Who would’ve thought that? Someone really should make that into an inspirational t-shirt or Facebook graphic.
I’ve been a designer for years, I taught myself to design websites on (gasp!) Geocities when I was 13 years old.
I was at one point in time the queen of wavy textured backgrounds, and have used more than one of those little ‘Under Construction’ GIFs. You know the ones, they looked like a pixelated road work barrier and usually had a little blinking light on top. They always showed up with a message that said “Oops! This awesome corner of the web is under construction! Please check back again soon!”. Alas, lots of sites never came back from the blinking GIF… I assume they were absorbed back into the internet or collected up and recycled into MySpace.
The blinking GIF existed before we had plugins for our WordPress sites that let us install a countdown timer with a signup button to join our mailing list. All with one fell mouse click.
We’ve come a long way, baby.
I swear I’m going somewhere with this. Anyway, my point being that I’ve been doing this a while. I’ve built up my skills over time, learned a ton, and had plenty of customers, but never to any real end. I haven’t made a fortune, or even really sustained myself for any length of time with design work. Even as much as I’ve always wanted to call myself a designer and spend my days doing something I love.
Several years ago I decided to get serious about it and set up a legitimate business around what I was already doing for people. I bought my business license, worked for hours on a logo and stationery, then spent a few weeks going to local businesses and handing out cards, telling people who I was and what I did. Looking back on it I wasn’t near bold enough at the time, and probably looked like a geeky traveling salesman.
I did get some jobs, and I was already building sites for quite a few local government entities and factories, but none of it was what I really wanted to do. They are jobs, and they pay okay, but they didn’t need or want someone with creativity or design skill, they just needed someone to build a site. Every now and then a ‘fun’ site would come through, I would get a chance to work with another entrepreneur with a dream, and those were the sites I loved.
But I still didn’t try to do anything specific to meet those people. I didn’t figure out who exactly I was looking for, or how to find them, or even what to say to them if I did find them. In fact, I spent most of my time being so scared that I wasn’t good enough for them that I did nothing at all.
I would take work as it came to me, even if it was for someone who was definitely not on my ‘ideal customer’ list. I never turned a job down. But I also never manned up and went out looking for people who really needed my specific skills, my style, my personality. My target customers.
Because of that work was sporadic, I did minimal marketing and then expected jobs to come to me. Shockingly, they didn’t come pouring in. So I blamed it on living in a small town… my target market is mostly female entrepreneurs with small, fun, boutique style businesses. There’s not a ton of those here, so that might be half true. But that’s just a cop out really.
Cut to last year, when the great mind shift of 2012 occurred. I had already decided that 2013 was to be the ‘Year of Change’, and it turns out there’s something about selling everything you own and deciding to live more intentionally that really opens you up.
I think the act of choosing to make that first bold move, and then following through, helped immensely too. I realized that I can do anything I set my mind to, and that maybe the worst that can happen really isn’t that bad. So what if someone thinks I’m crazy? That’s their problem, not mine. Maybe I’m not ever going to be able to run a successful business, but if I don’t try then I sure as hell won’t be able to.
My fear from before, the one that said I wasn’t good enough to work for these fun, stylish people… It’s gone. I now realize that it was just that, an irrational fear, a silly little voice in my head.
Part of what helped me realize that was putting myself out there. This blog, my Etsy store, choosing to be more open on my Facebook wall.
I decided one day that life really was too short, and that every other cliche thing I had read on Pinterest was probably true. I can choose to put myself out there and possibly build a life doing what I love with people I think are awesome, or I can do the opposite because of what someone might say. I’m pretty sure when the zombie apocalypse hits I won’t be giving a second thought to what someone said.
So I put my designs out into the world, I became more open and started introducing myself to people in the forums on Etsy, I started blogging regularly and sharing the posts on Facebook along with my newest designs. It took a lot of courage at first, I won’t lie.
And you know what? Shockingly, it started working. People actually responded when I told them what I needed. They responded to the blog, to my shop, to me. Turns out, the people I thought I wasn’t good enough for were completely receptive when I offered my services. Who woulda thought.
I’ve done more business in the last few months than I have in the entirety of some years in the past. Apparently the only thing holding me back this whole time really was me.
I can’t help but wonder, if I had started being true to myself years ago, where I could be by now.
My work isn’t quite steady enough to make a living on yet, but the benefits are killer. I feel so incredibly alive when I’m doing something I love, whether it’s helping an entrepreneur put their vision into their website, creating a custom sticker for someones baby shower, or training to run a 5k. It fuels me.
Doing work you love, for people you care about, is an amazing experience, and I hope I get to do a lot more of it. I think everyone should strive for that.
But I think the coolest thing about all this is what I’m learning – that it’s been in my control this whole time.
None of this would have happened if I hadn’t decided to…
– make an intentional change in my life
– decide where I wanted to be and start walking in that direction, however slowly
– just ignore the fear and open myself up
– and most importantly, decided to just ask.