Being both a creative person and a business owner poses a unique set of challenges, one of which is: how do you stay inspired?
How do you stay motivated, creative, artistic, whatever you want to call it?
It’s just the nature of the beast that “inspiration” is going to ebb and flow. We’re artists, and no one is struck by inspiration every single day. But here’s the thing: we’re also business owners, and we can’t just…stop working. If we didn’t need the paycheck (gotta pay the rent), we could take the time we need to reset, take a break, step away, whatever it is we do as artists to see things with new eyes. But we do, so we can’t, and life goes on.
Now, I’m going to stop myself here to interject: I value consistency in my business. It keeps me efficient and profitable, it makes it easy for my clients to know/trust what they’re purchasing, it keeps my work timeless, and it helps me make steady improvements over time. I am not advocating that you run a business like a goldfish with Shiny Object Syndrome. Refine your process, repeat that process for every client, refine it some more, gradually raise prices, and shorten your workflow time.
But. (You know there’s always a but around here; I’m all about balance. …and butts.)
Having said that, there are two very good reasons for allowing “inspiration” to make its way into our work and guide what we do:
- You cannot afford to remain stagnant. Literally. The world is constantly changing, and you need to adapt.
- You’re going to get really fucking bored. This goes back to the artist thing: if you paint the same flower over and over and over and it never changes, you’re going to lose your damn mind. If you photograph all of your weddings at the same venue with all the same decorations, you’re going to lose interest in your work. I know that sounds harsh; some of you are probably out there saying, “I love all my couples! Every wedding is different! Screw you!” Please don’t yell at me. I’m not denying you love all your clients! But you’re probably angry because you know I’m right. You’re going to get bored eventually.
But hooooow? How, Rachel, do I keep the inspirational juices flowing when I feel like a machine churning out the same old work?
Realize and accept that you’re never done learning
I never want to be the absolute best photographer on the entire planet, because…then what? Where do you go from there? And even if you are “the best” at what you do, I guarantee there’s still something else out there for you to learn, something to explore, create, change. Don’t get complacent!
Try something new that you’ve been afraid of. Often, we’re only afraid because we don’t know, and things aren’t as scary as we thought they were. Expand your skill set and apply it to your current work, or maybe start adding some new offerings. You do you, cupcake; you know your business better than I do.
Set yourself challenges
Challenges are a good way to shake up your routine and push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Keep moving steadily along with your client work, but on the side, give yourself room to play, to experiment, to fail.
For photographers, that could be a photo-a-day challenge, or a different genre than what you usually shoot. Do you shoot weddings? Try your hand at astrophotography! Do you normally paint animals? Sketch out a few portraits. Set a 10-minute timer and crank out a new sketch every day.
Set up a styled shoot that’s out of your usual style
Instead of shooting a different subject, shoot in a new style! Used to shooting traditional weddings? Set up a badass shoot with a motorcyle. Used to perfectly controlled bouquets? Create something loose and wild. Used to high-fashion studio work? Get some of your couple friends to model for you, tell them to bring their kid, their dog; get weird.
The idea isn’t to change your business and go in a totally different direction, but sometimes switching gears shakes out the cobwebs and can even provide us with new insights or techniques that we can apply to our chosen genre.
Routinely check back in with why you started doing this in the first place
There are really good reasons why we decided to leave “normal” jobs and work for ourselves, and they aren’t “the pay is awesome.”
Push yourself here. Go beyond “I don’t have to wear real pants or a bra 6 days out of the week.” This may surprise you, but I’m a big fan of meditation. Not gonna lie, it’s hard. Especially in the beginning. Not going to go into all the details here–I’m so not qualified–but if you can give yourself 5 minutes every morning to just…be, you’ll be surprised at the difference it can make. Quiet the noise. Check in with yourself. Acknowledge the thoughts that come up, and then gently push them away.
Life is busy and hectic and exhausting. Training yourself to shut off your brain is a valuable skill. It’ll give you clarity and focus, and that focus will help you connect with why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’ll feel less like routine work and more like [fill in the blank here; who am I to tell you what your business should feel like].
Make an effort to connect with your clients; they’ll remind you
I realize that in some industries, there are inherently fewer points of contact between you and your clients. But there are some.
Make the effort to connect more deeply with the people you’re working with, even if it’s more general to start. Get to know them, ask them questions, figure out what they want. Connecting with people will make you more invested in your own work. You aren’t just a machine pumping out a product, you’re a service provider.
Let other places inspire you: travel
Even if you aren’t working.
Especially if you aren’t working.
Go somewhere new by yourself and just…experience it. I’ll do my best not to go on a side rant here, but I see so many photographers wishing and hoping and begging for a destination job. They want to photograph weddings all over the globe. I can’t fault them for that, because I do too, but…I really don’t understand the people who beg for travel work but never travel themselves.
First, why would someone hire you for a destination gig if you’ve never left the country? And second, work trips are work. You do not have time to sight see or wander or relax. Whether or not you want to incorporate travel into your business, travel can be a major jolt. We don’t always think about the other 7 billion people on this planet and the way that they live and what their world looks like; how could we.
Leaving our own comfort zones–literally–opens our eyes to new ways of doing things, whether we realize it at the time or not. The way you walk through life is different in different countries, sometimes in subtle ways that shift us slightly off balance.
…Also when I’m traveling I never buy cell service; wifi only. Which means…? No emails, no work, no nothing. Check out for a week or a long weekend and experience something new. You’ll come back feeling refreshed and (hopefully) more observant. More inspired.
Take some time off to reset
I know this one is less practical because, hello, bills to pay. But if you’ve been waiting for a good reason to streamline your workflows and create more space in your life (why do you need a better reason?!), this may be it. If you can free up some time for yourself, or give yourself a vacation, step away from your work. Paintbrushes down. Cameras down. …Flowers stay all over your house because I can’t bear to advocate for a plant-less life.
Go do something else.
Go outside. Who knows how long it’s been since you did that. Putting the work in every day is a great way to get better, but if you want to get different, step away and let yourself be inspired by other things. If you’re a painter, don’t go to a museum. Listen to music. Photographer? Read. Everyone? Go for a walk. Let your brain take a break and experience things other than “work.”
And if you need help creating time, I’ve got a two-part productivity series for you.
Now go, my sweet baby angels, and dig yourselves out of whatever ruts you’re in. I’m rooting for you xx