Hoo-boy!! 2018 was a HUGE year for my business. It was my third year, the year of online courses, the year of showing my true self and learning the power of my authentic voice. This was the year that convinced me that I could actually do this - make a good living just off of my own creativity and gumption.
So here are the three biggest lessons I learned in 2018 (along with some cold, hard dolla-dolla numbers):
#1 It’s ok to let go and change directions
I started my business in 2016 selling individual greeting cards that I printed at home, cut and scored, stuffed into little plastic sleeves, then packaged into padded envelopes to ship out. I made less than $3 on each sale.
Then, I started doing individual custom calligraphy pieces. On those, I made $15-25 each… for about an hour of work.
At the beginning of 2018, I decided to let go of both of those things.
At first, it was a hard decision because I felt attached to my greeting card babies. And I continued to get requests for commissions which I had to turn down. But I knew I couldn’t focus on a bigger vision for my business if I was spending hours each day making less than minimum wage.
By clearing those two things off my plate, I made room to plan and create my second online course. When I launched Modern Calligraphy 201 in November of 2018, I brought in over $15K in sales. Easily ten times what I would have made on greeting cards and commissions.
Building a creative business is a delicate balance - you have to have a clear vision of where you want to end up, but remain flexible about how to get there.
#2 What you earn depends on what you think is POSSIBLE
When I started my business, I thought $60/hr was a good salary for a calligrapher. I had no basis of comparison… and anyway, artists never really make great money right?
My second year in business, I taught my first workshop and earned around $1000. That event involved over 13 hours of prep and execution, but still… that was, like, $80/hour.
Then, I learned to do glass engraving and found out that those gigs paid $95/hr, which made me go WHAA???
Then, I heard from a couple other calligraphers that they charged $150-200 per hour for live calligraphy events. And that just blew my mind wide open.
But you know what happened? As soon as I knew what was possible, I knew I could start asking for that amount, too.
I know my calligraphy is good. Not perfect, but certainly good enough. If other calligraphers are getting paid that amount, why not me too?
So now… the hourly rate that I aim for is $200/hr. I don’t always get that amount, depending on the type of client. But I reach so much higher now.
All because I know what’s possible.
#3 It’s ok to step away
In October of 2018, I found out that my best friend in the entire world had Stage 4 liver cancer. The doctors gave him less than a year to live.
I felt my priorities shifting in one giant soul-shaking quake. I wanted to be there for him and sometimes that involved staying at his place for days at a time, taking care of him after chemo procedures.
The holiday season was fast approaching and I saw other businesses furiously promoting and creating and launching. But, I found that, while I was spending time with my friend, I could not make myself focus on work.
And even after I would leave my friend, honestly, I felt pretty uninspired.
So I slowed down my business. I didn’t plan any holiday workshops, I didn’t make custom ornaments, I didn’t hold any sales. Sometimes I was hard on myself - “I SHOULD be doing more!” I would think.
But then I’d remember… this is just one season. I want my business to grow and thrive for a looooong time. So, it had to be ok for me to step away for a few months. In fact, isn’t that the very reason I became an entrepreneur in the first place?
Owning a small business can feel like a rat race, too. There will always be others who you see running alongside you, and you’ll want to outrun all of them. But you have to run at your own pace, in the direction of your own heart. Otherwise, what’s it all for?