. I rarely put value in little things that can actually lead to other opportunities (or at least some fun).

Case in point would be my thoughts on merch (I told this story recently). I didn’t understand why anyone would want products from me other than music.

Now, little things like making merch, posters, blog posts, etc. actually intrigue me. I don’t think there’s some big task of “being somebody” with the extra “have-tos” of life. It all kind of blends together in an enjoyable way because I don’t put as much pressure on myself and view most tasks as an experiment to learn from. 

3. Balance looking inward and outward.

Maybe it’s just part of youth, but my inward focus was intense, brutal, and blinding. I learned a lot about myself in that phase, but it was at the expense of being stuck on myself. Literally stuck in some train of thought that wouldn’t break until I slept and woke up the next day with a new wheel to jump on.

And when I did bother to look outward? To downwardly compare myself to some ideal I thought was meant for others but not for me.

At this point, I have many sources of inspiration both inside and outside my small focal point of awareness. For example, I love the grounding lessons of history and other people’s stories. They're the lens through which I explore a lot of writing.

Bibliotherapy makes my head a far more interesting space to be than when I tried to write about personal psychology alone. Also, I’m much more open about including others, listening with an open mind, and not processing anything as a threat to some unstable sense of self. (I knew there were some perks to getting older.)

4. Trust the compliments of others.

This is a hard one. I have a lot to say about artists accepting the praise of fans when they have low self-esteem themselves (I should probably craft this concept as an article and pitch it).

Basically, as a musician pouring my life out, absolute strangers expecting nothing in return would say incredibly nice and encouraging things to me. 

And what did I do? Dwell on the asinine, discouraging, cynical, or irrelevant occasional comment of some lost person. I remember performing once and a nice respectable woman just sobbed and thanked me because she said the music helped her. I never let her message in. I never let any compliments sink in to keep me going during the hard times. Big mistake.

5. Know when you are puttering around. Know when it’s go-time. 

More professionally said, this would be knowing your "deep work" from busy tasks and prioritizing accordingly. Right now, I am not treating the blog like a business. I am puttering around, and I am aware of this.

Exploring and experimenting are great, but when they are done in the name of delaying big decisions, there's a problem. Burn out is the result. When I decide to learn something, I usually research a little too much instead of taking action. But action is where the best feedback happens. 

If you delay taking action too long, you just lose hope in your vision. I'm hoping to focus on The First Creative Dollar series, more history, and more freelance writing soon.

How about you? How do you balance taking your work seriously while still making time for experimenting?


2 Replies to “10 Past Business Mistakes: How to Learn From Them (Part 2)”

  1. back in the days or record labels i think they would do a lot of those first couple of things for you….if they were something like an independent label. mrs. me was part of figuring out how to present things that would sell including merch. i know that little merch store at the babe kept a few people employed also as the cd industry dried up.

    i’m lucky to have mostly straightforward work as a scientist but in the past i had to create more. it wasn’t easy to make a novel molecule or substance and a creative side helped. you had to be willing to try things.

    1. I like your comments on what record labels used to do (or at least try to do well) for many artists. I feel fine taking these tasks on because that keeps it in my control. I feel like I came along in an era caught between the old music industry and the new music industry. The old one was crumbling but some part of me was still hoping someone would come along and do the more annoying or technical work while I could just be an artist. Now I realize… that was a pipe dream! I’m willing to work a lot harder now and I also find the marketing, merch, business world way more fascinating than I used to. It’s simply an overwhelming number of tasks for one person, but we’ll get there.

      As always, love hearing about your wife’s experience at Righteous Babe Records. Would love to know some of the numbers on that… like CD sales over the years, merch, etc. Sounds interesting.

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