Yes, you read that right, and you may be wondering why I tweaked the sage advice of starting before you’re ready, as many people and entrepreneurs have advised while sharing their success story. More often than not, their story is shared after the fact, and sometimes many years after reaching success. So this is my attempt to document the restart of my freelance design business as it happens. Scary? Heck yes! Impossible? Only if I continue to believe that I need to feel absolutely ready (prepared, experienced, etc.) to do this.
A little bit about myself, and why this is a restart, rather than a completely new beginning…
Back in 2013, I decided I was going to do it — I would start my own business doing what I love (and as you might guess from the name of this publication): ART.
I’d just finished reading Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way”, religiously followed all the exercises, especially the Morning Pages and Artist Dates, and soon enough those 12 weeks truly transformed me — no joke, because starting an art business was something I never thought nor dreamed of. But before I knew it, my momentum to do what I love, to just start, grew and grew, and I found myself buying a domain and hosting, registering my DBA, applying for a seller’s permit. I was taking action, and decided to take things into my own hands, since only a few years before, the job market was scarce in art and design, so I took on odd jobs, even if it meant taking a pay cut from my previous positions.
For some years, after graduating from college and not having an academic syllabus to follow, I suffered a creative block from making my own art. With “The Artist’s Way” however, I quickly found myself drawing and painting again, more regularly than ever before. Super motivated, I was staying up late teaching myself about graphic design and started designing t-shirts for fun, which I had printed and decided to sell at Pride events that year. Most of the shirts sold and the others I gave away as a promotion. During that time, I built my website on Squarespace, created a FaceBook business page, and to promote my art, I posted my designs on Instagram and FaceBook, all while sharing curated #ARTspirations — art or designs that inspired me. This continued for the better part of 2 years, and I even put together a small art show of my designs with the help of friends and the organizer at a local theater.
Sadly, not much became of the business side for my creative venture, but during that time, I felt like I was living the dream! And I was for the most part: I worked remotely full-time for my former employer (an engineering firm in New York City), on MY terms, which meant I made my own schedule, worked in various coffee shops (one of which was a Starbucks with enclosed patio seating so that my pup Milo could be my “assistant”), I could take longer lunches, or go biking, or even take myself out on Artist Dates any time that I wanted. This lifestyle allowed me to support myself financially, but also my love of art and design, by being able to work for myself, while working for someone else. Overall, I had all the right ingredients: following my passion, a good work ethic, the drive to figure out ways in getting my work out there — yet there was still a missing piece to my puzzle.
Looking back, I realized I had no clear target or focus, and so there were seemingly no strategies to implement. With that lack of focus, I found myself working more and more overtime in my consulting position, and spent less time cultivating my passion, craft, and business.
In early 2014, I’d just started dating my now partner, and soon realized (with her encouragement of course, aka a swift kick of tough love to get my butt into action) that I would need a full-time job until my side hustle could be my main hustle. Thankfully, in getting the word out to friends, I was able to start a new job fairly quickly as a part-time in-house graphic designer for a branch of a food and beverage manufacturing company. The other part of my job was working in procurement and managing various sales accounts. For added income, I still kept freelancing remotely as a consultant to the engineering firm. After my initial hiatus, because honestly, adulting is hard, and I decided I needed to “grow up and get a ‘real’ job, the ARTLABkma was on the back burner for what seemed to be indefinitely. I continued to struggle between jobs and side hustles in the following years.
By the middle of 2016, an opportunity to work remotely as a graphic designer fell into my lap while I was still grinding full-time at the food company. Although I worked 9–5, any of my spare evenings and sometimes weekends, I spent working remotely for 2 part-time jobs. By December of 2016, I was burned out, and by the beginning of 2017, I quit my consulting job to pursue graphic design. As the universe would have it, the food manufacturing company I worked full-time for was downsizing as well. Not long after, I found myself working part-time freelance as a graphic designer, and delivering food for Postmates and Uber Eats as my side hustles until I could find full-time work again. Fortunately, within a few weeks of hustling, and hitting that pavement, putting together a portfolio and revamping my resume, I was offered an in-house graphic design position.
“Start Where You Are. Use What You Have. Do What You Can. “— Arthur Ashe
Fast forward to the end of 2017, after about a year flourishing as an in-house designer, I began to hear the familiar small voice to start my business again. Except for this time, it was not taking no for an answer. Would restarting be like riding a bike and not forgetting? Not quite, but I did feel that same momentum as before, if not stronger. So by January 2018, I committed to that small voice that I would relaunch my freelance business.
Did I have everything I needed to start? Although it did not feel like it, I actually had all I needed, if not much more! Since my first venture in 2013, I have read articles and books, listened to podcasts, and immersed myself with invaluable information and self-development, more this year than I had before. Continuing to always learn, even if it means being a beginner and having the courage to ‘suck’, I am taking courses and choosing to invest in myself, if not financially, then with my time and own work. I have the target of collaborating with and designing for dream clients, becoming financially free, all with the foundation of supporting my family and our lifestyle because they’ve been nothing but supportive to me.
Taking that leap of faith At this restart, I could have easily beat myself up over lost time not working on my business, or cultivating new skills, or starting sooner to work for myself. And I did agonize on this from time to time, but soon realized that all my odd jobs and experiences, even if not related to design at all, had been paving the way. I also knew, that this time around, would be for the long haul, even if that meant starting small, from where I am, using what I have, and doing what I can — and making sure to consistently carve out time to do so. If I waited until I felt I was truly ready, I would never “start,” or in this case, re-launch.
Like I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I decided to start the ARTLABguide to document my experience, reflect on past mistakes, but also share what I learn along the way. In doing so, if I could inspire even just one person to start working on their goals, chasing their dreams into reality, or educate one other budding designer, creative, or entrepreneur, I’d rather share these experiences and gained knowledge imperfectly, than not try at all.
Stay tuned for curated Art and Design inspiration, original creations cooked up in the lab, and of course FREE resources — especially because they’ve helped me so much, they’re too good NOT to be shared. I’ll also be writing about topics related to creativity, the creative process, productivity and overall tips related to design and creativepreneurship.