I remember the day I walked into my boss' office 10 years ago to give my 2 weeks notice. She asked why I was quitting and my reply was short and simple. I've always wanted to start my own business and this felt like the right time to do it. I had a one year old daughter at the time and I wanted to enjoy the first years of her life by spending time with her at home, while getting my business started. She gave me a look of surprise saying "I would never have the courage to do what you are doing" and wished me good luck. At the time I didn't understand why a very successful woman in her mid-50s, accomplished and business savvy wouldn't have the confidence to leave the corporate world? With all that experience under her belt, wouldn't she be better equipped than myself to start her own business?
The two weeks quickly arrived and I immediately dove into heavy research and setting up my new home office. Prior to starting my business, I managed a small graphics team where we created a variety of marketing pieces to promote the different entities within the property I worked for. Everything from custom invitations to logos, menus, direct mail pieces, posters, brochures - you name it! I thoroughly enjoyed my job for the first four years, but after becoming a mother, the small flame I had in me ever since I was a child telling me I was meant to own a business when I grew up (not knowing then what it would be), that small flame had become a potent fire burning inside of me. Climbing the corporate ladder didn't give me the joy that working on side projects or being able to spend time with my daughter did. I knew I was giving up a steady salary, paid vacation and health benefits, but it didn't phase me at the time. On the other hand, I was VERY afraid to miss out on more of my daughter's "firsts" and to fail myself by not trying to do what I was meant to do...and at that point I knew it was custom stationery design.
WHERE TO START?
I knew there was a lot of work to be done and I wasn't sure where to start, but we all have to start somewhere right? So I started with the business aspects first. I filed a fictitious business name with the county clerk, got my business license, a resale license, business bank account and PO Box. Next, I proceeded to create a brand for myself. A logo (which morphed over the years to better fit my business as it grew), business cards, I purchased a domain name and used Yahoo! Site Builder to design my own website. I knew I wanted to specialize in custom invitations for weddings and social events. My portfolio at the time didn't fully reflect the type of work I wanted to attract, but that didn't discourage me. On the contrary, I used that to my advantage by posting images of logos and invitations I had created in the past and emphasized my ability to brand weddings and social events in the same manner I had branded numerous corporate events for my former employer. My website consisted of just a few simple pages, samples of my work, my bio, a picture and contact information. No blog. In fact, I didn't even know what a blog was at the time. You have to remember, this was 10 years ago before social media and smart phones. While I think there is a big advantage to using social media to promote your business in this day and age, I do appreciate the fact that my work could be more easily found online back then, before the web became saturated with people's posts all across the social media platforms.
FINDING MY WAY
And that's how I did it. I just picked a place to start and I did it. Much like doing laundry, when the hamper is overflowing and you decide "well, I guess I'll start with whites..." that's what I did. I knew certain things had to be done, so I picked something and just tackled it, creating the momentum that got me going from one task to the next. The truth is, quitting my job and starting a business was the easy part. The challenges began afterwards, trying to find suppliers and vendors, and trying to keep up with design projects while doing other tasks to keep the business going, such as bookkeeping, purchasing, shipping, billing, etc. Another challenge I faced at the beginning was not knowing how much to charge, especially on projects I hadn't worked on before, such as creating custom illustrated maps and stuffing envelopes. But I never gave up. My business was (and still is) my passion. It kept me learning and growing professionally to the point where I had to chose. Do I expand and hire help or do I stay small?
COMING FULL CIRCLE
After much thought, tears and prayer I decided to stay small and return to the corporate world. There were many factors involved in making that choice. It wasn't an easy decision to make, but after seeing many of the wedding vendors in my circle lose their businesses during the recession in 2009, I started looking out for job opportunities "just in case." Once my husband lost his job, it wasn't an option anymore, it was a must. What felt like a crisis back then actually turned out to be a blessing. He eventually found a job where he has grown and excelled and I found a position where I continue to do what I love. Yep, I still design custom stationery and direct mail but I do it for a performing arts center now. This job gave my family stability during uncertain times and has allowed me to follow through in pursuing my two other interests: illustration and teaching. A typical work day while working for myself consisted of 12-14 hour work days, 6-7 days a week. I'd spend hours working on (non-design) operating tasks, but now that I have 8 solid hours a day to focus on design, plus paid holidays and vacation pay, I have regained numerous hours that I can dedicate to my family and to fulfilling my other entrepreneurial goals. Among them are growing my line of social stationery and teaching aspiring stationery designers the process and tools of the trade through my latest project, The Custom Stationery Course.
KNOWING WHAT IS RIGHT FOR YOU
Just like I saw many of my friends lose their business during the recession, I also saw several continue to grow and thrive. Every situation is different and the challenges will always be present. It's part of the experience. My advice is for you is to see everything as an opportunity for growth. Follow your passion. Don't quit your job if you are not ready to do so, but keep working towards your dream. If you haven't, just start. Set one foot in front of the other and begin your journey. Because even if you experience a detour like I did, there are benefits that align with that detour. Sometimes the scenic route can be more joyful than anticipated, filled with new adventures and encounters with people you wouldn't have met otherwise. These people might be the ones who will ensure you arrive at your destination better prepared than you were prior to meeting them. It's been 4 years since I went back to the corporate world - it's gone by fast! I've met great people and I continue to run my business on the side as a "hobby" that gets me paid. I know the the full-time job is temporary, and I will take the leap to expand my stationery business and hire help in a few more years. At this point I'm taking advantage of the benefits that have come from taking a detour, but I am still living my dream, and that's what matters.
On that note, I say to you Bon Voyage, my friend! Enjoy the journey! And if you ever need some pointers and guidance regarding graphic design an/or custom stationery design, I am here to help.
Hi - I'm Dio!
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