3 Things I wished I (really) knew before going all in with my small business

Oh hello there! This is Ruth from Seniman Calligraphy!-Photo by Adi from Axioo.

Oh hello there! This is Ruth from Seniman Calligraphy!-Photo by Adi from Axioo.

Yup, I decided to take a leap of faith and begin full-time on my calligraphy business at the beginning of this year and currently trying to survive my first wedding season! It's pretty crazy to look back one year ago. I was asking my friends to let me create their mothers' day cards and had less than fifty followers on Instagram (..and this goes without saying, I was still pretty bad at calligraphy). 

For a good part of Seniman Calligraphy’s first year, it was a passion project. I had a good paying day job at a small interior design firm. If you're curious with my past life, you can give my old coworkers some love here. I was the companies fourth hire; the first two being the owners and the third left for better job offer. As part of a very small team, I became well aware of everything that's goes into running a company. Like most small companies, we all wore multiple hats at the same time. At first, I thought it would be easy transitioning to running my own business. I was so so wrong! 

1. It's not easy to go from steady paycheck to the unsteady income!

If I had to name the hardest change to deal with, this is definitely first on the list! How hard? It's the one thing that will creep in the back of your mind every time you have any doubt about your business. Admittedly, I took the previous stability of a full-time job for granted. Once every two weeks I had the same amount of money direct deposited into my checking account so planning our monthly budget was very easy! Compare that to now. Today there are sales goals that I need to reach every month to insure bills are paid. I dread the first of the month now! All the bills and subscriptions are due. Striking out on your own means often times fighting up your belt and living life more frugally.  

But what I hate the most is the fact that all my transactions take more than couple of days until I can see the money in my checking account! No biggie if I didn’t have to provide any supply up front, but most of the time I do. So I finally got myself a business credit card. I didn't need them last year because there was not that many business purchases. This gave me a buffer so I didn’t have to use cash to cover my purchases for a project. 

And since paper is my biggest expense, I’ve turned into a paper hoarder now! Every little snips and clips can be used for future projects! My husband loves it :) Recycling the back of art paper previously used for scans, extra scraps of lettra for my branding, along with keeping all boxes to reuse for future shipping or hauling workshop materials are a few ways I minimize my waste. And this goes without saying, I try to buy everything bulk.

No paper goes wasted!!!! Handmade papers adds up, especially this beauty from Silk and Willow!! I horde everything from Shellie, EVERYTHING (the twine, the box, sample ribbon, everything)!-Photo from Tenth and Grace

No paper goes wasted!!!! Handmade papers adds up, especially this beauty from Silk and Willow!! I horde everything from Shellie, EVERYTHING (the twine, the box, sample ribbon, everything)!-Photo from Tenth and Grace

2. Putting premium price tag on my time.

I used to have a "portfolio price" for a good portion if my first year in business. I charged lower than market value and did many pro-bono projects, essentially more to show in my portfolio. It worked out because I'm not depending on this income. It was basically a self-sustaining hobby. As for the fee; my thinking was “as long as I make the same amount of hourly like I did on my day job, I'll be just fine.” 

But that's not possible to do anymore! Because this business is such a tiny baby, I only make money when I'm working. Add the obligatory time of marketing (taking portfolio photos, Instagram, on-site styled shoot, and so much more), correspondence, invoicing and estimate, packaging (it's half of the experience), and so many other unpaid tasks; and there's only so much time in the day where I can humanely work! This means, the time I can actually do work needs to be worth 2-3x my hourly target rate to cover the extra administration time. 

I had to make a decision… My old pricing model was not sustainable. Change was needed in order to keep the business afloat. I increased my prices and I was able to vouch for this decision using my portfolio. Some other decisions had to be made… There will be no pro-bono work anymore and I have to be very selective on who I want to collaborate with. I was scared at first of course, what if nobody will pay me or call me anymore? Fortunately, everyone has been very supportive. Or as my hubby put it, "Start acting like the hot shit and people will think you are!". 

Yes, this handmade vow books looks lovely! It took me a good couple hours to paint and write, hand stitch to bind, and add the finishing touch with Silk and Willow ribbon. I will have to charge a minimum of $85 retail to break even (with time and materials) but most people don't realize how long it take me to create this.-Photo from Tenth and Grace.

Yes, this handmade vow books looks lovely! It took me a good couple hours to paint and write, hand stitch to bind, and add the finishing touch with Silk and Willow ribbon. I will have to charge a minimum of $85 retail to break even (with time and materials) but most people don't realize how long it take me to create this.-Photo from Tenth and Grace.

3. They're not joking about wearing multiple hats!

Although, it's more like wearing multiple hats while juggling chainsaws while riding a unicycle! I'm my own marketing department, social media manager, product photographer, shipping and packaging department, accountant; and obviously the calligrapher, painter, and illustrator! And oh, laundry continues to be done, dishes need to be unloaded, and the house needs to be clean! Oh and did someone drop off the rent yet? There goes the late fee again.. Sometime I feel like there's not enough time and/or energy to do everything perfectly!

So I tried to alternate my work with my house chores, at least some of the smaller chores can be done while my brain transitions from one task to another. On the plus side, I work from home. On the down side, I HATE house chores. I try my best to block out times for my online activity so I can do my artistic tasks uninterrupted. Notice the emphasis on TRY! Hey :) don't judge. I tried to schedule my tasks ahead of time so my day doesn't feel too chaotic.

Given all the extra troubles, will I turn back time and change my decision? Absolutely not. The biggest joy comes from reading clients lovely thank you emails. I continue to build and watch my business grow, and it gives me great pride when someone tells me they saw my work online. Additionally, my social circle continues to grow, which is a huge thing for someone who would much rather sit in the couch and watch a crime show marathon! 

To sum it up, starting and running your own business is not all rainbows and unicorns. There are some bumpy roads with dark and rainy days. So I count my blessings, no matter how small it is. From something as simple as working in my pajamas with my cup of coffee. To extra flowers from styled shoots (thank you Kasia and Jenn). Oh and can’t forget about discovering that donut place because of client meeting, thank you Sandra! Along with so many other small blessings that make me feel grateful for this choice. There are pretties at the end of the tunnel as long as you keep moving ahead :)

Let me know what you think in the comments below or shoot me an email if you have questions or comments!! 

 

Much love,

Ruth

Like I said, pretties at the end of tunnel, like this Sand Dunes Styled Shoot by Tenth and Grace ;)

Like I said, pretties at the end of tunnel, like this Sand Dunes Styled Shoot by Tenth and Grace ;)