I hesitate to use “post-pandemic” as a descriptor for what is happening in our current world, as the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. I’m really not sure what else to call this strange dance we’re doing right now (and may be doing for a very long time) certainly not in a key phrase or two that fits in a blog title. Here in the US, vaccines are easy to come by, free, and if we could just get enough people vaccinated then we might be able to use the phrase, but it looks like that day may never come. In any case, what I want to talk about is doing business as a creative or small business owner and some of the stumbling blocks I’m feeling and seeing in my others around me.
What is a Scarcity Mindset?
A scarcity mindset is a kind of tunnel vision that sets in when you are without. You can have a scarcity mindset about money, about time, about love, or about any number of common resources. Being without forces you to focus in on it and induces a tunnel vision that reduces all of our decisions to the here and now, without thinking of what will be best long term or in the future.
Unfortunately, this scarcity mindset doesn’t automatically evaporate the minute we have resources again. In fact, some of us who grew up in poverty are STILL holding on to some unhealthy coping mechanisms and triggers from our childhoods. Pair that with a complete shut down in 2020, when many of us saw our work and our incomes disappear, and a lot of us are walking around with a heavy burden of trauma everyday. That’s a lot to hold onto, and a lot to carry every day.
Though person with cataracts knows that the reason their vision is clouded is due to that cataract, they still can’t see. Knowing that you are carrying that burden doesn’t mean that you aren’t still letting it affect your decisions.
The Danger of Too Much Work
This one is hitting me hard right now. There has been a literal firehose of work. On any given year, I’m pretty good at knowing my limits and saying no when it would put me over that line.
I’m finding it really hard this year, and I’m walking that line every day. I’m not behind. But one misstep and I will be. Considering the high levels of COVID that are still circulating, even though I’m fully vaccinated there’s an ever present awareness that if I contracted COVID, it would still put me disastrously behind in my work.
Everything that everyone put off for over a year is happening all at once. Everyone wants everything right now. We aren’t planning for next year (or even this winter)….it’s all right NOW.
Which leaves me looking at my 2022 calendar and seeing a lot of blank spaces. That, alongside that burden of what we all just went through, is making is really hard to say no to the over abundance of work presenting itself right now.
If I turn away this work today, will I get booking tomorrow (or next year)?
The reality is that if I take on too much work today, I may well burn out before I’m able to complete any of it. My current clients will have a less than stellar experience and I’ll lose referrals from them. And if I keep doing quality work today, and keep working my marketing plan, the work for tomorrow WILL come.
I’m here for a good time AND a long time. I don’t want to let a short term scarcity mentality change that.
Avoiding Burnout and Exhaustion
This is a good time to brush up on the business skills you were so good at pre-pandemic. Guard your personal time, practice self care, and surround yourself with people who will both build you up and keep you grounded when you start to veer off the tracks.
Refresh your list of referrals to send to clients so that when you aren’t able to provide what they need, you can send them to someone who can. Sometimes it’s easier to say no when you can provide options.
Get back to outsourcing, streamlining, and scaling your business when you need extra help.
Leaving the Creative Industry
I keep hearing about “The Great Resignation” and how people are leaving their jobs for better ones, and using this time to focus on their creative or small businesses. I think that’s amazing…but I’m seeing way less of that than people who are leaving the industry entirely. In addition to burnout, many creatives who still have full time jobs outside of their creative business have been so overwhelmed by their day job that they’ve needed to put their creative business on the back burner entirely. Though shut downs and quarantine may have given us plenty of time to be creative, to make art, and to work on our business….many of us were not making ANY money. When faced with the decision to go back to a salary, or quit and keep gambling with your creative business, many of us are not in the gambling mood right now.
I also hear from clients (particularly in the wedding/event industry) that the vendor they hired up and quit, leaving them in the lurch for their event.
If you decide to close up show, whether temporarily or for good, do it right. It may be easier in the short term to avoid the unpleasantness that may result, the consequences will be way more painful.
If possible, stop accepting new work and fulfill all existing contracts. If you absolutely can not fulfill contracts, communicate with your clients ASAP to let them know of your decide, to refund payments for any work not completed, and refer they to options to help them complete their project.
Update your website and your social media accounts to say that you are not accepting new work at this time. Again, while it’s temping to delete everything and shut it down, it’s best to just pause everything and think about it for awhile. After a few months, you may decide that a permanent closure is for the best. You might also settle into this new weird world and miss your creative business, or come up with a new idea to pivot things and be able to use your existing audience.
It’s always a bad idea to make permanent decisions when struggling with a scarcity mindset (or any post trauma reaction). Give yourself time to process and see where you are.
A Step Back Isn’t the End
In our lives and businesses, we sometimes have to make hard choices. It can be demoralizing to look at your finances, the income from your creative business, and realize you need to take a step back into working for someone else.
Picking up a part time job (or even a full time job) in order to get caught up on bills or attain that stupidly elusive and expensive health insurance is seen as failure in many corners of the creative world. I don’t see it that way at all. I do think it’s a failure of our nation that so many creatives are faced with this option, but not of the creator themselves.
I also don’t see it as the end for your business. I do think it’s good to have a plan, an exit strategy, or some sort of path to return…but also…sometimes it’s hard to see that path when you’re shrouded in the burden of a mountain of bills and expenses. Scarcity mindset at work. This is where having a great network can come in.
If you’re struggling with scarcity mentality, work overwhelm, or any other common struggles, it’s easy to drift away on your own. Get connected with a community that can build you up, lend some perspective, brainstorm with you, and understand your struggles.