NOTE: This is a guest post written by Gayle Johnson who is a freelance writer and owner of www.redtreewriting.com. After reading this you will walk away with some great tips from three amazing creative ladies.
Do you have artistic talent or top sewing skills that your friends swoon over? Have you thought how great it would be to make a living doing what you love, but written it off as an impossible dream?
Meet three moms who’ve made the leap: what they did to make it happen, plus their essential tips for turning pro yourself.
Melissa is a papercutting artist who went full-time with her craft in May 2012, six months after first picking up a scalpel. She’s built up a huge (and profitable) following for her art since then, with her business financing her family’s living expenses and profits growing year on year.
She’s found the biggest challenge in running her own show has been fitting everything in: “I start work at my desk at about 10am, after I’ve done the school run and walked the dog and done any pressing chores. I work until school pick up, then I’m back at my desk about four nights a week from around 8pm… Sometimes until 4am depending on my workload.”
She’s also learned a thing or two about successful business models.
The first few months of Holmes-made were like a rollercoaster; I became booked up for 18 months in advance. In hindsight, it was bad for business –I had to turn customers away, plus I hadn’t got my pricing structure quite right so, although the money was coming in, I probably wasn’t earning as much as I could have been!
She also said – “I’ve now introduced ready-to-buy products like notebooks, mugs and prints which are reproduced from my originals, making my designs more affordable. That does mean that a lot of my time is spent packing orders, doing marketing and updating my web shops (when I’d often much rather be cutting!), but it’s all part of running a business.”
Aside from the lack of sleep, she wouldn’t change a thing. “Getting to be creative and colorful in a world that can sometimes seem completely the opposite…knowing that I made a customer cry with their commission… the aim of my work is to spread happiness, so yes, that’s the ultimate really.”
Kendal makes slings and other beautiful things from home and sells them through her Facebook page. She’s amazed by the way something she started doing for friends has grown so organically, and has no desire to return to her previous employment in media and communication.
“I felt a strong urge to do something creative for my daughter after she was born in 2010. After a year of making dresses and quilts, friends and family were very keen to buy them. And it simply got bigger as friends of friends were asking too. I set up a Facebook page intending my crafts to be a very small hobby/occasional business type of thing, but I’ve ended up getting orders all the time.”
She had to make some changes when the business took off: “I did have to create a clear space in our home which was mine, and use tools like Evernote to keep on track of orders. Now I’m working professionally I’ve also invested in a great sewing machine and other kit such as quilting rulers and cutting mats – really the best I can find, since it makes a genuine difference both to the finished product and how easy and enjoyable the work is to do.”
She’s keeping her business small for now but makes enough to support her children’s hobbies and provide family treats while upholding her work and parenting values.
“I can be really flexible and still be there to nurse my youngest or read stories to my older two. Plus I feel strongly that work should always be a good use of your time. Enjoy it. Value yourself enough to do something you love to do.”
Laura’s always been an artist. She trained in textiles and then created her own design and paper company in 2010 when she couldn’t get a job near home doing what she loved. She went full time, around caring for her newborn, in December 2013.
She’s found it important to take herself seriously and invest in her business. “To get going I researched how the industry worked and put in some upfront investment in catalogs and trade shows. That paid off and now I have regular clients all over the world, with agents handling my business in Europe and Australia.”
Laura now turns over around $70,000 a year, working during naptimes, evenings and weekends only. She recommends growing a thick skin and being persistent to see your business grow.
“What’s beautiful to you isn’t to everyone. Or people will say they want your work and you’ll never here from them again. That’s fine. Just get out there – there are people who will love what you do – you just need to find them.”
So, how do these creative businesswomen recommend you turn your talent into profit?
- Plan your time
The big one. Whether it’s buying in childcare, working during school hours, calling on your network of friends and family to help with kids, or burning the midnight oil, you need to commit specific time just for your business. This isn’t just so you can get things done – it forces you to take your work seriously. You need time when your mind can focus solely on your work.
- Invest in yourself
You might need training to boost your skills and confidence, high quality kit to ensure your product is at its best, or marketing materials to get yourself out there. Don’t worry about being too glossy right from the start. But trust that if you’re spending some money before you make any that it’s not a waste, it’s an investment. You’re playing a long game. Try and go into it with a cushion of savings to see you through the early days.
- Use organizational tools
There are loads of free tools available online to help you plan and get organized. Google Drive, Trello, Evernote… have a look around and see what suits you best for tracking projects, prospective clients and orders. Then use it – set yourself goals and stick to them.
- Delegate what you can
Call on whoever is available! If you’ve got a ton of work on, get friends and family to help with the non-specialist tasks: packing boxes, supporting you at trade/craft fairs, admin. If you’ve got no work on, get people to help spread the word and promote you. And when you’re flying, employ an accountant to look after your finances – they can help with cashflow planning and analysis too.
- Develop a professional network
If you’re working for yourself you don’t have a ready-made circle, you have to create it. Looking on social media for other people doing what you do is a great way to start. As well as providing inspiration, support and mutual marketing, your network will see you through the down times and give you somewhere to whine if customers/suppliers have let you down!
- Do something you love…
Mel, Kendal and Laura all say this – it’s so much easier to motivate yourself when you do something you love and believe in. And Melissa points out that your customers will notice too: “Keeping an authentic voice with your customers is vital – if you’re a bit more hippy than corporate, stick with it – there’s a marketplace for what you do and people will love you for being you.”
- …But remember you’re in business
You might adore producing bespoke designs but if you find it’s taking hours and you can’t make it pay, consider diversifying your range with more off the shelf products that can be produced en masse. Similarly, you may find that your favorite work isn’t your customers’… it’s important to keep an eye on what people are buying and your profit margins to keep your business healthy.
- Look after yourself
When you run your own business self-care is so important – if you don’t do the work you don’t get paid. But it’s especially important when you’re a creative professional: you don’t want to burn out or start to resent the thing you used to love. So build in time to have fun, relax, do something just for you. Find a way to be playful and joyful to keep the creativity flowing.
- And finally… Start small – but start!
You’re not going to know if you can make it work unless you try. Be brave and get yourself out there, learning as you go. You and your children will thank you for it!
About the Author: Gayle Johnson is a freelance writer and owner of www.redtreewriting.com. She is a firm believer that motherhood can have a positive, transformational influence on women’s professional lives and spends much of her time writing about that. She also supports other working freelance moms through producing honest, powerful content for their blogs and websites. When not working, she’s home educating her children and dreaming of keeping chickens.