Spring has sprung in Delaware and, as the April blooms have been blossoming, I’m finally taking a moment to take stock of SparkerLit Studio’s one-year anniversary of being in business. As the sole person operating my creative business, the past 365+ days have been filled with not just graphic design, illustration, writing, and editing, but also a multitude of emails, phone calls, and video chats with clients and a supporting cast of friends...and figuring out how to balance my accounting.
For years I listened to business and entrepreneur podcasts and read inspiring books and articles to research what it takes to make the leap from a full-time job to the freedom of working for oneself. So many people in creative fields want to know “What does it take?” And the truth to that answer is that it varies for each individual. No one knows the realities of your financial stakes as much as you do, and that part of the decision is a hefty one. Build a long runway.
I came from the traditional book publishing industry, where most books take more than a year to be born. But, juggling multiple seasons of books at so many points in their journeys, the pace of the days went quicker than a flip of the page.
Post-leap, I’m proud to say that my time is still measured by the flip of book pages. This past year my graphic design skills were mostly used in support of independent publishers whose passions to tell their stories in unconventional ways bypassed traditional publishing. No matter the avenue for publishing, with each collaboration and each book made, lessons are learned. I feel like I can write a whole post on self-publishing in and of itself, so I won’t elaborate on all of that right now. But I will say that I’m incredibly grateful to all of the clients I’ve had who put their trust in me to help bring their book babies to life.
The other side of my business, writing and illustrating, is just starting to sprout. Little by little. I had a young illustrator reach out to me on Instagram recently and ask me for advice about making illustration a full-time gig. And I had to break it to the person that right now graphic design is what is making me money—collaborating with others to inform their projects. Illustrating and writing for kids is something I’m still working on—I’ve planted and killed a lot of seedlings in a year’s time. But growth takes tending. Creative growth can be just as fickle as the gardening variety. And it all takes time.
So, finally, here is a little of what I’ve learned in my first year of all of that (Warning: mixed-metaphors ahead):
- Build a Long Runway - Whether it’s a mental or financial one, prepare to not take off for a while. For me, it’s only one year later now that I’m starting to feel my toes grazing the ground.
- Have a Support System - A significant other, friends, family, a dog (or cat). Whatever it takes, you’re going to need it.
- Prepare to Surf, Not Sail - Things come in waves—emotions, projects, emails, binge-watching Netflix, etc. Nothing lasts forever. Wait, Look, Paddle, Ride, Repeat.
- Keep Good Records - This is a logistical thing, but something I still needed to figure out how to do, even after years of keeping freelance records. Spreadsheets and Accounting are fun (or at least that’s what I’ve had to tell myself).
- Make Coffee at Home - Your bank account will thank you.
- What You Don’t Know, LEARN - Ebooks, I’m looking at you. The beauty of working in the gig economy is that you have the freedom to learn new skills that can make you money. Skillshare, Lynda, and YouTube can truly offer you a wealth of knowledge if you invest time in yourself to research and learn.
- Structure Your Time Your Way - Once again, this is the beauty of working for oneself. But the key to this is the word “structure.”
- Move - You may have an iWatch to remind you of this...or a kid. As someone who sits (and stands) at the desk in my home studio for hours on end, it’s something I’m still needing to do more of, but I’ve made the mental note. Goal for the year ahead!
- Be Kind - I probably say this on multiple occasions, but those two words are worth repeating. Business isn’t done in a glass dome. Whether you’re a service provider or seller, there are clients and customers on the other side of everything. And we’re all human. We have bad days, get sick, have family who may or may not influence our mood. Professional kindness and understanding are gold.
- Plant Seeds & Have Patience - Even if you are working on projects for clients, continue to plant seeds and water them. Ask yourself, “What do I want to grow?” Day after day. Month after month. Year after year. Keep revisiting that question. One day, when you’re not looking, you might find that something you wanted has broken through the surface.