Slow Growth: Starting Your Craft Business With What You Already Have

Start your shop off right by offering something people actually want to pay for!

Read about the best ways to spend your time as a new business owner!

If there’s one thing I’ve learned after 4 years on Etsy, it’s that medium matters.

I’ve seen so many new online shop owners overlook this first and most important factor. They’re only interested in filling their shop with the art they love the most, without considering what people actually want.

Read about Starting Your Craft Business With What You Already Have here!

That means, your end product needs to be something people want to pay for. The sooner you choose correctly, the sooner you can reinvest and grow your budding business.

I’ve found it’s best to explore which ideas are worth running with before investing too much money in expensive apparel like enamel pins and crew-socks. If you’re a designer or illustrator, start small with RTP services and having your designs printed as stickers. 

Seeing your ideas come to life in your hands is truly exhilarating!

Final products are what keep me consistently going and my clients say similar things when they receive their buttons from me. Handing out free stickers and producing buttons for other makers in my circle has been my favourite way of building a community around my creative practice; this a great real-life example of “slow growth” in action!

I’m now going to share how I opened my Etsy shop and started my button-pressing and graphic design business with next to no money and no income:

Have More Time To Do The Things You Love
Have More Time To Do The Things You Love by reading TheArtistJounral.ca and sharing this on Pinterest!

Tips to start you craft business with next to no income:

  1. Work with what you have—this sounds so simple, but is possibly the most difficult step! I know so many crafty people with a plethora of supplies in their closet, just waiting to be cracked open. If you’re not one of those fortunate people, I found swapping on Depop and Varagesale, as well as just asking ambiguously on Facebook if anyone has any supplies they have laying around!
  2. Only invest as much as you’re making—it’s tempting to take your first few dollars to the store and “restock” your shop, but don’t invest in new stock until you sell out of something else.
  3. Look critically at your expenses. Do you really need a domain yet? Yes, but you don’t need about anything else. Your domain (or url) comes with a shiny new business email and those are the only 2 things you need to start growing (although an email list wouldn’t hurt, either).

The proof is in the pudding, so I also wanted to highlight for you the first stages of my own online business!

What the stages of my own business looked like:

  1. Painting patches from up cycled fashion scraps and selling them on Etsy ($10 fabric paint, $15 startup fee)
  2. Buying sticker paper and selling stickers (I started with a cheap, crappy printer I already had for printing college reports) ($20 sticker paper and $25 in shipping supplies from the dollar store)
  3. Buying my first products, which were hand-pressed buttons for another local “button-pusher” ($40 for 100 buttons)
  4. Expanding with higher quality products: I transitioned to higher-quality vinyl stickers produced out-of-house ($56)
  5. Bought a button press off Ebay to start my own “button-pressing” operation ($180)
  6. This allowed me to Upgrade my printer to produce my own high-quality prints and zines ($250)
  7. Invested in my first batch of enamel pins ($560USD ~$800)
  8. Reordered and Expanded my line of enamel pins with a new provider ($600)
Use workflows in Trello to improve your productivity! Read more at TheArtistJournal.ca

Now that I’ve established myself in selling enamel pins and vinyl stickers—after 4 years—I can expand my practice to hand-made OOAK and custom resin crafts. This new and exciting venture wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t dedicated myself to my own personal “slow growth” method to build my online business.

Now go rummage through your craft rooms, storage bins, sewing supplies and leftover DIY materials to see how your slow growth will begin!


Joey Dean is an illustrator and artist lifestyle blogger.

Since starting his online art-based business in 2016, Joey has been writing educational articles to help other artists learn essential solo-preneur skills like time management and productivity and is best known for his ability to translate left-brained concepts for right-brained people.

Share his passion for comics and creative lifestyle on his blog, The Artist Journal, and catch him at @joeytoadstool across the universe.

How To Prepare Yourself For Taking On New Design Clients

Taking on new clients can be a dream for fresh freelancers… or a dreaded endeavour for the inexperienced.

You don’t know your worth, your clients’ expectations or even what your edge on the competition is. It’s very easy to undervalue yourself when you’re first starting out!

But what if you knew what to ask these higher-paying clients? Would you still be intimidated by taking on higher-paying work—work that feeds you, while building your dream portfolio?

I’m going to share how I started asserting my worth as an artist and exactly what to cover with your new client to give them the best product possible!

Establish a budget upfront!

I ask for their budget in the same motion as about their idea, but that’ll take practice. Asking for their budget upfront establishes your worth and asserts that you expect proper compensation. You then showcase what you can provide for them based on this budget, not based on their expectations—that’s where you get into abusive territory.

Clients have grand visions, sometimes expecting way too much. You need to establish boundaries with who you’re working with right away—because ultimately you are working with them, not for them—ensuring your time isn’t abused. You don’t revise things half a dozen times for no extra compensation.

To avoid any future confusion or altercations with new clients, I religiously go through these questions to get a full picture of my clients needs and expectations, the scope of the project and how much time you’re devoting to the project. An individual or brand with a logo budget of $200 will not receive the same product as one with a budget of $1000, for example (and yes you can make that much for one licensing deal, just not on Fivver).

Why waste time doing this? Why can’t you just start getting paid right now on Upwork or Fivver?

Well, there’s nothing stopping you from doing that, but if you want a sustainable income that pays you what you’re worth as a craftsman you need a niche group of regular clientele that will be fanatical about everything you say (and sell)!

Viewing this intimate conversation about your clients passions (and ultimately their project) as a waste of time means you’re probably reading the wrong blog and should just go scavenge across abusive job-boards that undercut the value of every other freelance worker out there then just go on ahead and “make that bank”.

But if you want to get paid by people who value your work and will hire you over and over again—and recommend you for more even more dream projects—then you need to read this!

Establish A Budget With New Clients Upfront With These 8 Questions:

  1. What is the Company/Product/Service name to be used in the logo/branding?
    • This may seem silly, but you wouldn’t believe how often I’m brought onto a project thinking it was a rebranding job and found out it’s for a new/different/offshoot brand—wasting my notes and sketches, as well as their time.
  2. What is your Tag line (if any)?
    • Whether or not you need this for the design, it will give you a better picture of what your client’s message is
  3. What are you selling?
    • Get them to tell you as much about their product or service
    • What is the message they’re trying to convey with your work?
  4. Who are you selling to?
    • Describe the audience you’re targeting as best as possible.
    • Dig deeper (age, gender, interests, income, geography, etc. are only the basics)
  5. How do you want to be known in your industry and when compared to your competitors?
    • Competitors, fellow creatives or whatever you wish to call them, you are comparing both aesthetic and ethos as well as products and content.
    • Where are they at vs. where they want to be and how your work will get them there. Getting them to show you their “Dream Aesthetic” and favourite brands/pages from social media is usually the easiest way to involve clients in this part of the conversation.
  6. Do you have an idea of what you want? If so, describe your visions in as much or as little detail as you’d like.
    • Sometimes less is more here. Setting your boundaries early on is important and you have the right to know what you’re being hired for. In most cases, you’ll have already told them your niche or they have approached you because of your existing work (or even by recommendation from a fan!)
  7. Are you currently working with any time constraints? Ideally, how soon would you like to have your project completed?
    • This is another step where you need to set boundaries for yourself. If you’re having trouble keeping up, be transparent about your current work-load and be honest about how quickly you can complete a project.
  8. What is your budget?
    • The burning question that no artist has the answer for. I’m not going to pretend to know how much a human is worth, but I know how much money I need to make to pay these pesky bills: start there.
    • Talking about money is difficult for millennials. It’s okay to talk about money.
    • Feeling your skills should be compensated properly is not a crime. Don’t allow them to devalue your worth or make you feel you’re being unreasonable.
    • If you can’t justify the cost of your work by breaking it down for your client, you’re still too unclear on your self-worth and just might be over-selling yourself if you’re constantly being rejected at the “final sell”.

It can be a scary to take on new things. Just remember this for your next call on Zoom:

We didn’t become self-employed only to go broke.

We did it to become self-sustainable—to cope with chronic pain and illness, find employment as marginalized folks, to survive in tough times—while still doing something that breathes life back into us, rather than drain us.

If you produce a variety of content, you need to establish your niche and specialties for them right away—to set the boundaries in this new relationship at the beginning—not half-way through, when you realize you’re no longer working on what you signed up for. Unlike a romantic relationship, you’ve (hopefully) established some sort of written agreement via (at minimum) a paid invoice.

Whether you’re still navigating where you fit in within your field or are geared up to grab the new opportunity right now, you can download this unique and professional questionnaire I designed: print it off for your next new client here!

If you would like more coverage on drafting an invoice and red-flags freelancers should look out for on job-board websites, let me know by commenting on this post!

Until next time,

-J

Joey Dean is an illustrator and artist lifestyle blogger.

Since starting his online art-based business in 2016, Joey has been writing educational articles to help other artists learn essential solo-preneur skills like time management and productivity and is best known for his ability to translate left-brained concepts for right-brained people.

Share his passion for comics and creative lifestyle on his blog, The Artist Journal, and catch him at @joeytoadstool across the universe.

Questions To Ask Yourself When Trying To Nail Down Your Niche + Why You Need To Envision Your Success

Do you ever feel lost in what you’re doing?

Do you have trouble remembering the bigger picture?

As artists and creative people, it can be easy to forget why we began creating in the first place.

It can so easily feel like you’re talking into the vacuum of space, posting all your hard work into a black hole.

So how you do get noticed?

You need “a thing”, or a niche.

Something important to us as human beings is being good at something. We all like to feel like we have ‘our thing’. Not only does defining your niche make you more memorable as a creator, but it also makes your work feel more filling—your heart has to be in it for it to work.

For us to have ‘our thing’ we kind of have to make it up on our own. 

Whether that’s your middle school awards or that class in college that totally changed your life, you’ve found your thing.

When trying to compete in the rat-race of social media popularity, gaining commissions, and finding new clients—we often lose sight of ‘our thing’, and which work made us happy to begin with.

You work hard, but you don’t know where you want to go with your art or business.

Whenever I’m feeling this way (because we all do from time to time), I always go through the same exercise that I’m going to share with you right now!

  • What do you do and why? 
  • How do you do it? 
  • What’s your method and why do you do it that way? 

That’s it? Almost.

Envisioning your future can be the simplest exercise for self-discovery.

The importance of having a vision of your future:

  1. To keep you focused on a plan
  2. To keep you motivated towards your goals
  3. To master your skillset—narrowing down to one niche to build capitol to support your plan

What that might look like:

I wanted to share an expert of my Future Vision as an example of what measures you should focus on as a newbie, rather than looking at vanity metrics and low-ROI tasks.

So, here is part of my personal Future Vision from 2017—a pinnacle point in my life, when I was finishing school and planning to become self-employed:

At 28 I picture my life modern, but simple. With a dog and my own patch of grass, living in a smart home and tending a greenhouse. Where we live is only filled with what we need and love. I'm happy and healthy. 
My dreams of being a self-employed artist are a reality. I have a mildly successful blog I write and a podcast I do every month. I am finally thrilled to be living and have built better positive thinking techniques. I have healthy habits and meditate every day. I do yoga and jog to stay healthy and active. I eat the best foods for my body with lots of fresh greens and nuts. 
I feel great in the skin I'm in and only wear what is for me. I want to tread my own path in life and pursue my passions. I focus my energy on producing rather than consuming, being more conscious of whats going into my body, and making my body move more. To spend more time and effort on experiences than possessions- 
It has made me so humble and grateful to have kept this life.

14 Questions To Guide You Towards Your Niche + Vision

  1. What are my strengths? What am I good at?
  2. What do people come to me for advice or help with?
  3. What do I get excited or passionate about?
  4. Who are the most important people in my life and why?
  5. What do I need (to do) to feel my best?
  6. Where is the majority of my energy and attention been going lately?
  7. What lessons have I learned in the past 3 months? 6 months? Year?
  8. List my recent wins & failures.
  9. What would I do if I knew I could not fail?
  10. If I had all the money in the world, what would I do?
  11. How would I like to give back or help others?
  12. What drives me & what do I hunger for?
  13. What do I need more of in my life?
  14. What are my values & how do I live out those values in my own life?

I urge you to pull out your journal, day-planner, notes app, or whatever it is you use to record your ideas and get started on answering these questions! I promise you that this exercise will without a doubt help you refine your niche and overall vision for your life and art business.

If you need some extra reading, check out my other post on finding your niche, as well as advice on getting started as an online seller, and tips for marketing your creative business right now!

Until next time,

-J

Joey Dean is an illustrator and artist lifestyle blogger.

Since starting his online art-based business in 2016, Joey has been writing educational articles to help other artists learn essential solo-preneur skills like time management and productivity and is best known for his ability to translate left-brained concepts for right-brained people.

Share his passion for comics and creative lifestyle on his blog, The Artist Journal, and catch him at @joeytoadstool across the universe.

The Best Way To Spend Your Time As A Creative Business Owner

Before I started this project, I really had no clue what I did in a day.

If there’s no pictures, it didn’t happen as far as my memory is concerned

But when I recently had to write a piece on my experiences as a creative business owner and freelancer, I had to figure out what I actually did before I could start writing.


During this project I also came across a big problem…

It’s difficult to gauge your output in the early stages of being self-employed, and whether you’re working up to an industry standard. 

Am I doing enough, or am I slacking off?

It’s too easy to lose track of time, especially when working on one big project over the course of days or weeks. It can be even easier to fall behind on your progress, unnoticed.

When you first start out your milestones cannot be measured by the money you make—this can make tracking your progress a lot more difficult.

You won’t be making anything your first day working for yourself. Maybe not the first week, or even the first month, but that doesn’t mean you’re not working hard. 

I spent a lot of time feeling guilty whenever I wasn’t actively working on a paid project.

But a lot of what we do as self-employed people is unpaid labour—a lot of our time is devoted to unpaid tasks like social media marketing, promoting sales, applying to grants—leaving us with less time to look for more work, get commissions, and still finish passion projects…

There’s moments where it feels like all of your stress and hard work is for nothing. It gets hard, sometimes it will feel like it’s too hard. Comparing yourself too closely to others can leave you feeling shitty and dejected.

We get this way is because we often don’t have a clear overall vision of what we want to accomplish. 

You may have a vague idea of what you want your life to look like in 5 years, but could you write it out on paper; fill a page or two? 

This is an exercise I first started doing regularly because of Lavendaire, a successful content creator who focuses on minimalism and mindfulness. You write out your ‘Future Vision’, as she refers to it, which is basically everything you envision your life to be in a year; in 2 years; in 5 years. 

Envision every detail you can picture, smell, hear, and to totally immerse yourself in whatever you want your future to be.

It’s easy to put off doing the things that will give us the most returns—it’s a lot easier to paint a canvas than to sell it when you’re finished—but taking a look at my future needs and having an overall theme for my life has been a great way to be consistent in my efforts, both in my professional and my personal life. 


A huge part of creating compelling artwork is storytelling, or effectively content marketing.

It’s not enough to say “Buy my art!”, these days. It no longer speaks for itself; you need to breathe life into your work with refreshing words and flowing phrases.

You can have the most beautiful art in the world, but all people care about is a good story. If you’re not saying anything with your work, no one will resonate with it — and no one will buy it.

Social media is a content marketing goldmine, and now with shoppable posts it’s easier than ever to make money off Instagram and Facebook.

All you need is a clear vision of where you want to go with your creative business.

One of the many ways to clarify that looks like is with a social media marketing strategy.

For example, I use my content to show off my designs, get in touch with my audience, and promote my projects. In tandem with well-written captions, frequent posts are a great way to start a conversation or to get feedback on what your project while you’re still working on it!

What will you use your platform for?

I want you to download this FREE worksheet so you can get started with setting your goals to clearly see where you’re going with your creative business!

If you’re still feeling like you’re missing something, go read about how to build your confidence and business as well as advice on establishing your niche to gain some footing in your content marketing plan.


Until next time, look below for some of my other digital reading materials to keep you busy during quarantine!

Joey @ The A/J

Joey Dean is an illustrator and artist lifestyle blogger.

Since starting his online art-based business in 2016, Joey has been writing educational articles to help other artists learn essential solo-preneur skills like time management and productivity and is best known for his ability to translate left-brained concepts for right-brained people.

Share his passion for comics and creative lifestyle on his blog, The Artist Journal, and catch him at @joeytoadstool across the universe.

Why Artists Need To Be Tracking Their Time To Work More Effectively

Make More Time For What You Love Most
Read how to Make More Time For What You Love Most by reading TheArtistJounral.ca and sharing this on Pinterest!

*Disclaimer: This blog post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission to fund my coffee drinking habit if you use these links to make a purchase. You will not be charged extra, and you’ll keep me supplied in caffeine. It’s a win for everyone, really.

What does an Artist actually do?

You might think that being an artist means sleeping in every day, sketching strangers in Starbucks while sipping over-priced lattes, leisuring around local galleries, and shopping in boutique art-supply stores.

You would be right! 

There’s a lot more to it than that, but these are all some of my favourite things to do that are technically considered a part of my job

But, I also get to do these things because I make time for them.

What you don’t see is somebody sucked into a project that has them up until 3am, spending hours on applications to get your work published, making content for social media, and so many more things go into being an artist and how we spend our time.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Kaboompics.

If you didn’t know, I used to be a scientist.

I worked in a lab, wrote and carried out reports, mixed solvents, tested pH levels, distillated liquids… the works. 

When I was in College and had to write up a term-paper, preform a lab, or begin a test, I would always know where to start.  I would glance around a few questions in, and a lot of the class was struggling — unable to find where to begin.

I also see this phenomenon bleeding over into my adult life during networking events, workshops, seminars, and problem solving situations in general.


So what make some of us more productive than others?

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Kaboompics.

People who get more done, don’t have more time than you. Beyonce has 24 hours in her day, just like everyone else on this planet.

I wasn’t finishing my tests first and handing in my assignments early because I was smarter than anyone else, it’s because I was focusing my time on the right things; the material we were actually being marked on! 

That means I would spend most of my time ONLY working on the tasks that got me the most marks.

Only if there was extra time would I go answer every question and flesh out every answer, but in my experience the farther you get into education the more you have to complete in less allotted time.

This strategy got me Deans’ Honours every year I was in college, so it might work for you too.


Back then, I used to describe it as “being picky with my time”.

Now it looks more like declining events outside of my niche to cut losses, only working with people who value my work to the benefit of my mental health, and namely; no longer trying to please everyone who looks at my artwork, reads my writing, or otherwise has an opinion on what I make.

By “being picky with my time”, I was actually accidentally applying the 80/20 Principle by spending 80% of my study/prep time on the most impossible 20% of the material. 

There were times where I would not do tests and quizzes entirely and willingly, and severely stressing out my peers — to increase my efforts on something worth much more, and was lacking the resources for.

Saving time allowed me to put spend my extra time refining every detail for more marks, or to move onto the next thing sooner than anticipated.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Kaboompics.

Are you still unconvinced?

What if I told you that saving time allows me to make more merchandise, shop locally for my supplies, and now even have an office outside of my home — that my business can actually pay for?

All because I have the extra time to dedicate to marketing and diversifying my income. I even have the free time to make all of my own foods from scratch!


I’ve been talking about the 80/20 rule for a while now, but what’ is it and how can we use it to our advantage?

Originally known as The Pareto Principle, The 80/20 rule demonstrates that in most things you do, 20% of your results come from 80% of your efforts. But, that can also mean that 80% of your results can come from 20% of your efforts!

80% of the knowledge of a book is in the right 20% of the pages. Read the introduction, conclusion, and the jump back to any interesting bits. Never read cover-to-cover, unless for pleasure.

the 80/20 Principle: The secret of achieving more with less
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Kaboompics.

You might be wondering now, how to make this happen for you. How can you apply this to your own work-life?

It starts with knowing what you do with your time.

You will need to spend a week or two tracking everything you do with your time. Everything! Binging on YouTube, reading a magazine, riding the bus to the grocery store… all of it!

Here are some of the best free productivity time-tracking apps on the internet:

  • My absolute favourite is Toggl. I’ve been using it for a long time and works across all of my iOS devices — it’s great for individuals, but can also be used for teams as well! It send PDF reports to my inbox every Monday telling me what I accomplished (or didn’t) the past last week.
  • MyHours is another free app that provides free time-tracking for freelancers and teams as well as project tracking, time-editing for Admins, and generating reports that can be exported in PDF or CSV format (for Excel).
  • Harvest is a time-tracking app available for iOS, Android, and Mac and advertises to both individuals and large teams. Individuals are supported for free with a limit of up to two projects, and paid per person for employees. It seems like a limited free resource and expensive option, but if you’re a big enough company I’m sure the built-in invoicing, discounts for larger teams, and other interesting features are worth it.
  • Clockify claims it’s “The only truly free time tracker for teams” and is “free forever”. It appears to have all the usual features (a.k.a. a timer, organizing by project, and exportable reports), but also has a separate feature to mark you time as billable for invoicing purposes twitting the app. With the ability to invite an entire team, it gives you the ability to set your employees hourly rates, see their activity (which is probably how it’s free), and who worked on what (and where, also contributing to the nature of being a free app). It’s compatible with Mac, Windows, and Linux; as well as iOS and Android.

Go download one of these apps right now!

Start using it to track you time for the next few days until part 2 of this article is published. Yes, there will be a part 2!


Today we talked about some of the big responsibilities as an art business owner, how the 80/20 rule can be used to your advantage when managing your time, and the importance of time-tracking with a list of the best apps I could gather — just for you!

5 Things You Need To Know About Time-Tracking
Learn about these critical 5 Things You Need To Know About Time-Tracking by reading TheArtistJounral.ca and sharing this on Pinterest!

My 5 Best Tips To Start Time-Tracking Better Now:

  • Your first week of time-tracking I suggest going about your daily life as you normally would and not being too self-aware of your time use.
  • Be as descriptive as possible with your entries.
  • Track what you’re doing as you’re doing it, not at the end of the day. You will vastly overestimate the amount of time you spent on working and assume less for your leisure time.
  • Your second week of time-tracking is when you should be mindful of what your doing by tracking in real-time.
  • Have your weekly reports sent to your email inbox and read them — print them out if necessary, but you have to read them.

Our minds tend to segment things — to break them off into smaller chunks, so they’re easier for our brains to digest. This can naturally make it difficult to accurately track your time. That’s why I stress tracking your time in-the-moment and not after you’re finished, or even worse, guessing at the end of the day.

Why?

Because we sit down and draw for thirty minutes and feels like it’s been an hour. Or in more extreme cases, you’ll be at work checking your emails for an hour and suddenly it’s almost time to go home.

Tracking my time gave me a feeling of more control over my life. It’s forced me to make more deliberate choices.

It’s shown me what I have the ability to accomplish and has pushed me to work harder and smarter.

Come back next week for Part 2 of this post where I talk about using time-tracking in tandem with time-blocking actions in your day planner to get the most out of your time — the method that made me more productive than ever!

Have More Time To Do The Things You Love
Have More Time To Do The Things You Love by reading TheArtistJounral.ca and sharing this on Pinterest!

Until then, I would love it if you checked out my Artist Lifestyle Instagram where I like to get personal and share my life in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. I’ve started sharing my favourite vegan gluten-free recipes, thoughts on identity and gender, mental-health stories, artist productivity tips, book recommendations and more!

Until next time, 

-J