About this project
Are you a freelancer or thinking about becoming one? Or do you just want to know how you could monetize your creative hobby to bump up your bank account?
After publishing TYWBD last year, my ambition was to write a book for creatives who are seeking security and a stable income with their business, while minimizing the unpredictable risks of freelance life.
It's possible to build a creative business with multiple income streams, whether it’s writing, illustration, graphic design, consulting or photography. You've come to the right place if you want inspiration for how you could invest your time to build a creative business in a smart way.
Introduction // Start with a side project // Sara Combs - UX/UI Designer and Illustrator // Have your own point of view // Elaine McMillion Sheldon - Film Maker // Create out loud // Maaike Boot - Surface Pattern Designer // Set yourself goals // Sophie C Ryba - Beauty Blogger // Take small and big risks // Elise Blaha - Creative Director // Kickstart your idea // Julieta Ulanovsky - Visual Designer // Invest your time // Susan Schmitz - Photographer // Find your niche // Shayna Oliviera - Online Educator // Collaborate with others // Sarah Eichhorn - Lifestyle Blogger // Explore all possibilities // Joanna Penn - Writer // Build multiple income streams // Jaymay - Musician // Automate and outsource // Patty Golsteijn - Coach // Find strong partners // Helen Johannessen - Maker // Plan your long term goals // Lisa Glanz - Illustrator // Say hello!
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Here's one of my favourite interviews from the book. If you enjoyed the read, please help me pay my team by supporting this campaign and sharing with your friends that may need this advice. Thank you, you’re wonderful!
Meet Elise Blaha
Meet Elise, a creative entrepreneur who started with a small Etsy shop that she has grown into a viable business. Her most successful product has been the Get To Work Book®. One of Elise’s incredible strengths is her ability to look at risks from a very pragmatic angle. She’ll explain why it makes sense for you to start small and why it’s important to think about who you are and what you stand for in order to build a business that can flourish and grow with you.
1. What is your educational background and how did you get to where you are now?
I’ve always been interested in business, so I studied business administration. I chose marketing as my major, but since I studied before social media was a thing, everything we learned was different from how you market today. (I graduated in 2007.)
I never thought I would start my own company; I was sure I would work for a corporation. During my time in college, I had internships at about six or seven different companies. I gained a lot of work experience, but never really clicked with anything. I can’t say I didn’t like any of these jobs; it was just that none of them felt like something I wanted to stick with.
In my senior year, I interviewed with a lot of companies all over the United States. None of them offered me a job, so I moved to Maryland to live closer to my now husband. I took on a retail job at a paper store where I earned nine dollars an hour. Even working full-time, I had a lot of extra creative energy, which is why, next to my blog, I started an Etsy store.
I started my blog in college in 2006 when blogging wasn’t big. I used my blog to share personal stories and my craft projects, and my audience grew gradually. When I started blogging, social media wasn’t really there yet, so the only way to grow your audience was word-of-mouth from your readers.
When I decided to start an Etsy store, I was lucky I already had a small audience from my blog and invited everyone to check out what I was up to. Originally, I created single products, but eventually focused more on creating lines. I started to treat my Etsy store more like a “real” business.
I worked at the paper store for over two years, but as my Etsy store (my side business) started to grow, I was able to cut back on my hours and focus on building my own business. It was wonderful because it happened slowly. I always had a stable income more or less, or at least some income.
2. What are your different income streams?
Currently, my biggest income stream is the Get To Work Book®. It’s a daily planner and goal-setting workbook.
About 10-15% of my overall income is generated through affiliate links on my blog. I also have some DIY e-courses that I sell through my website and on A Beautiful Mess. The e-courses on www.abeautifulmess.com are distributed by their in-house staff. I get a share of the income.
Additionally, I sell some other products next to the planner on www.elisejoy.com. And from time to time, but definitely not regularly, the podcast I’m working on has a sponsored episode here and there.
3. Why and how did you launch your different businesses and your different products?
I started with the small Etsy shop first and in 2012, expanded to selling rubber stamps. This was the first product that I sold via a free-standing shop instead of through Etsy.
In 2014, the year I turned 29, I wanted to rediscover my footing as a maker and figure out what could be next for my business, so I came up with the project Make29. I decided to produce and sell a new product once a month for twelve months in a row and release these creations in batches of 29 or 290. It was a series of limited editions for me to figure out what I enjoyed making the most. During this year, I sold photo prints, screenprinted posters, letterpress prints, and wooden plant stands. I also created knit blankets and various paintings.
Make29 was an experiment in selling and an exercise in goal-setting and following through. I would recommend to everyone who wants to challenge themselves or really get better at something to experiment! I learned a lot about product development and how to run my business more effectively while operating on the monthly turn-around. I was really hoping that by making all these different products, one of them would click and that I could then make it the base of a full-time business.
Some of the products did better than others, but what actually happened was that I received a lot of questions around my planning process. All these questions became the foundation of the Get To Work Book®. I wasn’t intending to create a planner; I actually thought I would write a book about goal-setting, but then I realized instead of just talking about doing something, I wanted to provide something that helped people take action.
Currently, my focus is on the Get To Work Book®. I launched the planner at the beginning of 2015, so there’s a long way to go to really see what it can be. I worked with a great team in Portland, Oregon on the design of the book. They were able to take all of my ideas and goal-setting concepts and turn them into something beautiful and functional.
The design and production for the Get To Work Book® is done out-of-house. I’m currently handling the shipping, customer service, website design, and promotion. Eventually, I would like to outsource the shipping!
My goal for the Get To Work Book® brand is not to over-expand or create hundreds of products. I want to just have a few, consistently good products that sell. I now have three products and I would love to get to about ten over the next few years.
One popular page in the Get To Work Book® is a project breakdown sheet, so I plan to launch a notepad and book based around that design for people who have a lot of projects, but may not need the daily planner aspect. I think that taking a huge financial risk (the big planner) and then three small financial risks (the notepad and two small products) might be a good rhythm for me. If one of the three products doesn’t work out, I’m still in good shape.
I think I spend the majority of my time thinking through the business side of a product and then the creative side happens quite fast. Ideas come quickly, mostly while I work on something else, but setting up logistics...that’s the real hustle.
For the future, I would love to sell wholesale. I would love for stationery stores to stock my products, but for that to happen, I need to go to gift and trade shows. There’s always something new that’s worth exploring when you run your own company.
4. How did you set up the logistics for your business?
I work with spreadsheets and calculate. First, I always do a cost analysis: if I order X amount, I have to sell Y amount to break even. I must know the numbers and think about whether it’s a realistic amount and whether it makes sense for me to realize such a project.
I don’t consider myself an inventor. I know many people like to innovate, but I prefer to figure out what already exists that I can tweak and make work a bit better. That’s how I channel creativity; I look for solutions that are already available and adapt them to my taste.
I look for local suppliers because it’s important to me that I can pick up the phone and call the people I’m working with.
I also determine how much inventory to order based on some cost-analysis. At certain order quantities, I receive a price break, so all of that is considered, as well as how much I can afford to “lose” if things don’t sell and what my break-even point would be at each quantity. For 2016, I doubled my order based on the 2015-2016 sell out and the assumption that more people would be willing to purchase a traditional calendar year planner.
As mentioned, right now I’m doing the shipping for the Get To Work Book® out of my house. For insurance purposes, I don’t store all the inventory here (some is held at the printer) and instead, I have pallets of books shipped down every month or so. This allows me to manage risk and save some storage room. If things continue to grow for the brand, it will be unrealistic and impossible for me to ship everything from my house. I’m currently looking for a distributor and while it will be hard to give up that part of the business I’ve done for so long, it will be the right decision.
5. How do you grow/scale your business?
Every time I invest a new product, it’s a risk that I dare to take. When I started out with the Get To Work Book®, I invested about $45,000. I didn’t have to pay everything in advance and was able to pay off some of the costs with the pre-orders, so I didn’t spend $45,000 in one day. Still, it was the biggest risk I’ve ever taken in my life. By far! Before, I never invested more than a few thousand dollars, so you can imagine that it was a very big move for me.
There was no safety net, but I knew that we wouldn’t lose our house if I couldn’t make it work. I believe that in business, you must learn to separate the real problems from the unreal problems. This was a business risk, not a life risk. We’d get through it.
Because I’ve grown things slowly over time, I’ve never had to borrow money. When considering a new venture, I like to think about the worst-case scenario. If the worst-case scenario is terrible, then I don’t move forward. Often though, that worst-case scenario isn’t that bad.
Over the years, I’ve taken many risks; I’ve done so again and again. When your decisions work out, it gives you the strength to take a risk again. When they fail, it helps you realize that it’s okay. The world keeps turning and that gives you the strength to take on another risk. It’s something you just learn through experience.
It now makes sense to me that many people cherish experience over education. I think education is hugely important, but still, you’ll learn a lot while doing. You’ll grow with your decisions and with how your business develops. Also, after you’ve dared a few smaller risks, it becomes less intimidating. But of course, it’s still overwhelmingly scary.
6. How do you market your business?
Right now, I rely heavily on Instagram. Every time I send out a planner, I include printed thank you notes to encourage my customers to share a picture using the hashtag #gettoworkbook. I have a Get To Work Book® Instagram account where I feature people’s images. I try to connect with them, and instead of saying, “Here is a photo Jane took,” I say, “Hey Jane, I like how you did XYZ!”
7. How did you improve the user experience over time?
I’m still working on it. I think that’s the case with every brand. There’s always something to improve.
I’ve grown my business organically and have shared my gradual process on my blog. People like to connect with what’s happening behind the scenes and that’s helped. I’ve also implemented a newsletter and connect on social media.
I work to be responsive to customer needs. My customer service model basically goes like this: “Make it right. If people want a refund, okay, I’ll give them a refund. If they want puppies, sure, I’ll give them puppies!”
There will always be a reason for customer frustration. That can’t be avoided. But once they voice their frustration, you can do something about it and fix it.
8. What is something you would recommend to someone who wants to start a business such as yours?
I believe that it’s hugely important to realize that building a business isn’t a quick thing to do. Part of why it’s worked for me is because it’s been so slow. I didn’t set out to have a huge business. It grew purely out of my interest.
The first step you should take is find out what you’re interested in. It doesn’t have to be anything that sets you apart. It just has to be something you’re passionate about.
Then, you should be comfortable with starting small. Learn to be comfortable when you don’t have a whole plan mapped out in front of you. In order to run a successful business, you need to be flexible, willing to ask questions, and staying true to who you are. Be prepared that building your own business is going to be hard work. You have to absolutely love it!
I personally love the business aspect; I love calculations and spreadsheets. If you don’t enjoy that part, then find someone who does. If you don’t enjoy marketing, then find someone who does. Work with people who fit with your strengths and weaknesses.
9. What resources would you recommend to someone who wants to start such a business?
I have three books that I would love to recommend: The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp,The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau and The Art of Possibility by the Zanders.
10. What do you think are the greatest challenges for someone who wants to set up a business such as yours?
It can feel daunting to break in. It’s always hard to start from scratch and start building an audience for the work you do. I was lucky because I built an audience through my blog before I even wanted to sell anything to anyone. Now, there’s such an incredible hype around how many followers one has, which makes it feel really hard to start out, but that shouldn’t stop you! It’s okay to start from zero and grow slowly. Everyone starts from scratch and gets to where they are now, and so can you!
Take the time to think about what your brand will look like and what you want to focus on. Make sure that whatever you produce feels consistent. Come up with a really clear idea of who you are and what your brand stands for. That should eliminate at least some of the fears of starting out.
Also, separate your own identity – who you are – from your business. I know that your personal business is a personal endeavor, but try to not take things personally. I’m still working on this myself. I now feel that I finally have a product that I’m crazy passionate about, but it took me ten years to find it. I’ve been working on things that I’ve been interested in for ten years that made for my income, but it’s only now, ten years later, that my passion product could really be profitable and scaleable.
Pursue your interests really hard and go all in. It’s only by going all in, believing in yourself, and believing in your business that you will be able to figure things out!
Some bits and pieces of Sara's illustrations to make the book extra pretty:
Something extra special for you!
Given this is my second Kickstarter campaign I have a special goodie for you. Every supporter of this project will receive a link to download This Year Will Be Different for their Kindle. It's in the first, private, update!
I’ll be sure to share all the aspects of finalising the book with you, and you’ll be invited to help us fine tune this into the go-to guide for every creative professional about what it means to run a freelance business. With the accompanying FREELANCER BUNDLE, you'll even have your name and a link to your website listed in the book itself. Someone got hired from the list last year, so I knew I had to continue the tradition!
THANK YOU FOR HELPING US MAKE THIS BOOK A REALITY!
Risks and challenges
Last time I ran a Kickstarter campaign I made a mistake when calculating the shipping costs. So this time I have calculated as accurately as possible based on my experience with the last campaign.
Our biggest challenge is to exceed your expectations and deliver a joyful package to your door on time. The dream goal for us would be to make at least €12,000, so that we can really go wild crafting your nice packages. This is what they looked like last year: http://bit.ly/kickstarterdelivery Cannot wait to surprise you again!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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