Running a business means making a sacrifice or two, both professional and personal. With summer officially over, fewer personal sacrifices need to be made: festivals are winding down, vacations are recent memories, and everyone has their minds back to work or school.
Not so for the small business owner and operator. They never stop. At least I didn't this past summer.
There were many events, parties, and get togethers I couldn't attend. It got so depressing, I avoided using Facebook since everyone was talking and posting pictures of the fun they were having. It wears down the spirit knowing you missed out on so much with the people you love. But when you're in charge, that's one of the sacrifices you have to make; putting work before your personal life.
In early May, I took a weekend job to make ends meet financially. Studio work was slow and I had my eye on landing an office space. I gave up the prime hours of my weekends to make extra cash to afford renting the office. It was the best move I made professionally this year (so far) and I don't regret working to make this dream a reality. But it came with a cost, a personal one. One that I've had to repeat to friends all summer, "I can't go. I'm working."
I put work first because I wanted it to succeed, and I knew the price I would pay for that effort. Even now, I make those choices everyday. It's impossible to cram everything into every free moment with no regard to burn out. I can't sacrifice my well being just for a few hours of fun. It will drag down the most valuable thing I have: my health.
While business has slowly picked up, it's important to take care of the one in charge. Sacrificing all the time will make work a terrible place to be and ruin the point of going solo. I did take a few small trips over the summer to alleviate my itch for traveling. I have one more trip planned in the next few weeks which will have to hold me over till next year.
On the smaller scale, taking a half day from the office to just catch up with house-hold chores is sometimes relaxing. Even one day off a week to do nothing is enjoyable, until I get bored and end up back at the office later. It's a curse wanting to work so much. As long as I can find enjoyment in small things, I don't feel quite as bad when I miss the bigger things due to work.
There's no reason not to make plans for bigger vacations next year. It's just a matter of keeping clients in the know of when you won't be available. Everyone is entitled to some time off, and your clients will completely understand. And it's all about balancing work and personal life.
I've pushed my personal life aside for a while but I know it's only temporary. If I earn enough to not need my weekend job, maybe I'll bid them farewell or take a month off during their slower season. Being in charge means I have to make all the big decisions. I have to pick what is best for myself in tandem with what's best for my business. It's only just started, so I'm sure I have lots of time to learn.
There is nothing more satisfying than clocking out after a long day at work. It's a fairly routine thing for offices to encourage everyone to leave between 5pm and 7pm, depending on the type of office. Watching the clock count down to the end of the day seems to take hours longer than it did yesterday. The simple satisfaction of getting your things and heading to the exit is a thrill I don't often have anymore. Many freelancers don't end their days at 5pm. Though maybe we should.
As a freelancer, I often work from home. My goal is to one day rent a small office space where I can go and use it for nothing but work. Until that day comes, my home office does the job just fine. What happens is there is no clear definition of when I'm working or when I'm not. I always track my hours but when I'm taking a break, I look around and I'm at home. Mentally, I'm in home time. Are there dishes that need to be done? Is the laundry put away? Does the dog need to go for a walk? It's taken some discipline, but I've managed to avoid getting swallowed up by house-hold chores while stepping away from the computer. Projects that allow me more flex time to complete can be put on hold until I have the right wave of inspiration. That wave often comes either in the early morning or the early evening. The middle of the day is the slump time, and often I'm not making my most creative work then. Setting hours of what time is work time vs. not work time were slowly forgotten over the last few months. I catch myself checking emails at 10pm or later on nights I have to get up early the next day. Or making that one last tweak to a logo before sending it off after midnight. At my home office, it's near chaos to how I operate my projects. Everything gets done, but it's like a winding back country road, going up a mountain, in the snow, and you're low on gas.
Some freelancers work best working within the normal 9-5 time range of weekdays. That's great if you can stick with it. I've conceded that I have broken my own rules and worked on projects well after I should have stopped for the day. Emails and other forms of contact with clients happen during the normal work hours of typical businesses. I have to consider what my clients' time schedule and when they're most likely to respond to my messages or calls. Most of them have offices but they have access to their business email all the time. Unless it's an emergency, I wait till 8am to send emails. As we're still in January and resolutions are still pretty fresh for 2016, I'm setting my clock out time to 9pm. Any emails that come after then will still be in my inbox in the morning. I might check it one last time before bed, especially if a project just left for the printers. There's no way of knowing what might go wrong there.
This might be a complete failure. In fact, I'm writing this blog at 10pm. I would have to count blogging as a violation to the clock out rule as it relates to work. But then again, when inspiration strikes you cannot let is pass you by.
There is nothing dirtier, or more insulting, to a designer or artist that does their craft for a living than to call them a "hobbyist." Full stop. No really. There are many things you could call them that may or may not be true, but calling them a hobbyist dilutes all their education and experience into a flavorless goulash of mediocrity. Let's be honest here for a moment. Not everyone can be an artist in the sense of a financially successful one. Yes, everyone can be an artist in one aspect or another. But your child's crayon drawings are not the next Picasso or Banksy. Sorry parents. Even if they wish really, REALLY, hard they won't make it to that level without a butt-load of work and dedication.
There's an old saying that goes "Make your hobby your career and never work another day again." It's a nice sentiment to give someone who is stuck in a dead-end job some glimmer of hope that there is something better just beyond the horizon. But how many people actually seriously attempt to make what they love their everyday job? I'll tell you, a hell of a lot less than you'd think. Because the big reveal is there's even more work to do when you attempt to make what you love into a real money earning endeavor. It's a lot more work trying to convince other people to buy what you're selling, and still love to do it even when no one is buying.
A hobby is something a person does for leisure. That seems much more relaxing than searching for new clients, producing your own work when projects are slow, or attending all the seminars and events to keep up with networking. Even if you put a lot of time to ascend your skill level to the max, it's still something you do for an escape from the everyday. Moving that into the career realm, and there's a lot less relaxing involved. Making projects for yourself might give a much needed break to client work, but only a handful can live off their personal projects.
They can because they are the best and people want their work. Did they start as hobbyists and work their way up into careers? Possibly, but they didn't start at the middle ground and take the short climb to the top. What they might not show is all the rejected work they sent out in the early years. Even in the face of constant adversity, they kept pushing and pushing hard. Eventually, after years or even decades later, they make it. Anyone doing this as a hobby would eventually give up pushing it that hard and go back doing it for fun. Or be so turned off by the backlash that they shake off the craft completely. Rejection weeds out the weak.
I have no ill towards people that do art in any form as a hobby. I hope they enjoy it and progress their skill as far as they want to pursue it. However, the creatives that have chosen to take the professional route should be held on a higher ground. It's not being an elitist to expect to be held to a higher standard as we take what we do more seriously. This is our living. Most months, it's hand-to-mouth in regards to money and projects. I will politely correct anyone that labels me as a hobbyist and not what I actually am: a freelance graphic artist.
I've spent over a decade perfecting, and still evolving, my skill set to produce the best work I can for clients. I've been drawing since I was two years old and still crave to keep drawing everyday. And I have spent the last few years learning how to better run and maintain my business because I don't want to work in a sea of cubicles anymore. This is the most stressful and time consuming hobby if there ever was one. Calling all this work just a "hobby" doesn't do my efforts justice. It undermines the time, money, blood, sweat, tears, and hair-pulling into an easy to dismiss lark that anyone with basic motor skills can do. If anyone can do this, why aren't they?
To put it in simple terms, not everyone has the courage to. That's not a jab at people that have chosen not to make their hobbies their careers. Some people prefer to keep their hobbies just that, which is OK. Others can't handle the idea of extra work or the risks of rejection and failure. That takes the fun out of it. Hobbies are meant to be fun. I do have fun with my work, but I won't lie and say I'm grinning like a cheshire cat when modifying a logo for the fiftieth time. It's a different mental presence that is required to dig deep and keep working even when you're mentally spent.
Hobbies and careers have the same base to their souls: passion. Whatever gives you joy and pleasure stems from the drive to do it in the first place. Keep building your cabinets, blowing your glass, molding your clay, drawing your sketch, sewing your quilt, or whatever your heart wants to do. But please, don't call creative professionals hobbyists. We only play hobbyists on television.
Have you seen a freelancer working in the wild of a locally owned coffee shop? The mental picture that fabricates might be: a young-ish hipster dressed person, with extra ear piercings and visible arm tattoos, working on a slim Mac laptop computer, drinking a $10 cup of coffee, while using the free WiFi at the cafe in the early afternoon. They are looked on with envious eyes of the workers that are dashing in for a quick to-go cup of caffeine while on their way into a florescent lit room of cubicles, often mistaken for an office, as they wear uncomfortable button up shirts. Other coffee shop patrons are stay-at-home parents, mostly moms, with their newest offspring in tow while they get a much needed coffee before running errands in their matching track suits. At least that was the impression given to me by movies and television. It all seemed so glamorous and carefree. I knew that wasn't the case, but oh how I wanted it to be true.
In fact, the amount of times I actually went to a cafe to sit and use their WiFi as I sipped casually on a cappuccino has been a total of three. Three that I can remember anyway. Some cafes didn't have the most comfortable chairs, so I didn't end up staying much longer after I was done with my drink. Other places got too noisy and I'm not a huge fan of wearing my headphones while out in public. Most of the time it was a hassle to pack up my work station, drive to a coffee shop, and set up to work for maybe an hour or two. No, I spent the majority of my time at home in my elastic waist-banded sweat pants and a comfy t-shirt. I was anything but the model of what a freelancer would look like. But for the past year, my method worked just fine for me.
After a year freelancing full time, all I can say is it feels much longer than that. I'm still in contact with some of my past co-workers from my last office job. Occasionally we have lunch and chat about work and how things are currently. They tell me in so many ways "You aren't missing anything." For the first few months after departing I missed only the people, not the work. And a few months after that I missed the paychecks, still not the work. Another reason I didn't drive out and patronize local coffee huts; money.
Over the summer, my boyfriend and I took a once in a lifetime trip to Alaska. It might sound like I was making oodles of cash in order to pay for that trip, but I'm still feeling the sting of the cost four months later. It was worth every penny I spent but it knocked me back in a way I wasn't prepared for. I had work coming in but it wasn't nearly enough income to pay all the bills. After a few weeks of sporadic clients, I started looking for a "real" job. Something part time that would get a little cash in during the lull in design work. Believe me, I tried every avenue I could before I made this decision. After a half dozen interviews and some time gone by, new clients started coming in and I no longer had to find extra work. Did I luck out? Maybe. None of the jobs I was interviewed for wanted to hire me, even though the interview went spectacular. If nothing else, it was good practice for when I interviewed for a freelance in-house position with an agency downtown.
Like most new businesses, there is very little show in profit for the first few years. I was expecting that but I didn't plan ahead like I needed to. This past year has been an incredible learning experience. Everyone at every creative brunch or happy hour says the same thing, so at least I don't feel quite so out of place. Even this far in, I know I'll never stop learning. My methods are becoming more streamlined and my file of resources steadily grows, making my interactions with new clients much smoother. I know how I want to present myself and have gotten a stronger back bone when I need to say "no" to someone or something. And when I say no, it isn't immediately scoffed at by a potential client. They walk away and later come back with more understanding that I don't sell myself short just because their project is important to them and they think they're special.
Here's to another 365 days out in the wild. And many, many more.