WHAT MADE ME WANT TO START A BUSINESS AND HOW DID I GET STARTED?
Recently a talented art student asked me these questions for her business class at junior high. As I reflected on them, I was surprised by the dots I connected – things I had not pieced together before.
I thought I’d share them with you in case they might inspire you or others in your life.
Why be a business owner?
For as long as I can remember I have loved the idea of independently making my own money. As a highly creative and curious person, I do not like being in a box. I understand that a set income, regular work routine, and limits are comforting to most people. However, I need to be able to constantly dream, learn, be challenged, and be free to pursue different things.
I thrive when I know there are no limitations to what I can accomplish. Owning my own business provides me with that freedom.
My entrepreneurial journey began early.
When I was young, my Dad worked full-time in a government job. On the side, he owned a workout gym as a hobby. He LOVED to work out. He dreamed of growing and building his business into a full-time job. I found that so inspiring.
At the gym, he was his own boss. He had the freedom to control how much he worked and how he earned extra money, all while pursuing his passion.
He encouraged me to think outside the box and use my skills and talents to earn my own money. I remember testing that in different ways as a kid, including convincing dad to pay me to clean his gym, selling popcorn at garage sales, hosting garage sales, babysitting, selling my art, cleaning our local church, and much more.
My mom was an elementary teacher. We lived in Canada’s far north, the Northwest Territories, which meant winters were long and cold. To avoid walking home after school I would often wait for her to finish work so I could ride home in a warm car with her. This usually meant at least an hour, often two or more, hanging out at the school. Sometimes I would even join her in the evenings or on weekends.
While waiting I would wander the school, going from class to class to see if any teachers needed help. I offered my services for things like bulletin board designs, making posters, photocopying, making hallway displays, correcting student work, cleaning desks, sharpening pencils, stapling booklets – whatever they needed. I was proud to earn dollars here and there… usually to buy a new Barbie or Archie books.
As I grew up, my entrepreneurial spirit grew, too.
I sold art during university. Each time my art sold I was excited as it meant I could buy new supplies to make more art. That was a dream come true!
After I graduated, I landed a regular full-time job but it was not fulfilling. I needed more. On the side, I taught private art lessons to kids. I also looked for deals on Kijiji to find things I could fix up and resell for a profit. I discovered ways to make extra money while doing things I enjoyed. I loved the freedom.
Then I started my first real business.
During maternity leave after the birth of our first child, I learned to crochet and sell my creations using social media. This was my first foray into creating a dedicated brand and business, which I called “Virga Designs”.
Before long my creations were in such demand that I needed to hire other crochet and knitters to help me keep up. I had to track expenses, understand the profit margins, attend markets, and track orders. I had to manage other people, money, inventory, customers, and more. It was challenging… and SO FUN. I was hooked!
It was, however, difficult to scale up (grow), mainly because so much was tied to how quickly we could make individual items, which was frustrating. I also found it was affecting my hand and elbow, which scared me as my true passion was drawing.
I needed to find the right business fit.
When I made my first colouring book in 2015 I didn’t realize it would become its own business. I simply saw an opportunity to create a product using my ultimate passion, drawing, so I went for it. I was not expecting to sell over 5,000 copies in 3 months, making it a best-seller and launching a whole new business. It changed my life.
As a business, it was much easier as I could make something once and then resell copies. It also meant I could finally do what I really love, which is draw and empower other people to be more creative. It also allowed me to fully dive into the world of business building, which I love.
Growing requires learning and resourcefulness!
While my business grew I needed to learn many different skills. Each time I learned something I tried to use that new skill to create more income on the side and to help my fellow small businesses.
For example, I learned to build my own website, then I found businesses to pay me to build and run their websites. I learned to use social media as a marketing tool, then I found people to hire me to teach them or even run their social. I learned to publish books, then created my own publishing company to publish books for others.
These side jobs along the way helped to solidify those skills and provide the financial freedom I needed to continue to learn and grow as a business owner, especially when I was first getting started.
So… why be a business owner?
Being an entrepreneur is NOT easy but it can be very rewarding. It certainly is not for everyone – there are a lot of challenges and responsibilities; it is a constant rollercoaster of ups and downs. However, it allows me to do what I love, to constantly be learning and challenged, and to make a positive difference in the world.
I’m grateful to be able to do it and to help others follow their passions, too.