I was scrolling through Instagram this morning and noticed someone call out the significance of the first Monday of 2016! While I've been able to enjoy a somewhat restful workweek between Christmas and the New Year, my to-do list for the day is LONG. January is an exceedingly busy month. I was so distracted by my list of meetings and action items that it took me quite awhile to step back and observe the progress I've made over the course of the year. Given that so many of us are in planning mode, my aim is to share the story of how I approached my transition to full time and encourage those of you who may be planning to grow your creative business (maybe even to full- time) AND those of you who are simply curious. Read on to learn the abbreviated version of 2015 story, and a few practical tips for approaching the year when planning for expansion.
JANUARY - BRANDING, PLANNING, AND WORKSHOPS
In January of 2015, I found myself exhausted by balancing a busy fall semester as a teacher coach and my first "real" Christmas busy season, and looking for rejuvenation. In the pattern of years past, I knew that there would be a spike in wedding projects starting in January. I had already begun sharing that I would likely not return to my coaching job for the next school year. However, I assumed I would simply get another full-time job; I didn't believe that I could support myself on my shop income alone at this time. Life was busy in this season. My "day" job was demanding, and it seemed like I was spending every waking hour outside of work...on more work.
I attended the Gather workshop in mid-January, and it a game changer for a variety of reasons. The workshop was based in Atlanta, where the majority of my extended family lives. I made plans to stay with a cherished great aunt, and while I was there, I had to work on closing out a demanding work project for my full-time job. The Gather environment put me into somewhat of a trance. It was like a think-tank and a support group all rolled into one. I was surrounded by so much inspiration and encouragement, and when I went home to my family, I had no choice but to work the time-sensitive project. It was the first time I had seen my great aunt in a few years, and I was heartbroken to miss time with her. After the first night of Gather, I found myself up past midnight, filled with so much creative inspiration but torn by the requirements of the other project, and I was in tears. My hosts didn't understand why I had to stay up so late to work on this project. After five and a half years of working 80+ hour weeks, I realized I had reached my breaking point. I loved my job and the mission of the nonprofit I worked for, but the creative spirit and energy of Gather made me realize that it was no longer the work that was filling me up and allowing me to use the best parts of myself. I left Gather determined to make changes in my life so that I could pursue an identity outside of the one that I had built around work alone.
It's important to note that around this time, I began to look into professional branding services and fell in love with Lauren Hooker of Elle & Company the second I found her. I loved her aesthetic and she emailed me back right away once I inquired about her services. We had a phone call the very next day and it seemed meant to be. Though she was booked until July of 2015, the timing was perfect, as it allowed me to save up for the investment while I was earning both part- and full-time income. I also didn't know it at the time, but branding was a time-consuming (and rewarding!) experience. There was no way I would have been able to take on the process with Elle & Company while working in my full-time job. If you are considering branding services, reach out to a branding professional months before you think you'll need the services. Don't wait until the last minute!
FEBRUARY TO APRIL - PREPARING FOR THE TRANSITION AND SAVING
Though it was difficult to share with my workplace so early on, notifying my full-time job that I would not be returning was the right choice for me, as it gave my team several months to find a replacement and it provided me with many months to prepare for the transition. Work transitions are rarely seamless, and it felt like a mountain of responsibility to get everything organized for my successor. However, one of my main priorities in the spring was to prepare to leave my full-time job. For me, this meant planning for a summer training experience for teachers and organizing plans and resources. If you do choose to make a transition away from a full-time job, I strongly recommend allowing several months to prepare. I was lucky that my full-time employers were understanding and supportive. I hope this is the case for you, too.
I continued working on my shop during this time, fulfilling orders and working on wedding projects. This was a huge time of personal growth for me, and I spent many weekends at workshops learning from professional calligraphers and women I looked up to. I accepted any opportunity to sponsor an event, met new contacts, and worked to get my name out into the creative community where I live.
Around this time, I also made a major decision to change my shop name. I started my business as Magnolia Letter Arts, and when I opened my shop, I spent very little time on the name because I had no intentions of pursuing my shop full-time. If you are considering making a leap to full time, make sure you LOVE your business name before you invest in branding services. Also ensure that you have several weeks, or ideally months, with your new name before you re-brand. I changed my name several months before branding commenced, which was vital. This gave me plenty of time to purchase and re-direct URLs, notify my clientele, and begin improving SEO under the new name.
Once I knew that I would be leaving my full-time job, I began saving a considerable amount of money each month to prepare for the transition and for the costs associated with officially starting a business. While every budget and situation is different, I thought it would be helpful to share that I saved anywhere between $1500-2000 per month during this time. I saved most of the income that my shop was generating and some of my full-time income as well. Depending on your financial situation and the health of your business, this may sound like a lot, and it may sound like a little. For me, however, it actually wasn't enough. I wish I had saved more, as the costs associated with branding, marketing, and start-up costs were steep.
MAY TO JUNE- PLANNED (AND FAILED) DOWNTIME
The month of May was my last month at my full-time job, so I took on fewer projects in order to devote more time to my transition. I officially took June "off" in order to adjust for life as a business owner and prepare for opening my shop in July, but truth be told, I was horrible at being "off." I worked on four styled shoots (which are both time-intensive and expensive) and worked on a variety of wedding projects. I still planned and executed workshops and ran around like a crazy person. I see now that I was too scared to take time entirely off work, for fear of losing an entire month of opportunity to earn income. If you are planning on making such a transition, give yourself some real time off so that you can invest in a strong start. I wish I had done this!
JULY TO AUGUST: REALITY HITS
The first two official months of business were quite low for me personally. I was smacked with an incredible reality check. As a teacher and teacher coach, I had a paycheck magically drop into my bank account twice a month automatically for six years, and I had never experienced life without health insurance provided by my employer. While I made the decision to work on my business full-time in order to pursue a life of my own design, I felt totally out of control. I was working more in this season than I was when I was working a demanding full-time job and running Prairie Letter Shop on the side. My house was a mess, I felt like I was losing touch with dear friends and family, and I pulled the several all-nighters. I spent hundreds of dollars in overnighting and expediting packages to meet deadlines, and I ran on total empty. It was incredibly hard. I clung to my faith and trust in God during this time and relied on the support of my roommate, boyfriend, and Bible study group. I struggle to share about this time because I know that it's an incredible privilege to do what I'm doing, and I realize that millions of people across the world don't get the luxury of pleasant, fulfilling work. I share this struggle because it's one that I know others stumble upon, and I realized that there are plenty of entrepreneurs who learn how to make their businesses work for them.
The silver lining in the cloud of the summer was my branding experience with Lauren Hooker. I absolutely loved the final result of my website and branding, and my business began to pick up in a different, more credible way once I had completed the branding process.
SEPTEMBER TO OCTOBER: NEW NORMAL
After a few months of struggling through the growing pains of the summer, I began to develop systems. I hired an accounting team that I loved. I started to design better ways of organizing work streams and my calendar. I had coaching calls with trusted mentors in the lettering/paper goods world and I began to take steps forward. I continued to build relationships with vendors from near and far.
It was in this season that I also realized that I could support myself on my full-time income alone. Even though I was planning to devote all of my time to my business, I wasn't sure it was possible to support myself without getting another job, and I was pleasantly surprised that I could. It took a few months to feel more comfortable with the pace of earning money in a freelance sense, but I adjusted, and learned that a month is actually quite a while in the lifespan of a business. I set goals for how much income I needed to earn on a weekly and monthly basis.
NOVEMBER TO DECEMBER: HOLIDAY HUSTLE
I learned sometime in October that most product-based businesses begin planning for the holiday season in the summer of that year. Oops! I began planning for the holidays in a bit of a haphazard way in November and learned so many important lessons. The summer had been tough and I had bounced back a bit in the fall, but the first holiday season hit me like a ton of bricks. I was totally unprepared, and though I was super grateful for the incredible outpouring of support, I learned so much about how to prepare better for the next year. Thankfully, I set a goal to close my shop on December 15. I filled my final orders on the 21st and pulled an all-nighter before leaving to see my family in Seattle. However, for the first time in three years, I took the week before Christmas off, and was able to give my undivided attention to my family.
PLANNING FOR 2016
I was blessed with Lara Casey's Power Sheets as a Christmas gift, and I began working on them right before the New Year. It was such a blessing to take a step back and reflect on what had worked and what did not. I had so much to be thankful for. Though there had been some challenging moments in the transition to full-time work, I looked back and was reminded that I was entirely provided for and had so much to celebrate. I also dreamed about the type of business I hope to have moving forward. There's so much pressure to do, and perform, and excel, and meet goals, and I realized that more than anything, I want to be able to glorify God in all that I do. Chasing and aspiring and competing and producing left me nowhere but burned out and bitter. I want to replace all of my desires to achieve for the sake of achievement with the desire to point people to Jesus. I am thrilled that this year I get to aim for that all year long. It gives me the freedom to relinquish control and let God do what He does best. It gives me the freedom to pray for skills and talents, to position myself to use them in a way that brings attention to the light of the world instead of to my own success and glory. It gives me a vision to center every product, workshop, and offering around. If you're a creative business owner looking for scripture to inspire you to use your business to bring glory to the Lord, check out some of my favorites in this season: 1 Peter 4:11, Matthew 5:16, Philippians 1:9-11 .
If you are looking ahead to 2016 and dreaming of a transition to a full-time creative career, let me offer some practical tips to summarize:
1) Decide that you can, and plan accordingly. Does this mean that you need to tell someone about your desire to transition away from a job or career? What steps do you need to take to finish well? How many weeks or months do you need?
2) Save as much money as you can. Running a business is simply not compatible with friviolous spending. In a future post, I'll share hard lessons that I've learned about finances and keeping track of expenses. I also cut most extras and created a strict budget. I cancelled all of the recurring automatic subscriptions that were not vital- my yoga membership, my Spotify account (which lasted all of 2 weeks), Netflix (I use my boyfriend's account) and Birchbox. All luxuries were cut, at least for the short term.
3) But pay for the necessities! Give yourself a few months to go through the process of signing up for health insurance if you need to-- and any other changes you need to fit your new budget. Don't skimp on the things of life that are actually essential.
4) Devote time to planning your business and branding. If you're working with a brand designer, count this as actual work time. Leave space in your schedule for the mental work associated with branding. If you're planning time off, actually take it. Say no to things that will distract you from getting a strong head start.
5) Invest in time with coaches, mentors, and workshops. My suggestion: Gather Workshop and business mentoring by Mattie Tiegreen of Green Tie Studio. I also had coaching calls with Laura Joseph of Paper and Honey, which was super helpful. I attended workshops with Lauren Essl, Janna Wilson, and Ashley Buzzy. If lettering isn't your trade, find experts you can learn from months before you transition.
6) Give yourself grace and ensure that you have a support system. I relied on my friends from church, my roommate, and my boyfriend. All of these cherished people supported me and gave me grace when I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off. Know the people who will support you across weeks and months and share how they can help. If you're struggling, be honest. There's no shame in experiencing some bumps in the road as you pursue your dreams.
What about you?
Where are you right now? Are there any questions I can answer, or ways that I can support you? Let me know in the comments and I'll see if I can point you towards helpful resources. I'm cheering you on!