Lessons from my first (real) year in business
Although I technically launched Pen+Pillar in 2015, I didn't start making serious strides and the right choices for my business until March of this year. So, I am writing today about what I have learned so far about running a small creative business, and in turn, myself.
If you told me a few years ago that I would be running a small creative business, I would not have believed you. There are a lot of things about myself that work against me. I never finished college. I tried three times. Yep, that's right- three times. Even if I had finished college, I wouldn't have a degree in the field I am working in now, so I guess it's a good thing I didn't finish? Not sure. But, in the spirit of full transparency- it's something I am a little self conscience about. I am not trained in my field, I have no business experience, I have no network of creatives to collaborate or bounce ideas off of, no mentors to reference. I knew from the beginning that my odds were not good, but I am a hopeless dreamer with a lot of passion, with a supportive husband and family, and I went for it. I strongly believe that hard work, determination, and talent can get you anywhere- if you are willing to work for it.
My husband and I were talking last night about my business. I feel overwhelmed a lot- I feel like I have absolutely no idea what I am doing. Because I have absolutely no idea what I am doing. He patiently listens to me and reminds me of all the things that have been amazing this year, and he is right. Thinking of where I was last year at this time, I would have been so happy to be where I am now, and it's important to be able strike the balance of contentment, and wanting to push yourself. I am still learning that one. So, the lessons:
1. People will never go out of business.
I have had the privilege of working with the most amazing people on the planet. Small business ownership can feel like an island sometimes, but I think of my customers, shop owners, and custom clients that I have been able to work with, and suddenly it doesn't feel so lonely. How you treat people will always matter- that is first and foremost. It's not even customer service, it's just common decency. People will always come before profits and time and anything else. I started this business to be able to connect with people through a common interest, and those connections have been invaluable. I was not expecting the kindness, love, connection, and even friendships that can come from working with complete strangers, and I have loved it.
2. Education has nothing on hard work.
This may be more personal because of my situation, but also maybe not. Please note, I am not saying that education is nothing. However, you could spend 10 years getting all the degrees that you want, have all the best connections, and be top of your class, but hard work will still get you further. You have to show up, put in the time, and not give up. Your customers are not going to care about your GPA or who you know. You just got rejected by 5 shops you pitched to in one day? Send that 6th pitch anyway. The day you stop believing in your work is that day that everyone else does too.
3. My story is mine alone. I am learning as I go, and that's ok. I may never feel like I know what I am doing, and that is also ok. I just have to keep going.
I am not an overnight success. Not in any stretch of the word. And that is ok. Experience is the best teacher, and sometimes that means delayed success. I started this business with about $100, no joke. So, yeah, it's taken me a little longer to get it off the ground, but I will never succeed if I continue to focus on other's growth instead of mine. I am in the process of adding two new styles to my brand (hint, hint!), and if I did things right from the beginning, I would have had the "Taylor, how can you stand out in a saturated market?" conversation earlier, but I didn't. So, I am doing it now, and that's ok. Youtube, Skillshare, blogs, failed attempts, rejections, late nights, and Google have been my teachers, and I wouldn't trade it for the world.
4. I will always be learning my craft. I am an artist first.
Full disclosure- I am not a great painter. I am a good drawer, but I love painting more. That's a lot of the reason I have the more simple, flat style that I have. It allows room for imperfection and growth. As I have developed more, I am still exploring my style and am starting to find a more comfortable spot for myself. Gouache illustration is very popular in stationery, but there are always new ways to explore mediums, and that's what I am doing now. As my style develops and forms, I am starting to phase out some old pieces from my early days. This is the most important aspect of my job- to constantly be working on my craft, learning it, and never settling in it.
5. Don't listen to everything everyone says. I have to stay true to my brand.
Sometimes this even applies to the good things people say. I am a very sensitive person, and I take things very personally. Perfect for this job, right? It's hard to separate my art from myself as an artist, but it's essential that I learn to do that. I am not my brand. Not everyone will love my work. I have had to learn to stop and listen objectively to what people are saying about my work, and take the feedback to heart. But, it doesn't always mean that I will act on it. I have had people criticize my work, and even me personally. It's a tough business. I have stopped production on items that I have gotten good feedback on, because they don't feel right. It's hard to be the only shot-caller, and I will not get everything right, but it's better to call the wrong shot, than to never call anything. Nothing will ever be perfect, and that's ok.
Truly, I love my job. The bad, the good, the ugly, the amazing. I have learned so much as a person, as an artist, and I still wake up every day excited to create. I do not take it for granted- this opportunity is not lost on me. I am learning to step away at the end of the day, to separate myself from my job. Take time to be a wife, sister, daughter, friend. I am Taylor, not Pen+Pillar.
Thank you for reading and listening to a piece of me. If you have anything to share, I want to hear it! Next week, I'll be sharing why I started Pen+Pillar, and show you what a typical work day looks like for me.
Hope you have a fantastic Thursday,