My month-long sabbatical was mostly rest and an absense of work, but the result was that the last week was filled with an explosion of creative energy and new horizons.
On the very last official day of it, I had a meeting with my sister and Charbel Simon, whom I “met” on Zoom last month. I mention this now, because the questions he asked sparked a writing session where I honestly answered questions surrounding what I want, why I want it, and what I’ll do to get there regarding work.
The following is the result of that. I’ve reorganized it from my physical notebook, for ease of reading and clarity for myself.
I share because it’s going to mean a change in how I currently serve clients, and for anyone that is interested in how one Creator is approaching the holy grail of independent and profitable work.
Without further ado, let’s dive in!
My holy grail is product income where I don’t need to check my email every day.
I want to create products that can help someone’s life be even just a little bit better.
I’m not searching for a grand-slam, save-the-world idea.
Rather, inspired by the words wrongly-attributed to the wise woman, Mother Teresa, I want to “do small things with great love.”
Or in more economic terms, I want to build a “portfolio of small bets” that on their own might not be much, but that together can be a veritable storm!
Desired working styles
- Short, but possibly intense, engagements
- Repeatable frameworks for unique problems
Things to avoid
- High-touch, long engagements
- Clients as “bosses”
- Highly custom project-types
- Projects that require lots of meetings
Things that make me come alive
Talking about business with early-stage creators and business-owners. Helping someone have clarity on the logistics of starting.
Supporting my artist-friends in making a living from their art → the PROBLEM: they don’t usually have extra money and don’t see how their talent could be lucrative while also doing the world a service by creating beauty.
Working on creative “problems” without constraints.
Divergence-stage in the DiCE framework
I’m in the divergent-phase (à la Jack Butcher).
The challenge here is not knowing how to proceed for 2 reasons.
- my ideas are not connected → e.g. “an InDesign course for indie-writers” and “a personal branding course/workbook” (to use 2 examples) are in different niches. → I fear people will be confused by what I do if I talk about all these different things. → However. While they are different niches, the same people need both, so perhaps the connection is in the audience.
- which one of my ideas to do first when they all seem to have equal potential? → I’m stuck here.
I have shallow expertise in many areas. Deep expertise in ones that aren’t super lucrative. These are:
- Book design, typesetting, and print production
- Branding (though with lots of theoretical knowledge and not as much practical, I hesitate to call myself an expert in this)
So many creators have products that are the result of their mastery of a program or process. I lack this. (Well except for InDesign, which doesn’t seem a very universal need 🤓)
What to do?
(The following notes were written the next day, when I sat down to explore more in depth the possibilities, blocks, and needed mindset shifts to grow into this new vision of business.)
I am paralyzed by opportunity. I see so many product or service ideas that could be real winners yet don’t know which to pursue.
In addition, there’s the need for short-term revenue, but I don’t want to focus on this exclusively. Or even to the point where my creative energy is all going towards this and the resulting client-projects so I have little left for my own projects.
It’s important to me to split my time between short-term “time-for-money” projects and long-term “products-for-money” projects.
I’m stuck though. I don’t know what to begin. Shiny-object syndrome is with me.
This confusion comes down to the fact that I don’t have a clear idea of what my mission or positioning is in this new iteration of my work-self.
Yet what if this didn’t matter? What if my mission now is to create? To make things for people and see what resonates?
In a word: to throw the proverbial spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks.
One thing that is getting clearer: I want to serve Creator world. Individuals. The big-budget, “important projects” I lusted after no longer hold the same allure.
Learning more about myself and how I work best has taught me that short, discreet projects allow me to thrive. And now, instead of writing this off as entitled, I will use this self-knowledge to shape my decisions.
What if the rest of the year is for exploration and creation?
What if I took the rest of this year to explore?
To make things.
To ship 6 products in 6 months.
With wonder, a playful spirit, an open mind, and a lot of discipline?
Take on client projects as needed to “keep the lights on,” and invest the rest of the time in creating things that just might change a tiny piece of the world.
My umbrella theme is making things for other Indie Creators? To help them thrive. Whether it’s through journalling, branding, an easy website, SEO. All these, if implemented, can help their own work grow and blossom.
Just like I played the supporting role in the bands I played with; the guitar is the background to the lead, but without it the result would be thin.
The question is: what would this look like?
An interim solution explored: productized services
Transitioning from serving clients as a designer to being an Indie Creator won’t be an overnight event. Thus “services” are still part of this plan.
However: instead of taking on whatever comes my way, and creating a custom proposal/package for each client, I plan to create a couple of “productized services” that are off-the-shelf solutions for the right clients.
I see several benefits to this:
- less time spent creating proposals, doing long discovery processes
- my energy is focussed on specific things that I’m good at, thus freeing my creative energy
- how I serve clients will be firmly and comfortably within my zone of excellence (à la Gay Hendricks from The Big Leap) → thus reserving my pushing-the-boundaries creative energy for these new projects
- clients are able to get a great result at a competitive price because I’ve removed customization of the services, which gives me the ability to charge less while still being profitable
- I’m able to create these productized services so that they are done in sprints → this leaves more open days for creating so that I’m not drained by endless context switching
In addition, one of the elements I don’t like about becoming solely a Creator is that it gives the impression that I’m using people — i.e. my clients — to get to a utopian state where I don’t need to serve individual people.
While I would like to have more flexibility in what I work on, and when, removing clients entirely from the equation is not what I’m aiming for either.
Rather, I’m aiming for a symbiotic interplay between serving clients and the products I will create.
And the ability to be choosy when deciding which projects to work on, because I won’t be taking a project solely for the money, which in my experience never works out as well for client or designer than when there is a good fit between the client’s needs, the designer’s skill, and the natural affinity between the parties.
The nitty-gritty: product & service ideas
In no particular order, here is the short list of ideas that I came up with while brainstorming. Following the list I’ll explain which I’ll focus on first and why.
- brand audits
- website audits
- book design/layout
- a guide to journaling: eBook
- journaling course (if there were enough interest in the book, a course could be a way to expand on the material or present it in a way that is better for visual/auditory learners
- day rates for misc. design needs
- brand kits for beginning creators/businesses that need something to get them started without the investment of custom branding
- SEO experiments → growing website traffic (this isn’t a product or service, but a project I might do during this time that could turn into a service)
- InDesign course for Indie Writers → there are so many Indie Hackers writing and publishing their own books these days. InDesign is an incredibly powerful (and therefore complicated) program. Most people could get a lot out of it with just mastery of a few tools. This would be a course specifically targeted to give you just the essential knowledge to layout your own book. You can hire someone to do it for you, but some will be writing multiple books and if you saw how you could do it yourself, perhaps an Indie Hacker type would enjoy doing the whole thing on their own.
- super.so templates
- potion.so templates
- personal branding course/workshop
- webflow landing pages
- low content publishing
- etsy printables
The SEO experiment would be valuable for everything else I do, so working on this concurrently with anything else would probably be a smart idea.
One huge roadblock I see is understanding how these ideas fit together.
Even just logistically. Are they all hosted on my personal website? Do they each have their own brand/website?
I hesitate to give them each their own site at the moment because of the time and money investment that would require. Perhaps just a landing page at a subdomain on my personal site?
Here are the things that I see threatening the success of this experiment. Some of them are external; some internal, but I write them down so I can discover solutions that will help on a day-to-day basis.
- lack of organization: I struggle some days with knowing what to work on, because I have so many ideas (on top of client work) without a clear roadmap for each of them
- habit of short-term gratification: my life-long habits lead me to doing what’s enjoyable/pleasant in the moment rather than doing something that’s difficult but rewarding long-term
- lack of focus: related to “lack of organization” this would be the result of lacking organization → because my ideas/projects aren’t organized in a system, my mind gets confused and freezes →
- confusion of audience: I fear that having projects in vastly different “niches” will make people confused about what I do and reduce my ability to be known for something.
- fear of acting with the outcome unknown: as a perfectionist, my tendency is to act only when I know that the result will be desireable.
- perfectionism: my desire for perfection often results in lack of action, because I know that nothing I do will be perfect (it’s physically impossible due to the inherent limitations of the physical world)
- need for ready money: I don’t have a year-long runway, so will need to keep this in mind as I move ahead → even though I might want to just focus on making things, I’ll need to still offer services because that’s what I have now that is currently valuable to people
- being split between products and services: following from the previous, it’s hard to be passionate about offering services when I want my energy to go towards my new ideas → I’m a one-track-mind type of person, so when I go all in on something that’s all I see → yet for now, this balance will have to co-exist somehow
Let’s take them one-by-one in turn.
- lack of organization: Recommit to Art of Workflow systems, doing daily and weekly reviews, build a Creator Hub in Notion so I have centralized place from which to work
- habit of short-term gratification: daily review of goals and why I’m doing this → create system to connect my daily actions with future desires → cultivate a habitual connection between present and future
- lack of focus: have all of my different ideas/projects stored digitally, so I can let go of them in my active mind → pick one project per week to have on the table
- confusion of audience:
- fear of acting with the outcome unknown: practice having the outcome be the daily action → shift my mentality from working with a future goal in mind, to working with a wonderment at the possibilities of what might happen if I create the product at hand
- affirm my lack of future clarity but remind myself that my goal is to create today and see what happens in future
- create mission statement, and statement for each project → how it supports the overarching mission
- perfectionism: apply the “law of graduality” to my work standards → follow short “shipping” timelines, and think of it as the current version that can be improved based on feedback
- need for ready money:
- finish book typesetting landing page → connect with relevant publishers
- talk more about branding experience on Twitter
- being split between products and services: have separate days for each → stick to the schedule → e.g. Monday: marketing/captain; Tuesday & Thursday: creator; Wednesday & Friday: client work; Saturday: creator/experiment/learn/wildcard
Inspired by the example of Ben Issen from Supercreative.design, I’m going to adopt his “Tiny Product” model to challenge my perfectionism habit.
Modifying it with a healthy dose of self-knowledge: instead of 2 weeks to launch each product, I’ll give myself 4.
My goal will be to build for 3 weeks → promote for 1 → then start over.
Product 1: templates and websites for Potion.so
- unlike Webflow, these two tools have a relatively untapped market as they’re new(er) on the scene, and being a an early adopter could be a winning move.
- Having a website that used Notion as its CMS would be an absolute boon to many creators/indie hackers (especially the non-technical ones). Basically it would mean that the tool they already use becomes their website, and removes many steps needed in the content creation process. Publishing content is as easy as creating a new Notion page, writing, and . . . nothing else!
- Most Creators (I think) use Notion, and those who don’t would be able to easily learn.
- I see a massive market for this type of service/product → there’s really no one (that I see anyway) serving this need.
- Fits with my principle of short engagements.
- Easily create a productized service with different levels of complexity/price → all with quick turnaround times, which are beneficial for client and me
- templates would be the basis for the websites I build, so if you don’t want to buy it and do the customization yourself, you could have me do it for you in one day.
- Steep learning curve → I don’t actually know how to do this yet (unlike Webflow), and there’s not a lot of information/tutorials online.
The Opportunity → Learn in public → build interest, help people learn what I’m learning
→ 2 benefits to this
- if they want to do it themselves it will give them the knowledge that I’m uncovering and help them do it (where I couldn’t find anything online)
- if they try and find it too-difficult for them, they might decide to work with me
The Drawback → How is it connected to my other projects → diluting my message?
→ The Answer → what is becoming clearer and clearer to me is that the overall theme of this new stage of business is to help other indie creators with tools and services that make it easier for them to run their business, write books, and live their lives.
→ this is perhaps too-vague. But the general idea is this, so anything that I create that falls under this I can somehow connect to this concept.
Product 2: Journalling Manual
I’ve talked about this for a couple of months, and my first instinct was to finish this and launch it first.
However, for a couple of reasons I decided to work on it concurrently with the Potion templates.
- As much as I’m doing this for love, I do need to be aware of cashflow, and I think that the templates will be a more profitable product
- This book is taking longer than I’d expected, and I don’t want to let my goal of shipping quickly make it a bad product
- I want to take more time, do some user interviews to understand the real struggles people have with journalling
- There was real interest and positive feedback when I was talking more frequently about this on Twitter, and I’d like to continue this to get the word out more → while you’re building something there’s an interest that’s hard to replicate with a finished product, so I don’t want to rush this phase
Final thoughts and the way forward
If you’ve made it this far, thank you! Seriously.
I originally wrote this for myself, because I’m an external processor, and find that I do this best by writing.
Sometimes it’s good to talk to someone, and have that objective feedback, but for me anyway there’s a certain level of understanding that I get only through writing.
However, I love reading other people’s behind-the-scenes thoughts and rationale for their business decisions, so I decided to share.
Please reach out if any of this resonated with you and the path you’re on! I always love chatting about these things, and would love to hear from you!