10 ways running a business is like being a parent

Image by Jason Varney

As someone who has parented two amazing kids (now grown-ups), I’ve experienced many parental challenges and learned a lot of lessons along the way. Haven’t we all?

Over the years, and after consulting with hundreds of creative firms, I had a big 'aha' moment. To put it simply: parenting and running a creative firm are one and the same, or are at least, closely related. 

Ultimately, if you have kid or even a dog (sorry, cats don’t apply), then you’ll be familiar with where I’m going with this analogy. But even if you don't, you may still find it useful to think about the similarities between raising a child and running a creative agency. Here are 10 ways they're the same...

01. Shit happens, you just have to deal with it

Every so often, when you run a studio, you’ll encounter an unexpected bump in the road (or, when it comes to kids or dogs, a big pile of shit). Those experiences – what we’ll call 'fires' – will happen, that’s just life. 

But the moment those fires become everyday experiences, you've lost control of your business and have allowed your clients, projects, and staff, who are often the cause of these fires, to drive the direction of your business. Ultimately, it is younot anyone else – who should shape, direct and influence the direction of your business. The kids don’t run your household, you do, although it might not feel like it sometimes. Note that you don't need to panic if you're regularly cleaning up your kids' shit, they'll grow out of it. Dogs, not so much.

02. There are frustrations, and rewards

Emily Cohen's new book

Image by Brilliant Graphics, who printed Emily Cohen's new book

As parents, we never give up. Running a business is similar; we will have many different experiences – some good, some bad. But, we should never let those difficult moments get us down. We need to move forward. Always.

03. You will mess it up, and that's okay

We all make mistakes, some more than others. That’s simply human nature. It’s only when we recognise them, own up to them, and learn from them that we will truly grow as human beings, as parents and as business owners.

04. You can't do it alone

Instead of grandparents, neighbours and babysitters, successful and thriving businesses rely on an extensive network – or community – of colleagues to help them along the way. From business consultants (like me!), to those that refer new business, to strategic partners and vendors, this is our village. Nobody can do it alone. 

05. Structure, praise and encouragement really work

image of Emily Cohen's new book

Image by Jason Varney

All aspects of your studio – from your clients to your projects to your staff – run more smoothly and are better behaved when the parameters and expectations are clear. Businesses should reward those with good behaviour as well as push back on and impose consequences to those that misbehave. Believe me, your clients and staff, just like kids and dogs, will still love you, even if you say no to them.

06. Growth = more challenges 

As your child ages, you continually have to go with the flow, and change some existing practices that they have simply outgrown. The same rule applies in creative businesses. You must always keep your eye on the ball, stay abreast of trends, and continue to change and evolve with each new step in their business’ growth. 

07. There is no right way

Just like there are many different parenting styles, there are many different ways to manage a business. You just have to pick and choose which styles, strategies and tools work best for you and the needs of your business, and don't be afraid to change them later.

08. People who love you are more likely to forgive

image of Emily Cohen's new book

Image by Brilliant Graphics, who printed the book

Our kids will (hopefully) never stop loving us despite our many flaws and mistakes along the way. Similarly, clients will forgive your mistakes if you’ve spent time building and ensuring a solid, trust-based and mutually beneficial working relationship. They will become your advocates and defend you when you make mistakes, But, when you allow your clients to walk all over you (and make no mistake, this happens), you’ve become a vendor, not a value-added respected partner and they'll no longer be your advocate. It’s that simple.

09. Don't argue in front of the kids

Keep your disagreements private and come back to your team with a united front. Enough said. 

10. The best laid plans...

...you know that one. 

Ultimately, as both a parent and business consultant, I’m a big believer in developing a well-defined long term vision and plan for the future. These plans will help you make better decisions along the way and keep you on track toward a final destination. 

Rambling aimlessly can be confusing for those along the ride, like your clients and staff. Yet, despite your best efforts, life will still throw you some unexpected curveballs along the way. Accept that even with the best plans, you may have to pivot and change along the way. You just have to make sure that life’s little, and not-so-little, surprises still align with your own values and goals, and that you don’t change simply for change's sake, but with a purpose and vision for what happens next.  Move forward fearlessly and you’ll reap the rewards. 

For more of Emily Cohen's business insights, don't miss her new book Brutally Honest: No-bullshit business strategies to evolve your creative business, which is out now. 

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A brutally honest consultant, Emily Cohen has been honoured to consult and work with many leading design firms. Through these experiences, she has developed, tested, and curated key business insights and strategies that have helped firms become more effective, profitable, and fun to work at. Emily conducts strategic business planning retreats and provides confidential, best-practice insights and advice on staff, client, and process-management strategies. She loves sharing her expertise through speaking engagements, guest posts, her Skillshare class, webinars, industry activism, and, most recently, in her new book: Brutally Honest, No-bullshit business strategies to evolve your creative business. She is also fast-talker, a designer by degree, an avid reader, a trend-spotter, a connector, and her clients’ advocate.