8 Lessons from 8 Years as a Creative Entrepreneur

Happy New Year, Friends!

January 3rd is a very special day for me. 8 years ago, I turned in my badge and laptop, gathered my belongings and left corporate life. To celebrate, I met a friend for lunch by the beach and we ate burgers and drank champagne to toast the great scary amazing unknown.

As I reflect back on the past 8 years (WHAT?!?), here are a few lessons I’ve learned.

Year 0: Prepare yourself

Before I knew for sure that I was leaving Corporate America, I was preparing myself. I knew I wanted to create a more independent life for me than being chained to a cubicle pushing PowerPoint all day. I knew I wanted to pursue a career in acting, specifically in voiceover. In the year or two preceding my departure, I spent a lot of time reading books and blogs about being an entrepreneur, location independence, and setting up a business. I went to classes to work on my craft as an actor. I built a website to house my demos and marketing materials. I got an agent. And I did my best to save money and pay down debt so I could have a little cushion for when I left the relative safety of a bi-monthly paycheck.

Year 1: Keep a schedule

It would have been really easy to slide from work mode to vacation mode that first year. The last few years of corporate life had been grueling, and coupled with personal trials and tribulations (the end of a relationship and the death of my father), I was emotional and burned out. I did take a vacation to partway through that first year to reset my mind and heart, but starting from day 1, I kept a schedule. Wake up, exercise, get dressed, go to work. The only difference was work happened from my kitchen table, my home studio, my couch. Having the discipline of an organized work day was really helpful in making the transition. It gave each day purpose.

Year 2: Get cozy with your cash flow

Oh man, all stereotypes about Asian kids aside, I am not the best with numbers. I can make a spreadsheet, but I’ve always hated budgets and dealing with the minutiae of bookkeeping. As a creative entrepreneur, this is something you have to get comfy with. I recommend doing as much of it yourself as possible to start (even if it’s hard) so you know where money comes from and where it goes every day/week/month. Then, get help if you need it. When you work for yourself, you learn the hard way about cash flow. Having a savings cushion helped, but if (and when) something happens – that’s all it takes for your plans to go awry.

When the savings ran out, and I hit a few financial stumbling blocks – it was NOT FUN. (Read: My roommate thought I’d sell the furniture while she was at work in order to make rent. Thankfully, it never came to that.)

Fast forward: doing my budgets is still not my favorite activity. I finally hired an accountant to help me with the tax prep side of things, and this year I hope to hire a bookkeeper to help deal with the minutiae. You should always know your numbers so you know if things are on track or out of whack, but having others to help with the stuff you’re not good at is a godsend.

Year 3: Community matters

It’s easy to get isolated when you work for yourself. Not too long after I started this adventure, I joined a running team – which served two purposes: getting me out of the house, and giving me a community of people NOT in my line of work to connect with. I also went dancing as much as possible.

This was in addition to networking within my industry and doing my marketing work. My running and dancing friends gave me an outlet for my days and something to look forward to and plan for outside of work.

It is REALLY easy to work 24/7 if you want to – and for me, balance is everything. The people in my running and dancing world have become part of my tribe and chosen family and I am so grateful for their presence and support in my life.

Year 4: Put me in, coach!

When I was in college, one of my jobs was tutor. (Ironically, I tutored statistics and accounting. I’m good at numbers, I just don’t love dealing with them.) I love teaching. In this period, I was mentoring a high school student as she navigated her way through the college admissions process. I started coaching other aspiring entrepreneurs on how to get organized and focused in order to launch and grow their businesses. I took on consulting work to help larger organizations learn how to better tell their stories so they could grow their brands, launch new products and initiatives. And I helped individuals within those companies learn how to tell better stories so they could grow their careers.

This was in addition to pursuing acting roles in voiceover, theater and on camera. I feel like I worked nonstop and slept very little. It was a fun year trying to figure out how to integrate all the aspects of my life and all the things I love to do.

Year 5: Learning to take a bigger stage

Just as I was coaching others, I was also getting coached: on growing my business using publicity and PR. My mentor encouraged me to write about my experiences and continue speaking and teaching.

I was interviewed about my entrepreneurial journey in Entrepreneur on Fire, and about my coaching work on the Coachzing Podcast and Theater of the Courtroom. I talked about how travel helped shape my worldview in the Say Yes podcast. And I started writing for Backstage.com and the Such a Voice blog.

I really enjoyed sharing my knowledge of branding, customer relationship management and networking with readers who were also pursuing their own careers in the arts. And I loved hearing feedback from my readers. But what I learned about this process was that keeping to others’ deadlines in addition to managing my own schedule of auditions, bookings, consulting and other work was starting to take a toll.

I tried to hire help, but had issues finding reliable assistants to help reduce my workload. Learning how to hire and manage others is an art, and I was definitely learning as I went.

Year 6: Focus on feeling

I’m a pretty analytical type A person, who also relies on her intuition and gut. I switched up how I planned my work this year, but focusing on how I wanted to feel, rather than what outcome I was trying to achieve. It worked. By asking myself “How do I want to feel today?” I started to really do the work I was passionate about, and finding more flow in my work.

Focusing on feeling is basically the opposite of everything I ever learned in school. I didn’t throw away my analytics, but I did use them to measure how this change in perspective affected my business. It ended up being my biggest year yet, income wise.

Year 7: Adulting is hard

This was the year my mother suggested she might want to sell her home and move to California to be closer to me and my sister. It was so disruptive to the flow of everything that I do here that it forced me to reconsider how I live my life and run my business. It reminded me that anything can and will happen, and that the reason why I work so hard to do what I love is so I am ready for this.

I also learned that I’m not quite ready for this to happen right now.  As one year bled into the next and even into this year, I’m learning to communicate better with my mother about what she wants as she gets older. I’m also thinking about how I want to be treated when I am her age, and how to set myself and my future family up for success in that regard.

Year 8: Refocusing

This was the first year that nearly all of my income came from acting and performing, and it confirmed for me that I am doing what I am meant to be doing.

Somehow, I’ve managed to get this far as a solo show, juggling home, dating life, and an acting career. It can be a lot. I finished 2019 utterly exhausted.

I realized that after 8 years, some of my processes need to be reviewed and possibly changed or streamlined to free up more of my mental energy to do what I love: act, teach, perform.

And I’m trying to set up myself and my business for the next stage of growth.

Final Thoughts…

In the last 8 or so years, I’ve learned few things about myself and how I like to work:

  • I enjoy having multiple projects going. Juggling all of that means sometimes, things fall by the wayside, or I need help to get them finished.
  • I love being able to focus on creating and teaching. It is the happiest of my happy places.
  • I love being able to give back and spend time with friends and family. They are why I do this.

Each of us, if we choose to have a non-linear creative career path, has our own journey. I hope the lessons I’ve learned help you as you continue on your way.

Where are you in your journey? What are you struggling with? I’d love to hear your thoughts.






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3 Responses to 8 Lessons from 8 Years as a Creative Entrepreneur

  1. Christina January 3, 2020 at 10:22 pm #

    Happy work birthday! I’m getting ready to get a commercial demo made so I’m training like crazy! I’m struggling with patience.

    • Ratana January 4, 2020 at 12:19 am #

      Thanks for sharing!It’s hard to be patient when you feel like you’re on the cusp of a big milestone like getting your demo done. Just remember – you gotta run your own race. You’re not competing with anyone but yourself, and she’s gonna be ready when she’s READY. You got this!

  2. Sonia Ulrich January 23, 2020 at 5:52 pm #

    Congratulations and thank you so much for posting this! It’s always good to hear people’s stories – they are the most powerful teaching tools and connectors we have. Yay you!

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