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5 Creative Biz Must Haves for Success – Part 1: Are You a Hobbyist or a Professional?

successI recently came across a fantastic infographic by FotoSeeds called “Create Sustainably” & it really spoke to me.  It cleverly laid out the difference between The Hobbyist & The Professional Photographer.  Both are fantastic & have their own set of virtues.  It demonstrated how both of these ventures have striking similarities with some crucial key differences that sets them apart & how running a business as if you’re a professional when you are truly a hobbyist can actually be detrimental.

I won’t rehash the entire graphic as I think it speaks for itself; I will say that it’s a great read and a lot of fun to get through, all the while being slyly informative.  If you’re currently thinking about upgrading your hobby to a full-time business (’cause, why not?  People love your products & they’re beginning to pay for them, right?) or you already have and are in the beginning stages (yay for you, congratulations!), keep reading.  While the FotoSeeds infographic focuses on photographers, it can really be applied to any creative or handmade business, as does this new series.

Having worked for both corporate & start-up businesses (and now as a successful owner), myself, I have found that in addition to the fundamental foundation laid out by FotoSeeds, you will also need 5 things in order to truly succeed as a business owner.


One of the main things that sets The Professional apart from The Hobbyist is a proper business model and sound financial structure.

Sure, ok… this sounds really boring, right?  I mean, you already have momentum and a few sales under your belt and can’t you just keep getting more sales and go from there?  No.  You can’t.  I mean, you can, but at some point, things will start to unravel & you’ll be left with a big gooey mess.

A business is a serious thing.  It has legal consequences and boundaries and governmental regulations that need to be addressed.  These will, of course, vary from country to country, state to state, province to province, but they shouldn’t be ignored!  If you are really serious about becoming a business that operates on its own, brings you a proper income and can sustain itself, research what that entails in your local area.


• Find out the difference between “Sole Proprietorship” and “Limited Liability Company” and which would suit you better at this stage.

• Review what licenses you’ll require in your area & if you want to use a business name, how to search it so that it’s not already in use.

• See if there are any grants available to you.

• Create a business plan that details the next 5 years of your business intentions & includes real finances, such as investing your own capital or needing a business loan.

• Research similar businesses and competition in your area to see if your business will be viable in that market.

• Invest in a support system; don’t rely solely on friends & family for advice & help… reach out to the professionals!

There is a lot of information out there on the interweb; try typing in “starting up a business” in whatever search engine you use.  If it seems like it’s too much, ask for help or advice, especially from a financial advisor or small business lawyer.  If you’re pretty savvy at working up a financial structure that includes a balance sheet & projections, then great.  If not, hire an accountant.  Trust me.  The money might seem like an extravagance, but they will end up saving you money in the long run if their experience outmatches yours.

There are some great resources out there for starting up your own creative business, but not all of them will work for you.  Spend the time to review several to see which one fits your personality & venture.  If you are doing this alone, you are going to be wearing a lot of different hats, including artist or creative, bookkeeper, administrative assistant, customer service rep, marketing guru, designer, packaging whiz & mail runner, to name a few…  and you won’t be good at all of them.

Sorry, but them’s just the facts!

You will be excellent at one or two at the most, good at maybe one or two more and average or poor at the rest.  Dig down deep and be truthful with yourself about which ones you excel at and delegate the other jobs to someone else.  If money’s tight and you have to do everything yourself, ASK FOR HELP!


Owning your own successful business is one of the most rewarding things you can do… it’s also one of the hardest.

Expect to work long hours, make big sacrifices, make no actual profits (or simply lose money) in the first 2-3 years, increase your stress levels, learn a lot about yourself, expand your limits, reveal your true people skills, sleep less, worry more & get discouraged.  Sounds horrible, right?  Why would anyone in their right mind want to put themselves through that?  Well, if you do decide that you want to become a professional and take on this mammoth adventure, you can also expect to gain immense satisfaction, work the way that suits you, do what you love, create for a living, be your own boss, call the shots, give back to or serve your community, live out your dream.

Sounds great, right?  Well, it is… so, now you need to figure out if you want to be The Professional or The Hobbyist.  Think long and hard; it’s a soul-searching question.  No joke.  As FotoSeeds says, “Create Sustainably”.

… stay tuned next time for PART TWO: YOUR IDENTITY & BRAND.


Geri Jewitt — The Languid Lion

Geri Jewitt is a designer gone rogue from Corporate who now owns The Languid Lion, handmaking eco-friendly invitations + stationery, paper decorations & illustrated art prints in her Paper Boutique as well as helping those who are in need of fresh design!  She is also the editor of The Lion’s Den, a blog where she writes about love, life, design, colour + handmade.


Alignment and Lowering the Bar

I am going to ask you to lower the bar. Did I just feel the ground shake? Probably but let me explain.

Many people I know here in the Bay Area are in similar situations. They are working a “bill paying” full-time job while they also work hard to start their own creative small businesses. One of the biggest concerns I hear has to do with giving so much time to the, let’s just continue to call it the “bill paying job” for kicks, and not enough time to their own personal creative growth and the development of the own passions.

Fortunately, many of these creative folks are using services like what we offer through Lightbox to help with time management and goal development. But still how does one remain patient and deal with the challenging emotions that come up with spending the majority of our time doing something we may not want to do?

First, I am going to suggest that you actually look at the work you really want to be doing.

Instead of looking at the very specifics think about the qualities attached to the work. Is your dream to start a creative space where you can teach others to tap into their creative process and where you will help form a supportive community? A quality of your passionate work might be helping others or the desire for community. Then I want you to really look at bill paying job. Is there anything about the job that supports these qualities? More than likely there is. Can you help others by making their job easier? Can you build an after work community of people that enjoy similar cultural/creative experiences? Can you use the workplace as a way to explore working with and listening to co-workers with different perspectives?

Then I want you to look at what is sucking the energy out of you while you are at the bill paying job?

Are you stuck in that negative space of feeling trapped? “I can’t leave the money is too good.” Well good, glad to hear you are making money. Can you realistically live on less and possibly work part-time? This negative place can also spin you into another energy sucking spiral of only seeing the things that are wrong. This is my weakness. Do you know how much energy perfection takes to sustain. TONS! So much that it often takes away from everything else you are doing. This is where I am going to ask you to lower the bar. What can you let go of and spend a little less energy doing at this “job.” This is not your own business. You can only do the best you can do. Spend that extra energy on yourself and your own dreams. Lower the bar enough that your job will not be jeopardized, no one gets hurt and you can be happy while there.

Negative thoughts take up a lot of space and can be paralyzing.  Changing this focus can open up opportunities and space for your other work. Make being happy at work your main goal and create a challenge out of it. Do you want to experiment with working in a community? Find new creative ways to practice what that would take – listening to others, helping when people need it and be open to learning a new way of doing things.


Shelly Kerry — Lightbox SF

Shelly is the motivation and creativity side of Lightbox SF. As a jewelry designer she has spent many years testing and honing the skills and discipline needed to run your own creative business while still having time for friends, family and fun. She puts her wealth of experience to use in the Creating Space service – weekly advice to help keep you motivated, push through those stuck times, and make the most out of your already busy schedule. She will help you find the space in your head and the space in your life to pursue your dreams and she’ll always insist there’s time for yourself.

Besides creating and running her own jewelry design business, em’s studio, Shelly writes guest posts on living your best life on well-known blogs such as Kanelstrand, Handmade Success and Awfully Grand and is pursuing a Core Strengths coaching certificate through San Francisco State University.



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Your Opinion Wanted: Opening Up A Shop Despite The Competition

After receiving such wonderful feedback from Angela’s questions about Etsy vs Other E-Commerce Sites I received the below question from Alissa.

I have a question/problem and was wondering what others do and if it happens to them. I’ve been a graphic designer for 20 years, and I started to work up a plan and open a shop with invitations and cards. After looking around, the sheer magnitutude of people doing this scared me. These people are just so creative and have such great ideas! I am so intimidated that I am afraid to even go through the time and money of opening a store and not making a sale and my designs not being good enough. How do others handle this?

I know many of you opened up your shop with what you probably considered stiff competition so I would love it if you could give Alissa your thoughts and advice in the comments!


*Stationery featured in photo from Orange Beautiful


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Making the Mental Shift from Hobby to Business

Whether you are selling online, at craft fairs or taking your items into stores, you should have the same mindset as if you were running a brick and mortar shop in your neighborhood. To have a successful handmade business, you can’t treat it like a hobby. It takes only a few minutes to set up a shop on Etsy and mere seconds to promote products on Twitter, all at little to no cost. The barriers to entry for selling just about any craft are virtually nonexistent and it is easy to forget that our handmade businesses are actual businesses.