Actually, I hate making mistakes.
The truth is, many of my worst, Want-To-Dig-A-Hole-And-Bury-Myself-In-It mistakes have turned out to be the best things that ever happened to me. Usually not right away, but still.
I made one of the most painful, humiliating mistakes of my business life to date just a few months ago. Let me paint the picture for you.
Money was tight. I made some bad business decisions last year, trying out several marketing ideas that did not pay off. (I’ve since learned not ever to pay for marketing with debt – thank you Naomi Dunford of Itty Biz – but unfortunately I hadn’t learned that yet).
Suddenly I found myself with mounting debt, no financial cushion, and (because my main business as a ketubah artist is wedding-related, and hence very seasonal), minimal cash flow.
Ask any business person worth her salt and she’ll tell you: cash flow is king.
So there I was, totally stressing over money, barely able to think about anything else but how to pull myself out of this pit. There were a number of potential clients on the radar, but the sales cycle for wedding artwork tends to be very long (ie, it takes clients freakin’ forever to make up their minds), and none of them would hand over their damn credit card.
It was excruciating.
I called back and spoke to the bride, who was so hot to trot. She said they were even considering having me create their wedding invitations for them!
Except that it turned out she wanted to talk everything over with her groom one more time.
Oh nooooo! Mr. Bill!
And this is where everything fell apart. Because I was in such an enormous state of money panic, my brain flew out the window. All I could think was that I needed to pay my mortgage, and I absolutely had to get her to hand over her damned credit card right now!
Let this be a lesson to any of you out there, do not, I repeat, do NOT ever let your money panic determine your interaction with your clients. Your clients are your lifeblood. It’s all about trust, and the relationship they have with you. If you screw that up, you’re, well, screwed.
And yeah, that’s exactly what I did.
Totally contrary to my own way of doing things, against my better judgment, my intuition, and any semblance of sense in my body, I latched onto something I’d read or heard a business person say recently: create a sense of urgency.
Now yes, this is a tried and true method of getting people to buy. It’s certainly gotten me to make my share of purchases. But if the sense of urgency you create is accompanied by the slightest whiff of anything that might read as desperation or greediness or just plain not caring on your part, you can kiss that sale goodbye.
Which is exactly what happened to me. I offered a special value-added upgrade for no additional charge… if she was ready to purchase right now.
[Insert “you lose” buzzer sound here.]
Well, the bride got all nervous, and I could pretty much tell when she got off the phone that I’d blown it. And sure enough, later that evening she emailed that our conversation had “made her uncomfortable,” and they’d decided to go “a lower pressure route.”
To say that I lost it would be an understatement.
I seriously hit bottom. I was absolutely hysterical. I had pinned so many hopes on this one sale, and then I went and scared it away by going completely against my nature. In that moment, all I could do was cry, and write an honest apology to the client.
Which she appreciated, but still took her business elsewhere. And I can’t say I blamed her; I would have done the same thing. I hate high-pressure sales!
Yes, there is a good part
If you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably wondering what the up-side is. I know I sure didn’t see any at the time.
But in fact, that horrible, humiliating experience is what got me to finally look at my work life and start making some changes. I’d been beating my head against a wall, trying to grow my ketubah business, and the fact is, I was climbing the wrong damn ladder. Although I made my living as an artist, I had created a business in which I spent most of my time doing administrative tasks, and barely any time at all creating art.
Something was seriously wrong with this picture, and I hadn’t actually been happy with my work life for a very long time, but it wasn’t bad enough to get me to look up and see that there might actually be an alternative.
Now it was seriously bad, and it appeared I had to find an alternative.
Which is what led, via some twists and turns, to this blog. And to a new writing business. And to my new habit of creating art every day. And a level of happiness and balance that I haven’t felt in years, or possibly ever.
Yes, I still have debt (which I am determined to pay off by Valentine’s Day 2013), and I’m not rich yet (ha!), but I’m happy, and excited, and learning new things, and hopeful about the future. Which is 180 degrees from where I was before that dreaded client phone call.
Now if I could just learn to make radical, forward-moving change without having a crisis…
Until then, I’ll work on embracing my mistakes, and trusting that good will come of them. Eventually.