It’s easy to make excuses, especially when it comes to your career and your dreams. Life’s short and it often feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day, or that you’re too far behind to start now. And, truthfully, running a business is hard. Excuses can pile up easily for why you’re not chasing after that thing you’ve always wanted, but at its core, often the only thing holding you back is yourself. It’s never too late to start – and , who could, by all means, give every excuse in the book, is proof of that. Anna’s is a story of resilience and getting back on the saddle, galloping after her passion. On top of being a mother and wife, and having been told “no,” Anna has found the time to build a brand, make all of her pieces by hand and write a book. Today Anna is taking us inside her business to chat about following your passion, trusting your instincts, the value of a great photo and how failure is often another opportunity in disguise.
Portrait photo by Dane Tashima. Photography by Lisa Warniner, styling by Chelsea Fuss.
Why did you decide to start your own business?
I decided to start my own business because I am passionate about handmade goods and I had strong desire to change my life. I started working with textiles in 2001 after I graduated from art school with a BFA in printmaking and did not have a press or a studio to use. I had been given a sewing machine as a wedding gift and taught myself to sew. I started selling my work right away and was finding success, but when my father died of cancer in 2003 I lost my way. Six years passed, I had two beautiful young daughters, but I was not making art and I knew something in my life was missing. With the encouragement of my family I decided to take some money I had in savings and set up a proper home studio. I quit my job, hired a nanny two days a week and just jumped in.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
Because of my training as a fine artist and my love of sewing, designing a collection of hand-printed textiles was a natural fit. As my business grows, so does my product line. Each season, I listen to feedback and evaluate which items are selling the best, and then adjust my designs to offer more products that my customers want.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
The best advice I was given was to invest in professional photography that highlighted my brand and my story as a designer. After I had my first professional photo shoot I saw my sales increase, my products were featured in magazines and online and I had retailers reaching out to me to carry my work. After that photo shoot the momentum of my business really picked up and has not slowed down. The photography also forced me to think more strategically about my collections. I make sure the products that are being photographed are designs that I plan on having in stock for a long time and complement the rest of my work. Photo shoots are an investment, so I try to make the most of them.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
By far the most difficult part of starting my business was finding enough time to work. When I first started in 2009 I had two young children at home and only eight hours a week of childcare that I could dedicate to working in my studio. It took a lot of practice and discipline to be focused and efficient during my allotted work time. I also needed to get used to working at night when I was usually winding down and rela. It took some time to find a rhythm that worked for our family, and my business would not be where it is today without the support of my husband. After five years I am finally finding some balance between my work life and my personal life and it feels great.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
To trust myself. Making business decisions that involve money, time and your reputation can be scary. But I have learned that my inner compass is true and if something feels right (or wrong) I should trust my instincts.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
Just one?! I have had many moments of failure in my business, but one that stands out is when my first book proposal was rejected. I had worked for months researching, writing the proposal and putting together a visual presentation. Not only was my proposal rejected, I had an agent tell me, “No one wants to hear your story.” Ouch. It took me almost a year to gather the courage to try again — and I am so glad that I did! I ended up landing a deal with my dream publisher and editor. I have a book coming out in the fall with STC Craft, edited by Melanie Falick. When I have days where it feels like nothing is coming together I try to remember that what is perceived as a failure is often another opportunity in disguise.
Image above: Photo from “Stamp Stencil Paint,” by Anna Joyce – coming September 2015 | Published by Abrams | STC Craft | Photos by Lisa Warninger
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
Time with my family and friends. Running a small business takes an incredible amount of time and energy. But if I do not put the time into my business, I would be sacrificing opportunities, success and my vision as an artist and designer.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
Without a doubt my greatest success is having completed my book, Stamp Stencil Paint: Making Extraordinary Patterned Projects by Hand. Writing a book was a goal I set for myself when I first started my business. To see that goal come to fruition and have the opportunity to create a book with Melanie Falick and STC Craft has been the most inspiring project I have ever worked on. I am so excited for the book to come out and be able to share it!
Image above: Book cover for “Stamp Stencil Paint” coming September 2015 | Published by Abrams | STC Craft | Photos by Lisa Warninger
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
When I first started out, I read Craft Inc. by Meg Mateo Ilasco, The Handmade Marketplace by Kari Chapin, the Design*Droits-Humains Biz Ladies posts (this is such a full-circle moment!) and the Etsy Success newsletters. I would also recommend Art Inc. by Lisa Congdon for anyone starting a creative business.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
Is it your dream? To put in the hours and work as hard as it takes to become successful, your business should be your passion, the thing that gets you up in the morning.
Are you disciplined? To run your own business you need to be a self-starter and hold yourself accountable. If you have a hard time making and keeping deadlines or finishing projects, having your own business will be a struggle.
Are you resilient? When you are starting a small business there can be times where all you hear is “no.” You need to have the ability to pick yourself up and keep going. If you really want it, go get it!