After a bit of a haitus with this series, I'm back with another great Do What You Love interview, taking an honest look at creatively self-employed life. This time, it's with Alissa of Mew Paper Arts! Alissa was featured on Etsy's Quit Your Day Job series which led to an interview with the CBS Evening News and her business has been taking off! She's enjoying every minute of it and I'm so glad to have her here sharing her experiences. Read on to see what a day in the life is like for a busy (and pretty!) stationery designer!
What do you do for a living?
How long have you been self-employed? What made you decide to take the leap?
Do you work from home or have a studio/office elsewhere?
Do you have a partner or assistant, or are you going it solo?
How do you organize your days? At what part of the day are you most productive?
I don’t organize my days, and if I’m being completely honest, this is a downfall for me. I’m definitely not a night owl, so I like to get up on the early side, about 6:45, and be in bed by 11 or so. I don’t often do any official production work much past 7 pm, but I do find myself answering e-mails much later. I usually have 39 things happening at once and I haven’t figured out a better way that works for me. So though it might appear as my day isn’t specifically organized, it’s the way I function to have a lot of different hats on throughout the day.
How do you keep procrastination and distraction in check, and stay motivated to get things done?
This is a tricky one, especially being at home all day. It’d be very easy to turn on the TV while I work, or run down and fold the laundry. But during my studio hours, I leave the housework alone. I find myself web surfing and blog reading and twittering a bit throughout the day, but I don’t view it as distraction—more as inspiration, and to some degree of interaction with “co-workers” of a sort. Plenty of times I have to literally say out loud “Get Back to Work!”, and force myself to close Firefox and get busy! What’s harder for me is to be motivated towards the non-business related things that need doing—such as grocery shopping, and housecleaning. That’s where I’m really a procrastinator—my business is the fun stuff!
How many hours do you put in per day? Do you work on the weekends?
I usually use my morning (starting at about 7) to blog, read other blogs, Twitter a bit and just sort of reach out to my community of online friends. And I work on this or that all throughout the day and usually quit around 6 or so. But after 6 I do go back to my computer a couple of times before bed, and some nights I do go later. Never into the wee hours though—I’m just not productive at night. I don’t like to officially “work” weekends, so I usually don’t do a lot of production—a half day on Saturday and rarely on Sunday. In fact, Sundays are the one day during the week that I actually repulse walking into my studio. It becomes an entirely different space for me on Sundays, and I need to keep my distance so that I don’t build a resentment for my work.
How do you handle a non-steady income?
Fortunately, my income is quite steady and I do not take this for granted! I try to adhere pretty strictly to my own policies of getting up front deposits, and full payments on delivery, so I always know how much money I can expect for the current week. There are definitely times when things are a little unpredictable. Like most people, mine is a two-income household—well, it’s now a 1 1/2 income household since Darryl is unemployed. I’ve read a lot of remarks on forums in the handmade community that seem to discredit artisans or designers who’ve “quit their day jobs” but only because they’ve had the support of their partner’s income. I don’t agree with that entirely. Yes, I rely on my husband’s income to maintain our lifestyle, but he also relies on mine. I live in an area that makes it very difficult to live in a single income household. When I started my business I couldn’t have predicted that it would be the main source of money for us in just a year’s time. I’m very proud of the fact that I can support a major part of our lifestyle on my salary alone—and be happy doing it! That’s really the key for me.
What do you think is the most difficult part about being your own boss?
This is my favorite question—because being my own boss is the primary reason that I do this work! When I was in grade school, I was constantly getting in trouble for back-talk...I hated being told what to do! This trait is in my blood apparently, because once I got into the corporate world (though back-talk was no longer a problem!) I just loathed the reporting structure. But to answer the question directly, the very hardest part about this is that there is no chain of accountability—when there are mistakes or problems, the responsibility is entirely mine, and the money needs to come out of my pocketbook. I’m brutally hard on myself when I make mistakes that get out the door to the client—it doesn’t go into a big pot of expenses like it may in a big company. I see and feel the effects immediately and that part can be tough.
And the best part?
There are so many things that are the best part of being the boss—complete freedom creatively and otherwise. In my corporate job I hated the 9-5 requirement. I always thought that if I got my work done in three hours while standing on my head and listening to Pat Benetar than what should it matter—the work got done! So the freedom, without a doubt is the very best part.
How do you reward yourself for a job well done and keep yourself from getting too burnt out?
Avoiding burn-out isn’t hard for me because I love my work so much. In fact, when I go away on vacation I get excited to get home and get back to it! (I think there’s a support group for people like me!) But on a daily basis, the routine can get a little overwhelming, and sometimes I get so busy that I don’t leave the house to go the mailbox for two days! When going to the post office becomes a social outing I know I’ve worked too hard that week! So as often as I can, preferably every day that’s sunny, I take a ride around town on my scooter. I bought it last year as a diversion from boring condo life, and it has been such a fun toy to have! I sometimes run errands, or sometimes I just wander. I also like to meet friends for lunch, or evening cocktails when I’ve got some free time. I do yoga every day at home, and try to get to the yoga studio twice a week though I wish I could get there more. Overall, I feel like doing this work is my reward. I’m so thankful that I found my groove at 29 instead of trudging through the rat race for 30 more years of misery.
Would you say you're making a living doing what you love?
What is one nugget of wisdom you can pass on to someone who is desperately seeking to get out of the 9-5 grind and follow in your footsteps?
Sometimes I fear that I may get a little dogmatic talking about work and business—but I’m just so passionate about it and just love to encourage other people to give it a try. I read interviews like this when I was starting out and it was a huge source of inspiration for me. The obvious nugget of wisdom I’d have is to “just do it”. But of course, that’s not usually the logical step to take. I would advise serious research and an honest assessment of your household budget requirements. I’m not sure that if I were just venturing out right now, in this economy, that I would dive in with such gusto. I do believe that your passion, if it’s strong enough, will guide you, and that each person needs to listen to that inner voice.
>> you may also like: Do What you Love: An Interview with Susannah Conway