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For Creatives, The Daily Grind Of Running A Business Can Be Especially Draining. Here Are 4 Ways To Keep Your Head Above Water

Michael Clarke

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We right-brained folks simply aren’t built for back-office tasks like filing payroll and balancing the books. 


Every business owner faces daily frustrations. 

The hours can be long, the stakes are always high, and every problem is yours to solve. The constant pressure and daily challenges of running a business take a toll on every founder at some point. 

For creatives in fields like design and marketing, who open their own firms, though, the constant weight of running a business can be especially crushing. We right-brained folks simply aren’t built for back-office tasks like filing payroll and balancing the books. 

Owning a business is a bit of a catch 22: many creatives are drawn to the allure of gaining creative freedom by setting out on their own. But they wind up with less freedom to actually do creative work when hard-and-fast business functions (and frustrations) pile on.

As the founder of Clarke, an independent creative agency, here’s how I’ve learned (and am still learning) to manage business frustrations as a designer.

1. Before starting your own agency, talk with others who’ve already done it. 

Ideally, people with experience will knock those rose-colored glasses off your face and let you know what running a business really entails.

So go out and find startups that you’d want to model your business off of, and consult with the founders. You can usually find these people through entrepreneur meetups that are in practically every city. Don’t be afraid to check out social sites like LinkedIn and Reddit as well. And know there are also more formal routes, like attending founder camps. 

Consult with someone who is (or has been) where you want to be as a founder before starting your own business. Find someone who can help paint a realistic picture of what your life will look like once you’re on your own, likely with a team of people relying on you for support and a source of income. 

2. Maintain your relationships with other founders so you have someone to bounce ideas off once you’re established. 

Out of respect for the chain of command, you shouldn’t vent to your employees very often (and it’s wrong to burden your significant other with constant work complaints, too). 

Especially for me, someone without a business partner, it’s important to maintain a network of other founders in my field. We commiserate and help each other work through challenges. It’s really, truly vital to have this outlet as a small business owner. 

So do your best to establish a support network comprised of similarly-minded peers. People who also experience (and therefore understand) the problems you face running your business. Trust me, you’ll need it. 

3. Make sure you’re ready to be the foundation and emotional leader of your team. 

We’re not all born leaders. If you’re a talented creative but lack people skills, I suggest you develop some. 

As your company leader, you serve as its foundation. No, this doesn’t entail bossing your team around. Instead, a boss who acts as a strong foundation maintains a certain level of control and takes ultimate responsibility, but also operates with vulnerability, humility, and emotional stability. 

Yes, I want to hang up on clients some days. On some occasions, I want to storm out of meetings into my office and shut the door behind me (except I don’t have an office!). And at least once I wanted to head right out the exit. Sayonara. But of course, I didn’t. I didn’t take on this responsibility to up and quit that easily.

Make sure you’re ready for that responsibility before deciding to lead a team of people.

4. Don’t try to grow your business too quickly. 

When I decided to open my own design firm, one of the first things I did was define each individual role I wanted to fill from intern to design or strategy director. Being able to see exactly where my company was in terms of capacity created a growth metric of sorts. 

I was never in a rush to fill these various roles—I have made it a point to grow sustainably and cautiously. Because I never wanted to be in a position where I had to take on work that was not a good fit just to keep the ship afloat, and I didn’t want to find myself having to lay people off. There are reasons for growth—greater capabilities for one—but I don’t believe in growth for growth’s sake. I’ve prioritized stability and longevity over size.

My perspective today is pretty different from what it was when I first started my company. All things considered, overcoming the grind is worth it and I’m incredibly happy with my decision to set out on my own. I believe my staff finds Clarke a good place to learn and create and our expanding list of clients is pleased with our service and work.

Here are a few other articles you might find helpful:

Is Bigger Better? Why A Smaller Agency May Be Right For You

The 4 Most Important Qualities A Designer Can Have

Avoid Burnout: The Importance Of Taking Time Off As A Creative


I have a proven history of multi-disciplinary design success across many business categories. My background gives me a unique perspective and understanding of how design and brands need to communicate in a rapidly changing culture.

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