The message we’re getting about the global economic situation via the media is clear: it ain’t great. And it does not look set to improve any time soon.

Particularly for the masses. The self employed, and small to medium businesses look set to struggle for the most part for a long time to come.

For the most part.

No matter how tough an economy, history has shown that there can be winners.

In fact, if you take the right actions, with a certain amount of grit, you will succeed, potentially even more dramatically than had there been no ‘recession’ at all.

The reality is that when economies dip, people are tested, and the ‘weak’ will be left behind. You cannot afford to be weak in character and persistence during this time. No one is coming to help you. Governmental support will further weaken those in trouble, because they are now reliant.

Despite it all, the opportunity to make something of yourself and your business during this time is very real. You can push ahead and emerge a victor.

After years of seeing what works with myself and with others, doing the following will power you ahead:

1. Hustle

Several things contribute to the fact that you simply need to work hard to get ahead.

Firstly, there’s the battle for attention. Pushing through the noise being generated online and offline requires energy. Businesses struggle when nobody knows, or they forget, who they are. You need to work to get attention. This means working hard, and consistently.

Many use the economy as an excuse to hold back. “Let’s wait it out!” They yell from their poolside chairs in Mallorca.

This is absolutely the worst time to take your foot off the gas. Now is the time to steam ahead, so that when things start picking up, you can dominate even more.

Work less in a struggling economy? Going on long holidays? You gotta be crazy my friend. Now is the time to push your name out into the market and pull in as much business and as much revenue as you can.

Secondly, it’s important that your product is very valuable. You must do great work. A truly exceptional, useful product is a must. You need to be on a path to mastery in your craft or have already achieved it.

You can not take short cuts to mastery.

Thirdly, there are always unforeseen obstacles that will get in the way of your progress. When setting out your plan, you will likely be optimistic about the future. Barriers of some kind will get in the way. You might get sick; you will underestimate what it takes; hurricanes and terrorist attacks will happen.

Because of this, you will need to work harder and smarter to create a buffer to bounce against when obstacles drag you backwards.


2. Focus on a clear target

I get that you want to build an empire, reach millions and have a range of awesome clients and customers in many industries. You won’t get there if that’s what you aim for right away.

Start small and focus on a small group of people, before expanding. Start by developing strong connections with 5 people in a single market, rather than contacting thousands of people everywhere with little impact.

Those who focus on one person at a time will win in this economy.

3. Streamline your marketing strategy

First of all, you need a marketing strategy. It does not need to be complicated. My strategy is writing down all my contacts, with a baseline activity of connecting with 5 people in some way every single day.

I aim to do a lot more than that when I can, but that’s the basic level.

That’s 150 people connected with each month.

Your strategy must start out simple and easy. Create a strategy that can turn into a habit. Keep it dead simple.

Alternatively, you can set aside a day or a morning once a week, for solely marketing activity. That’s a strategy.

What’s your strategy?

4. Dominate a small market

Rather than worrying about how you will compete, you need to be dominating a specific market area.

You need to find something you can do with your talent that no one else in the world is doing.

Then competing with others doesn’t even factor.

Several things will lead to domination, including specialisation, working with a a selection of target clients in a small niche, achieving mastery in something, having a strong brand, and good, effective marketing.

For example, rather than being a web designer for anyone, specialise in web pages for environmental organisations in the UK. Or get really good at something niche in web design, like portfolio sites or user engagement. Couple that with a strong personal brand, a great service, and plenty of energy put into marketing yourself to the right people, and you can dominate a craft or a market or both.

Hiring you will then be a no-brainer decision. Other web designers will weep and wonder what they’re missing.


5. Focus on revenue

The secret to a successful business is out. The most critical part of running a business that doesn’t close shop like so many others, is to bring in enough revenue quick enough to support the business, and more.

Your priority from the start should be in generating revenue above all else. This is even more crucial in a tougher economy.

You should be monitoring and looking to increase revenue at any opportunity.

You should see red when you think of revenue.

If you find yourself tweaking your product and working on the mechanics of the business before actually driving sales and earning money, get back on track immediately.

Revenue will support you, help you stay in control, and it will grow your business. Focus on closing deals and bringing in revenue.

6. Reduce distraction

Distractions in several forms are everywhere, and increasing in intensity and ‘distraction-effectiveness’ all the time.

You must become aware of what is distracting you, whether it’s YouTube, your friends calling you, gaming, and spending time on unnecessary actions.

Find them, and brutally cut them out of your life. Then get back to work. Your business needs you.

7. Specialise

I covered this a little in a previous point, but most small businesses are not specialised in one area nearly enough. Rather than the people and audiences you target, I’m talking here about your product and the skills you provide.

Specialise in something really niche, at least to start. Get known for doing something really unique, really, really well.

If you’re an illustrator, specialising would be honing your style, the content and features of your work, the look and feel, the medium, the tools you use, and the extra value you bring into the full package of what you provide to clients and customers.

Specialising helps you get great at something in particular.

It will help you stand out and be regarded as the ‘kingpin’ in whatever it is you do.

Bigger companies with bigger teams can afford to expand their specialism. As a small business, you’d gain a ton through specialising, at least to start.


8. Connect with individuals

This is as opposed to approaching self-promotion with the perspective that you need to be getting in front of loads of people.

Your core marketing activity must be in developing close relationships with individuals. It’s fine for some of your side-channels to be generating attention to your business to reach thousands, and that works on places like Twitter.

But stay focused on individual people. Build stronger, human connections, and you will be a stronger business in this economy and into the long term.

9. Follow up and close deals

One of the biggest mistakes people make, as well as a big reason for us to lose interest in connecting with individuals, is this: we don’t follow up enough and see dialogues through to some kind of a close.

This is where having a contact management system is so important. When you can consistently see the people you are connecting with in front of you, you can track where you are in the relationship. When you send someone a message and they don’t respond, don’t stop there. Follow up, then follow up again.

Get creative with how you keep people in the loop. Stay on their minds, and pitch them when rapport is good. Don’t waste the energy you put into individuals. See them through to a sale, a project or a recommendation.

10. Offer a full, value-added package

It’s not just about being a great artist that will ensure your success in this world.

If you want to make money from your own creative talent, you need to offer value beyond the art or design itself.

This is value in the form of anything else your client can benefit from through working with you, including being a pro about how you help them through the project from start to finish, as well as additional complementary skills you can bring, such as graphic design and coding or understanding how to use social media effectively.

Adding as much additional value as you can, without muddying up your main offering, is crucial.

Will clients choose to work with the awesome illustrator or will they choose the other awesome illustrator who is also a total pro at serving the client, helping them promote their project after it’s over, and is explicitly a specialist in that type of client?

There it is people. For me, applying these ten bits to your creative biz will power you forward, provide immunity to the surrounding struggling economy, and ultimately get you dominating your market and your craft.

What would you add to this list if you had to think about it?

Posted by Alex Mathers

Alex is a project starter, sometimes finisher, writer and illustrator. He started Red Lemon Club in 2009 with the aim of helping talented creative people leave their mark.


    1. How so, Dan? 🙂


      1. The precise articulation of the need to be a) Strategic b) SELL and c) Massively upgrade your expectations of what this requires and then actually DO IT. It’s powerful to see written out in plain light of day like this.


        1. that was plan for this article dude – thanks for the support!


  1. Love the blog post Alex, really great tips and advice for creative freelancers.

    Especially agree with no.1, the need to hustle! You need to keep powering through and powering
    through until you see results, which is what I’ve certainly learnt over time.

    And the need to keep marketing is crucial, as you need to get in front of people, so they remember you, and commission you!

    Especially love this classic line – “Work less in a struggling economy? Going on long holidays? You gotta be crazy my friend” – haha! 😀

    A great blog post Alex!


    1. Thanks for checking in Haydn! It’s all about the hustle 🙂


  2. Absolutely loved the article, thanks Alex. I especially appreciate nr. 5 – focusing on the revenue. We can get so caught up in the business, the dream, the projects and the clients that we forget to ensure the necessary funds keep coming in. Something we learned the hard way, but won’t ever forget about again!


    1. Absolutely Beri – make art make money make art.


  3. Man I love this article Alex. I especially like the way your staying in the minds of the individual rather than trying to target a “demographic”. It’s such a simple tactic that many people don’t think to do. I think reaching out to 5 people a day is very doable, although my brain starts to burn when I think about keep track of all those contacts. Do you have a spreadsheet available for download that helps keep track of your conversations with people?


    1. Thanks Dina! I have a template I use. I will send it to you now.


  4. Nitzy @Arlo'sHouse September 10, 2015 at 3:24 pm

    Thanks for this, Alex! Always good to read some sort of this stuff to keep my mind clear and focus again. Also some nice illustrations in between 😉


  5. Thanks for this article Alex, great advice here. Over time I have found myself increasingly involved in your points in section 4 specialising in a very small market . But I certainly could do with concentrating more on both 6 and 9.


    1. Good stuff Gary – niching down and simplifying your audience, at least to start is an important step.


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