The 16 Steps I Took to Build My Creative Business
There is no one-size-fits-all model for building a successful business or life. But maybe my steps can be an inspiration for your own journey. Here they are...
I frequently get asked for advice from all kinds of entrepreneurs on many topics – everything from content marketing tips to how to navigate the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.
But most of all, I get asked variations of this question:
How did I, personally, get to where I am now?
I get it! I, too, look at other entrepreneurs who are doing interesting things and I wonder exactly what steps they took to get where they are. Here’s the rub, though: the biggest lesson I’ve learned about being an entrepreneur for the past 8+ years is this:
There is no one-size-fits-all model for building a successful business or life.
Heck, even success looks different from person to person! To some, it’s running 7-figure global empire while others are content to stay small, nimble, and personal.
For me, entrepreneurship has been anything but linear. It’s been more like a game of ping pong… one thing happens and I follow that, and then another thing comes at me and I go there. I bounce multiple balls in the air at once and hope – just hope – that they don’t all come crashing down.
I’ve made plans and I’ve changed them.
I’ve pursued ideas and I’ve given up on them.
I’ve tested all kinds of things to see what works and what doesn’t.
I have no background in business. I didn’t even plan on becoming an entrepreneur. Now? I can’t imagine doing anything else.
So, here’s the full story of the 16 major steps I took to build my business. Want to know what happened before this list began? Read my journey to becoming an entrepreneur.
Everyone’s path is unique, but I hope you may find a glimpse of inspiration for your own journey in learning mine…
1. Burnt out and left my job in L.A.
The first step towards becoming an entrepreneur was leaving my job at an event marketing agency in L.A.
I am never one to tell people to ‘quit the 9-5,’ but I burned out badly (even landing myself in the hospital) and I HAD to start fresh. I made a plan and saved up money so that I had enough funds to take a much-needed break to recover without the extra stress involved in finding another job right away.
Looking back, although it was taxing, I’m grateful for the experience. I learned almost everything I needed to get started on my own business journey by being thrown into everything from project management to sales to design and more.
2. Enrolled in a year-long yoga teacher training program.
After burnout and physical trauma, the only thing that made me feel again was yoga.
I followed my curiosity and enrolled in a year-long teacher training program that helped me look inward, ask hard questions of myself, recover physically, and learn how to become mindful of what caused me to fail so spectacularly in L.A.
3. Took 2 online design courses and started a blog.
During that year, I started pursuing the idea of stepping into the graphic design world.
I had designed my first website at age 11 using MS Paint (it was about Beanie Babies!) and had been playing with Photoshop for years. I enrolled in two online courses to give me a primer on the whole Adobe Design Suite. I also started a blog called Urban Soul Retrieval to unpack everything I’d been through. I got my first taste of putting my ideas out to the interwebs and meeting likeminded people.
4. Got my first client in a coffee shop.
A man was on the phone, clearly looking around for a pen so I handed him mine. When we got to chatting, he found out that I was working on designs for my blog and he told me he happened to be looking for a designer.
He asked me my hourly rate, I quickly threw out a number I had heard once from my cousin, and he became my first paying client….for a business I didn’t even have! (Fun fact: I met my husband the same way many years later when I was the one who needed a pen.)
5. Took whatever clients I could get.
I slowly but steadily gained clients for design work, mainly from more coffee shop connections and slowly, referrals. You name the project, I took ’em! A billboard for a house boating company, mockups for political campaign websites, tedious furniture catalog layouts.
All the while I was teaching myself more about building websites in WordPress, and figuring out how to pull together my own contracts and accounting systems (I still use the same spreadsheet to this day!)
6. Created a business plan.
I decided to name my company “Sukha Creative,” because “sukha” meant ease and peace in Sanskrit. (It also means “bitch” in Russian, which I promptly found out.) I created a detailed 1-year plan and even imagined what 15 years down the road would look like. My main goal was to support myself financially solely through my business income by the end of 2012, and I was able to accomplish that! I brought in enough money to cover my (minimal) expenses and I started seeing how I could build upon the foundation I built that year into something even more fulfilling.
Looking back at my long-term business plan now, my ultimate vision was that I would run a boutique design and marketing agency with a few employees in a cool office space in Phoenix. How things change.
7. Took on a large retainer client.
About 7 months into really leaning into my business, I took on a larger client who needed marketing help. It started at about 12 hours a week and it gave me solid income so that I could pursue fun, creative projects without the hustle. I was also really curious about content marketing at the time, and that just happened to be the agency’s focus, so it was a perfect fit. I became their Marketing Manager, overseeing the implementation of all their digital marketing efforts, including their blog, social media, paid advertising, and more.
8. Got clear on my purpose.
What had started as a seed of understanding during my yoga training began to form a clearer understanding of my purpose for my work and my life. I turned it into a “purpose power phrase” that I still adhere to today:
I help people bring ideas to life.
I started to use this purpose to become more mindful of opportunities coming my way – using it as a guidepost to make sure what I was doing was aligned with it.
9. Started an urban awareness group.
At the end of 2012, I met my now-husband in another coffee shop when he lent ME a pen – talk about full circle!
We were both so passionate about Downtown Phoenix and we decided to start an urban awareness group. I designed the website, he created cool renderings of empty lots, and we called it This Could Be PHX (site is still live, but we no longer update it).
I saw the power of community and learned how to build a thriving social media presence that was purposeful and impactful. It even led me to be appointed by the Mayor to two city boards, giving me influence within city decisions…all for having a blog!
10. Spoke at conferences around the country and managed a marketing team.
The CEO of my big retainer client asked me if I’d be interested in teaching the content marketing workshop, and I jumped at the chance to get on stage again (my college major was Theatre).
I began to speak at conferences and businesses around the country, including training employees at big corporations like Home Depot and UPS. I learned that speaking was a real knack of mine and became curious about how I could use it to reach more people AND build my brand.
I also intentionally took on strategy development work, to learn the intricacies of leading a whole marketing program and how to create enterprise-level content marketing strategies.
I shifted into the role of Director of Marketing, yet still only part-time. I was asked multiple times over the years to come on full-time, but the arrangement worked well for me and my client, so I never pursued it. I began to manage a larger team of content creators, SEOs, internet marketing specialists, and writers. I was able to build and sustain an award-winning content marketing blog and built up my own thought leadership within the industry.
11. Refined my ideal client and left my big retainer client.
I began to get a clearer picture of who I could really, truly serve most effectively: entrepreneurs who felt a deeper purpose for their work but needed help to clarify it and to build a digital foundation to communicate it. I had been working with them all those years, and I personally found the most fulfillment in helping them bring their ideas to life. Working with Anastasia Allison and Connie Solera was a big inspiration in nudging me to go this direction.
With this understanding, I had another decision to make in the spring of 2017.
Should I lean into my role with my big client and really commit myself to that track, becoming a content marketing ‘expert’ in the industry?
Should I go back into business for myself full-time, and build something of my own from scratch?
My entrepreneurial drive has always been strong and I had the itch to creating something meaningful and impactful, although I had no idea what that would be. Clearly, I chose the latter! It was one of the best decisions I’ve made.
12. Started fresh, gained clarity, created a vision, and built a personal brand.
I lost half my income when I left my big client but gained more than half my time back. I had saved money for months so that I could take some stress-free time to think big-picture about my life and work and make sure I was mindful and intentional about what I wanted to do next. I told myself not to make any huge decisions or changes for a few months, but instead, follow my curiosity and set a strong foundation for what I wanted to bring to life. I had a feeling it was going to be big, and I wanted to make sure I gave it the time it deserved to emerge.
In the meantime, I mind mapped to gain clarity, leaned into my building my personal brand, and worked hard behind-the-scenes to build an entirely new website that would reflect the direction I wanted to go and that would evolve into a true marketing platform.
13. Started treating my business like, um, well – a business.
When I had a large whale of a client, there was no need for me to create systems or processes to make my work as efficient as possible. But suddenly, I had to build-up half my income again and I knew I needed to treat my business more seriously. I developed a marketing plan for myself, tightened up my proposal and contract processes, and created streamlined project templates for my main services – web design, branding, and digital strategy. I knew it was time to scale my efforts and my energy, and creating processes for my business was a game-changer.
14. Launched my new website, built an audience.
I knew I needed to build my own audience outside of the brand I had built as Director of Marketing for my agency client, so I started fresh with Instagram. I was curious about how popular it had become and wanted to learn everything about it. I also knew my target audience was there, so I tested all kinds of content, imagery, and writing in order to see what resonated with them the most.
I also knew from my corporate days that an email list was essential to be able to build in order to really own relationships, so I produced my first video lesson, hosted a few webinars, and started to provide value through my blog, slowly building my audience and defining my voice.
15. Hired a business strategist and assistant.
In mid-2018, I got to a point where I needed help so that I could free-up my time and create space for my new vision and plan to come to life. I also needed the expertise to guide me towards where I wanted to go faster than I could do on my own.
I did two things: I hired a business strategist and assistant.
My part-time assistant helps me with my day-to-day operations and my own marketing, while my business strategist took my ideas on how I wanted to shift my business and helped me pull together an actual plan to make it happen. You can watch me talk with that strategist – Sophie Bujold – about our collaboration and process here.
16. Filed a trademark. Launched my first community.
So, here we are at today… Fall of 2019.
My whole journey has all culminated with my big idea: Create Your Purpose. I even paid a lawyer to trademark the name!! Create Your Purpose℠ is a mindset, a philosophy, a movement, and now – as of September 2019 – a group of people dedicated to becoming the leaders of their own lives. It’s also a quiz you can take! CYP synthesizes personal development with entrepreneurship, marketing with meaning, individual planning with the power of community.
The Create Your Purpose℠ Collective is an ongoing membership community that helps entrepreneurial humans align their personal and professional visions, harness their unique strengths, move past mindset blocks, and build a business that is both impactful and purposeful.
This idea really is the synthesis of my personal experience as an entrepreneur and my professional expertise in business and brand-building. My desire is to help more entrepreneurs feel empowered, purposeful, and equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to make an impact.
Looking forward, I see Create Your Purpose℠ as the root of everything I will do. It’s the motivating force that connects my work. Whether it’s teaching Instagram marketing, speaking at conferences, designing websites, helping people master their productivity, or coaching people to overcome mindset blocks, it will all stem from this philosophy and the transformation I want to facilitate for people. I couldn’t be more excited, more clear, and more ready to roll!!
I hope you enjoyed reading my story. I’m curious if something in my journey resonated with you…leave a comment below and let me know!