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You Have Permission Not to Turn Your Passion Into a Scalable, Online Business (FS234)

“Lots of people tell you what you ‘should’ want as a creative or as an entrepreneur. Shut out the noise for a hot second and decide what success looks and feels like for yourself.”

Oh man, you guys, there’s this entrepreneur named Stephanie Halligan… I think you’re going to love her story.

“I spent a long time trying to sell and monetize my list on Art to Self and it kept feeling shittier and shittier. I had to ask myself what I actually wanted my art to feel like and how I wanted to make money from it. The answer was NOT $30 e-courses and email funnels.

There’s a lot of people out there who want to tell you exactly what to do with your dreams. Today we hear from someone who actually had the tenacity to listen to her Self and create her own way.

Stephanie Halligan started Art to Self on Jan 1, 2015. She proceeded to make a comic and short essay every day for TWO YEARS!

If you do creative work of any kind, if you want to find a way to make your creativity create financial flexibility for you, you have got to hear her story… and you’ve got to let her insights transform how you look at your work.

There’s a whole podcast episode below but let me share a couple of the big hits from this conversation. (Do you have a podcast app you could subscribe to the Fizzle Show with? Do you know how that works?)

Define “making it.”

Stephanie’s work at Art to Self was every. single. day. But some of that activity kept her from seeing the big picture.

When I think back about making a comic every day, I mean, as a whole my writing improved, my cartoons improved. Doing it every day accelerated the growth process. The growth for myself was so accelerated and it was fun to watch that progress.

For example, one time an email didn’t go out and I freaked out — “they’re all waiting for it!” No they weren’t, nobody was mad about it. And it was amazing from an art perspective, I’m reflecting on what I’m going through in life and I’m just making work.

Here’s the caveat:

The caveat though, is that I spent so much time on the creative process that I didn’t step back and get enough perspective on the business stuff. If I’m trying to “make it,” how are my metrics doing there? I’d dip in and out of the business side of things. My subscriber list was growing, which meant more donations, but sometimes there was stalls in that too.

And here’s how she really diagnoses this problem:

Looking back I’m like, I didn’t have a definition of what I meant by “make it.” What did it mean to make it? I had no idea, it was just more more more. That constant grabbing for more feeling. More subscribers, more posts, more donations, more, more, more.

Oy, that’s good. That “more more more” thing, do you resonate with that? I have absolutely had seasons of that myself, whole months of constant activity with very little meaningful movement.

This reminds me of our epic conversation about how to create your own definition of success. Another excellent conversation if you haven’t heard it yet.

“Looking back I’m like, I didn’t have a definition of what I meant by ‘make it.’”

Watch for when creative work turns sour.

Stephanie started to feel dread about the constant need to produce something creative every day. She tried using business wins to reduce the anxiety.

I was the only one who told me when to make stuff. I did it for 6 months, 7 days a week. I was starting to burn out. I had to CONSTANTLY be creative… every. single. day.

Then I went to 5 days a week. That helped that feeling, that need to CONSTANTLY be creative.

Half way through the year I had 150 notes, that’s enough for a book! So I put together my very first self published book and launched that at the end of the year. It was so well received by my readers. The launch made multiple thousands of dollars. I was like, “oh yea! Products, of course! Products plus donations and we might be able to make this work.” That alleviated a littlemore of that CONSTANT need to be creative feeling.

Then I did a digital guide. Then a coloring book. It was like I was finding these little carrots to help me keep doing more, keep pushing through that dread that was growing. “Oh I bet this is it, this will be the secret to earning sustainable income and feeling like this project is feeding you and sustaining itself.” I was like, “Oh if it starts to make money then it will make me feel like I more enjoy that creative work I HAVE to do EVERY DAY.”


I was really feeling like I was clocking into a job I didn’t want. And I was my own boss! So there was only me to blame. It was like, I’m feeding this machine, but I want this machine to start feeding me. I got angry like, “I’m doing this EVERY DAY! I’m SHOWING UP!” Sometimes I even got mad at my readers, “Why aren’t they BUYING!?”

“Oh I bet this will be the secret to earning sustainable income and nourishing my soul.”

Turn down the noise.

Stephanie had lots of voices in her life telling her to make products, try this, try that, make a course. She took their advice and tried lots of money-making activities.

What I thought I wanted was the online passive, scalable income model that everyone talks about. I would have blogger friends and people in a community I was a part of, and they were like “you should teach other people how to be creative and how to turn their creativity into a brand.” The noise I was hearing from other people… everyone was like, “if you have an audience then you really should be monetizing it.”

There’s so much pressure out there to make it look a certain way. I wanted to love my creative work. But I also want a flexible lifestyle, to feel security and freedom. Conflating the two is what led me the wrong way. Those two true wants: to have flexible security, and to love my art. It took, literally a couple years to realize that I had permission to separate those two.

Notice how the work feels… to you.

Stephanie launched a bunch of products through the 2 years she did Art to Self. One of them was very different from the others.

And then I made this children’s book. It was kind of out of the blue. It was just a different project to me; I didn’t put any business requirements on it, I just quietly made it and released it on a blog post, but people really liked it! I put it on kindle and it became the #1 book there in the children’s category. Everyone loved it, I loved it, it’s one of my most favorite things I’ve ever done.

I didn’t put any pressure on myself to make money from it. But there was this voice in my head that was like, “Yea, that’s nice, but where’s the sustainable income from this?”

I got a letter from a 7 year old, “Dear Steph, I love your tree book. Please make more books.” THATS what I was wanting more of. The most nourishing feeling in the world. I wanted more of that, more satisfaction and enjoyment of the art I set out to make in the first place.

Hear the 3 pieces of advice for creative entrepreneurs before you burnout.

Do you bring heart and soul to your work? Do you feel pressure to succeed and anxiety about how to do it? Just listen.

Listen to the episode:

Subscribe to The Fizzle Show in your favorite podcast player:

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Our thanks to Steph Halligan for joining us one the Fizzle Show today. Give her some love on Twitter and/or Facebook.

And if you haven’t yet, check out our New Business Toolkit. 4 resources for the modern indie entrepreneur.

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