I’ve become increasingly frustrated with this notion that the only way to be successful as a creative entrepreneur (or any type of entrepreneur, for that matter) is to “quit your day job.”
I’m glad to see people I respect calling out the hype surrounding 6-figure blogging, creating online courses and telesummits, and the nobility of being a digital nomad. I’ve been sucked into the hype at times too, but once it gets into your head, it can easily send you into a downward spiral of imposter syndrome and “I’m too late, it’s all already been done” shame. (I’ve been there the past few weeks, let me tell you…)
I’m so sick of the implication that because I have a day job (which I quite enjoy, thankyouverymuch), I’m somehow less of a creative entrepreneur. That because I’ve opted for a dose of stability I don’t know what it means to be entrepreneurial. I call bullshit.
I recently received an e-mail from a mom helping her daughter with a school assignment. The 7th grader was working on a career project, and she chose Craft Artist as her career of choice. Part of the assignment was to “interview” someone in that field, which is how they found me, via my post How to make a living as an artist or crafter. They asked me to share how I got started and some of the pros and cons of a creative career. I told them:
You’ll probably work twice as many hours as you would if you had a traditional office job. Not only do you have to make the crafts or art, you also have to run a business and deal with accounting & bookkeeping, marketing your products, customer service, shipping if you sell online…
Your income can also be really variable, so you really need to learn how to budget and put money aside for the lean times. Honestly, I’ve always had some sort of part-time job in addition to my crafty career. Some artists are able to support themselves full-time, but that is the exception not the rule. But splitting your time between half day-job and half crafty job isn’t bad either – I like having the balance of part of my time for my own projects and part of my time at a steady structured job. I actually just cut back a few months ago to 32 hours a week at FSC Interactive in order to have more time to myself to work on my own projects.
Since cutting back to 4 days a week at my day job a few months ago (partially inspired by my friend Nikki Carter’s own 32-hour work week switch), I feel much more balanced. But I’m not going to lie that giving up 20% of my salary is easy-breezy. That said, having a day job, even a part-time one, affords me certain luxuries that freelancers and full-time entrepreneurs do not always have.
Take health insurance for example. My partner David left his cushy 6-figure I.T. day job ten years ago to pursue his dream to work in film. He’s worked his way up from lowly Production Assistant to positions as Director of Photography and Camera Operator, but those freelance gigs don’t come with health insurance. And thanks to our idiotic ex-governor Bobby Jindal, it’s ridiculously unaffordable for him to get health insurance on his own. I even priced out what it would cost to add him to my health insurance if we got married, and it’s STILL ridiculously unaffordable.
My mom, who has run her own business since I was a kid, went through breast cancer treatment a few years ago with no health insurance. I can not even begin to express the amount of financial turmoil that it caused. (Neither of them still have health insurance, as of this writing.) So yeah… I’ve got to admit that there is a lot of comfort in having a day-job where I can easily get health insurance and other benefits and earn a stable income that still allows me to pursue my own creative endeavors on the side.
More than that, I’m lucky to work at an agency where my entrepreneurship is encouraged. I think we’ll see more companies encouraging intrapreneurship in coming years.
One of my favorite books that I read last year was The Self-made Billionaire Effect. I’ll admit that when I picked it up at Barnes & Noble I hoped to glean some entrepreneurial wisdom and get inside the brains of people like Elon Musk and Warren Buffett. I ended up really enjoying the book, but in a different way than I thought. It’s actually designated as a business management book, and it shares how most self-made billionaires are what the authors call “Producers” and most people who traditionally end up in management positions are what they call “Performers.” (Most people are actually somewhere on the spectrum but lean towards one side or the other.) They mentioned how many of the most successful Producers have a Performer partner that they work closely with and it’s these partnerships that make them truly successful. The book shared ideas on how to find Producers within your company and how to give them free reign to test their entrepreneurial ideas so that they continue to innovate within the company, rather than leaving to start their own ventures.
This idea of intrapreneurship is something that’s really important, because not everyone is meant to be a full-time entrepreneur, nor is everyone lucky enough to be one. But entrepreneurial thinking is something that should be more widely encouraged, in all parts of life. The world needs more people who are chef-like, rather than cook-like. But just because you are a chef, doesn’t mean you need to open your own restaurant.
I gave a presentation yesterday at my day job during our weekly “Think & Drink” company meeting about Failure As Opportunity. Much of what I covered was meant to be a thought-starter rather than a definitive statement. I asked questions like, “What makes ‘best practices’ the best?” and “If everyone is doing it, how much longer will it work?” These questions were aimed at examining digital marketing strategies, but I think they make sense in a larger context too:
“Do I want to make 6-figures just because everyone has told me I should want to?” and “Do I actually want to do this creative thing I love full-time?”
Working with one foot in each world, the realm of creative entrepreneurs and the agency side of digital marketing, gives me a unique perspective on both. I see things happening in the mainstream land of SEO and social media that many creatives may not be aware of yet. But I also see solopreneurs who are able to swiftly test new ideas that a more traditional agency and their clients may hesitate to try out.
Having a day job has other benefits too. For example, I’ve been pursuing more public speaking gigs. I guarantee that my day job at a digital marketing agency has given me credibility and made it easier for me to land speaking opportunities at events like New Orleans Entrepreneur Week and the Boost Your Business event hosted by Facebook at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. But would I have been able to get my current day job if I hadn’t already built my own personal brand as Miss Malaprop over the last 10 years? Maybe not…
My dual careers compliment each other. One of the easiest ways to turn your blogging side-gig into more money is to use it to acquire the skills to land a better-paying day job. That’s exactly what I did. More than a decade of blogging and running my own business taught me skills that are highly desirable. There are plenty of people who have a basic understanding of social media marketing, but every time FSC needs to hire someone for the search department it’s much more difficult to find people with experience in SEO and paid search. My experience as a blogger and running an e-commerce store gave me a basic understanding of SEO and Google Analytics so that I could get hired and continue to improve my skills. One of my co-workers also learned the ropes while creating his own blogs.
Much like Regina pointed out the faulty accounting that many people use in their online income reports, I think there are a lot of people in the online entrepreneurial space that make it appear as if they make a full-time income from their creative endeavors. I know lots of entrepreneurs who have some sort of side-gig that provides them with a regular paycheck, whether it’s teaching a class at a local college or university or regular freelance work from an agency.
(I’d also like to point out that being a “freelancer” and an “entrepreneur” are not necessarily the same thing. For the most part, freelancing is still just trading time for money; you just have to be the salesman, marketing department, accounting and HR in addition to actually doing the work.)
There’s nothing wrong with any of these options. The point is that there is no one right path for everyone. But sometimes with a million shouting voices telling you the “right” and “wrong” way to do things, it can feel like there must be.
It’s important to remember the creative part of being a creative entrepreneur. If you’re just replicating someone else’s formula, that’s not very creative at all.
I was listening to an episode of Tara Gentile’s Profit Power Pursuit podcast the other day where guest Abby Glassenberg was talking about the importance of carving out a niche online. This episode was really refreshing to me because Abby has also been blogging for more than a decade and, like me, she’s combined a lot of different topics under the same umbrella. Lately I’ve found myself struggling with the fact that I don’t have just one topic I devote my online business to, and I’ve been feeling like I don’t have a niche. Abby pointed out how being yourself, with all of your varied interests and personality quirks, and fully expressing that is the best way to carve out a niche that is truly unique. Building a brand based on your individual personality is a niche that no one else can compete with.
The online world gets very noisy sometimes. I’ve recently been trying to take a bit of a break, and show myself some grace in the process. There will always be people who prey on the hopes, dreams, and naïveté of others. But you don’t have to let yourself get sucked into their B.S.
I’m sick of letting myself feel like I’m not qualified to speak on being a creative entrepreneur, just because I have a day job. The truth is, after more than a decade of building a personal brand and multiple iterations of my creative biz, with side-jobs and full-time jobs all along the way, I’m probably MORE qualified than the entrepreneurs who’ve gotten lucky or had overnight success. (Although most of the “overnight success” you see online is anything but.) The long and winding path I’ve had is more similar to what most creative entrepreneurs will encounter. That doesn’t make it any less worthwhile or rewarding.
Having a day job, whether part-time or full-time, does not make you a failure as a creative entrepreneur. Yes, it’s true that hustling takes courage. But so does living life on your own terms, whatever that means.
You do you, boo.
Mallory Whitfield has been making things and performing for as long as she can remember. She started blogging at MissMalaprop.com in 2006, and currently hosts the Badass Creatives podcast. Throughout her journey as a creative entrepreneur, Mallory has worn many hats, including blogger, visual artist, upcycled clothing creator, performance artist, jewelry designer, craft show vendor, creative strategist, speaker, teacher and consultant to other small business owners.
She worked as Content Analyst at FSC Interactive, a leading digital marketing agency, prior to taking on her current role as Director of Marketing at LookFar, a New Orleans-based startup studio which builds digital products and visionary companies.
Do you believe that art, creativity, innovation, and kindness can change the world? If you answered “Heck yeah!” then this is the podcast for you.
Badass Creatives is hosted by Mallory Whitfield and features marketing and business advice for creatives, as well as interviews with a diverse range of handmade artists, performers, makers, and creative entrepreneurs.
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