This is a guest post from Jen Adrion, one half of the creative duo behind These Are Things. Together, she and Omar Noory craft a collection of modern maps, draw informational illustrations, and write about the business of art at MakingIt.co.
Four years ago, my partner Omar and I were huddled inside, putting the finishing touches on a collaborative art piece that we’d been working on for weeks. It was a particularly cold Ohio winter, much like the one we’re having right now. With 10 inches of snow on the ground, there wasn’t much to do except stay inside and make art.
Fortunately for us, that’s just the way we liked it. With brand-new art degrees and great jobs in the design industry, we thought we had all the necessary ingredients for creative fulfillment. But something was missing.
After months of soul searching and late-night talks, we finally figured it out. We didn’t want to be a pair of hired hands. We didn’t dream of making websites and commercials for the rest of our lives. We wanted to make our own art. We wanted to be creative according to our vision, not someone else’s.
We looked at the careers of successful independent artists in awe, feeling simultaneously inspired and intimidated. We were intrigued by their ability to make a living, yet mystified by how they had managed to pull it off. We knew we wanted to make a living from our art, but we weren’t quite sure how to make it happen.
All we knew was that we loved making art together. So, during every free moment, that’s exactly what we did.
We spent our nights and weekends working on personal projects, filling the gap between our less-than-inspiring day jobs and our creative passion. When we finished our masterpiece — a modern world map to help us track our travels — we decided to print a small run and share our work with the world. We threw together a quick, one-page website with a PayPal button and hoped for the best.”Who knows,” we shrugged. “Maybe we’ll sell a few.”
To our delight, we sold more than a few.
These Are Things
During our first week in business, we brought in more money than one of us made in an entire year. Nine months later, we made the decision to quit our salaried design jobs and work on These Are Things, our new business, full time. This decision enabled us to grow our side gig into a six-figure illustration business.
Today, our business is still going strong. We create a collection of modern maps, draw illustrations for international companies, and write about the business of art at MakingIt.co. Since the debut of our first Modern World Map in 2010, we’ve delivered whimsical paper goods to thousands of happy customers in over 50 countries.
Since that first sale, our business has grown far beyond our wildest dreams. For the past six months, we’ve been working on the biggest undertaking of our journey thus far: writing a guide to starting your own creative business. By sharing the blueprint for success that has powered These Are Things — and the businesses of over 20 other successful independent artists — we hope to empower designers, crafters, and makers around the world to find their own creative freedom.
During the process of interviewing the artists and designers featured in Designed to Sell, many shared that they could pinpoint the exact moment when they knew they had to pursue their passion full-time. If you’re currently running a business on the side and are thinking about making the jump to full time, keep these important tips in mind.
Timing is everything
As your creative business grows, you’ll find that it requires an increasing amount of your time. When you’re spending every night up late packing orders or answering customer service emails at your day job, you’ll eventually find yourself wondering if it’s time to go full time. It’s an important decision that can determine the future of your creative business — and your livelihood.
When is the right time to go full time? Only you will know. Quitting your day job is a very personal decision, and one that you’ll have to double check against your gut and your wallet.
Six months after launching our first world map, our business was so busy that we spent every free moment working on it. After weeks of late nights packing orders and early mornings at our day jobs, we started to wonder if it might be time to make the jump. For us, the moment came when we realized that we were consistently bringing in more money than we made at our assortment of day jobs.
Don’t jump without a net
When you quit your day job, say goodbye to your regular paycheck. For most creative entrepreneurs, income is extremely variable from month to month — even year to year. One unsuccessful product launch or low sales month could really throw things off, so it’s essential to build in some serious savings to help you withstand the financial ups and downs of self-employed life.
When our business started demanding more of our time, we took a gradual approach to quitting our day jobs. A few months after we started These Are Things, Jen slowly phased out her teaching and freelance work while Omar continued to work at his day job. Nine months later, Omar quit and we both jumped in full time. This transitional period functioned as a pair of training wheels, allowing us to save money and get used to our new variable income. Many of the makers we interviewed for Designed to Sell used a similar technique to minimize the stress involved with forgoing a regular paycheck.
Before making the leap, it’s a good idea to save an emergency fund sufficient to cover three to six months’ worth of expenses, both for your personal life and your business. To play it extra safe, we had over one year of expenses in the bank by the time we quit our jobs, giving us the confidence (and cash flow) we needed to make it work.
Take care of yourself
If you’re anything like us, the idea of working 168 hours a week for ourselves — yes, that’s a 24-hour work day — sounds infinitely better than working 40 hours a week for someone else. But that doesn’t mean that the rest of your life should take a backseat to your business. No matter how much you want to work, make sure that you’re taking care of yourself — mentally and physically.
When we’re on a roll, we’ve been known to skip meals, stare at our screens for 18 hours straight, and disappear from friends and family for months on end. While these habits may increase your productivity temporarily, they’re just not sustainable in the long term. If you neglect yourself, your creativity and your business will suffer. Maintaining a consistent schedule and making time for physical activity helps us stay in peak form, both in our business and in our everyday lives.
Four years later, we’re thrilled that we decided to pursue our creative passion full-time. Relying on your art for your livelihood isn’t always easy, but every single maker we interviewed agreed that the creative freedom is worth the struggle.
Once you have experienced life on the other side — creating for yourself, setting your own schedule, and having total creative freedom — you won’t ever want to go back. After four years of working at These Are Things, we now consider ourselves to be completely unemployable. We value our creative freedom more than anything, and chances are that you will, too.
Consider yourself warned!