Ten years ago I was deep in grad school debt, rolling around on our apartment floor whining about wanting to quit social work and become a photographer. I mean I was talking a LOT about this big idea. But how does one just become a photographer? Or start the business? Launch the product? I had this big dream, but I was also big scared. So I dreamed and talked and didn’t make a move.
After a month or two of listening to this insufferable monologue, Tim had had enough of me (join the club Tim!). He went out with our extremely tiny bank account, found a 0% APR for 18 months deal on a new camera and new computer, and came home with the loot. The Talking Era™ was over. The Doing Era™ had officially begun.
Looking back, the money he spent was nothing in the grand scheme of our lives– but the leap of faith it made us take was EVERYTHING. Whoopsy daisy, we’d told the universe we were starting!
And now we actually had to do it.
The morning of the very first wedding we ever photographed, I was up at 6 am sweating absolute bullets. The hype. The terror. I wanted to become a photographer and now here I was, on the hook for a whole wedding day?! You mean the only one these people would ever have? The pressure. I feel faint just remembering it.
We’d prepped within an inch of our lives. The only thing left to do was… the work itself.
And to this day, I cannot think of a time I was deeper into the flow zone than our very first wedding. It was our big chance to prove some things to ourselves and to our future clients: shitting the bed was not an option!
Your first paying client is a huge deal: it means you have a viable product and the market is interested. When it comes time to put up or shut up, remember what got you here in the first place: you know what you’re doing, and the clarity of focus that you have right now is unmatched. This is not the time for second guessing!
The adrenaline from being scared AND prepared is the best high there is, periodt.
Looking back, you can always tell. The little red flags show up from the very start. Clients from hell announce themselves in so many ways, and while we’ve had a couple of extreme ones (and a couple from whatever the in-between world is? Purgatory? Yes, definitely had those too), the longer we’re in business the less they scare us.
In fact, in the right doses, we love them: because they teach us far more than the easy clients ever could.
The most important thing, as you set up a business focused on service, hospitality, and your good name, is that the boundaries you create around your company serve both the clients and you. Clients from hell are like little data points that show you where you could improve. Every problem that comes up with clients is a chance to:
The client from hell can become your biggest teacher as you grow your company, shedding light on opportunities to be more nimble, helpful, and mission driven. And then you can wrap the contract and send them on their way (as you hustle behind the scenes to make sure they never slip through the cracks again).
And that power is absolutely priceless.
Ah yes, it’s the local business opinion committee! Aka the people in your inner circle who first hear about your ideas, the people you love, the people who… have literally no clue what they’re talking about.
Your boyfriend, your neighbor, and your great aunt Hilda all might be more than ready to chime in on your pricing or business model as you first start out. And with all due respect, their opinions are an immediate no from me. They are not your target market, and they have never done what you want to do. My good people, their thoughts on your business are not client research. And if they haven’t done what you’re doing, then those thoughts are even worse: they’re holding you back.
(The flip side of this is when your dad, who cheerleads every move you make, tells you your business idea of a nail salon for homeless cats is genius because he loves you. Unfortunately, this very sweet opinion is also completely useless when it comes to creating a viable company. Sorry dad.)
If someone has created the business or life that you also want to create, then their opinions are useful. If your target market research tells you your pricing is way off track, that’s also useful. But when your uncle (who has been sitting in his easy chair watching cable news continuously since 1982) acts aghast at your prices over Thanksgiving dinner, you have our permission to nod quietly as you refill your champagne glass and absorb literally 0% of it.
Because unless they’ve done it, they have no idea.
Well well well, look who survived the launch era! Look who’s just casually doing things you couldn’t have imagined a year ago, let alone 5 or 10 years ago! It’s like that moment you take the training wheels off your bike for the first time and you’re cruising, looking around like… this is happening. The wind in your mothafrickin HAIR, over here!
But the sneaky little thing about growth is that there’s no off button. The things that felt insurmountable on Day One become easy, which means there’s a new big scary crazy challenge eyeballing you from across the street. Rinse, repeat.
If you rest on your laurels, get complacent, feel entitled to your customers’ attention and trust, quit learning, stop getting creative with how you can best serve your clients… this joyride is gonna end quick. Or it’ll keep slowwwwly chugging along, while you get less and less joy out of it, and the whole point of why you started in the first place will become a distant memory.
You could do business that way. OR, you can keep leveling up. Because this is more than just your business you’re building, it’s your own life, too.
We get one wild ride on this planet. We might as well keep swinging for the fences.
We're Tim and Laura of Sullivan and Sullivan Studios. We reshape businesses to be built on service, hospitality and growth. Take a look around.
Reach Out →
Becoming a legendary brand goes much deeper than your logo and fonts. Nab our guide to the seven things every brand should start with-- it's 100% free, and you’ll have a stronger brand by the end of the week.