The Exceptions to The Rules

Ruled by Passions by 3 Lamb Illustrations

I’ve had it up to here, I tell ya! Up to HERE (yes, I am putting my hand way above my head, which without that visual you’d have no idea about where I am in the up-to-here scale) with “But I’m supposed to be doing X” and “So-and-so does Y so I need to, too” and “I know I should be doing Z, but…”. It enrages me each and every time, so please don’t mind the enpassioned (that’s not a word, but I don’t care) lady as she steps on her soapbox to bring home the point that there is no right (or wrong!) when it comes to working on or in your creative business. For every Rule, there’s at least (at least!) one exception. There’s totally more exceptions, but honestly, I worked on this post for something like 3 hours and I just can’t bring myself to find and link to any more people. You understand.

The Rule: “I’m interested in so many things the thought of just picking one makes me feel like I’m in jail – but I’m told I can’t have a successful businesses unless I do just that!

The Exception: Tracy Matthews. Head on over to her site and you’ll see it right away: “Bespoke Jewelry, Grounding Yoga, and Inspiring Offerings.” Yup, all 3 of her offerings live on one site, together in harmony, allowing the visitor to get a real 360 degree view of who Tracy is and what she offers – custom & ready-to-wear jewelry plus yoga classes (workshops, group classes, and private lessons) plus coming-soon curation services. And, um, Tracy makes $30,000/month. So there.

How to adapt: If you saw your Renaissance Soul-ness as a blessing instead of a curse, what would your business look like? If you could do the type of work you love each and every day/week, what type of work would you love to do? If it’s tough to differentiate the it’s-fun-now-but-might-not-be-in-6-months work from the one’s that’ll stick (that’s a classic Renaissance Soul trait, by the way), think back to the type of stuff that has held your interest for at least a couple of years. Don’t forget, everything counts: your love of dogs, your fabric obsession, your mastery of calligraphy. Start thinking of how they interact, and/or let my workbook or Emilie‘s help ya along your way.

The Rule: “It won’t be worthwhile to have an offering unless I have at least 1,000 newsletter subscribers.”

The Exception: Emilie from Puttylike. She talked to Srini about making $4K with a list of  “only” 500 people, and has done a bang-up job on putting out products and services that are super valuable since she started her biz. And ya know what? Offering things with value that put your perspective/process out into the world is just the thing to do in order to attract your audience/clients/customers to you…sure, it’s a bit of a Catch-22, but don’t let not having A Big List stop you from offering what you know you rock at.

How to adapt: You probably have an idea of what you wanna offer, and it probably is Big. Maybe Too Big. What would Phase 1 of that offer look like? That’s what you wanna be working on and getting out into the world as soon as you’d like. Don’t forget – without people knowing who you are, what you stand for and what you offer, they won’t know why they need what you’re selling.

The Rule: “If I want to grow my business, I have to be on Facebook and Twitter and blog and be on Pinterest and host a podcast and….”

The Exception: Alexandra Franzen. Man oh man, does this lady break all the rules in the best way possible. Do ya notice how she only has 1 social media link on her site? Twitter. That’s it. That’s all. No Pinterest. No Instagram. No YouTube. No LinkedIn. No Facebook, even. No Facebook! She loves Twitter, so that’s what she sticks with. End of story. And, um, can we say she’s booked ’til Sept 2013?! Sept 2013. Let that sink in.

How to adapt: The bottom line is that you have to be engaged in whatever social media site you commit yourself to. If you’re not sure what platform you want to be your significant other (yes, I still call twitter my boyfriend), then don’t be afraid to play around -it’s time well spent. Spend 2 weeks on Twitter, learning the ropes and see how/if ya like being there. Then move on to how Pinterest can help your biz and play around there for a bit – and so on and so forth. If you know in your gut where you enjoy being – let’s say by vlogging and Facebooking – then cut out the rest of the noise and just do that for a month. See what happens. And if you wanna take a quiz as to which social media platform would be best for your targeted audience and your personality, sign on up for my newsletter and crack open the Business Building That Brings You Bliss exercise that’s included in the VIP Library you get when you subscribe.

The Rule: “If you’re really serious about your biz, just take the plunge and start working in/on it now.”

The Exception: Me! Is that allowed? OK, since I’m the writer, I’ll allow it. The first thing I did when I decided to make a go of this whole life coach business was to get a new job as an Executive Assistant. Yup – a 9-to-6 assistant’s job with a financial consultancy company. The job I held prior was too draining (aka a boss who made me psychosomatic), too all-consuming (aka expected to answer emails on my Blackberry at midnight), too soul-sucking (aka see above) to allow me to work on getting certified and build my business – and I knew the biggest way to fail fast was to give up my steady job and jump into coaching full-time right away. I shudder to think what that would’ve done to me.

How to adapt: But now that I think of it, this Rule is a Rule that needs to stand – just not in the way that some people see it. You don’t need to quit your job and take the leap right now – but you do need to keep putting one foot in front of the other as best you can, as often as you can. It took me 2 years and 7 months from the time I started that assistant job to the time I was able to quit – and that was only because I spent the vast majority of my nights, weekends, and downtime at work getting certified, coaching, and doing other business building-y things. So, think of what’ll make you comfortable and confident with diving in – and what’ll make the leap to being an entrepreneur feel more like a large step – and break it down into daily or thrice-weekly tasks (any less time than that and you’re losing momentum…and/or might not really wanna launch this business). This can help.

The Rule: “You must have a niche if you want people to understand what you’re offering and see themselves in.”

The Exception: Kate Swoboda. We have a big discussion on this here, but I love that she’s able to differentiate that her niche is actually her perspective. Anyone is her client as long as they want to live a more courageous life. OK, it’s a bit of a niche because she’s “shutting out” (in a loose terms) those who don’t want that for themselves, but it’s not as if she’s only working with artists or Moms or insert-demographic-here.

How to adapt: Tanya and I have been digging into this over at Golden Ticket this week, and what we found needs to part of your business foundation is message, not niche. Fill in the blank: I want people to know _________. What goes in that blank is what you wanna make sure is absolutely clear in your communications and relationships – and then your “niche” will find you (you gotta be proactive about it, but still).

The Rule: “Don’t put more than 1 type of work in your online shop – it’ll just confuse people.”

The Exception:  Jessica Swift. There are 19 different product categories in her shop currently, and they run the gamut from accessories to stationary to artwork to apparel to sea elves (!). She’s been doing this full-time for years, and her work has been licensed by Big Deal Companies like Casemate, Pier 1, and Hallmark – not to mention she raised $25,000 on Kickstarter to help produce her rainboots. Oh, she also has a lil’ ole’ book coming out this summer.

How to adapt: Tying it in with the rule above, latch on to your message/mission/style and be rest assured that you can put pretty much whatever you want under that umbrella.  I know you’ll agree with me that Jess’ work is uber-distinctive, and the fact that it’s all cohesive and a direct result of her tagline, “Live Color to the Max”, makes it all work together.

The Rule: “But my blog has to have a niche, and I can never stray from talking about that one thing!”

The Exception: Yes & Yes. With the tagline “Yes is more fun than No”, Sarah gives us True Stories from all over the spectrum (examples: I Dated a Transman and I’m a Grocery Store Sample Lady and I Gave Up On My Dream) + weekly Web Time Wasters + Style Icons + travel posts …OK, you get the point. If it has to do with Yes, it’s here – and that obviously takes a lot of different forms.

How to adapt: If the thought of Only Writing About 1 Thing gives you a case of the no-fun face, think of your blog as a magazine or a curated store instead. What would be inside? What do you wanna showcase? How/what do you wanna share? And yes, this is another Rule that ties into message. Damn that message is important!

The Rule: “When you set the terms of something, you better abide by them.”

The Exception: Me again! OK, sorry, but once permission was granted, I couldn’t help myself. Ya know I’ve been telling everyone everywhere that my Clubhouse was closing after 50 sign-ups or on Dec 5th at 6p Eastern, whatever came first? Well, at around 2p Eastern, only 16 people had signed up. The last time I opened up the doors, in June, the spots went way faster – so this low number was unexpected. I wavered, knowing that we have room to accomodate more members without feeling crowded/overwhelmed in there, and that more brains in the Clubhouse = more knowledge and support. Because of that, I decided to keep the Clubhouse doors open for the next 34 29 people to walk on through…or close ’em earlier if I wanna. I’m the President, after all.

How to adapt: It’s always sticky to go back on your word, but when something’s not quite sitting right, don’t ignore your gut. As long as it’s not detracting value from what you’ve promised and feels like an ethically sound decision to you, then it’s fair game. If you feel anything’s being compromised, ask yourself what you can do to make it up to your client/customer. When I first launched my Clubhouse, some people opted in to get a free seat in a virtual workshop I promised to host every 4-8 weeks. I realized after the first one that I totally super overcommitted myself, so I pushed out the timeline to every 12 weeks and gave them each a free 30-minute private session. Everyone was happy.

The Rule: “You can’t make a living selling pizza out of a firetruck!”

The Exception: Company 77. So successful they brought it to a new location. Also led to the best wedding food/activities ever (thanks Kelly & Dave!).

How to adapt: Stop thinking Can’t and start thinking How. This video can help you communicate that to your loved ones (including yourself!).

I say it to my clients and I’ll say it here: it’s a blessing and a curse to be building a creative business in 2012, since there are soooooooo many ways to do things nowadays. Sure, a Magic Formula might give ya some guarantees, but just because something’s worked for someone else doesn’t mean it’s right/it’ll work for you. So, embrace the unknown, filter out the noise, live in the questions, and make the decisions that’ll be best for you based on what your heart/gut says (and know it’s always funner to break the rules and run your biz/project your way instead of how so-and-so tells ya and be “successful” but miserable/inauthentic). Then, let me know, and I’ll feature you as An Exception to the Rule.

Did I miss any other rules? Any exceptions? Despite the time it took putting this together (thanks to everyone who answered my call on Twitter and Facebook with their Rules!), I’m thinking of making this a feature if there are more Rules to break. Let me know in the comments!

 Stacy Kathryn is another exception to the rule, and in the best way possible. She works in collage, illustration, and paintings, which you can see (and buy!) right here.



  1. says

    So much good stuff here! The social media part hit home for me, because I love Facebook and Pinterest, but Twitter and I are still trying to decide if we like each other….. :) How about this rule: You have to be an expert at something before you offer your services to the world. I believed this for a long time, but am realizing that it’s simply not true. You do have to know something, but you don’t have to know everything.

    • says

      Completely agreed on having to “be an expert”. I think you have to be upfront about learning as you go, but I think people respond to that. I certainly had/have people reading my blog (not so entrepreneurial) even though I was a hopeless cook when I started.

      I’ll also add that it’s okay to start from a somewhat to mostly unrelated point where you feel some expertise & move outward from there. I started reflecting a tiny bit on science in my blog recently, but couldn’t talk myself into taking the plunge I wanted to take for the longest time. I realized I need to ease into it. So, I’m starting with something not scary to me (lions!) and will, over time, branch into the things I want to learn about and do not have the expertise in.

    • michelle says

      Ohmygosh yes – I can’t believe I forgot that one! It might be hard to find an exception because I’d have to really know people’s backstories…but I’ll do some digging!

    • michelle says

      Happy to have you! I talk about Yes & Yes as an example of this rule exception all the time. Keep doing what you do, lovely!

  2. says

    The Rule: ”You must have a niche if you want people to understand what you’re offering and see themselves in.”

    I think that the idea of the ‘niche’ is changing – moving away from old-school demographics and into categories such as passions and beliefs. I know a lot of businesses that focus on a specific belief or idea and use that as their niche. Works really well!

    • michelle says

      Oh man, I hope so. Let’s all shift that old-school way of thinking and spread that new-niche-is-message/belief/passion-niche far and wide…

    • michelle says

      Aw, thanks lady! It was in my head for aaaaaaaagggggeeeessss and it’s just so big you never write it…until you do. That is this post. :)

  3. says

    Brilliant, inspiring piece of work for a Renaissance girl like me. I’ve been making my living by mixing all my interests. I know it seems aimless to others, but it’s exactly what I want out of life. Thanks for writing this insightful piece!

    • michelle says

      So happy to hear that you’re already following the beat of your own drum, Crystal! I mean, our non-Renaissance Soul people in our lives only want us to be safe and happy – I get it – but until we start seeing it as a blessing instead of a curse I won’t get off my soapbox.

  4. says

    Hey Michelle! I am coming back later to read your fancy, “researched” article. Just wanted to let you know, as long as you use the sign off of “Yours in amazeballs,”: you can email me as much as you like.

  5. says

    Thank you for this wonderful post Michelle – it resonated so deeply with me and I know will for my clients as well.

    I particularly love hearing the perspective on not needing to cloak yourself in a niche to be successful or heard. Whenever I have tried to do that as a coach I have felt trapped. I now recognise that it’s my particular message and perspective that is the thing that makes me stand out.

    Thank you!

    • michelle says

      Thank you, Julie! And I just hopped over to your site and wanted to give you a Bravo! for raising your prices. I know how scary that is, and it’s obvious you’ve earned/deserve it.

      And I have to say that Tanya Geisler caught a big omission from my section on niches. It’s “I want you to know _______” not “I want you to _______.” So just in case you read that before I changed it, I had to add it – it’s so important!

  6. says

    I SO needed to hear this sh*t today. I friggin love you for this.

    I’ve been having this inner struggle over taking a JOB and starting my coaching business online. Fact: I need to take a JOB to support my family, we need cash yesterday. Fact: I can take this job and still start my business (Like you said, it don’t need to start today! i could build it over time) Fact: My JOB is a coaching job so who’s to say I’m not following my path, doing what i love, blah blah blah.

    I’m just so tired of the sh*t I tell myself, the “rules” I’m supposed to follow, and the sh*t everyone else does or says.

    I’m just gonna do me! I’m gonna do what feels right to me right now.

    Thank you for your sincerity – its a blessing to me today.

    [p.s. Can you tell I’m a native East Coaster?]

    • michelle says

      Yes! Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes.

      You’ve totally made me feel like my mission has been accomplished today, Nikki. YES! (fist pump)

    • michelle says

      Thanks, Sarah! I thought it was important, too. There’s only so much you can say by shouting BUT THERE ARE PEOPLE OUT THERE VERY SUCCESSFULLY UN-FOLLOWING THESE RULES! TRUST ME! and instead to actually point to those people. (and you’re totally one of them…look out for a sequel!)

  7. says

    Muah! So happy to be part of this list.

    I thoroughly advocate NOT DOING stuff you’re “supposed to do” — social media related, and otherwise — and focusing on stuff that makes you feel sensational (and sexy, and smart). The end.

    :: A

  8. says

    The Rule: ”Don’t put more than 1 type of work in your online shop – it’ll just confuse people.” So…uh, I was just sweating this in the Clubhouse today, with great feedback that sort of turned my entire question around. You now how you’re supposed to gently correct yourself while meditating? I think I just need to do that while painting. “Thinking… I’m thinking again.” ^_^

  9. says

    YES YES YESSssssss allll of these rules! Break ’em all!

    Um, I’m scared to say how badly I am having Clubhouse withcrawal during my social media hiatus, especially after reading this post (uh oh, I’m commenting on a blog. I think this counts as social media….oops…I can’t stay away!)

    I can identify with so many of these rules. The don’t put more than 1 type of work in your online shop one has crippled me at times, with my art style. But I just had an amazing consultation with the wonderful Clare Yuille of Indie Retail Academy and I am feeling so pumped. Even though some of my art is a little different from other pieces of my art, as I look ahead to wholesaling (I hope! so excited to try this!) I’ve been realizing “omg… this piece would totally fit for this shop. That piece would totally fit for that shop. Ooh and these pieces would work in this one here”. Versatility, baby! Under a consistent message of “my name is Lesley and I want you to feel super happy and melty when you see this artwork so your day can be a bit brighter”.

    I can’t wait to ‘see’ you back in the clubhouse in a week! 😀

    Also, I think exception to the rule should be an entrepreneurial job title. We could all stand to see ourselves as a bit more ‘exceptional’, methinks. ; )

    • michelle says

      How much longer is the hiatus, lady? I promise I won’t tell on you (despite the fact that I talk to Tiffany regularly. Your secret’s safe with me!).

      I’m not familiar with Clare at all…off to look her up! Have a feeling I’ll find another “exception.”

      • says

        I’m back on the 15th!

        Lots of good revelations going on over here during the hiatus. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve realized Facebook isn’t my problem, burnout/unrealistic expecations that lead to procrastination are. It’s been a rollercoaster but I think things are in a good place for my return to ye olde Facebook! 😀

      • says

        Oh and also, yes! Clare is amazing. She just released a whopper of a free (free!) ebook about wholesaling and offered a consultation at the end of it so I jumped on that and got a little boost of confidence that my work and business are both retail shop ready.

    • says

      You don’t know me, but I am so glad to see another person decide to branch out from what they feel to be safe/nichey. I commend you so much.

      One of my two most favorite pieces of work ever was painted by an artist who mostly does serene things. Still-life pictures. Portraits. Animals cuddling.

      The one that’s hanging on my wall, though, is stormy and abstract and confusing and contains, I am sure, a bona fide witch that I didn’t see for about a year and a half… It’s mesmerizing, and I love it everyday. I never saw another like it out of her.

      Sometimes, the branch out may be your best work. Or, at least, your best work for a particular person. (Which it sounds like you are seeing.)

      • says

        oooh I love that, Natasha! It’s so funny that sometimes something we make we think will sell/is marketable/is our ‘best work’ never gets anyone’s attention, and the thing we don’t pay much mind to ends up being the thing that gets us famous/pays our bills/is what we’re known for. My whole shop is full of mostly guinea pig art, but my single best seller is a painting I made on a whim of two otters. Go figure!

  10. says

    Michelle, ‘just had to let you know how much I enjoyed reading this… especially the Tracy Matthews example. Dear lord – $30k a month?? I am inspired… and intrigued.

  11. says

    Have to leave home in just a few minutes and only just gave a quick read but just have to pause and say THANK YOU!!! I am all about unlocking the cage we have put ourselves in or allowed others to put us in and you have just given me the wonderful gift of a key. I have been bogged down in several of the statements that you have listed here and I can’t wait to spend more time playing outside of this cage now that I see I don’t have to stay in it!


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