One of the most common questions that I get asked from younger craftsmen is, “When should I turn my hobby into a full time business and quit my job?”
This is a question that I do not feel qualified to answer. Outside of college, I have never had a job.
This usually gets a chuckle in response… but it is the truth.
After I graduated from college I began doing contract work for the man I did my apprenticeship with.
I use the word apprenticeship without a complete understanding as to what a true “apprenticeship” might look like to others in the craft. But more on that in the future.
After some time he offered to sell me the shop and I began my dance with banks to make it happen.
Fifteen years later, years of trial and error, and piles of debt taken and paid off, here we set.
So when someone asks me if they should walk away from a secure career? Walk away from a steady paycheck? Maybe even walk away from health insurance, dental, not to mention their own parking spot… I say maybe not.
I once heard an ole boy say, closing his business and getting a job was like “coming in out of the cold.”
The Cost of Full Time
It’s easy to get excited about our businesses early on. We are making improvements on our skill level, product designs, and figuring out our pricing. With this, we are beginning to see some profits left at the end of the month.
If only we could put in more time. Then we would make that much more money. Heck, we have gotten the calculator out and figured the math on what we think we might make. We can’t fail! It’s a no-brainer!
The thing that we forget is all the other areas of a business that require resources when we decide to make it a full time gig.
It’s very easy to feel overconfident in our side hustles. But the thing we have to understand is that there is a ton of things that come with a “real job” that will no longer be there if we make the leap.
This goes farther than just health insurance, steady income, workman’s comp, vacation, and sick days.
When we take something we love, like leather craft, and try to force it to pay for our household, lifestyle, and kids college… the work takes on a whole new appearance to us. It may not happen right away, but it will happen.
Because at that moment, we have taken this thing that we love and put it up in a position of “it has to work.” This is a horrible way to treat the craft that we love.
If it fails to meet our needs, it can leave us struggling financially. Putting a strain on our family and lifestyle. This is a way to create a lot of resentment towards a skill that we once loved and admired.
I was in that type of a relationship with my beloved craft for a few years in my career. I had taken something that I couldn’t get enough of and turned it into that one thing that I greatly wanted to quit doing. I took time out of my schedule during those “dark” years to turn my focus towards trying to use my degree. I felt like I should get a “real job.”
I wanted so bad to come in “out of the cold.”
I smile now looking back on those days in my career, at how naive and immature I was. I look back and wonder what would give a 24 year old recent graduate the confidence to think that he knew the first thing about running a business. And more than that, I laugh thinking, “What was the banker thinking giving that kid a loan!”
Looking back I am glad that my wish to walk away wasn’t answered. Since that time in my life, I have worked on shifting the focus on the business. I have worked to create a business that I now love and plan to do till my ticket is called. But I also know that I could not have gotten to where I am now without the struggle that I went through.
But this is not to say that I would wish that type of timeline on anyone else. I had to experience that struggle and time in the shop’s history only because of the way I started it… unprepared, under trained and naive.
For what it’s worth…
So when a young craftsmen asks me when to take a side hustle or hobby toward a full time business, my answer is always …
If you are in a position in which you have a “real job” that pays for your bills, lifestyle and family, then don’t simply cast that aside so that you can live in your hobby everyday.
Don’t do that to your craft.
Use this season in your life to nurture your skills and craft. Spend time developing your product, honing your business skills, building your tribe of followers and laying the foundation. This will only strengthen your future business and save you the struggle that “is not” mandatory for success in this business.
You are in a unique position to be able to set your financial life on its own path through a full time career.
You can protect your precious leather craft business and keep it from the horrible chore of having to pay for your life. This gives it much better momentum to grow as well as your skill level.
“I have watched so many other people murder their creativity by demanding that their art pay the bills.”
When you get to the point of making the jump, it should be such an easy transition that your family and your finances are not changed at all. It should even be a financial raise for you.
Making the change in this way will make you smile when you look back years later. Your business will be stable and your craft will not be hindered at all with the stress, anxiety and resentment that comes with having to get a project done by Friday so you can get paid and make the light bill.