Almost a year ago I spoke at Midwest Craft Con and from the stage I asked by a show of hands how many of the 200 or so people in the audience had a day job in addition to their craft business. From where I stood it looked like nearly every hand in the room went up.
It’s hard to make craft your full-time job. It’s not impossible for sure, but it will likely require piecing together a whole variety of different income streams including designing, teaching, writing, and speaking, and it will likely take time to build. Despite what the Etsy blog glorifies, it may not be a great idea to quit your day job, at least not right away.
I’m always struck by how much time and perseverance it takes to build a successful business. This morning I interview Mimi Goodwin of MimiG Style for the podcast (tune in on Monday to hear the episode) and we were tracing the history of her wildly successful blog. “Oh I’ve been blogging since 2008,” she told me. “I just didn’t get serious until 2012.” Between those years she had a runway show and learned that she didn’t want to make couture clothing collections. She made clothes to order and learned she didn’t want to do that either. The whole time she had a day job. It wasn’t until she hit upon selling video tutorials that she had was able to create a business she both enjoyed and turned a profit, but that took years. And it took even more years after that before she got sponsorships from big brands like Target and Revlon.
There’s a saying, “It takes 20 years to become an overnight success,” and while the internet seems to have sped things up a bit, I think there’s a fundamental truth here. And yet, we seem to be in this sort of gold rush moment in the creative entrepreneurship space. You read these stories all the time about six figure course launches and astronomical revenue growth and they almost always come with the promise that you can do the same. And that you can do it fast – in seven weeks or 10 days even. It feels like the Wild West.
This year I’ve been thinking about where I fit in all this. I have no interest in being a “guru” or “building a tribe” and I’m not a #girlboss, but I do give advice to creative people about how to build a business online. And I just launched an ecourse which 114 people bought. I thought about and worked on the content for that course for six months and one of the reasons it took me so long was my discomfort with playing the gold rush game. It’s not that I don’t believe in growth, or even quick growth. It’s that I don’t think that model is replicable for most people, nor is it desirable. But I do believe that a solid email list will help you grow your creative business so I went for it and made the course.
I was talking with my friend, Vanessa Lauria, about this not too long ago. She’s a weaver and she had some smart reflections on the moment we’re in.
Making art while under a cloud of financial responsibilities can really dampen creative expression. There is so much #girlboss floating around social media lately, that there’s almost shame if it isn’t working out quite as you’d imagined and, in some ways, been promised. All the solo entrepreneur 20-something gurus with webinars every other day explaining how to ‘double your following in a month’ or ‘learn how to make 4-5 figures a month’ can be misleading and overwhelming. I think it’s important to realize that success comes in many forms and there is no determined timeline for a careerpath (or lifepath).
I think we need to ask ourselves where we cross the line from offering helpful advice to offering predatory get rich quick schemes. Is it really fair to pressure someone to invest in expensive software, to create landing pages and sales funnels, when they’re just getting off the ground? What about the benefits of slow growth, the kind that allows you to figure out your hidden talents and forge real relationships with colleagues and customers?
Nobody has a formal education in social media marketing and even if that existed it would become outdated almost instantly, which means becoming an expert is as easy as declaring yourself one. When you become successful the expertise you gain does have value to people who are striving to do the same and, as many of us have found out, you can sell that expertise. Is it unethical to make big promises of fortune when that’s likely only realistic for a small minority of people? Or is it empowering?