The One Thing Nobody Told Us About Starting Our Own Business

Illustration for article titled The One Thing Nobody Told Us About Starting Our Own Business

Once upon a time, my wife and I were teachers. We had good jobs at the same school. We only needed one car, we shopped at the farmers market, life was good.


Then, I got laid off.

I started working for myself instead. My wife saw how I was doing outside of a normal paycheck and wanted it. The stress of shifting administrators and constant grading had worn on her.


She resigned and started making art again (she hadn’t painted since she started teaching). Soon, she was making and selling her own jewelry on the craft show circuit. At her first show, she sold enough to make up for her school paycheck. She took it as a sign to keep going.

And so she did. She constantly experimented in different mediums, buying new tools and materials and making things she had never made before. She began printmaking, repurposing old books, making wire-wrapped rings, laser cutting pendants, and more. Every week, she’d add something new to her repertoire.


Then, she set her sites on designing a leather phone case/artist wallet. It would hold an iPhone, all of your cash and cards, and a small journal. She spent over a hundred dollars on tools and materials. But it wasn’t enough. After three week, half a dozen prototypes, and a negative Etsy review, she resigned herself to defeat.

She looked at her pile of leather working equipment and said, “I wish there was somewhere in town that had the tools on hand, where I could try these things out instead of buying everything myself.”


A Google search turned up some similar spaces in Chicago, Columbus, and Detroit, but nothing within an hour of South Bend. So go getter that she was, she decided to open a makerspace herself. She wrote a business plan. We ran the numbers—and they added up. We decided to go for it.

Over the next few weeks, we found a space, applied for a loan, and found the right business insurance. Everything was coming together. Four months after she first had the idea, we opened our doors to the public.


But that was the easy part.

This coming February, we celebrate our third year. And it hasn’t been easy at all. Particularly, because of one major lesson that we’ve learned.


When we first crunched the numbers, we were optimistic that if we scheduled enough classes and filled them, we’d be able to pay ourselves within six months. Then, we’d be looking at a comfortable, reliable $50k salary and still have room in the budget to grow the business.

But that has, to date, not been the case. And it doesn’t look like it ever will be.


To schedule those classes, we also need to staff those classes. We could either teach them ourselves or hire other people. If we do it ourselves, we save the money, but it’s exhausting to teach five full art classes a week.

Since we were buying the materials based on class attendance, we needed to buy those materials the day of the class. Usually, that means running to Hobby Lobby during the store hours. And if we don’t want to close the shop, we need to hire someone else to watch the shop for us.


Also, to get full enrollment, we need to make sure that we’re staying on top of populating the web calendar and posting every class to social media. This is in addition to everything else we need to do to make the classes happen in the first place.

So the options are either stretch ourselves so thin that we struggle to fill classes, or hire someone else to help us. And if we do that, we won’t be able to pay ourselves. Which, honestly, we were counting on. But not for three years.


But at the end of the day, the paycheck wasn’t the reason we started our own business. We wanted to see a resource for the artists in our town and to foster the creative community. The salary was secondary.

And as long as our bills at home are getting paid (they are: I have another job), then we’re fine.

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