There’s one question I got on last Tuesday’s post that I didn’t answer. It’s not the first time I’ve gotten it, and probably won’t be the last, and I didn’t post my answer because it leaves me feeling funny (as in funny-awkward, not funny-hilarious). The question’s simple but the answer is a little complicated, and can open up a conversation that I wasn’t sure I wanted to have. But after thinking about it for the better part of a week, I decided why not?
So, here goes.
The question I get from time to time is this: How can I do what you do?
The meaning behind it has ranged from simple curiosity to wanting to replicate everything I’ve ever done online. I never take the question personally because, honestly, I’ve wondered the same thing about people, too.
So, why I do feel funny-awkward answering that question? Because my journey has been crazy and meandering and somewhat different from what other people experience. Replicating what I’ve done is not for everyone.
If that’s hard to hear, let me explain.
When I started selling online, it wasn’t a part-time job, it wasn’t a hobby. I didn’t transition my jewelry shop from part-time to full-time, I started it full-time.
That’s my first big point. I didn’t grow Catie’s Blue organically, slowly building on small successes and milestones. I simply launched it; one day it didn’t exist as a business entity, and the next day, it did. While not totally unique, it was (and is) a different position from what other creatives go through, and I recognize that.
My second point is that at the time, I was 25, single, and had no one relying on me for income. The way I saw it, and still see it, I was in a position to take a big risk without affecting anyone but me. And if it didn’t work, I’d do something else, but at least I wouldn’t be responsible for dragging anyone down if I failed; it was just me that I had to take care of.
But that’s exactly why my answer is the one it is. Not everyone can do what I did because your life situations are different than mine was, and still is. Do you have a full-time office job? A spouse? Children? A house to pay for? Starting a full-time creative business from scratch is a bigger risk for those with full-time jobs, families, and homes to take care of than it was for me. I still took a risk, sure, but it was a calculated one. But what was a calculated risk for me can be potentially damaging for others who have people relying on their income.
That’s why I hesitate when people ask me the “how do I do what you do?” question. It’s not that I think you can’t handle it, aren’t up for it, can’t figure it out, or aren’t talented enough; no.
It’s just that I think it’s a little irresponsible of me to sell you on the idea that you could do things exactly the way I did when you have responsibilities that I didn’t.
Change the question
All that said, I think it’s totally possible for you to start or run a business if you work for it.
The question, though, should change at this point. It should be less about me and what I did, and more about what you can feasibly do.
Because there’s another big difference to note: I had an abundance of free time when I started. Time to create, and time to handle the business side of things. Time to explore and learn, time to mess up and fix it, time to try a bunch of things to see what worked.
Did I mess up along the way? Sure. I didn’t know much about starting and growing a business, so I learned everything on the fly. Was there pressure to bring in sales? Absolutely. And maybe that pressure was more than it would have been had I had a steady income to rely on while I worked on my side business part-time.
But because I had time on my side, I could do all those things and deal with whatever came my way. That’s not the case for everyone, so change the question. What you should be asking is “how can I start or grow a business my way?”
If you’re looking to start or grow a business, my best suggestion is to figure out what you can and can’t do time- and responsibility-wise. If your family can’t afford to live without your paycheck, you already have one thing figured out, and that’s not a bad thing. Knowing where your limits are is very, very good.
It also doesn’t mean you can’t create or sell, period; just that you can’t do it full-time (yet, if that’s your goal). Which means you have to be very savvy about the time you have and maximize it as best as possible.
If your days are full with work and family activities, then find other times to create and check in with business/shop issues – early mornings, late nights, weekends, lunch breaks. If you find yourself with big chunks of time and can work fast, maybe wholesaling is an option, depending on what you’re making.
Or if time is a definite issue, then you know that custom orders may not be something you can do (sometimes, it’s about saying no). If your time is limited, look into solutions that doesn’t require you to be around. Automatic deliveries of PDF tutorials or ebooks, for example, can be handled by sites like E-Junkie, Pulley App, and now Etsy. Sites like Society6 print and ship your art for you. Lulu and Blurb print and ship your physical book. Consignment can work, too, since you’re not the person handling the point of sale, though it can take some leg work on your part to research and establish relationships with shops.
There’s so many options now that you can really customize the way your business runs and operates. And that’s what I really endorse – forget the exact steps that I’ve taken and start brainstorming what you can do.
I hope this helps clarify what I’ve done myself, and where I’m coming from. This post isn’t meant to discourage anyone – just the opposite! I think the world needs more art to feed the soul, and now is the best time to get started. Think of all the resources and things we can do now that just didn’t exist ten years ago. “Now” is a very exciting time for creative businesses.
As always, I’m here if you want to reach out with any other questions! Email me if you don’t want to leave a public comment.
P.S. You might be interested in this post I wrote a while back: Full-time work with part-time hours.
P.P.S. I’m powering through the last few sections of my color theory book this week, and will be opening up for preorders shortly. Mailing list subscribers will get first crack – you can sign up here.