When Writing Slips Back Into Hobby, Get Back to Business
I love learning. I take course online to keep my skills relevant and to learn new ones. I am a firm believer that working in the arts is a business. I was an illustrator, graphic designer, digital developer when I ran my own web design business. I loved getting a check in the mail. I had no problem charging money for my work. Although, I often say I was a bad business woman, the truth is I hated being a bill collector, books keeper and administrative dogsbody.
When I started writing full time, I forgot along the way that writing is a business, which means I am still an entrepreneur. This week, I noticed lynda.com was offering career track classes. One, a business entrepreneur series designed for Etsy shop owners. I thought it would be good for me to watch it. I plan to sell my paintings on Etsy as a side business. But, as I listened to the first class, 15 minutes of short lectures by Guy Kawasaki, I realized that I’d lost sight of the business aspect of my writing. I was treating it as a hobby not a business. I sat back to review some of what I learned, forgot, screwed up and succeeded at in business before I started writing full time.
Back when I finally fled the lab to get back to art, I was a little bit delusional, okay a lot. I was doing illustrations for research papers, I assumed that I could tap this market and continue doing this at home full time and earn a modest living. What I didn’t understand was business. While I was sometimes paid for my illustrations at work, I still used my work computer and I still had my job. The job came with a salary and benefits, life health insurance, which freelance work did not.
So there I was, out on my own. I started with the SCORE classes for new business entrepreneurs. What I should have learned was business skills but what I learned was everyone was buying must-have products from business cards to fax machines and office furniture. I already knew I needed a good computer but I didn’t need the filing cabinets or fax machine with separate phone line. I wrote my business plan and bought classes on DVD from lynda.com -the latter was a my one good idea. What I didn’t understand was market risk vs. competitive risk. Yes, scientists wanted illustrations for their papers but there was always a secretary or administrative assistant to do itched or for free. I had a lot of opportunities when I worked in the lab but out on my own those opportunities dried up.
I began temping and using the skills I learned on my own though lynda.com. I soon discovered the name for my skills was graphic designer. I also soon discovered calling oneself a graphic designer is not the same as having a degree in graphic design or being a fully qualified graphic designer. Fortunately, that is the risk and assumption when you hire a temp. Someone who scored high on Photoshop, can use a computer but doesn’t know the lingo or fully understand the process. Temping for me became on the job graduate school training in graphic design. The benefits were the pay was very good. I found myself in a variety of publishing and dot com realities. Every step of the way, my lack of formal education showed through. It soon became clear I was safer at the dot coms, where no-one had experience, it was all new and process was being created on the fly. I spent a few years at Simon and Schuster, Pearson and a few more at a wnderful medical supply company, where I created a catalogue and online store.
Eventually, my boyfriend and I started our own web design company, SpiralXdesign, Inc. We lucked into meeting the right people, even had a profile in a regional business magazine as an exciting new start up. We loved it and did good work. But there is another darker side of business that we began to learn. Our business clients didn’t expect to pay the full, agreed on price for the work they contracted us to do. But, along the way, I became a member of two associations, One was for professional graphic designers and the other was for illustrators and computer artists. I was able to use their contract templates for each job. One client even bemoaned the money he spent having his lawyer look over the contract he signed only to learn that eh had to pay me the last payment! I was confused and he assured me that the work was good, he just made it a habit to never pay full price. I laugh now when people seem shocked to learn Trump never paid his vendors for work they did. I learned that some business men prefer to give more money to a lawyer to get out of paying for work than just paying for the darn work!
So, how does this business experience translate for me as a writer today?
My bible for years was a thin How-To Book for setting up a graphic design studio. The author preached that it was actually a good thing not to have many clients in the beginning of your business. She described a structure of time management that adapted but can never changed as you grew. You had to always:
- Keep learning (classes, books, seminars) –50%
- Maintain correspondence (emails, snail mail, phone calls)
- Keep your books up to date (accounting, taxes)
- Organize paperwork (file, bills, contracts, etc)
- Marketing (mailings, ads, web site, blogs, twitter, Facebook)
- Find clients (cold calls, advertise, referrals)
- Do the work. –25%
She pointed out that in the beginning most of your time should be learning skills, 25% in #2-5 and 25% for #7. Eventually, you will establish proficiency with #2-5 and spend less time on them, which leaves you more time for doing the work from new clients. If there is no work, then expand on the time spent finding clients, the work will be mostly for #5 -designing your brand. Eventually, with each success these percentages shift and you only spend 15% on learning, 75% on work and 10% on the rest. Of course, quarterly taxes and meetings push you into the overtime category where you work 120% of the normal week.
As a writer, this is a good way of thinking. Setting limits for email and Facebook, not ignoring expenses and learning. Of course, for me, the work is the word count. Editing is another category. I’d list my work this way:
- Do the Work (word count, editing, planning and outlining) 50-75%
- Learning (seminars, reading, author blogs) 5%
- Marketing (website, blogs, facebook, twitter) 10%
- Organize paperwork (file, expenses, bookkeeping, taxes) 5%
- Research Publishers and Agents (get published) 5%
Currently, I’ve been happily writing, spending too much time on Facebook, distracted by political frustrations, and spending no time on learning, paperwork or marketing. There are piles of papers on every flat surface in my office, they contain tax documents, junk mail, takeout menus, cookbooks, shopping receipts, Amazon boxes….
Obviously, I fell off the business wagon. It’s one thing to write but if I ignore the rest, I am acting like my writing is a hobby and not a business. By business, I mean on the paved road to getting published, not the meandering flower lined dirt path through the writing garden. So, my blog posts will be focusing on getting back on the write path in addition to writing the words and editing.
How do you mange to juggle everything and keep all your balls in the air? Do you think of your writing or art as a business or a hobby?