Q. I have been working full-time as a graphic art designer. I do my crafting whenever I have a spare moment. My employer is going to be downsizing his business. Should I seek another graphic art position, or should I “bite the bullet” and commit to doing my craft full-time? I have savings. What is your advice for crossing over from amateur to professional?
This is a common debate that artisans have to confront during their careers. Not knowing what you make is a handicap to me. Shout out to future inquirers: Please let me know your media. That information would no doubt inform my answer. There are definitely media that seem to lend themselves to more solid cash flow—for instance, wearables and jewelry. That said, it’s important to know that unfortunately it’s difficult to make a living as a maker.
The 2013 Craft Emergency Relief Fund’s (CERF+) Sustaining Careers survey of 3,500 makers turned up this information: 42.1% of the respondents reported income of less than $10,000. And another 19.2% reported income from $10,000 to $25,000. Finally, 13.7% fell into the $25,000 to $50,000 category. I’m not including this information to discourage you from choosing to go full-time but rather to help send you forward with eyes wide open. The call to create is very strong in the minds of people who have it, and answering that call is inevitable for many. Therefore, artisans continue to work at their crafts in spite of the financial challenges. If this is what you “need” to do, you’ll find a way to make it work.
I’m going to answer your question by asking and answering several of my own: Have you been selling your work, and where? This information is crucial working through this and making an informed decision. It would be hard to jump into being a full-time maker without some sales record that is encouraging. I’d look at this information this way: If I generate x by making my product part time, and I began to work at it full-time, could I make y? How have you been selling your work? Going “pro” will definitely mean finding a larger network of outlets. This could entail more craft shows, including some of the bigger ones, and perhaps shows that would lead to some wholesale business. It’s not unusual for makers to attend more than one show a month as they begin their careers. This means a lot of travel and time out of the studio. Can you produce enough work at the right price to result in the net income you’ll need? You’ll need to develop a “line,” the products you’ll produce, and work up the cost to produce each item so you can come up with a wholesale cost and then a retail one. Do you have a household budget so you can answer this question?
While you’re at it, you’ll want to make a 12-month budget and cash flow projections for your business that takes into account the ups and downs of sales, typically highest in the fourth quarter and lowest in the first. And finally, are you considering a part-time job while you build your craft business? Many makers hold part-time jobs at the beginning of their careers and often throughout their careers in order to allow them to pursue their creative career. You did say you had saved some money. Did you do this intending to use it in this way? Or is it intended to fund your retirement?
So, how about this for a plan? Go full steam ahead with your work. Use some of your money to fund the startup phase of your new business, allowing you to totally focus on the work and getting your career organized and get your work out into the public as quickly as possible. Carefully consider the response. When you have some real numbers to consider, then decide whether to seek some part-time employment outside the studio.
I just know that if this is what you need to do to answer that creative call, you’ll make it work.