For those of you who have followed me closely on Instagram, you may know that my calligraphy journey started in the fall of 2014 when I had an “awakening” in a sense. As a left-handed writer I finally realized that calligraphy was possible for me with the right tools. And, if I’m being entirely honest, that’s when the idea for a full-time career started to bloom.
I grew up in a household with a Dad who had started many small business endeavors over the years, many of which grew enough to where he could sell them. The spirit of entrepreneurship was instilled in me at a very young age. I loved playing banker and creating transactions where I either received or spent money. I would keep track of these transactions on a sheet of paper, always happy when I discovered that I had made a “profit”. Of course, this was all pretend but I was fascinated by the process. I think the idea of making money was exciting to me. I also had a heavy obsession with paper, but that’s a topic for another time.
Fast-forward to the fall of 2014. People had constantly complimented me on my handwriting growing up and I finally had the chance to use it in a way that would allow me to create a career out of it as long as I went about it the right way (aye, there’s the rub – more to come on that).
I got my first commission piece two months into doing calligraphy. I handwrote a recipe on an 11x17 piece of paper for my roommate’s long-time family friend and, honestly, I look back on that and I’m shocked that she even hired me! But you always have to start somewhere. I got engaged in November 2014 and immediately knew that I wanted to address my envelopes, make my Save the Date, design my invitations, make wooden signs, place cards, escort cards, the whole nine-yards. When my wedding planner asked me and my Mom if we wanted to look through their stationery options it was immediately a “no thank you” for me.
Y’all, I was so determined. I will have to write about my DIY wedding paper goods in another post, but I can tell you a lot of it did not go according to plan. But, all that mattered to me was that I was setting myself up for the future. My wedding was the first wedding I officially created paper goods for, and that was my way of propelling myself into the industry and learning everything I could about calligraphy, hand lettering, wood signs, printing, and more! It was the perfect experience for me because I understood first hand what I was going to need to do to make brides happy in the future.
After I got married, my husband and I moved to Marietta, GA where he began grad school. I got a 9-5 job at a small real estate boutique, and every evening I came home to hustle my butt and work towards to ultimate goal of becoming my own boss. I had a friend at small group say to me, “You’ll never truly be happy until you work for yourself,” and for me that was definitely 100% true.
There is no secret formula to getting to the point where you can quit your 9-5 and become your own boss. But I do have advice and insight on what helped to get me there, and hopefully these tips will help you as well! Keep in mind, all of these tips are things that you can be doing NOW, while you’re working a full-time job. These tips are designed to help set you up in a way that will make your transition to a full-time creative job easier to do.
1. Take yourself seriously.
I can’t stress this enough! If you do not take yourself seriously and consider yourself a calligrapher, artist, writer, or whatever it is that you strive to be, no one else will take you seriously either. For me, this started with a few simple words. “I am a calligrapher.” When people would ask about my job I would of course tell them where I worked during the day, but I would add, “I’m also a calligrapher! That’s what I’m really passionate about.” By simply admitting to myself that I was a calligrapher, I was also admitting it to others and, at the same time, getting my name out there. I can’t tell you how many projects I’ve gotten from word of mouth because someone happened to know that I was a calligrapher.
2. Create a business name.
One of the best ways to take yourself seriously is by creating a business name that you love and are willing to stick with. See my ABOUT page to see how I came up with mine! Once you have a business name you have taken the first step toward branding yourself – and now you can tell people what your business is called. Not only will people recognize you as an artist, but they will eventually start recognizing your business name the more you continue to use it. If this is something you struggle with, don’t fret, just continue to jot down ideas until you find something that fits you. If at all possible, try to stick with the business name you choose! You will only create more work and stress for yourself if you keep trying to change it. I first started calligraphy in September 2014 and it wasn’t until March 2015 (6 months later) that I knew what I wanted my name to be. You guys, I really thought about it. Because (like #1 says) I was trying my best to take myself seriously.
Sidenote: this step normally involves a logo as well, but don’t get hung up on that part! If you need to, simply choose a font that you really enjoy and make something in Paint or PPT. You might think I’m kidding but I’m not. Use your phone to take pictures of your hand-drawn logo (if that’s applicable to you) and upload it to your computer. It’s as good as a scan, sometimes better. My logo was made in Paint y’all,; that’s how desperate I was to get everything going! If you are truly passionate about pursuing your dreams, don’t get hung up on the technicalities. There is no “right” way to go about something in the creative realm!
3. Get a website.
Wordpress, SquareSpace, Wix, Blogger, I don’t care. Just do it. When you start telling people about your business you want to have somewhere to send them to! It doesn’t matter if all you have is a “home” page with one picture and an “about” page with one paragraph. You will not only be taking yourself more seriously by doing this, but others will take you more seriously as well. They’ll start realizing that you’ve put thought into your business and that you’ve built something. And that’s super important. Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Etsy are all great things to have as well but they won’t have as much of a “professional” impact as a website will. If you’re not willing to spend the money to make a website then I’m not sure what to tell you. You can do it for as cheap as $20 from my experience. SquareSpace (which is what I use) is about $100 a year and it is so worth it.
Don’t expect your website to be built overnight! I bought my domain name and website subscription in April 2015 and I didn’t launch my site until December 2015. These things take time. You are not in a race. You are in it for the long haul, and it will take many nights and many months to get there. I’m telling you all of this so that you know how much time I spent (or didn’t spend when I didn’t have the time) on these things to get my business set up.
I also recommend buying business cards once you complete this step. You can get them for very cheap from a lot of places, or you can even print your own! It’s just an additional thing to hand out that says to people “I’m really doing this and I’m taking it seriously.”
4. Write down your goals.
The power of writing things down will do you a whole world of good. This past New Years I wrote a goal list of 10 things that I wanted to accomplish by the end of the year that directly related to my business. And I posted it to Instagram as well because it often feels more official when you put it out there for others to see and keep you accountable - To see the post go HERE. Long story short, I had accomplished almost all of my goals by about half way through the year. Whether that means I grossly underestimated myself, or I was just a super overachiever, it doesn’t really matter. All that mattered is that I had something I was striving toward. A journey without a destination can be fun, but it won’t be very fruitful. As soon as you vocalize your goals and make them known you will have a new sense of direction!
5. Separate your finances.
This is another thing that I’m super passionate about when it comes to business. Not only does it create peace of mind, but it also sets you up for success in the future and it will help you start budgeting and understanding your expenses now. I remember when Will (my husband) and I were sitting in marriage counseling in the spring of 2015 and I told our pastor at the time that I was planning on pursuing calligraphy. I was nervous about the financial side of it so I asked him directly, “How do we manage our finances for that?” And his immediate response was, “Keep it separate. Put it in a different account and run it like a business.” Those words were exactly what I needed to hear. Even though my “hobby” at the time wasn’t a business yet, I still needed to treat it like it was. There’s no point in draining your personal savings and not being able to keep track of it.
Now you may be wondering, where does the money for this separate account come from? And my honest answer is this: you have to invest in yourself. Whether that means you start with $100, or with $1,000, you need to place money in that account that will be used for your materials and getting yourself up and running. Will and I had a discussion about how much I would be starting with and, if you have a spouse, I recommend you have a similar discussion.
Here’s another thing you should know: between Sept. 2015 and Sept. 2016 I occasionally made a profit and I was never in the red (meaning I only used a debit card for my account and I didn’t spend money on art supplies if I didn’t have it) but I didn’t pay myself ONCE. Any money I made went right back into my business and new supplies. I also wasn’t prepared to pay myself anyway since I didn’t have my business officially registered, and it’s not like I was making enough money in the first place.
The time that you have while working your 9-5 with your “hustle” on the side is extremely valuable; is the perfect time for you to nail down your pricing and shipping, figure out what you need contracts for, and create processes. It’s also a great time for trail runs! I did a lot of projects that I realized I should have charged a lot more for. But at least I did those projects while I was working a full-time job that covered the bills!
6. Work work work work work.
Working towards full-time with my business was more than a year-long process for me, especially when you factor in the whole “getting married and moving across the country” part of it. Life will often get in the way, but if you’re motivated enough you will figure out a way to work around it! In September 2015 I really pursued my dream of doing calligraphy full-time. I went into the interview for my job that I would have the year with the mentality that it was temporary. Honestly, it almost helped me later that I ended up disliking my day job. There’s no point to elaborate on all of that, but it did push me to work towards something that I loved.
This is the exhausting grind. The grind of working a job during that day, coming home and making dinner (at least for most of us), and then sitting down in the evening to crank out some work. This part is not easy at all. It will test you in so many ways, stress you in others, and be a downright bitch. That’s just putting it nicely. I was so tired so often I almost didn’t know how I was functioning. It helped that my husband was always super supportive, but it didn’t help for me to be looking at other people on social media who were pursuing their dreams when I didn’t feel like I was fully pursuing mine.
You guys. I can’t stress this enough. Please don’t make yourself miserable. If there’s someone out there that is too discouraging for you to look at or follow, whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, the works, don’t drive yourself into the rabbit hole of madness. Just un-follow them and I’m sure they’ll understand. I un-followed a lot of big-name calligraphers all at once because I realized that if I was ever going to find my own style and grow on my own path that I couldn’t be distracted by what someone else was doing. It’s better to find and network with other creatives that are in similar stages as you! If all you’re doing is following artists who have been calligraphers for 5+ years you’re not doing yourself any favors (especially when you compare yourself to them).
Additionally, if you have a question about something, perhaps a technique, paper type, paint, etc, that’s completely fine. But instead of asking someone else what they’re using, go out and buy a few different kinds of watercolors. Buy a couple of different paint brushes and see which one you like! When I first started making wood signs I just went to the store and bought about five different paint pen types. Because why not?! You have to figure out what is best for you. Asking questions is sometimes necessary, but I’m all for taking action. Experimentation mixed in with some trial & error is the best way to gain experience.
7. Eventually take the leap.
I reached a place in my life where I was so discouraged by my day-job and so passionate about pursuing calligraphy and my art (after already doing it for two full years) that I finally made a plan. And by “made a plan” I mean I talked to my husband; we determined how much longer I needed to pursue my day job (he wasn’t going to just let me quit), and how much money we would have to budget for from our savings each month if I didn’t bring in income. We literally planned on me not making a dime for the first 6 months. I was morbidly realistic about everything, and I almost have to laugh at myself for that a little but I think it was also essential. An attitude of realism will also protect you in the business world.
I knew I was ready to go full-time when I realized that I could no longer grow my calligraphy business without dedicating myself to it completely. There wasn’t any way it was going to continue to grow more without me intentionally fostering it on a daily basis. Eventually I came to a crossroads where the saying “If not now, when?” was constantly running through my mind. And right around that time is when I put in my two-weeks notice at work.
Questions or comments? Please leave them below! I will try to talk about each of these points more in depth in separate blog posts, as well as tell you more about what my life looked like when I first went full-time. Hope you enjoyed this post!