12 Real, Raw, and Heartfelt Things I’ve Learned in 2 Years of Being a Grown-Ass Woman Running a Business
It’s been more than a year since I’ve written a blog, which means another year of running Spoke & Wheel Strategy full-time has passed. The good news is that it’s been a super productive, fulfilling, and busy year. The bad news is, it was so busy that blogs fell to the bottom of my priority list.
Writing blogs is something I truly enjoy, and something that folks have told me they really like reading. I plan on committing to doing them more consistently again. A year ago, I published a post about what I learned in my first year of running Spoke & Wheel Strategy. That got me to thinking that before I get back to sharing marketing and PR tips and tricks, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on the past year again.
So let’s talk about feelings, and more specifically my candid and sometimes long-winded thoughts and self-discoveries of what I’ve learned over the past year (or so) of running my business. I believe most of these are likely relatable and applicable to other business owners, folks thinking about starting their own business, or even just those with an entrepreneurial spirit:
Be open and honest even if it costs you business.
There’s lots of PR and marketing people who will tell you exactly what you want to hear. In fact, I’ve worked for some of them and I hated it because it felt incredibly inauthentic. When I started my business, I took a pledge to myself to always be upfront, candid, and honest with my clients or anyone considering working with me. This may just sound like “the right thing to do” but let me tell you, it’s not always easy. I’m lucky because the vast majority of people who work with me value that I have a very no-bullshit approach, and won’t just tell them what they want to hear.
However, I can guarantee that this has cost me business and left money on the table. The fact that I’ve told potential clients that I can’t promise them coverage, or I don’t know how many units they’ll sell, doesn’t always sit well. Some people seem to want a marketing person who simply builds up their egos, and quite frankly, that’s not what my business is about. I run my business with a mission to always be authentic while doing the best work I can. As a result, I find that this cultivates realistic expectations and creates stronger, truthful connections rooted in reality.
You’ll always think you’re about to fail.
My friends actually make fun of me because I’m so quick to pick an exact month and time of year that is going to be the “real” time I’ll fail. Failure for me is a huge fear, but it’s also an incredible motivator. I’ve come to realize that no matter how successful I am or how well things are going, I may just always think I’m on the brink of failure. Is this healthy? Probably not. But it certainly gives me hustle and drive in a way I’m not sure I’ve ever had as strongly before.
Breaks and weekends are important. Use vacations as real vacations.
I’m going to be honest. I suck at this. I spent most of 2016 working. This summer at a beach house? Working. On a trip with my family? Working. On planes? Working. Sundays? Forget it. Almost always working. I’m not great at setting boundaries and it’s something I’m still learning how to do.
I’ve seen what this kind of unrelenting, non-stop, zero break work schedule does. It doesn’t make you a superhero or a martyr. It makes you a potential shoe-in for burnout. I haven’t quite reached burnout, but I will just say that there were times I definitely went with minimal self care, certainly didn’t spend enough time with friends and family, and I also developed a back issue which may or may not be the result of overworking. I’m the type of person who wants to be constantly going, moving, doing, accomplishing. I’m happier when I’m busy, but I’m still learning the difference between healthy busy and #OMGWhatDidIDoToMyself busy.
Trust between client and marketing person is essential.
I don’t typically sign a non-disclosure agreement like a lawyer would or adhere to privacy laws like medical professionals. What I’ve come to realize though is that at times I feel like I’m 70 percent marketing person and 30 percent therapist. I’ve had people seek out advice about breakups, money issues, family problems, team problems, and so much more. In cultivating strong relationships with those I work with, I think it’s so important to have a mutual trust and respect. While therapist is certainly nowhere in my job title (nor would I advise anyone to give up their regular therapist), I think it shows the importance of cultivating a strong and trusting relationship with those I work with.
People actually don’t hate marketing as much as they used to.
This learning is particularly applicable to indie games. When I first started working with games five or six years ago, people on the whole had an incredibly sour taste in their mouth about marketing and PR. I encountered lots of “if a game is good it will sell itself” or “marketing is just a corporate thing to do” types of attitudes. In the past year or so, I’ve seen the overall attitude towards marketing and PR begin to shift. While there are still certainly many people who believe only in organic buzz (but really, what is that?), I’ve begun to sense that there’s a higher desire for marketing than there used to be. It could be due to the increased number of marketing people in games (competition is healthy, right?), or the fact that the games marketplace seems to just be getting more challenging. But overall, it seems that more people are embracing that PR and marketing is highly valuable.
This year at GDC, for the first time, when I told people what I did I had multiple people say “marketing is really important” and a couple even respond with, “your job is very hard”. I’m not kidding when I say I actually teared up. It blew my mind that multiple game devs responded like that, and it was an incredibly different response than I’ve gotten in the past. I think the wind is blowing in a new direction for PR and marketing, and I’m super glad to see that folks are seeing (or at least beginning to see) the value in it.
Valuing your own worth and ideas is crucial.
When I first started my business I would actually cry when I would send people invoices (a thing I can only admit now after a long time of no longer doing this). I felt so guilty charging people for my time and my work. When people would ask me my rate, I used to actually start sweating profusely. I took on projects for much lower than I should have because I thought that’s all I was worth. Now, almost two years later, I realize I have good ideas, and that I actually know what I’m doing as much as anyone can (does anyone really know what they’re doing?) I’m not perfect by any means at seeing my value, but I know I’ve added a lot to the people and teams I’ve worked with.
One of the major challenges with marketing and PR is that there are so many more intangibles than in many other roles. It can be hard to put a value on intangibles. I believe though that intangibles in life are actually some of the most powerful, and that’s a lot of what I can offer. I can’t code, and I certainly can’t draw, but I can help people feel things and communicate, something I now know shouldn’t be underestimated.
Take a step back from what you can’t control.
Because of all the intangibles in marketing and PR, there are many things that you can’t control. I can help my clients cultivate strategies, execute on the right tactics, understand their audience, and reach the right people, but beyond those things, there is a lot that I can’t control.
I can’t control whether a product does or doesn’t get written about, or if it is positively received. If I had that power, I’d be rich or a magician. I used to take on an immense amount of personal responsibility for things like this. I’d often cry if a client received a negative review on something (are you sensing a theme here with lots of tears?), but I now know to do the absolute best job with the things I can control, and let the rest go.
Don’t just follow the status quo.
Going against the grain doesn’t feel easy or natural. It would be so much simpler to do things the way everybody else is doing it, or the way it’s always been done. However, that doesn’t foster growth, individuality, and quite frankly, sometimes the way everyone’s always done it, just isn’t great.
For example, one thing I’ve taken a relatively public stand on is not comparing a game to other games. This can be a polarizing statement. Regardless of how you feel about it, you’ve probably seen countless people do it. Comparing your game to others is something I strongly disagree with as evidenced here.
This opinion isn’t necessarily a popular one. I could have chosen to adopt the status quo here and pitched most of the games I’ve worked with as an X meets Y but better because of Z. I just don’t believe this is good practice, and I don’t believe it works. If you feel strongly about something, defying the status quo and taking a stand is good. Standing for something is important. I’d way rather stand for what I believe in than what everybody else believes.
Competition is scary but can be good.
When I first started working in games in some capacity, there were a very small number of people doing marketing or PR for games. Being new to it myself at the time, I didn’t realize just how rare it was or that what I was doing was actually unique. Over the last few years I’ve seen lots of other marketing and PR shops pop up. Other marketing companies, freelancers, or people who just decide to start working on games in a marketing and PR capacity are now much more numerous. I would say I’ve seen this number start to rapidly take off over the last year or so. Some of these people are my friends and immensely talented, but there’s nothing that will make you question your own future viability like competition. Although competition can be scary, it also increases awareness among folks of the need for PR and marketing. There’s now more people advocating for it than ever before, and this is a huge positive that definitely outweighs the negative.
Small wins are big wins.
As a small company, there aren’t really days where I think, “okay I’m good. I accomplished all the things now.” The longer I’ve run my business though, the more I’ve noticed growth in my own skills and abilities, and the ability to recognize them, which I think is just as a valuable, if not more. I’m very guilty of accomplishing something and not even taking a second to notice before moving on to something else. Not only does it diminish your accomplishment, but it also makes it very hard to ever be in the moment.
Recently I gave a talk and felt much more comfortable and confident standing in front of a room of people. In the past, I would have glossed over that or passed it off as nothing, but I actually took a moment to acknowledge that a feeling of confidence and improvement in my public speaking abilities was an accomplishment. I think acknowledgement of your own success is an accomplishment in and of itself.
Get comfortable with discomfort.
Hi! I’m type-A. Very type-A. I’m a to-do list queen, I make obsessive finance sheets, and am the type of person who makes restaurant reservations months in advance. Running a business is filled with uncertainty and isn’t always an instinctual natural fit for my personality. I like plans, promises, and guarantees, none of which running a business has. I’m not comfortable with discomfort or super okay with the uncertainty that running a business brings.
But the truth is, it’s pushing me beyond what I thought I was capable of. I love the growth in myself and I love what I get to do for a living. I’ve always wanted to lead a life that was full of passion. This business and what I do, is something I’m incredibly passionate about. I’m so happy I’m living a life full of challenge and the meaning I make for myself, not one that a corporate office tells me I should have. It’s scary, daunting, and intimidating, but also incredibly rewarding and fulfilling.
Overall, it’s been a year of ups, downs, lots of life lessons, and incredible opportunities. I’m so thankful for the people I work with, what I get to do every day, and the fact that I get to do it almost exclusively in spandex. I’m excited to see what another year of Spoke & Wheel Strategy has in store!