Work “On” Your Business

by Marcia Hoeck

I’ve spent the entire past year interviewing, talking to my clients, and studying the landscape, and I keep seeing the same things coming up over and over again. Business owners, especially values-driven creatives, are all having the same challenges and problems that are holding them back: it all boils down to not having the right structure for their businesses.

Just Being A Great Designer Isn’t Enough

Why does having business structure matter? We’re creative, after all, we don’t need all that MBA stuff, right? Why can’t we just get out there and serve people? Well, you can do just that—but being good at your craft and serving clients isn’t always enough to keep the doors open. Creativity is not a guarantee you’re going to be in business tomorrow.

Even when you’ve been around for a couple of years, producing good work and keeping clients happy, you may still struggle. Maybe you’re not very good at watching your money, or you don’t know if you’re charging enough, or your invoices aren’t getting paid. Maybe you’re not marketing yourself correctly, not getting enough clients, don’t have forward momentum. The craft alone isn’t enough to keep you in business . . . is it?

You Can Go Broke Being Successful
Business structure matters because you can go broke being successful. I didn’t realize this at first, but I had a curmudgeonly accountant who for years pointed it out with those very words, enough times that it started to sink in.

I was lucky in the beginning with my business. I had a steady stream of clients for the first five years and that made me feel very successful. But I spread myself really, really thin and had a very hard time serving those clients. I was in danger of going broke being successful.

With Structure Comes Freedom
Creatives often balk at structure, saying they didn’t start their businesses to punch a time card or become systems freaks, and I hear you. But consider this: having a solid business structure will allow you to focus on other things, like the craft you enjoy, the clients you want to serve, and the ventures you want to grow. So you won’t go broke being successful. The business structure needs to be there to hold everything together.

Working on your business to put foundations in place will reduce your stress. It’ll bolster your confidence and increase your profits.

You Don’t Need To Write A Business Plan
Before you go running for the hills with your hair on fire, I want you to know that I’m not going to ask you to write a business plan. Most creative people find it really hard to write a traditional business plan. It’s simply not in (most of) our DNA.

I just want you to start working on your business structure. Set regular time aside to work on your vision, your positioning, your marketing, your systems, your team, and your finances, in whatever way works best for you. You’ll find the structure you add ends up supporting you in the long run—and wouldn’t that just be a wonderful thing?


Without structure, a business can be working hard around the clock and still be close to failure. Developing a structure for your business and it’s day to day operations allows for better use of billable hours.

Quick Tips
1. As with most things that matter, consistency is key. Go to your calendar right now and block out a specific time each week or month to work on your business. Then commit to keeping the appointment with yourself.

2. Make sure to track the time you spend working on your business. To be effectively productive, you’ll want to know the percent of time you spend each week/month on billable projects, administrative tasks, marketing for your business, future planning, and every other thing you do for your business during work hours—for yourself, and everyone who works for you. These numbers will be invaluable for decision making.

3. You don’t have to go it alone. Many feet have trod the path you’re on now—to get where you want to go quickly, seek out the advice of others. This can mean reading books, blogs, and reports, buying programs, attending events, and hiring coaches and mentors. Advice comes in all flavors, from all angles—investigate, find a source you resonate with, and get started.

Dig Deeper!
1. Read or reread Michael Gerber’s groundbreaking book, The Emyth, to drive home the difference between the freedom of owning a business, and just making a stressful job for yourself.

2. It’s not too late to sign up for my “Strengthen Your Business Bootcamp,” running now as a HOW DesignCast Series. The exercises in these webinars are designed to make working on your business interesting, inspiring, easy, and empowering.

3. Take Ilise Benun’s DesignCast series, “Take Control of Your Money,” or any of the other HOW DesignCasts geared towards working on your business.

4. Attend HOW’s MYOB Conference every other year for full immersion in the business of building your business while rubbing shoulders with other business owners who are doing the same. Next MYOB is in 2012.