This month we're celebrating six years of The Blackline! And it's caused me to stop and reflect (very honestly) on what the last six years have taught me as a founder, small business owner and creative. Whilst some of the lessons celebrate the highs of the business, some are incredibly raw. I hope that this blog fills you with hope, motivation and wisdom for your business journey!
01 | Celebrate Wins Now & Not Later
One of my greatest mistakes in the earlier years of my business was forgetting to celebrate the wins. When I was in that steady, upward climb towards making 'the blackline by lauren' more than just a hobby business, I recognised wins but rarely celebrated them. I was always future focussed and the present had to be instantly supplanted with "more success" - or so I thought. And as a result, many milestones in my business were missed. The problem with telling yourself that you'll celebrate later is that you won't. So plan a moment, an hour or a day to celebrate achieving that milestone or goal - do something that you love, pop some champagne and look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself you did a great job. Because if you don't make it a habit to celebrate now, then you probably never will.
02 | Spend Your Money on Branding in the Beginning
This is highly ironic considering I now offer branding & logo packages. BUT I started as a humble self-taught calligrapher with a side hustle and thought I would spend money on branding later. Over the course of the business, we've had three logos and up until the rebrand of The Blackline Bottega, we didn't have a brand direction or guide. This was an epic mistake. Branding is a time-saver and can be the difference between success or failure - particularly in oversaturated markets. It not only establishes and reminds you of who the business is, it also lets your clientele know and anyone who will be executing work for you. I've seen far too many businesses waste money & time or send out mixed messaging because they didn't take the time to properly invest in their branding and logos from the beginning. If you want to send out consistent messaging every time - make sure you spend money on branding.
03 | Value Your Wellbeing Over the Business
This was an incredibly hard and painful lesson for me to learn; and one that took a great amount of recovery time. In the fourth year of running the business, I was increasingly burnt out from travelling interstate to run workshops and completing tight-turn arounds on studio projects. In my personal life, I was struggling with the breakdown of a once wonderful relationship that had become increasingly toxic and recognised that all the dreams I had for myself were on hold. I tried to ignore my growing unease. I threw my energy into The Blackline as the workshops were really successful and the business was growing. But once sleeplessness and depression kicked in, I really had no energy or motivation to fake it any more. It was not an easy space to navigate through when my business and my income seemingly relied on my positive, motivational voice and the fact that I was supposedly "doing a job I loved". The lesson here is don't ignore early warning signs of depression, fatigue and burnout. And don't hesitate to get help. You're more valuable than any success that your business can attain.
04 | Question Your Overheads
Do you need a studio out of home? Do you need all the frills and trims? Probably not. I learnt this lesson a couple of times as I struggled with the idea and expectation that to be considered legitimate, I couldn't operate from a home studio. I tried moving out several times but found that I was still executing half of the work from home (due to overnight work and tight deadlines) and that the travel costs & distractions around me were needlessly increasing. The lesson here is, know what works for you. Likewise, I found the once-yearly practice of looking at overhead costs of the business and whether they could be improved great for the business bottom line.
Only you know what you need and don't need - and if you don't believe me, read this article by Jasmine Dowling. This article liberated me and allowed me to accept that I wanted to run my business in a way that felt authentic to me.
05 | You are Not Your Job. You are Not Defined by Your Business.
Throughout the early years of the business, Instagram was a huge catalyst for growth. It helped the blackline by lauren seem bigger than it was. I was advised to show up on social media, make it personable and to become synonymous with the brand. That advice is great if content creation and socialising is your jam and it feels great for you. However, it became an issue for me because as my business was growing up, so was I. I was changing. I was wanting different things. And turning up on Instagram stories, projecting a previous-evolution of myself to be synonymous with the brand I'd created years earlier was making me feel at odds with my work and myself. Knowing that you are a separate entity to your business will liberate you and allow the business to evolve with you; and avoid you operating out of a past-self. Win or lose, your business should be able to come and go without it impacting on your sense of self, your value and who you are.
As a result, you may have noticed we've stepped back from social media a little. We want to spend more time creating authentic, attentive relationships with our clients and creating amazing design work. Whilst we'll always be present, we hope you can understand why we've chosen to give ourselves back a little bit of privacy from the screens.
06 | Don't Operate Out of Old Dreams & Successes
This is an extension of the previous lesson I learnt. One of the main focuses of my business in the early days was working with luxury brands. Fresh out of a fashion buying role, I loved that I was able to work with PR companies and fashion houses I'd dreamed of working with since a young age. I loved that period and I still love working with those clients. But as I've evolved, so has my focus.
I found it really hard to move on from the past success I'd had with luxury brands when I discovered that I had friends, family and clients that were particularly attached to that aspect and arm of my business. Whilst I was wanting to pursue more private work (work that allowed me to be explorative and creative) and evolve into a design studio, it seemed that the calligraphy work I did publicly for brands was more valued. The lesson I've learnt, is that the only way you'll avoid operating out of past self, success or dreams is to know your present self. And to back that self. And to appreciate that sometimes people are attached to an old evolution of a product, a brand or a person; and they may not follow you into the next phase. That is absolutely fine.
When I went through the re-brand from the blackline by lauren to The Blackline Bottega, I knew that it wouldn't make sense to everyone. But I walk into the studio every morning knowing that this was an authentic, honest next step for me and the business and it makes it a joy to be in the studio once again.
06 | Respect Your Personal Life & Your Personal Being.
Remember how you love yoga? Lock it into your schedule. Remember how you wanted to meet someone to spend the rest of your life with? Make time for it. Remember how you wanted to go back and study? Make time for it. And address and let go of the things / people / hurts in your life that are holding you back. You probably started your business or side hustle to give you freedom. Don't make the mistake I made in the early years, and allow it to rob you of it.
I've touched on it earlier, but paying attention to your personal well-being within your business is also important. I discovered in that fourth year that I felt stifled and over-worked and was ready to learn and evolve, so this year I'm back at college part-time studying graphic design.
Is it hard studying and working full time as well as juggling a few other projects and jobs? Yes! But do I love it? YES! I also learnt that I need a few days with other people stepping outside of the responsibilities of The Blackline Bottega. Is that hard to juggle? Yes! But do I feel more fulfilled? YES!
Find what makes you tick and do it. Chances are what works for you won't be the magic solution for anyone else, so also mind what advice you take in and what advice you give out.
07 | Just Beginning is a Win
If you've begun, then you've already won.
Never despise the small, incremental steps you're taking towards your goal. Whether you make it through a day, a week, a year or six, you'll know that you tried. And maybe you'll look back and recognise what a fantastic journey you set yourself upon the day you began.
Thank you for being part of The Blackline journey! I'm absolutely floored by the support the business has received over the past six years and I count my blessings everyday. Thank you, thank you, thank you!