One of the things that I used to get asked a lot is “when are you giving up the day job?”. I suppose it’s natural for people to look at me and my business and wonder why after over 10 years, I still haven’t gone full time.
There’s a simple answer to that – I don’t want to. In fact, I’m a little offended that you even asked. Because actually, this is something I feel really strongly about and I don’t think is acknowledged anywhere nearly enough. Settle in, I have a lot to say about this.
Long-term readers will be no doubt unsurprised to hear me say that part of this pet peeve stems from Etsy and their evangelising that quitting your day job be your goal when you set up as a designer/maker or artist. They have a whole blog series about it, where once a month, they present you with a portrait of a successful Etsy business who ditched the drudgery of the traditional working week to focus on their artisan business. I have no problem with this at all. I even enjoy reading them from time to time – for example, the recent Satsuma Street story. I am a fan of Jody’s work and so I found that quite interesting to see more about her and her process but I couldn’t care less if she works full time, part time, or not at all, alongside it. The series has some good pointers and makes you think about some aspects of the business side of designing and making from a different angle which is never a bad thing though.
What really grates on me is that I feel this is an unbalanced view. It gives the implication to other designer/makers, and indeed to their customers and the world at large, that unless you’re working towards emulating “living the dream”, then you’re a failure. That to not be in your studio or work space 24/7, working on your “niche”, that you’re somehow less inspiring or less successful than those who are. That bothers me, a lot. It’s by no means restricted to Etsy, of course. We’re all guilty of comparison (it’s the thief of joy) and one-up-man-ship and this implication of failure for not being full-time is part of that (but that’s for another day).
Sending the message, directly or indirectly, that you’re somehow not as successful as those full-timers is also, I feel, damaging to those people who are out there with a creative talent who are thinking about getting into selling their work. Becoming a full-time designer/maker or artist is not something you just fall into overnight, and behind so many “success stories” is the recurring theme of “I worked bloody hard to get here”. If you’re faced with an insurmountable goal from the get-go, we might miss out on some amazing talent who just don’t bother to try.
For my own personal situation, I have never ever been about wanting to quit my day job. For all I sometimes complain about my job, I do actually, for the most part, enjoy it. I work hard at it and have built up a whole wealth of skills that help me in my business, too. Being able to come to work and use my brain for something other than cross stitch allows me to exercise parts of it that would otherwise turn to mush. There is the odd day, I will admit, where I would rather stay at home and get stuck into a project, because I am a mere human, but overall, it’s just never been about that for me.
Working for a big company allows me to learn essential business skills, how to communicate with people, how to present information and puts me in touch with a ready-made potential client base (because y’all know I am not beneath hawking my wares in the break room at Christmas time, or setting up a Valentine’s Day card stand in February).
I’ve had a variety of jobs and worked for companies of varying sizes, so I have a wide experience to call upon. That time I cried in the Ops Director’s office because I couldn’t work out the right ratio for a refund budget – I do actually now look back upon that and am glad I went through the embarrassment, because it led to me learning all sorts of stuff I never would have if I’d continued muddling through on guess-work. I’ve done work-based courses that led to qualifications that allowed me to progress and ultimately earn more money, all of which has been a safety net to fall back on in leaner times in my own business.
Could I have taken such a prolonged break over the past year if I didn’t work full-time? No, of course not. Having the financial freedom to do stuff like that just makes sense to me. Sure, I have to compromise on time, and sometimes I have to work late into the night to meet deadlines, or get a particular project finished. But I wouldn’t really change it, because for me, it works.
The UK designer/maker scene is fairly supportive and friendly, so I have gotten to know a fair few women (for they are overwhelmingly female) who have very successful day jobs they wouldn’t dream of giving up – we’re talking doctors, lawyers, fire fighters, that sort of thing. Does it make them any less of a success in their business? No, it does not. If anything, it makes them all the more driven, that they can fit in making a go of it alongside saving lives and fighting crime.
Shift work is also possibly something to do with it – I work shifts in the broadcasting industry, so it allows me to structure my business time differently from someone who works in a shop, for example. There’s nothing wrong with either approach, but I probably manage to wring out a little more time during the week and during the day, than someone having to be at the whim of “normal business hours,” whatever those are these days.
For those of you think this sounds like sour grapes – you couldn’t be more wrong. I am genuinely thrilled if you want to go full-time with your business and get to a position where you can. I’ll support you to the hilt. But it is not the be-all and end-all and it doesn’t make you more of a success than the next person. Working hard and winning at business is for everyone and I just want to celebrate this small corner of the diverse community that is indie business.
If you are reading this and thinking, shut up, I’m totally working towards being a full-time needle-felter/keyring maker/sock knitter, then this article from Kim Lawler is a good and useful read about preparing yourself financially. Some other useful reads:
Don’t Quit Your Day Job – why working whilst you establish a business can be a good move.
Don’t Quit Your Day Job…Yet – experience on working whilst building a business to a scale-able state from Huffington Post.
Get Your Project Moving Whilst You Work – some good advice from Harvard Business Review.
None of these are rocket science (and none of them are places I’d usually go for advice) but they all have some relevant points and offer food for thought if you are thinking of taking the plunge.
Coming up next week, I have an interview with a very clever designer who manages to be a doctor and a designer at the same time. Do pop back and read that, as it’s a great insight into the life of a very busy person.
Me, I’ll keep on keepin’ on and most resolutely won’t be quitting my day job any time soon!*
*Unless I win big on the scratch cards, then you won’t see me for dust.