10 Things You'll Quickly Learn
Starting A Creative Studio
Kristina C. Unker & Amalia Ramos / MA’AM Creative
Social Media makes entrepreneurship look like being a modern-day rock star. The reality is quite a bit different. As rewarding as it is to start your own creative studio and experience success from a different perspective, the hard work, insecurities, and nights of tossing and turning are the less shareable moments that define the experience.
We took a calculated risk after Starwood Hotels & Resorts was acquired by Marriott International in 2016. We turned a layoff into a layup.
A year ago, we launched MA’AM – a creative studio in NYC born to make brands distinct and beautiful.
** Queue dramatic music. **
Well, if there were a soundtrack to describe year-one of starting our business it’d be a combination of Rocky, Drake and lots of women’s empowerment playlists. Music helped us through our highs, lows, and in-betweens, but nothing truly prepared us for the day-to-day realities of business ownership. Here’s a list of some of the things we’ve learned along the way.
#10: It Takes A Village
Therapist, mentors, friends, family, meditation, and carbs are all essential ingredients to survive. While we mustered up the courage to go out on our own, hitting go and living to talk about it required a strong support system. And still does. If you come from an agency or corporation, there are so many resources that become invisible – until you’re responsible for all of them. Managing your personal expectations with a steep learning curve requires venting, consoling, and gut checks to stay the course.
#9: It’s Really Uncomfortable
We had a mantra for year one – “get comfortable being uncomfortable.” Every day is different and filled with unknowns. We could win 3 proposals or lose 3 proposals. Need to ramp up staff or pitch on the fly – in the breezeway of the gym because the “home office” is undergoing construction and Starbucks is too loud. True story. There will always be unknowns and question marks, questions we don't know the answers to, but we remind ourselves to be patient and keep focus. This is what makes this journey so exciting, and terrifying at the same time.
#8: All Business is Sales
From pitches to presentations, business development meetings and conference calls where you’re answering rapid-fire questions created to test your acumen - business is a performing art. An art nobody trains you for. We always focus on building the relationship first – developing trust in us to deliver and showcasing our chops in a way that isn’t contrived, but authentic to us. Confidence rules. And confidence is something everyone works at throughout their career. Believe you can and you will. Believe and work your ass off doing. Just remember, you are your company / your brand. Keep it real, but remember you are in the business of selling ideas.
#7: You Can Reinvent Yourself
No longer part of someone else’s company or vision, we were able to redefine what’s important to us and get a fresh start to refine the details – from how we communicate to how we dress. Invest in key pieces that will make you feel like a million bucks, whether it's your laptop backpack, sharp boots or a chic coat – looking your best helps boost confidence in pitches and presentations. Take time to reset and focus on what drives you and what is important to you – why your business exists - and use it to drive the mission.
#6: A Partnership Is Like a Marriage…
…but without the sex - and sex might help relieve some of the stress ;) Starting out as a company as a team of 2 meant spending most of our time together – sometimes seven days a week. We learned about each other’s hang-ups, communication styles, how we cope with pressure and stress, and our idiosyncrasies. We started as friends so that was a good foundation, but starting a business is full of rewards and challenges friends almost never face together.
As with a marriage, the same rules apply to maintaining harmony – trust, good communication, respect, and sometimes time apart. It hasn’t been all rainbows. We’ve had our share of uncomfortable conversations, but in the end, we share the same vision. Our two cents – keep talking and learning how to adapt your individual style to complement each other. Any relationship takes consistent work. Oh, and always have an operating agreement. This formalizes the business agreement should things ever go awry.
#5: Sleep is your friend
Pulling all-nighters and typing until your fingers atrophy is not sexy. Your mind needs to recharge to develop ideas and run a business effectively. Sleep has never been more important than now. It doesn’t make you seem weak or less hard working. It means you take your productivity seriously. Everyone has different needs as far as total hours of rest but listen to your body and know when it’s time to shut down.
#4: The 24-Hour Rule
Try not to make any big decisions towards the end of the day, no matter how urgent it may seem. Most times it can wait until the morning. Talk it over, consider all aspects and better yet – sleep on it. Being in the service business, it’s tempting to be quick on the reply – especially given the age we live in. Sometimes you just cannot wait but we try to practice restraint.
This also applies to financial conversations. We often feel pressed to answer questions on timing and pricing. Saying “let us debrief and get back to you” seems hard in the moment, but it gives you time to think it over with a clear head. It can also save or make you money to pause. Off-the-cuff commitments are often not in your favor.
#3: If We See It, We Can Achieve It
We’ve found value in visualizing goals. It might sound corny, but we drew a check of our year-one financial goal and placed it where we could both see it for the first 6 months. In the end, we hit the number almost to the dollar. We set intentional goals at the start of the year and saw them become reality with the work to support those intentions. For year two we’re raising the bar. We’re continuously challenging the status quo.
#2: Good business partners are HARD to Find.
Lawyers, accountants, freelancers, tech support, and everyone else that supports your biz– if someone seems like an ass or seems less experienced, they likely are. We were fairly diligent about interviewing various resources for key partners and sometimes it worked beautifully and other times we were left disappointed. There are so many factors that go into the right business advisors and collaborators but finding a strong group of trusted experts in their field is critical to your success. The best advice we could give is to take recommendations from other business owners you trust and then trust your instincts.
#1: Be kind to yourself, trust the process and have fun!
We try to remind ourselves that we’re not supposed to know everything about starting a new business but that having the will and focus allows us to get the answers we need and the work done. Likely you’re somewhat type-A if you’re starting a business and want to know all and have the success come quickly, but the long-game is where it’s at. Success can mean many different things. Starting a business is difficult so don’t beat yourself up if you miss an opportunity or lose a pitch. Tomorrow is a new day. Protecting the asset – taking care of you – is the most important thing. If you’re not okay – emotionally, mentally or physically, then nothing matters.
At the end of the day, we create our own reality. Set goals, have a vision, and work that plan one day at a time. The beauty of working for ourselves is the freedom to create something from scratch. We can’t wait to see what the next 365 will bring.
Photo Illustration by MA'AM Creative.
Founded by women, MA’AM is a creative studio driven by insatiable curiosity and keen design instinct. With over 20 years combined experience building global brands across fashion, beauty, luxury, spirits and hospitality, MA’AM exists to make brands distinct and beautiful.