When someone asks what you do for a living, they expect a simple answer. I used to say, “I’m a school teacher” – easy.
But then I quit my job to pursue my business dreams.
I’m still a teacher, but in a different way. Now I’m hand-lettering artist and online course creator. I teach others to hand-letter and start their own creative businesses. I’ve learned so much and continue to learn.
I hope that my tips on turning an idea that makes your heart flutter into an actual thriving business will help you master the journey from passion to paid, too. It takes a leap of faith – in your own abilities. It’s not easy, but 100% worth it.
Set realistic goals.
(Sorry – no “get rich quick” tips here! If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.)
When I started hand-lettering, I was on maternity leave, changing diapers, chasing my older daughter around the playground and washing dishes. I just wanted an artistic outlet. When creating Elyse’s birth announcement, I couldn’t find a font I loved and was determined to figure out how to make it myself. I took a bit of the money I had saved for maternity leave and bought the paper and pens I needed.
At first, I was terrible! But I was determined.
I wasn’t planning to make money, but kept investing time and effort – because I loved it. It was hard, squeezing it in after the kids went to bed. My husband, Matt, told me to just relax. But I was developing skills and feeling fulfilled.
And that’s how you start!
Building a business from the ground up requires hard work, time, practice and energy.
Once I had improved, friends and family started to ask me to create projects. I was still learning and spent hours on every project. Over time, I felt confident enough to charge money. I started taking small jobs on Etsy and by word of mouth, while still being on mom duty and working part time. I didn’t just sit and hope people would take notice of me: I shared my work on social media (mostly Instagram) and built connections with other artists via Instagram and email.
I positioned myself as a teacher, sharing hand-lettering tips, which built a following. The next question was how to fill demand – people wanted to learn to hand letter but there weren’t many options.
At work one day, a member of the high school audio-visual team came and asked to use a space for filming. A lightbulb lit up in my head, and I knew what to do next. I had the teaching skills, the lettering skills and the audience. Excitedly, I asked him if I could hire the team to help create an online course.
I had no idea how.
But once more, I was determined to figure it out.
Over the next six months, I developed the curriculum, created the materials, shot and edited the course, while learning the legal, financial and technological sides of online business. The first course was a huge success. My business was growing, until suddenly it required more hours than I had in the day if still working at the school.
I had to make a choice.
I sat with Matt, trying to decide if our family could manage financially if I stepped from a guaranteed, pensionable job into the unknown. I was so scared because it could mean not just failing personally, but also failing my family – if it didn’t work out. Without my income, it would be hard to afford extras like swimming lessons and going out to dinner once a month. We had already gone through two maternity leaves on a stretched income and it wasn’t fun. I felt like the difference between financial comfort and strain rested on me.
But Matt was so encouraging. He had seen my hard work and achievements, saying, “Even if this doesn’t work out, you’ve learned so much that you’ll be able to take on anything.”
So I took the leap, taking a leave of absence from my teaching job and planning to reassess in a year, giving me a safety net and time.
You should never gamble more than you can afford to lose.
In fact, my business income was able to fully replace my teaching income.
At the end of the year, my husband and I went out for dinner and discussed the pros and cons of giving up my teaching position. This time, the decision wasn’t nearly as terrifying, and it was settled before the meal even came. I was quitting.
With my children so little, I still could only advance at a pace that my skills, time and opportunities allowed. My knowledge of bookkeeping, client expectations, marketing, branding, social media, website maintenance and more developed gradually. I devoured informational blog posts, websites, podcasts, books and speakers and picked the brains of every business owner I knew.
Don’t expect to go from 0 to 100 overnight.
Set small, manageable and realistic goals. For instance, if you need to create a website, your first goal shouldn’t be huge and vague, such as, “Create a great website.” That’s actually a project with many little steps. Instead, aim first to research website platforms. Then, the next small goal might be to sign up for the platform and then establish a URL.
Love what you do.
Hand-lettering started off as, and continues to be, my passion – my escape, my therapy, how I relax and grab some me time. If your heart isn’t in it, people will know. If you’re genuine, a crowd will gather to cheer you on! Find your passion by trying new hobbies and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
Build (genuine) relationships.
Real talk alert: Being an entrepreneur with an online business can get lonely. But I have been lucky to meet some amazing people, both online and in real life, who have supported me become close friends.
Find others in your online or physical communities who are walking the same path and support each other. Communicate openly and run ideas past them. Facebook groups for business moms are a start, but connect with one or two people personally. You will feel you have a team right by your side – even if you’re really at your kitchen table in sweatpants with only a snoring dog and some crazy kids for company.
Give without expecting anything in return.
Giving while truly expecting nothing in return will set you apart and is the best marketing you can do – if it’s genuine. Remember, people are more perceptive than you think.
Early on, I mailed a card conveying appreciation to all my past customers and included a blank “Thinking of you” card I had designed, with an envelope, ready to be mailed. I encouraged them to put a note in the card and send it to a friend. I didn’t ask them to do anything that would build my business. It wasn’t a marketing ploy, but the feedback was amazing. This gesture was very expensive (over $5,000) but made my customers feel a personal connection to me which, for customer retention, is invaluable.
Such gestures keep your focus on your customers and help you stand out from competitors. Pay attention to other businesses for ideas, too. What do you respond to (coupon codes, loyalty rewards, personal touches)? What rubs you the wrong way (multiple daily emails, sharing personal information with other businesses, disingenuousness)? Then figure out how you can implement the things you love with a new twist. Doing this helps build even stronger relationships with the people who matter most for a business – the customers.
As much as I dislike clichés, “Be yourself – everyone else is taken” rings true – especially in the world of social media and online businesses, where it’s easy to fall in to the trap of “comparing your behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlight reel” (another cliché…darn it!).
People love to see real life. It is more inspiring to follow people who show relatable ups and downs than to see a seemingly perfect, unrelatable life. When my kids do ballet in the kitchen, the counters aren’t spotless, stacked with freshly baked cookies. Instead, the cookies are smeared all over the kids’ faces and dirty dishes are cluttering the sink.
Many people have separate personal and business accounts, but since much of my business is integrated with my life, I only have one. If followers feel they know who you are, they will feel a connection – making them more loyal customers.
Also, it’s just exhausting to put on a façade all the time. Be yourself and show your real journey. If you show your online community you’re a real person, they are more likely to forgive mistakes.
My tips – in a nutshell
Be yourself, follow your dreams (broken down into realistic steps), and be kind (to yourself and others).
There is enough success for all of us and, while the journey won’t be quick, it will be amazing.
Amanda Arneill is an american hand-lettering artist, business owner and all around fun pen-enthusiast. She enjoys life in her fanciest sweatpants, with her husband Matt and their two tiny humans, Lauren and Elyse. Follow her on Instagram and Youtube. Lessons in german: https://amandaarneill.de/zu den Kommentaren