Secret Society Shawl in Bare Naked Wools Mrs Lincoln’s Lace by Janelle Martin.
Photo courtesy of Janelle Martin
Owning your own business is a dream many people share. It’s an opportunity to create something from scratch, based on your own passions. Owning a business means setting your hours and choosing your place of work. It also means deciding on what to focus on — and when — without having to answer to anyone. Working for yourself in a creative business certainly is alluring.
Yet choosing self-employment also means taking on risk. Many small business owners borrow money in order to launch and grow a venture, debt that they have to pay back over many years. Few new businesses are profitable right away, which will likely mean waiting a long time for a significant paycheck, with no guarantee that regular checks will follow. Small business owners have to figure out how to pay for their own health insurance and save for retirement without the help of an outside employer. And the hours can be long. You may end up working evenings and weekends and feel like you can’t go on vacation without falling desperately behind.
In the world of craft businesses, many of us start out on Etsy, where we’re likely to encounter the message that quitting your day job to pursue your craft business full time is the ideal end goal. Etsy runs a monthly series on their blog called “Quit Your Day Job,” which highlights craft business owners who have done just that, asking them to explain how they got there so that others might emulate their journey.
The most recent “Quit Your Day Job” post featured Satsuma Street, a cross-stich pattern company run by Jody Rice, who left her job as a Hollywood special effects artist “to create fun, modern cross-stitch patterns to appeal to a new generation of stitchers.” With just a $100 upfront investment, Rice now works in her creative business full-time and has sold more than 22,000 patterns. Stories like Rice’s send the message that we should focus on branding, photography and harnessing social media to grow our Etsy businesses until they’re making enough money to support us fully. Then we’ll be living the dream.
But do if we don’t want to?
For many creative people this dream is both financially unrealistic and not actually something they strive for at all.
Janelle Martin is a knitwear designer who sells her patterns on Ravelry. She’s had success, including having patterns published in Knitty, but her day job gives her the financial security and sense of purpose that designing knitting patterns doesn’t.
“In my day job, I’ve worked for not-for-profit organizations for the past 20 years. My day job pays the bills and fulfills that need to have an impact, and my knitwear designing provides the creative outlet,” says Martin, who has been designing knitwear since 2009. “I’ve been lucky enough to work with non-profits that are able to provide a lot of flexibility to my schedule. That flexibility enables me to attend events like Rhinebeck or take time when necessary to meet design deadlines or teach a weekday class.”
Lindsie Bergevin works 30 hours a week as the senior graphic designer at The Idaho Statesman (a daily newspaper and multi-media publishing company) and also works with a portfolio of freelance clients from the craft and sewing industries on the side. Keeping her day job has been an important part of her family’s well-being. Bergevin and her husband also co-own and run an auto repair shop, a venture that doesn’t provide healthcare coverage. Bergevin’s day job provides health benefits for the whole family, and covered her hospital stay when she gave birth to her son. In addition, Bergevin gets short-term disability insurance, which was vital last month when she had surgery and missed work for seven days. Other benefits include dental and vision insurance and four weeks of paid time off.
“That’s the only reason I can go on vacation,” Bergevin says.
Working a day job also has helped Bergevin sharpen her design skills, stay current on issues in the publishing world, and learn to manage time efficiently as a freelancer.
“At work, I’m able to keep up with my illustration skills. I make graphics, maps and charts for the daily paper and that compliments the design work I do for clients,” Bergevin explains. “Working at a media company has taught me so much about SEO and staying relevant. That stuff is totally applicable to the clients I work with and I share those tips with them.”
“I also know that if I’m going to make any progress on my freelance work I have to decide how I’m going to spend my day. I say to myself, ‘OK, I have four hours and I have to get my work done. I can’t watch TV,” Bergevin says, adding that she also enjoys the social aspect of work. “It’s kind of like a reprieve. I have fun with my friends at work and my to-do list there is totally doable.”
Blennerville Stole in Sweet Paprika Designs Adagio by Janelle Martin.
Photo courtesy of Janelle Martin
“I’ve been lucky enough to work with non-profits that are able to provide a lot of flexibility to my schedule,” says Janelle Martin.
Writer Austin Kleon has made it a point to bring a reality check to the quit-your-day-job ethos that’s so prevalent right now on Etsy and elsewhere. He makes the point that a steady paycheck can be the thing that allows your creative output to flourish. “My experience has been that the economic security has always helped my art along more than any kind of ‘spiritual’ freedom or whatever.”
Kleon adds that, once you make doing what you love into your full-time occupation, it becomes your job.
“In other words: you always have a day job,” he says.
If that’s the case, it very well may be that the day job you have now is worth keeping. There’s a lot of value in financial security, benefits, a steady paycheck, on-the-job training and the social environment of a workplace. With those things in place, you just might be able to enjoy your creative time and either grow your business until it sustains you, or keep it as smaller venture that supplements your income.
“I honestly don’t expect ever to make enough through my knitwear design business to have it be my sole income,” knitwear designer Martin says. “For now, my goals are much simpler: release at least 12 designs a year and double my knitwear related income yearly. I’m eager to see where that will take me.”