I established this calligraphy business in September of 2015 as a single parent of two sons with a full time serving job. Starting a side gig sounded as simple as the success stories made it sound. I wish I’d learned earlier on how to streamline my processes and protect my time. Here are 7 things I’ve learned in my first 5 years of entrepreneurship. These are things that just slip out when people tell me they’re starting a new business. I hope they help you along your way.
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We’re each dealt a different lot and for a long time, I measured my struggles against the apparent ease of others’ success. I am recovering from being overly critical of myself. This isn’t exactly a recipe for landslide success. I think it’s important that I take the space here to acknowledge that this landscape is not a level playing field and it caters to a narrow demographic. My aim here is to share practices I have learned that support me personally and the way I am spending my time and building community.
1. Regularly Organize Photos and Videos
I used to feel like everything I posted to social media had to be hot off my fingertip press. And since the content that I consume is often bite-sized, I thought it meant that the person who created it came up with it cleverly, quickly, and right in the moment. Which may or may not be true in some cases. But maybe this content was also something they saved for later.
I started documenting my process early on, but those photos and videos just sat in my phone. I’d either never revisit the photos, or I’d spend a long time scrolling through every photo trying to find them. Now, I’ve made a system that works for me:
- As I take photos and videos, I try to rename them.
- I move them into organized albums and folders.
- Once a week, I move them to my computer.
This way, I don’t feel like I am starting from scratch every time I want to make a post. And if I do get suddenly inspired, I’ll know where to find photos and videos I need. Having cohesive visual and textual content makes me feel a little more authentic and in control.
2. Keep Business Finances Separate from Personal
This was the very first thing I learned during the creative business workshop I attended. Keeping your cash separate make taxes easier. It’s also a more accurate way to assess to see your financial progress as a company. I saved the cash I made on the side until I could open a business account.
I hired an accountant to do my taxes because I wanted someone I could trust with my calligraphy business, day job, and home. What I got was someone who showed me how to keep track of things on my own through the year and show me extra places and ways to save money. After the initial discomfort, I felt protected. If I need support, my accountant is there to answer my questions and support me. This is important to me because there’s a lot more at stake here than selling calligraphy.
3. Outsource Where Possible
Honestly, I am still learning that I don’t have to do everything myself. I am paying attention to what areas of my calligraphy business could potentially benefit from outside support. People hire me for calligraphy because they have in idea, but need someone that’s happy to do it expertly. So even though I would like to get into stationery production, I have an experienced company print my work. I like budgeting, but I keep track of my finances through Quickbooks. I love to write things in my planner, but I let Calendly take care of scheduling consultations with clients. My current thought process is:
In what ways can I allow myself to be more supported so I can give more energy to my calligraphic work?
4. Set Boundaries and Stick to Them
This started as a note to self that expanded to the way I operate in my calligraphy business. When I started my company, I did a great job managing my time. But I said yes to a lot of things without thinking. If I had a block of time available, I thought I should fill it. This wasn’t necessarily a problem — I loved projects, working extra shifts, spending lots of time with family and friends. But I was doing too much. I reclaimed some of my time and some of myself.
Sticking to your boundaries means that you are dedicated to what you’re doing and not even you can talk yourself out of it. And it means that you’re less likely to allow a client to overstep them. Decide what works for you and go with it. You can always (and you should) adjust course as you go along.
This is important because the calligraphy business draws from more aspects of my life than I thought it would. I am working with maintaining a balance between my output and consumption, and learning that there can also be a space for just being. After all, we are here to experience our existence to its fullest expression. Sitting on the couch in the sunshine? Sure. Reorganizing the kitchen so I can cook more efficiently? Absolutely. Reserving my boundaries means I get to be me. My authenticity is something that differentiates me from others.
5. Audit and Batch Your Time
I was appalled by the difference between how long it actually takes me to make a calligraphy piece compared with how much time I thought it took me to do it. Or the amount of time it actually takes to write a caption for Instagram or a blog post. I never would have known had I not started paying attention to what I do and how long it takes me.
My days were broken up in between my serving job, driving my sons to and from 2 different schools, and regular errands. In my pockets of time, I found myself trying to figure out the perfect thing to do before I would be interrupted. Many times, that perfect thing amounted to reading articles and content on my phone. When I had larger blocks of time, after I figured out what to do, I then worried, stalled, and procrastinated.
Auditing my time helped me show up more intentionally with my actions and energy. And then it made me want to get some of the time back. This is where batching my time comes in. I decide what I’m going to do ahead of time, then sitting down and pressing “play” when the time comes. And I try to do a few different things at once while I’m at it. Here are some ways to batch time:
- Block out time in a calendar to plan for the week ahead and write out content.
- Research hashtags and search terms. Save chunks of them in an accessible document for different types of posts on different platforms.
- Practicing repurposing posts, photos, and videos you’ve already made. That way you can cut yourself a little slack and still feel like you’re contributing to the conversation.
6. Research Your Market
We are each making a contribution to what’s being offered in our expertise. We are also trying to build our calligraphy businesses by increasing awareness around our companies and upgrading our equipment to do more quality work. Part of researching other companies in this field is to charge appropriately for the services we offer.
Doing your research also shows you how your work sets you apart from what else is being offered. It will help you to be more decisive in your boundaries and guide you to move forward with what you want to do. Only you can see gaps in what’s being offered, and only you can fill them in with your unique perspective. This is also a great way to make friends with, collaborate with, and uplift other members of the community.
7. Charge Appropriately
Recently I learned that there is a difference between what I would pay for my own calligraphy services and what a client would pay. This is because a client and I have different perspectives on the value of writing calligraphy. I would pay less for it because I can do it.
Your prices are a reflection of your personal and business expenses. Before you toss out an arbitrary number that feels right to you, do a little math. Figure out how much you need to make monthly in order to thrive. Take into account your bigger goals and long-term investments. Decide the volume of work you want to do in units of hours or projects. Then you can start to walk your way backward to put a dollar amount to the value of your time and what you’re providing. Check out other prices in the market too. Make sure you’re not undervaluing your colleagues. Consider your experience and materials. Clients see you as an expert and they like your work.
On a Personal Note
It’s funny that I thought my calligraphy business would grow itself and validate me as a person. On the path to grow my business, I started losing things that weren’t true about me, seeing myself apart from what my fears and doubts told me. This gave way to rolling up my sleeves to seriously invest the best of me into growing my company. I am regularly in awe of how healing and expository owning a business has been for me. I really thought it would be a monument I would lock myself into and hide within. Instead, here I am offering encouragement to you. Keep going, so you’ll never have to say that you wish you had.