Two summers ago, I found myself really craving a creative outlet. Working as a social worker in the school system fulfilled one part of myself, but I knew there was another equally important artistic side that was completely untapped.... The school schedule afforded me six weeks off, and I knew I wanted to use them to pursue some kind of creative goal. Since I was very interested in designing wedding stationery, I decided that my "summer project" would be to open a shop on Etsy to sell my designs... and so Smitten Paper Co. was born!
Although I was really excited about this new adventure, I had tons of questions and self-doubt: What if no one likes my designs? Do I know enough to even do this? What will the people I know think of my business venture? Do I even want other people to know? What if I fail?
What I've learned through my experience is that these concerns are totally normal and run through anyone's mind as they are starting on a new adventure! Below are the five biggest pieces of advice that I've found to be essential in turning my dream side career into a reality:
1. Find your tribe: No man (or woman, ahem) is an island. Even though I create and send out all of the designs myself, I rely heavily on the wonderful supports around me. For starters, family and friends can be awesome in cheering you on and I couldn't have started my business without them. In fact, my husband Jack became my business partner this past year as we continue to grow! Beyond that, I felt the need to talk to others who were in a similar boat to me - entrepreneurs, especially female, or people who were building their business on the side in addition to a full-time job. I didn't want to feel alone in my pursuits. Where did I find these people? I joined creatives groups on Facebook and a local creative meet-up. I even found groups that were made of stationer entrepreneurs, many of whom were building their creative venture on the side (Yes, the internet is incredible). Whenever I had a question about balancing time (that's a biggie, see more below!), design details, or business questions, I could turn to these amazing supportive people. Feeling like you are part of something bigger will not only help keep you growing, but it will help keep you sane when things feel tough.
2. On overcoming doubt: Sometimes it may feel like doubt keeps throwing its negativity your way. Let these concerns guide you, instead of stop you. For example, I was worried that I didn't know enough to start an Etsy shop (read: I didn't know the first thing about Etsy or even starting a business!). So instead of letting that stop me from pursuing it, I researched everything I could about how to set up a shop on Etsy, looked at other shops for inspiration, and scrolled through the Etsy forums for insight and tips. Ask a supportive friend if you can bounce your ideas off of them or even hold you accountable to moving through your goals.
3. On comparing yourself to others: Major warning sign here! Be careful of getting stuck in the endless cycle of comparing yourself to others. When you see other people who are doing what you want to be doing, and are successful at it, think to yourself: How did they get there? If they can do that, I can learn to do that, too. Remember that everyone starts somewhere (including those super successful people at the top). In one of the creative entrepreneur groups that I belong to, photographers often share "then and now" photos - comparing a photo they took 7 years ago to one they took recently. I just love seeing those because it shows that success and growth are a journey. If you're ever feeling stuck, scroll down on a business' Instagram page to see their very first posts and where they began. At this point, I have created designs for hundreds of weddings in twelve countries. But I can still remember getting my first sale and thinking to myself "I can't believe someone just purchased one of my designs. That means there is at least one person out there who likes them."
4. On finding and balancing your time: Starting a side career while working full-time can be very challenging time-wise. Also last summer I had a baby, so carving out time became even more of a challenge as I wanted to spend lots of quality time with my beautiful baby girl! Here's the thing: If you constantly say "I don't have the time do that," you won't ever find the time to do it. If we add up all the time in our day spent on Facebook, watching Youtube, binging Netflix episodes, etc...you could probably find at least 30 minutes each day to dedicate toward developing your side project. Maybe that means waking up a half-hour earlier, going to bed a little later, or choosing to work instead of watching "just one more episode."
5. "Just start": These are the two words that I found to be the most helpful. You can plan and research and Google forever, but at some point... you need to take action. I consider myself to be quite cautious and so I like to research things and plan before actually jumping in. While this is somewhat helpful, it also causes me to delay taking action. It will be impossible to read everything out there. When I first opened my Smitten Paper Co. shop on Etsy, it was a total accident. I didn't plan to open it until I had at least 20 designs. But I accidentally clicked "open" after uploading one design. At first, I freaked out! But it forced me to work quickly and take action in creating and listing more designs. If I hadn't done that, I may have delayed starting my business for many more months.
Launching a side career continues to fulfill my creative passion and also presents a continual challenge. I find such joy in designing stationery that will be part of a couple's big day. I also love the thrill of learning about starting, building and growing a business - with plenty of bumps, surprises and learning curves along the way! A year and a half later, I cannot believe what Smitten Paper Co. has grown into and I am so looking forward to seeing what it becomes.
Sasha Mitten, LCSW is a social worker by day turned stationery entrepreneur by night. Her designs have been featured in The Huffington Post and Offbeat Bride. You can find her designs on www.SmittenPaperCo.com or at her Etsy Shop, where she has five star reviews from couples far and wide. Sasha lives in Stamford, CT with her husband, Jack, and their adorable baby girl Taylor!