This June will mark 5 years since I left my day job to become a full-time business owner. Today I wanted to share more about my journey so far in the hopes that it may inspire you if want to do the same!
I didn't set out to be an artist as my career, but when I look back, I know I was an entrepreneur from the start.
As a 9 year old, I was hanging out with my cousins and we had some toys other kids in the neighborhood wanted to play with. We decided to "rent" the toys to them for the day, and I think we made a few bucks. But our parents made us give the money back, ha!
As a 16 year old, I took my sewing skills I had learned as a kid and made some one of a kind clothes to sell at a local consignment and costume shop. I still remember my first check, for $15, for my 50% commission of a skirt sold. It was a powerful feeling.
I worked other odd jobs throughout high school and college: in a bakery department at a grocery store, and a postal clerk at our college post office. All the while, I was also participating in local art markets. There are so many art market opportunities here in New Orleans, and I was fascinated that I could take advantage of them, make things myself, and sell them. I did my first market at 17 years old and offered handmade greeting cards and hand-sewn clothing - and I didn't sell a thing.
But I kept going, and pivoted to handmade jewelry made with old postage stamps. I continued with art markets, a little wholesale, and opening an Etsy shop. In 2011, I officially registered my business while in college.
Fast forward to my senior year. As an English major, I realized I didn't exactly know what I wanted to do with my degree, so I got on board with a new concentration my college was offering: digital media. Once I dived into the world of graphic design, I didn't look back! I still graduated with an English degree, but after a solid year of exploring graphic design and even designing my first pattern, I was invigorated and inspired to make this my newfound career.
2012 was a difficult year to graduate and find a full-time graphic design job. Instead, I completed an unpaid internship at a branding agency, then a second paid internship at another branding agency. I started waiting tables at an upscale sandwich shop, until I snagged a full-time graphic design job at a local newspaper. It felt like I had finally made it! Benefits, paid vacation, and everything. It was an amazing feeling.
About one year into my new job, I missed that feeling of exploring with my art and making money on my own terms. I was reading lots of blogs from freelancers in the industry, and had that itch to go out on my own. At the time, I had starting doing logo design and branding projects on the side. I was determined to take that side hustle full-time. I took a business plan class at a local community college, saved money for the next year, and took the leap in June 2015!
When I quit, it was exciting, but it was not easy. Looking back, I had saved money to live off of but I didn't have a real plan. I wasn't super inspired by branding and logo design anymore. What I really wanted was to work for myself and take control of my income. I just hadn't found that exact plan to get me there yet, one that was in line with my actual desires. I knew I was good at branding and logo design, and I knew I could earn income from it, but I didn't have the passion for it like I once did. The first year after I quit my job was the year that I made the least amount of money as a freelancer. Granted that was only about 6 months of the year, but that gives you an idea of how directionless I felt.
So what did I do that year instead? I continued to live off of my savings and jumped into a huge, unpaid project surrounding solely art-making and exploration: The 100 Day Project. I made 100 watercolor patterns and shared them on Instagram. It turned out to be the best thing I could have done. It sparked EVERYTHING since and led me to where I am today.
Now, my business revenue is more than double that first salary and is on track to grow in a big way this year, like it has every year since 2015. More importantly, I love what I do and the freedom it gives me. I get to collaborate with brands on fun projects like textile and product design. I get to make my own products and art fully under my direction, while meeting amazing collectors and customers online and in-person. And now, I get to teach others how to do the same, and help you hopefully avoid some of the major pivoting and lessons I've had to learn along the way!
I know that was detailed, but I hope sharing my story shows you all the different twists and turns it can take to become a "successful" artist or creative business owner. I'm not going anywhere, and I'll be here sharing more advice and strategies with you to set you on that right path.
Where are you in your journey right now? Side hustle, hobby, or full-time gig? Let us know in the comments below!