18 October 2011

Do You Really Want To Quit Your Day Job?

In talking to people about what it is that I do, I end up getting asked for advice on all kinds of things. Sometimes I feel like I should bite my tongue in order to be more encouraging of people to follow their dreams, but I am not sure that is doing them any favours. Don't get me wrong. I am all about people leading the life they want to live, but that is kind of part of it. The whole doing what you love for a living is a dream for many and a goal for some. I try to share my experiences with people to help them learn a little more quickly the lessons I have learned the hard way, but there are some of those lessons that you just cannot be spared. Be forewarned, I am going to be honest here, and tell you that even though I love what I do, I don't always love it every day. When speaking to someone who is starting a business, transitioning their hobby to a full time business, or just evaluating what they might need to do to continue doing business, one needs to consider all of the pieces in the big picture to model their business structure so that it is sustainable. I see a huge disconnect in value of ones time as a small business person v. someone who works for someone else for a paycheck. I have spoken to a good lot of people in the last several years who feel pressured to turn their hobbies into business.

I have given the scary advice that maybe you shouldn't turn your hobby into a business. Supplemental income is great, but do you really have what it takes to make this into a full time endeavour? There are so many things we take for granted being gainfully employed by someone else. The magical things that just happen that we don't have to think about ever. Those things, you have to do them yourself! All of them. Many of the things usually employ people with advanced degrees. Advanced degrees we don't have. If you would have told me that I would be able to talk about Social Media and Marketing Platforms two years ago, I wouldn't have known what you were talking about. I would have thought you were talking about shoes. Now the lingo spills out of my mouth, and I can hear myself sounding like some sort of marketing alien from another planet.

You also don't have certain luxuries. Sure you can blow off work at any time to go to the river, but then you may just find yourself like me having 2.5 days off in the last two months. Maybe, you have no income to speak of for oh, three months, but then you have orders stacked to the ceiling in a two week period. Or if a family member dies or you have to go through a traumatic break up, you can't really mourn and freak out for the weeks or months it takes to really process such an event. Also you have to go buy office supplies. And do your own books. And @#&! TAXES! Some of these harrowing aspects can take a toll on your personal relationships as well; not to mention your creativity. And sick days? Those deadlines become so much more crucial when you don't get paid until you cross that finish line. It is also your reputation that is on the line, and how you perform now has a direct correlation to whether you get future projects. The stakes are higher.

It is deceptively easy to to start. You make a thing, and your friend likes it, and suggests you start an Etsy shop. Nothing wrong with that; I love Etsy, and I owe a lot to Etsy, but you get out of it what you put into it. And even then there are so many factors to seeing results. I have to ask if you love making the thing, will you love making the thing all day every day, and spending all night every night on the computer? That was another shocker for me. I had absolutely no idea (I started my business at a time where the internet wasn't a factor) how much time I would be spending on the computer. Editing photos, researching, interacting with customers, writing copy, finding venues to sell your work, constant tweaking. Learning to manage my time is still a huge struggle. I know, it just all seems like something anyone can do, but you know what? Not everyone has the wherewithall to start their own business, and keep going. Talk to any small business owner, and they will tell you; it is not for the faint of heart. You don't do it because you sort of like to make things, you do it because you have to make things. You have to. Now that is not to discount the passion of the hobbyist, but it does take a special breed of person to take on such a huge undertaking. Many will tell you that they had NO IDEA what they were getting themselves into when they started. Many will tell you they still have no idea..

Yes, I do love what I do, but not every day. Some days are amazingly productive. The designs work like magic. Other days are spent in mind numbing production where I am so sick of making flowers I could scream. (Sorry little flowers; you know I love you, it's just that I always have to make so many of you at once..) You have to be prepared for there to be days that you have to do things that aren't the best use of your time, and for a while you may not be able to outsource your tedious tasks to someone else. Unexpected things come up that require immediate attention that only you can give. We all can dream of magic production elves, but we are magic production elves often doing the work of several people.

What's my point in saying all of this? It is that you should know as much as possible about what you are getting yourself into; though even as prepared as you can try to be, there is always a learning curve. And there are always the bad parts that people leave out of polite conversation. I have bitten my tongue over the years, but recently, I feel like I am not doing anyone any favours by leaving out the hard parts. I am not saying these things to discourage the prospective small business person; not at all. You should just have an idea of what you are getting yourself into. That it is hard, and everything always takes longer that you want it to; sometimes it takes years. There are a very few that had easy smooth sailing into a successful business. It takes a lot of determination and an insane idea that you just aren't going to completely fail. That failures are learning experiences, and that after all is said and done, you have to make the things. And that for the most sucktacular week you have, there will be some random person who will tell you how much they love your work, and that makes it all worth it.

02 October 2011

Putting Yourself in the Right Place At the Right Time

PNCA - Meet and Greet!
photo: etsy labs

I am such an occasional writer these days, but I have had many ideas to share with little time to share them aside from twitter. These end in long form rants that are in fragments that get my point across, but may sound a bit insane. As you may or may not know I have been a part of a group called I Heart Art PDX that has been putting on low or no cost programming around building your small creative business, professionalism and valuing your time. Okay, maybe that isn't the official tag-line, but that has been what it has turned out to be. We are nearing the end of our second year, and making some decisions on sustainability for our program, and we just put on a conference about sustainability called Hello Etsy. I am not going to talk in depth about these things here, but you can read about them on their own sites. Right now my involvement with I Heart Art is inspiring me to write about a variety of more business related topics.

A bit of background: I seem to have a knack of knowing where to put myself at the right time. I can see in the room the person to stand next to, or what show to go to or what corner to turn or what place to be for my next opportunity. I am not particularly aggressive about it, I just look for where my next opportunity might lie and go there. I don't always know what the opportunity will be, just that I need to be open to a possibility, and go to the place. It isn't about being in the right place at the right time, it is about paying attention to where your next opportunity might lie, and go there. The next time you are drawn to someone, just go up to them and say hello, and see what happens. I happened to be at a talk with Matt Stichcomb from Etsy, and I just happened to run into some friends there, and I just happened to find myself in a meeting with Matt and about a dozen people at eight o'clock in the morning (and for those of you who know me, I am NOT a morning person). I went because I was drawn to an opportunity. I had no idea where it would lead me, but I knew that it was important.

These few people (some have moved on, some are still here on the leadership council) are the group that started I Heart Art Portland. A pilot program sponsored by Etsy, PNCA, The Museum of Contemporary Craft and the PDX Etsy Street Team. We have brought innovative education programs, and events to the arts community here in Portland, Oregon. The opportunity to be a part of the creation of this group and this program came at a time where I was seeing some success on the Etsy site, and gaining an online following. I had recently left my old art collective; which had left a bit of a hole. I found myself being asked by a few too many acquaintances to help them start their Etsy shops, organize sales events, or general things that I had experience with. I didn't feel that I was willing to give up my experience and expertise for free, but I wasn't comfortable with the idea of charging for it either. I Heart Art Portland came along at the exact right time. It gave me a group to work with who provided to a broader spectrum of people what individuals were asking of me. It gave me a place to refer people looking for advice on starting and running small creative business.
Ready? Set? Launch!
photo PNCA

The group of people behind the scenes at I Heart Art Portland are truly amazing. Our first event went off without much fuss. It was incredibly well attended. Etsy sent us people. We had beer and cake. We all got along, there were no real disasters, no technical glitches, no bickering or infighting; in short a extraordinary group. Most of the last two years has gone this way; even when we were thrown some major events with short deadlines. Even though I was a part of these accomplishments, I am still in awe of what we have managed to accomplish. In a way, I think that is part of allowing yourself to be open to the possibilities. I placed myself in the right place at the right time, because I saw an opportunity there. I have gained a ton of knowledge, and I have been allowed the opportunity to share that with my community in a way that makes more of a difference than if I sit at home behind a computer all day.

Last Sunday, on the heels of last week's Hello Etsy conference, I got to spend the entire day with the leadership counsel reviewing the year's accomplishments, tossing around ideas, and writing a plan to make our program sustainable. All of these discussions and Hello Etsy made me feel a grand shift in my thinking about my own business too. An overall theme of my life seems to be a realisation of something that I was missing that had been there all along. For instance: using timed tweets and writing an editorial calendar with all the links in one place to market the Hello Etsy conference. I knew about timed tweets for two years, but why had it never occurred to me to use them? And why didn't I research links and write a plan in advance for the marketing? Such a time saver! I wouldn't have to research the same thing over and over. It was right there all along, and I didn't do it. A small thing, but a major revelation. And I have been meaning to write business posts all along, but have never gotten around to doing it.

I came home from our day long council retreat exhausted, but inspired, and I wrote quite a bit. Enough for several blogs worth. Things I was afraid to say, but need to be said. This blog is about process, but this is part of my process too. There is so much more to running my business than making things. Part of my creative process is ideas. My ideas are just as much of a creation as something I make with my hands. Ideas are meant to be shared and discussed. Today's idea is putting yourself in the right place at the right time. It works for me; it may be something you might like to consider too.