Turning Your Hobby Into a Career
By Laine Discepoli of MissElaineous Studio & School of Artful Finishes
Painting is something I have always enjoyed. As a kid, I seemed to always be taking art lessons or enrolled at some craft program at the community center. School science projects turned into an excuse for new markers or poster paints and were elaborately prepared (like the 6 foot paper-mache shark!) But somewhere along the way – my interests turned (or perhaps were steered) and when it came time to look at colleges, they were evaluated on business and marketing programs rather than art. I would go into advertising – that would be my little nod toward the creative world but sensible enough for my Dad to foot the bill.
But the itch never went away. In fact, it was fueled by the fact that professionally I was in Account Services and expected to coddle clients, write grand marketing plans, and generally be an expert on a multitude of industries, products and services (none of which necessarily interested me). There was little glamour or glory in the advertising life I led. No exciting creative brainstorm sessions (those were held behind closed doors with a sign that read “Keep Out, Suits!”). Instead, my creative energy bubbled over at home and I started a little decorative painting craft business – traveling to any craft show or fair within 200 miles. It was fun. It kept me busy. I earned a little cash. And it got me thinking…. Could I really do this instead? Could I paint for a living? Could I bask in the glory of a happy customer who said “I just LOVE this piece!!! My – you are SO talented!” Should I try this full time? Absolutely! – no one patted me on the back quite like that at the office. So after 5 years in corporate marketing and 10 years of agency life, I figured out a way to jump ship and become a full time, professional decorative painter. Having a significant amount of business experience under my belt, I knew enough to develop a plan. I had heard many stories of businesses that failed due to lack of planning. And regardless of the type of budding entrepreneur you might be – it pays to follow a few simple steps. 1 .) Evaluate the climate. What’s the marketplace like? What’s your home situation? Is there a place your can do your work or will you be working out of your car? (seriously – half my office is in my van!) What kind of finances do you have to support your endeavor and for how long? Will you need a loan? For me, the decorative painting world was exploding. Since the early 90’s the media (entire TV networks/programming dedicated to interior design) had propelled consumer awareness.
There were countless shows, books, and magazines that empowered America by teaching, encouraging and inspiring beautiful interiors. Access to materials and step by step instructions were more readily available than ever. In addition, it was a bit of a woman’s world (finally!). Women were buying decorative painting services. Or, they were doing it themselves and buying supplies and materials. I discovered that 90% of faux finishing students were women. So much for the typical male painting contractor of yesterday (more women were doing it, more women were succeeding at it). A big check mark for me; I am a woman after all! 2. Make a decision. Students at my studio often waffle on the border of “should I do it or shouldn’t I” when evaluating if they should become a faux finisher/decorative painter full time. No one can answer such a question for you but once a decision is made, that burden is lifted and you can move forward. Once you take yourself seriously, others will too. And confidence will come when you take control. Make a list of things that need to happen to support the decision. Surround yourself with people and things that make you feel at home in your new role. Avoid those who don’t believe you can do it or any negative influences.
Create your own luck by finding the right places to be and try to meet people who may be able to help you. Tell everyone you know about your new endeavor – most people will be impressed by your courage and even a little jealous that you have taken a step toward doing what you love. This begins to generate a good support system and offers reinforcement that you’ve made the right decision. I joined a decorative painting group I knew about but hadn’t had the time for in my “other career.” It proved to be a wonderful use of my time as several well-known decorative painters were members as well. They continue to be instrumental in my circle of influencers. The group also provided multiple opportunities to paint along side these masters in community projects and I’m grateful for the learning and guidance I gained. It also became obvious that I did need some formal training and these mentors provided suggestions on where to study. 3). Make it Happen. What are the tools you need? What kind of space will you work in? How will you promote yourself? I had already been painting on a smaller scale for years and had developed a kind of system for handling clients so it was a matter of stepping up my existing procedures and becoming more of a professional. I spent about $3,000 that first official year in new business cards, basic tools, the set-up of my in-home studio and education (which was a about half my costs). I learned of several teachers and industry leaders that offered classes at conventions around the country so I assigned a budget for travel as well. And as a bonus, meeting like-minded people at these events has been a decorative painters dream! \
Creativity and inspiration run rampant! Depending on your industry, your approach to marketing will vary. Referrals and word of mouth are key marketing tools regardless of what you do. As an upscale service provider, my reputation is critical so I protect and nurture it everyday. Always ask for referrals from a happy client/customer and have plenty of business cards on hand – don’t be stingy – give them a few and tell them you appreciate their kind words. Understand that you will need to reinvest in your business regularly. Start with what you can afford but set goals for things like a business listing in the phone book, automobile signage, a website, sponsorships, public relations, logo wear, and other promotional tools. Its it paramount to set yourself apart. As a decorative painter, I strive be the “artiste” rather than the “contractor”. My jobs are “projects” and it reinforces my value as a skilled professional offering high end custom work. I provide “room transformation” instead of paint on a wall…. I also recommend “mirroring” your clients when ever possible and this simply involves being relatable. This has been the greatest contributor to my success as clients often compliment me by saying they felt I really understood what they were looking for or they felt very comfortable with me in their home. I am a woman, a mother, a wife, an entrepreneur, I like to shop, I have pets, I’m concerned about aging, I like to feel creative….etc. There’s got to be something I can talk about! Even years ago when I was selling hand painted Santas in a craft booth, I always increased sales by chatting with my customers. They felt they got to know the artist which made their purchase that much more unique. Know what your worth and be a smart business person. It pays to know what your competitors are up to as well as any new products, services or technology. I also joined a Faux Finishers Guild comprised of top area professionals. We discuss challenges, triumphs, new products, commiserate on nightmare projects and generally offer each other support.
Despite our competitiveness, we promote our craft together at events like Homearama and ultimately feel we will all benefit as individuals. Continue to invest in yourself and seek knowledge so you are always in growth mode. Select books from the library until you can afford to buy them. Subscribe to trade publications and visit appropriate websites and on-line forums to find other with similar challenges. If you are passionate about something, you are much more likely to be successful. Work won’t feel like work and when it does – it will be easy to remember that you’re just tired and that you do, in fact, actually love what your doing. Most entrepreneurs will say they worked harder than ever on their own businesses so there has to be real enjoyment there. Respect yourself, your ability, your time and your value – and people will be attracted naturally. As an individual, what you offer is unique and its up to you to make sure everyone knows it. Success is just serendipity. .