Before March I was en route to my biggest and most creatively satisfying year ever. I was designing brands and websites, working 1:1 with interesting people doing useful and creative work in the world, and although I had wanted to create more digital products and courses, I was considering growing my biz into an agency instead.
But then, schools closed in March, both myself and my clients had unexpected situations to deal with, and I couldn’t keep up with my workload. Client communication and my projects naturally suffered (along with many other things in life).
Due to home circumstances, it took me longer than many to pivot — but by the end of 2020, I’m so happy to say that I’ve been able to lean more into what I really love doing, which is designing and blogging (did I mention that before, lol).
And now, by the end of the year, I’ve transitioned into a product-based business!
So in the spirit of transparency (and because I know that others are still looking to find their own “magic”), I’m sharing a run-down of what worked and what didn’t work in 2020, as well as what I’m looking forward to in 2021.
This post may contain affiliate links, which means I will earn a commission if you purchase through them.
2020 Timeline at-a-glance
Here’s what 2002 looked like for me:
If nothing else than for having this year documented, I’m writing out a brief timeline below of how it went:
Jan – Mar: I was on-target with my best-selling months ever, loving client work, and working on multiple projects with dream clients.
Mar – Aug: Finishing up projects, nothing else in sight. How were we going to eat?
Aug: Canva came in and saved me
Oct: Wishing I did more digital products
Dec: Finished last client project and I’ve now pivoted to passive within a single year!
What Worked in 2020
Let’s start out with the good things! Here’s where 2020 shined for business.
I Rebranded to Creative Day
I worked under several names since started freelancing several years ago, and I never loved any of them. My most recent business was called Make.Be, signifying a union of making and being. But the period in the name threw everyone off, and I was no longer working with product-based businesses, so I felt like it didn’t fit.
I chose the name Creative Day because the term rang true for me. This year, I gave myself one day per week to be creative: to take classes, work on my business, or to develop artistically. I chose Fridays as my Creative Day.
So the name was natural and felt right, and I decided to formalize my business by creating an LLC and getting legal with it. It took time and I had to go back through all the steps of branding to make sure that I did it right this time so I could create a strong foundation for growth.
Now, I love my name and I’m legally set up so I can concentrate on other important things! If you’ve been thinking about a rebrand and want to make sure that you do it right so you can set it and forget it, download my free Branding Roadmap to guide you!
Working with Canva (And Making Digital Templates)
As mentioned previously, I was busy with client projects at the dawn of 2020, but situations made it nearly impossible for me to keep consistent. But by the time mid-summer rolled around, I was totally at a loss for what I would do next.
That’s when out of the blue, I received an email from Canva inviting me to join a [then] top-secret project.
Seriously? I had been stalking Canva’s jobs page for years, wishing I could work with them remotely but most postings were location-specific to Australasia.
So after a few more emails and a virtual meeting, I signed up and began designing dozens of trendy templates for Canva’s marketplace. You can get access to them all by signing up here. (*free for Canva Pro users → aff link).
Canva saved me.
Not only did I love creating templates, but when I decided to lean into one thing, I chose to focus on Canva templates. More on that below.
Pick One Thing and Stick With It
The best advice I heard all year was to find one thing and stick to it. This kept coming in from all sides, and though I couldn’t sift through the creative mess to figure out what that one thing was, I realized I was spreading myself too thin.
Between the client work, website redesign, new products, and writing sales pages for the products, and at the same time trying to grow my Canva template business… I wasn’t going anywhere.
So even though I had started creating a line of Showit website templates, I nixed those (actually, shelved them until a later date) and chose to focus on ONE THING. Right now, that’s making Canva templates.
If you’re having trouble figuring out how to make your creative business work, I highly suggest trying this approach. Focus on one thing that IS working for you, and make it better! You can always brand out later once your roots are stronger.
Learning and Doing
I call 2020 the Year of the Bundle (among other things), and this year I invested in several great course and summit bundles. Yes, bundles can be overwhelming because you get a smorgasbord of everything, but they’er also incredibly useful for coarse-hoarders like me who buy things and get around to them when I’m ready.
I also joined a few memberships to grow in key areas. And what’s different with this year as opposed to before is that I’m actually making myself work through things and implement some of the changes, so that pandemic or not, I’ll be better equipt to grow important areas of my business.
Have you also bought into the bundle craze? I wrote a whole post about whether it’s worth investing in digital bundles and how to get your product into a bundle.
Besides bundles, I also took time to watch a few Skillshare classes with my son and as always, I’m loving Procreate for the iPad. I think I’m going to start sharing wallpapers with you as a little something extra — I mean, what else am I going to do with all of those illustrations?
What Didn’t Work in 2020
Now let’s get down to the “didn’t works” of 2020. What didn’t work this year is indicative of what hadn’t been working for me for quite a while. I’ll briefly go over those things below:
1:1 Client Work
I really enjoy working with clients in the teacher role, but not in the designer role. When I design, I most enjoy designing for myself; but I do love helping people learn how to manage their websites, and how to blog and market themselves. (Hence why I had been thinking of moving to courses and digital products since 2019).
When situations went from bad to worse this year and I couldn’t give my clients the attention that their projects needed, and I also had no time to market myself, I knew that I needed to pivot.
Redoing My Website for the Umpteenth Time
In early 2020, Squarespace had just released version 7.1 and I wasn’t patient enough to stick around with it. I didn’t want to redo my whole site on 7.1 to get new features, and I wasn’t about to export and re-import my blog.
So rashly, instead of launching my new line of templates — BAD CHOICE — I switched my website to WordPress. I mean, I’m a web designer, how hard would it be to learn a new system and create a beautiful site on WP? *Faceplant*
Let’s just say that there’s a reason why Squarespace exists for the non-technical people. Moving platforms has been a HUGE expense and time-suck as I’ve redone my site twice (once for the initial move and once for my product pivot).
Could I have done it simpler? Oh yes! If I had to do it over again, I would 100% start with a gorgeous WordPress theme from BluChic where all you have to do is follow their tutorials and start selling and blogging on WP.
Or, I could have just stayed with Squarespace and grown my digital product biz immensely within the past year. Anyway, let’s march ahead because that’s the way forward.
The third thing that really didn’t work in 2020 was my attempt to hire help. In 2019, I tried via GenM (now called Acadium), where you pay to take on an apprentice to handle different areas of business. My apprentice didn’t work out.
This year, I found great people to work with via Upwork. (I also started on Upwork, so if you hear that it’s difficult to find trustworthy people there, I can tell you that it’s NOT always the case :))
I had several different people to help me with WordPress, I hired a VA for a short time (she was awesome!), and I found other freelancers for small tasks. But I realized that onboarding was a chore and it was impossible to manage communication when I was working so sporadically. So, I had to go back to “solopreneur.”
In the future, I will be sure to have really clear guidelines and map all of my processes before hiring out so that I can onboard new hires seamlessly and let them run things on their own.
What’s in store for 2021?
We’d all like to know! Now with the vaccine out, everyone’s hopeful that life will go back to “normal”. I’m not sure we’ll ever see a full return to the way things were, but I’m in a way very grateful that the struggled and triumphs of 2021 made me take some big changes.
I’ve also learned a very important lesson this year. And while I’ve told myself this before, 2020 was a clear reminder that when I have a feeling to do something (like launch digital products, or start a blog, or get things together in another area of life), the time to do it is right then. Trust your instincts.
So in 2021, I’m going to be creating more great templates, trying to be more consistent with my blog and content efforts and hopefully leaning into courses (once I’ve mastered the other things 😉
Now it’s your turn: What has 2020 taught you about yourself as a creator, or running your own business?