Friday , 24 May 2019
Having your own business is truly one of the elements to which the “American Dream” is founded on. In this day and age, we are truly blessed with more opportunities to make self-employment a very real possibility for so many.

From Hobby to Profession: Taking Your Creative Business to the Next Level

Jodi Ohl

From Hobby to Profession: Taking Your Creative Business to the Next Level
By Jodi Ohl

Having your own business is truly one of the elements to which the “American Dream” is founded on. In this day and age, we are truly blessed with more opportunities to make self-employment a very real possibility for so many. This is especially true with creative entrepreneurs, artists like you and I, no longer have to rely solely on being in a gallery to be ‘found’ by others that appreciate our art. Opportunities to be found have opened up exponentially, especially with social media on the internet. But what does it really take to leave the safety net of your day job to venture into the world of selfemployment?

First and foremost, it starts with a lot of planning and daily acts of bravery all coupled with the willingness to work hard, perhaps harder and longer than you have ever worked before and truly sacrifice in the name of your art and craft. I promise, it is worth it in the end.

Last October I did just that. I quit the security of my day job as a bank manager but the wheels were in motion a few years ago when I was armed with little more than my blog: Sweet Repeats and my Etsy Shop Sweet Repeats Studio, as well as a love for painting and storytelling through my art. My disclaimer here is that I am not an expert and I hope that I never feel like an expert, (which may seem like an odd thing to say) because that would mean that my desire to learn and grow has taken a backseat to complacency. Complacency is the kiss of death to any business person. I can, however, share with you some of the ways I managed to go from a bank manager to a full time artist in just a few years.

Here are some key things I did to position myself to go to that next level with my creative business:

1. Creating a body of Work:
If you plan on making a living off of your art or craft, you need to have a body of work that can support you in the manner that you want to be supported. And then you need to double that amount in inventory at the very least or be able to create enough each day/week to double or triple what you want to make in an average year. Think about it. If you want to make let’s just say $1000 a week in your art, you have to have more than that amount in your ‘inventory’ because chances are you are not going to be selling everything at full price. If you sell your work wholesale, you can count on 50% off your retail price as your sale price to the retailer, and in a similar fashion, 30-50% would go to any gallery, boutique, or shop you will consign or sell in. Eye-opening, isn’t it? So first you must CREATE in order to sell and sustain yourself. That’s where your hard work comes in.

2. Save Money
There may never be a perfect time to do what it is in your heart and what you are passionate about but you can prepare yourself financially by saving enough money to get by in the lean times. It may seem out of reach at first, but there are a lot of things you can do today to start saving a little bit at a time, to make your dreams a reality. Review your household budget. What can you do to change your spending habits so that you can save more money to launch your business?

There of course will be people out there that are fortunate enough financially all ready to just do it now, but the vast majority of us will have to prepare for our departure the old fashioned way: by socking away a nest egg little by little while we are working our day job. Here are some ideas: pack a lunch, eat at home rather than go out for dinner, rent a movie rather than go to a movie, vacation at a friend or family’s home rather than in the Caribbean, don’t spend your tax return or bonus if you receive either, during a course of year, coupon when you grocery shop, buy everything on sale or on clearance and only buy what is necessary, set up a special account
and have money transferred to your ‘business account’ every pay period. All of these things will help prepare you to weather the storms when you go out on your own as a self-employed individual. I bet you can come up with at least 10-20 more ways to save money if you just sit down and do the math.

3. Planning and Research
Know your competitors, understand your market, and most importantly, understand YOU and your business. I can’t stress it enough that there are going to be people out there that are doing the exact same thing as you are doing so understanding what differentiates YOU from THEM is key to your own success. Capitalize on those differences and do the best work you can day in and day out. A creative business is no different than any other small business in the framework of its conception. Be professional and develop a business plan. If a structured business plan is too far out of reach for the way you operate, then get a pretty journal and create one that is one of a kind!

4. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket
For a long time and even to some extent now, Etsy or Ebay were one of the main online venues for creative individuals or small business retailers, but there are other fish in the sea and some maybe more viable then others for what YOU do. With that said, don’t discount galleries, boutiques, and other brick and mortar stores as there are huge opportunities in the ‘real world’ to showcase your wares as well. For me, I decided to take a multi-faceted approach and not just sell on line, I sell at art festivals, galleries and other shops, as well as, teach all over the state and most recently around the country for art retreats as well as teach online art workshops. I also write for artsy related magazines which helps not only support my business but it gets my name out there in the creative market and builds my credibility for my brand. In addition, I spend time weekly prospecting new venues to sell my work at. I do so though in a limited and precise way as I need to be able to fill those shops with my work so I don’t take on more than I can handle. Make a list of 20 places you could potentially sell your work at. Take steps to prospect those candidates starting today! Even if you only are able to secure a spot in ¼ of those places, that’s 25% more than if you did not do anything at all!

5. Marketing and Sales
Artists and creative individuals are not known for their marketing and sales proficiency but that doesn’t mean you can survive without having some skills that will get your business and art into the world (a lot of skills) or know someone that can do it for you (inexpensively). Sure, there will be some individuals whose art or crafts will go viral because of some phenomenon, good for them! The rest of us have to roll up our sleeves and spread the word manually. I know, I know…but you want to play in your studio all day, me too! But we can’t just create our work, we have to sell it and we need to wrap our arms around the fact that we have to constantly put our names and our work out into the world. I’m not saying posting 70 things a day on facebook is the answer (you don’t want to shove yourself down potential customers throats as that will turn people off) but you do want put on your sales and marketing hat on a daily basis. What are some options? Newsletters, postcards, calling on galleries, shops, listing NEW work on Etsy, promoting on social networks, blogging, doing demonstrations at venues that have customers
that are likely to buy your work, being featured on other blogs, advertising (online or in print media), networking (both online and in person), hosting giveaways. This just the tip of the iceberg. Be thinking of ways you can get your name in front of potential customers every day and then do the work to get there.

6. Take the Leap
So now that you’ve got a plan in place, inventory to sell, a market to sell to, a place to sell at, and have a little money socked away to carry you through in case the going gets rough, take the leap of faith. Understand it’s not going to be easy but if you are passionate about what you do, let that passion fuel your fire. Be ready to roll up your sleeves and have to make sacrifices every day in order to survive in a very competitive market. Continually analyze what you do and be willing to make some adjustments. Be critical of yourself and take ownership for your endeavors. It’s easy to place blame on external factors, but it is critical you stay in touch with your own business. If the sales are not there, what can you do differently to increase the likelihood to sell? If you are ready to take the leap you have to be ready to continually run with your ideas and constantly strive to better your product, increase your efficiencies, lower your costs to increase your margins, and grow year after year. Learn every day. Wake up with a positive attitude and believe in yourself, because you can do it. Wishing you much success in your endeavors. Now get out there and do the work!


Art Bio Jodi Ohl
Jodi Ohl is a self-taught mixed media artist who resides in Aberdeen, NC. Having recently left her day job to pursue her artistic career full time, she is has built a body of work that is known for its distinctive texture, bold color combinations, often whimsical or abstract compositions, as well as motivational in nature. Her art appeals to those that seem to be young at heart and who appreciate the positive side of life whether communicated through words, colors, or composition. Published in a variety of international mixed media magazines such as Cloth Paper Scissors, Somerset Studios, Artful Blogging, Artful Journaling, Somerset Holidays and Celebrations, and Cloth Paper Scissors Studios, as well as a contributor to two mixed media books, Art at the Speed of Life by Pam Carriker and Cloth Paper Scissors, The Book by Barbara Delaney, Jodi enjoys writing about her art and sharing the love of healing and motivation through creativity. She is represented by regional galleries in North Carolina and teaches at local and national workshops around the US. When not painting, she enjoys time with her two sons, Josh, 11 and Zach, 17 as well as other friends and family. Jodi welcomes visitors to her blog Sweet Repeats where you can find a full listing of classes, weekly musings, and additional artwork for sale. 

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  1. Great advice Jodi, I’ve just taken the plunge myself and left my day job, this was just what I needed, thanks!

    • Hi Alexandra! Best of luck to you in your creative business, too! I should have also added a few other things in this article (maybe a part two? :) but one thing that has helped me is to keep a sense of humor about everything, take time to breathe and enjoy yourself, and just believe that you can do it!

  2. Just want to say Hi to my old friend Lucy-Jodi! :) I knew you back when you were just getting started and look at you now! I’m so thrilled for all of your success and that you are living your dream!

    • Hi Heidi girl!! You know what, our friendship as well as our little swap group was what really got my creative juices flowing during a period of my life I needed it most. Our motivation and cheering each other on is part of the ‘networking’ I mentioned in my article…and I’m blessed it led our friendship as well! :) Thank you for your kind words!

  3. Thanks for all the info! I am retired and now doing Etsy fulltime. I have a lot to learn but because of people like you sharing I am increasing my sales and techniques each week. Thanks again, Vicki

    • Hi Vicki, how wonderful for you, too! We all can learn something new to make us stronger and more successful in our creative businesses…and that’s one of the exciting parts…learning something new every day! Best of luck to you!! Jodi

  4. Thanks for sharing such great advice, Jodi!! I think in many of our hearts there is a string pulling us to “just do it”. It’s scary to walk away from a good paying and secure (mmmmm, who knows, these days) job. There is so much more to think about than just a desire and even a good customer base. The wind can change in a heartbeat. You certainly put down a good foundation to make the leap!

    • Pat, you are so right. There is a lot to consider and it isn’t right in all situations to just take that leap. It’s still scary to me everyday, and everyday it takes acts of bravery to keep moving forward. I think one of the big points I tried to make is that you do have to have a strong foundation to up the odds for success. It scares me to think that some take the leap without having that. Not that success couldn’t come without a good head start, anything is possible; its just more of a gamble. As a singe parent, I can only gamble so much! :)

  5. Thank you for this article, Jodi. I am contemplating taking early retirement and jumping in before I qualify for retirement benefits and your words are more than encouraging!

    • Hi Diane,
      I’m glad you found the article encouraging! The banker in me says just do the math first and weigh the pros and cons monetarily to taking that leap. Depending on how close you are to retirement, it may be prudent to wait…and that may sound going against the grain but if its only a couple of years…then you may want to wait. If its several years then put your plans in place to take the leap of faith once you’ve built that foundation for your creative business.

      With that said, when you do what you love day in and day out, you enrich your life more than anyone can ever imagine. I was many many years from retirement but I did give up a very well paying job to do what I love. I can say that this has been the best year of my life (or close to a year). I’ve never been happier :)
      Best of luck to you!

  6. Very timely article for me as I stand at a crossroads trying to decide which direction to go in in order to support myself. I am an artist at heart but to follow my dream I also have to be a business person. That’s where many of us fall down. This article helped a lot.

    • Hi Teena,

      You are so right, you do have to wear both hats and it isn’t easy…but you can do it! Finding that point of balance between our art and our business can be tricky but to be successful we have to fit in both aspects! The good news is there, is a lot of support out there for us. I wish you much success!

  7. An excellent post with great tips! Making a list of potential places I could sell my stuff at – something I’m going to get on right away! Thank you!

    • Hi Megan, so glad you had a quick and usable take away that you could use today that will help you achieve your dreams!! :) Good luck to you!! Jodi

  8. Beautiful post! Full of positive motivation…thank you!

  9. Thank you so much Jodi for writing such a wonderful motivational post. Needed that today! Love your work

  10. I totally agree with every thing you advise except for the need to build a body of work.

    I think you have to be cautious about that in the first two years of business as you have not yet proven what sells and you could spend time and money on materials creating a stock which is not saleable.

    Later on, once you have found your products and market place, you certainly need to build a body of work as a buffer against loosing making time through unforseen circumstances such as a sick child.

    If anyone wants to do a fun quiz on your chances of making a living as a crafts person then here is the ludicrously long link

  11. Hi Dixie,

    Thank you for your reflective comments, and you have a very good point there as well. I’ve had even friends of mine that really wanted to go full time but they spent so much time trying to find a ‘hit’ and not building their collection or perfecting their work that they could never get past the starting gates. So many pieces of the puzzle, isn’t there, and there really isn’t a magic formula for everyone…and in a lot of cases you just have to find your own road to success but hopefully some of my points will help those that are positioning themselves for taking that leap :) Thank you for stopping by! Jodi

  12. I am chronically ill and would love to earn some extra money doing what I love and am passionate about, but taking the leap is scary because things tend to change on a dime with my health, I really liked the thoughtful approach you took to making the decision to go full time with your art. I do think everyone’s journey is unique, but your points are valid new to be addressed by all before leaving their full time jobs. Thanks for being willing to share what works for you and giving all of us much needed things to think about.

  13. Hi Maureen,
    Thank you for taking the time to read my article and for your thoughtful comment! I think you should pursue what you are passionate about…but yes, health coverage and just your ability to work within the limitations of your illness are something to consider very heavily. I worked for several years selling my art part time (while still working) so you can have it all and still have that security of your day job, it just takes a little juggling and focus, but if you are passionate about what you do and if you want to take it to that next level, you can do both!

    Best of luck to you in whatever you decide to do! :) Jodi

  14. Great Article. Lots to consider before making that leap. But…what a dream come true, “from hobby to profession”!

  15. Hi Nadia, thank you for the feedback! I have to pinch myself from time to time that I am actually doing what I want to be doing day in and day out. As tiring as it can be some days, its invigorating and exciting at the same time! :) Jodi

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