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.


Crafterella said...

I completely agree with all you've said, however I'm glad I didn't know anything when I started (I'm still in the waiting years/"hobby" stage) I thought it would be sooooo easy, make it, put it on etsy, and someone will buy it (ha)! I still have a long way to go and my family is first right now, but I'm slowly growing my online business. I also think that there is more to being successful than just selling a handmade products, a creative approach needs to be taken.

Kirsten Moore said...

@ Crafterella I don't have any regrets either. It is just that I am asked for advice all the time, and it feels disingenuous to leave this part out. It is important to me to encourage people to follow their dreams and to do what is best for them; sometimes it is just being a hobbyist. If being a hobbyist makes you happy, you should not be pressured to "take it to the next level" if that is not what you want to do.

Take me for instance. People keep telling me that I should go into consulting. I don't want to. Not because I am afraid of it, I just love to make things, and that is my day job that I have no intention of quitting in order to tell people how to be better at social media and etsy for my living. But, I do feel that it is worthwhile to volunteer my time for I Heart Art Portland and write the occasional business blog post.

Taking things slowly is a good way to go about it. Taking things slowly is usually the way things go whether you want them to or not, and part of being able to do what you want with your time, is taking care of yourself and doing what you need to do to survive. Hopefully there is some fulfillment in there somewhere.

Jesse said...

"after all is said and done, you have to make the things"

That made me smile! There's always that one design that sells better than anything else, and sometimes it's the only one that sells, and if I have to make it one more time.... well, I have to.

Great post.