Being self-employed isn’t easy. You not only have to make the work (and that work must be of high quality), but then you must also sell the work.
You sell the work either by publishing and promoting your work to customers (that’s what we do), or as a freelance designer, writer, or artist who works for clients who will use, or publish and promote your work.
I definitely wouldn’t be able to call knit design my career if it weren’t for my partnership with Alexa. Thanks again friend!
I write this to share with designers or business people who may be at the beginning of their journey, first because it’s useful to recognize that everyone in business who has reached a point of relative stability in their work didn’t start there. Alexa and I started in a morass of uncertainty that you may find yourself in! Secondly, when you’re aiming to do something difficult, like starting a business, it can be really useful to find other people you can lean on for support.
Can I really do this? My suspension of disbelief
One of the big hurdles when getting started? Building your own self-confidence and believing that you can do it, and that your work has value. There are so many doubters out there that your own confidence has to keep you going at times.
Alexa and I both left more ‘conventional’ career paths in education and architecture respectively. It took what I thought of as an extended ‘suspension of disbelief’ on my part to get started with Tin Can Knits.
There were doubters, who thought I should just ‘get a real job’ and stop mucking around, wasting my time on something that would never pay the bills. I was even one of the biggest doubters – I really had to battle to keep my own self-critic (who worried all the same things) in the corner in order to give myself a couple years to turn Tin Can Knits from a wild dream into a paying job.
I had a couple good stories to tell myself to keep going. My dad told me that when starting a business, you won’t make any money for the first 3 years. This helped me keep expectations low. Tin Can Knits didn’t start out as a full time gig. I had other jobs and would work in my free time to make Tin Can Knits a reality. A family friend I respected also said that before 30 is a great time to try a business venture and fail! This helped me accept that failure was likely. These stories I told myself helped to rein in my self-critic, and maintain my suspension of disbelief a little bit longer.
Is it any good?
Assessing the quality of your work, on your own, can be tough. You have only one set of eyes, and your eyes are so very close to the work. Having a partner to assess and give the green light to publish designs helps.
You’re not brilliant when you begin
A tough nugget… you’ll need to do crappy work before you can do good work! I’m going to be really honest here: when you start something new, your early work may not be that great. But, you’ve got to be willing to COMPLETE, and get feedback on that early work in order to move through to doing better work. You need to practice to gain competence in anything. It helped me to have a partner who was enthusiastic about launching!
But be nice… don’t judge your own FIRST work by the POLISHED, 10-years-into-the-game work of industry leaders. Just don’t! Instead, scroll back into the archive of what they produced at the beginning to see how human and amateurish that stuff looked! It’ll help you realize that you can do this too.
Getting it out the door
Because I am accountable to Alexa, I have to come through on my commitments, and get designs done and out the door. Procrastination can be a big problem if you are on your own, so having another person in the mix can be really helpful.
I love to start, and hate to finish! Also, I personally suffer from perfectionism, so decision making and completion is difficult at times. When I notice that I’m putting off acting on or finishing off something because I’m having a hard time deciding, I can bring it to Alexa and we can decide together how, and by when, I will take the next step.
Bounce that ball back and forth
There’s so much that Alexa brings to a problem that I never even thought of and vice versa. It’s a testament to my self-centredness that I am surprised by this nearly every time. When I’m sure I have considered all the angles, Alexa brings up 2-3 more issues, possibilities, or potential ways of viewing the problem. She’s a smart cookie!
It’s taken the better part of a decade for me to learn to really take advantage of this major upside to our partnership. There are simply some problems, questions, and opportunities which are better tackled as a team.
Alexa wrote last week about how we use ‘bouncing the ball back and forth’ as a way to move design projects forward, to great effect!
* Fools jump in…
Now, I’m not saying you should jump into a partnership.
I didn’t know, when I got started working with Alexa, what a partnership would mean. I didn’t know that it would be like my second marriage (my third, really, as I’m on my second husband!). I also didn’t know how carefully you ought to pick a person to go into business with.
I just got Lucky Lucky Lucky, because Alexa is a gem. The right sort of hard-working, big-idea-creating, uncomplaining, let’s figure out how this can work sort of positive thinker to be my other other half. And she can knit like nobody’s business!
Alexa jokes that the first time she went to see our accountant, they said, “Oh, you’re in partnership? Is there any way you can buy out your partner? Partnerships are the worst! They never last.”
So bear this in mind before you ruin your relationship with your best friend by going into business with them!
Can I pick your brain?
We’re often asked, by people starting out in the industry, for advice on getting started. My best advice is that, partnership or no, you might benefit from some of the aspects of partnership we’ve mentioned (confidence building, other eyes, and accountability).
There are other ways to get some of these benefits, without having a business partner. You can hire a coach, who can be the person you bounce ideas off of, and who holds you accountable to your goals. Or you might join a group of other people who are also starting a business or side-hustle; this kind of group often can be found (or you can start one) on sites like Meetup.com, Craigslist, or via your local library.
Meeting with people who are working through their own business problems can be very inspiring. Also, to counterbalance those people in your network who are casting shadows of doubt over your plan, it helps to know other people who are practicing their own ‘suspension of disbelief’ in order to try something uncertain.
In fact, I personally meet with several such as part of my creative work: Nina of Rainbow Heirloom and I have a weekly work meet-up, where we meet, have a bit of chat, and then get down to an hour or so of work. Jess of Ginger Twist Studio and I meet up for coffee every month or so, and check in with the big things we’re each planning, debating, or struggling with. Find someone you trust to bounce those ideas off of!