#btconf Düsseldorf, Germany 02 - 03 May 2022

Geri Coady

Geri Coady is a colour-obsessed Canadian illustrator and designer living in Nottingham, UK. A former ad agency art director, she has worked with companies such as Simply Accessible, Microsoft, Google, Nokia Withings, Scholastic, and A List Apart; as well as numerous magazines including Courier and Standart. She is the author of Color Accessibility Workflows by A Book Apart and was voted net Magazine’s Designer of the Year in 2014. Her side business, Geri Draws Japan, showcases her love for Japanese culture through original art prints, pins, stationery and more.

Want to watch this video on Vimeo directly? This way, please.

If Not Now, When? Turning Your Passion Project into a Reality

Going full-time freelance can be challenging enough, but taking the plunge to bring your ideas to life as physical, sellable products can be even more intimidating. In this talk, Geri will discuss how she switched her career focus to turn her lifetime passion into a livelihood.

Transcription

[Music]

[Audience applause]

Geri Coady: Hi, everybody. Thanks so much for having me. Thanks, of course, to Marc. As he just explained, we definitely go back a ways. We’re really good friends. I really appreciate him asking me back again to talk about something different.

I have been lucky enough to do this talk fairly recently as a small design meetup in London just a few weeks ago. But before that, I haven’t really done any talks in about six years, so this is way before the pandemic. If I’m a bit rusty, then you’ll understand why.

Yeah. As Marc said, I used to do talks a lot more regularly. I used to speak a lot more about Web design, color accessibility. Some of you maybe did see me speak here in 2012. But thanks to my relatively new side business, my job has evolved quite a bit, and I don’t really do much Web stuff anymore.

Today, I’m going to talk a little bit about that evolution. But first, I’ll give you a little bit more background information about me.

I’m a designer and illustrator from Newfoundland in Canada. Newfoundland is the most easterly province in Canada, and my city is called St. John’s. It’s the most easterly city in North America.

There I worked as an art director in an advertising agency after graduating from design school. There I also did a double. It was not really a degree. It’s more of a diploma in both graphic design and in print production technology.

Then throughout my whole life, I’ve also dabbled in Web design - sometimes more seriously than others. Eventually, my work in that field led me to write the pocket guide to color accessibility by five simple steps and, more recently Color Accessibility Workflows by A Book Apart.

I’ve also been lucky enough to work for companies like Google, Microsoft, Scholastic, Simply Accessible, and a lot more.

But in 2013, after seeing an incredibly inspirational talk -- it’s absolutely amazing -- by a letterer called Jessica Hische (which I’m sure you all know) at the New Adventurers Conference (organized by Simon Collison), I quit my job, and I basically became a freelance designer and illustrator right away - eventually marrying Simon and moving to the U.K. That turn in my life basically set me up for everything that came next.

Aaron talking about finding that thing that lights you up, and well, I’ve been hugely passionate about Japan since I was a preteen. Many people, when they hear this, they just assume that I got into Japanese culture through anime and manga and those sorts of usual things. But something for me, it was actually something a lot more personal.

In 1994, when I was 12 years old, I met two Japanese sisters who were transferred into my school when their father came to Canada on business. Ayumi (on the left), she was six years old. Eriko (on the right), she was seven years old.

I was a senior student at the time, and I basically volunteered to look after younger students in the lower grades during lunch breaks and sometimes after school and that sort of thing. I was chosen to look after Ayumi’s class.

I really found myself just gravitating towards her. I felt really bad that she couldn’t speak English at all. She could speak two words. She could say pencil, and she could say toilet.

You know kids at that age, they often don’t really know how to interact with other kids in that sort of situation. It just felt to me like none of her classmates really made an effort to include her.

I made sure to always spend time with her, and we played games together. I helped teach her some English words, and she taught me how to write my name in Japanese.

I was 12 years old at that time. I’d never seen Japanese written before in my life, and it completely blew my mind. I didn’t know how it worked, but I knew that it really fascinated me.

Sometimes her sister, Eriko, she would join us, and she taught me how to fold paper cranes. This is something that I never forgot even though she only showed me one time.

But unfortunately, after that one year, their family decided to move back to Japan and that was that. We exchanged addresses and a couple of letters. But you know, at that age, things happen. We eventually lost touch, so my chance encounter was over.

This extremely embarrassing picture was actually taken on the last day of school. This was the last time I saw them. This is our only picture together, so it’s a great job that my mom managed to cut all of our heads off.

[Audience laughs]

Geri: But anyway...

In Japanese, there’s a word for this kind of encounter: ichi-go ichi-e. This word reminds people to cherish the unrepeatable nature of a moment because every single moment in life can be called a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I knew that I would probably never see these girls again in my life, but I knew the impact that they had on my life was immeasurable.

Throughout high school and college, I then went on to develop a deep interest in all things Japanese. Yes, I did have my anime and manga phase in high school.

But if we fast forward 21 years to 2016 when I’m living in the UK, and I’m not living in Canada in a more rural area anymore, all those opportunities really opened up for me. For a whole bunch of reasons, it took me this long to finally be in a position to plan my first trip to Japan. I knew I really wanted to make it a good one.

I remember Simon feeling extremely worried, like what if my 20 years of expectations just were a bit of a fantasy? What if Japan didn’t live up to those expectations I had most of my life?

And you know he did have a point. I started thinking, well, what if I don’t really like it as much as I imagine in my head?

Well, I’ll just show you this little video that I took on this first trip and see if you think that I liked it or not.

[Video played]

[Indiscernible voices speaking Japanese]

[Audience laughs]

Geri: I don’t think this man was very impressed by this. He looks very used to it.

[Video continues to play]

[Indiscernible voices speaking Japanese]

Geri: No... No...

[Video continues to play]

Geri: [Laughter]

[Video ends]

Geri: Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. There were really no worries there. We had the most amazing trip, and it completely exceeded my expectations.

As you can see, I also found myself protecting my lunch from animals a lot more than I expected. [Laughter]

My clicker is a little bit... slow. Sorry about that.

We spent three weeks traveling the country, exploring all those sites I read about in books all of my life, and we met new people all along the way.

But then, of course, we flew home. And when I did get home, I quickly realized that I was at a loose end.

So, it’s pretty normal when you take a trip, an absolutely amazing trip that you’ve waited for forever, to get those post-travel blues. For me, it felt absolutely overbearing. I mean that was 20 years that I waited for that trip and then, all of a sudden, I’m home and it’s over.

I knew I had to find a way to turn that negative energy into something constructive. What better way for than to just draw stuff?

On a whim, I decided to start an Instagram account. I just wanted to build something someplace where I could dump all my Japan-related photographs, sketches, and drawings into. But then, just a few days later, I discovered this project called “The 100-Day Project,” which was made popular by Elle Luna and The Great Discontent.

This project encouraged anyone and everyone to simply make something for 100 days, 100 consecutive days, and it didn’t have to be ambitious, and it didn’t have to be time-consuming. The project was more about celebrating the process of making and showing up every day rather than having an explicit end goal. I thought this was the perfect sort of catalyst to get me started. It was the perfect outlet for the ideas that I wanted to share.

I called my project “The 100 Days of Japan,” and I drew one object every day that I liked that I found interesting about Japanese culture. I drew everything from sushi to snow monkeys to more obscure cultural objects too that I wasn’t really familiar with.

It kind of led me to do more research and learn more things about it, so it was as educational to me as it was creative. To be honest, when it comes to a long-term project like this, I’m a little bit of a procrastinator. But this time around, I actually found the process quite cathartic, and I found it very relaxing and interesting. I looked forward to working on it every day.

Eventually, posting these illustrations every day, I started to get some attention online, and I started getting comments from new followers who were just begging me to release these illustrations as prints, which got me thinking because, honestly, I never started out doing this project with the goal of turning it into a business.

But there were so many people asking me that I soon found myself wondering, you know, maybe there are other people out there with similar feelings as I have toward Japan and Japanese culture who could relate to my work. I loved hearing from so many people who dreamed about going to Japan or had lived in Japan in the past and, when they saw my work, they had really lovely nostalgic feelings. Just hearing those kinds of reactions just encouraged me to consider actually taking it a step further.

Quite suddenly and unexpected, really, I started shifting gears thinking about how I could sell this stuff. But still, at the same time, I wanted to be careful to not pour too much work and energy and time and money into it. I’m sure, like some of you have experienced if you’ve got a hobby, you’re turning a hobby into a business can be the one thing that sucks all the fun out of it. A passion project should, above all, be something that you do because it’s enjoyable and not because you’re forcing yourself to do it.

I did some very, very basic strategy planning starting with the principles of my business. In my case, I knew from the very beginning that I wanted to retain the educational angle, and I wanted to be respectful of Japanese culture. I didn’t want to be another person just simply drawing and making cute characters and making cute stuff just because I know that it sells. I wanted to share what I found interesting about Japanese culture, and I wanted to portray it in a positive light.

Next, I decided how much money I could actually invest in the business without resorting to crowdfunding or doing a Kickstarter or anything like that. That alone basically set the boundaries for how many products I could afford to produce upfront. I made sure to never invest any more money than I could afford to lose if it didn’t work out.

For me, fortunately, this wasn’t a huge outlay. I needed to cover the cost of things like new printing equipment, e-commerce hosting, paper, office materials, packaging, manufacturing fees, all that kind of thing. But I certainly appreciate if somebody else has a different passion project in mind. Somebody who might like to open a physical shop, for example, or a completely different kind of business. You’ll definitely face a very different set of financial obstacles.

I was able to use my experience and skills, skills that I already had, to bring my ideas to life. My experience as a print designer allowed me to develop my own brand. My experience as a Web designer allowed me to build my own corner of the Web.

Photography is another hobby of mine. If you’ve seen me, I’ve always got my camera around my shoulder, so I was fortunate to put those skills to good use to photograph my work.

Of course, there are some skills that I didn’t have at all. I had to research my manufacturing options. I had to start consulting with companies for all the things that I needed to outsource.

Another big scary thing, actually, was shipping and fulfilling orders. That was a huge problem to tackle. There are a lot of people who do lose money upfront by misjudging or miscalculating shipping fees, customs, and all that sort of thing for different countries around the world.

In the end, I settled on providing an on-demand print service for 100 of my prints in 2 different sizes, and I also offered 5 curated print packs, 3 enamel pins, 2 embroidered patches - so enough to kind of make it a product line but nothing too over the top.

Yay! Geri Draws Japan was live. I was really excited about this, and I went a little bit overboard, actually. I decided that my first day in business would be a bit of a dual affair. I would launch my online shop on the same day I would exhibit at my first event. It’s a London-based Japanese festival called Hyper Japan.

Now, it’s quite a bit event, so some people may have heard of this, but it’s an absolutely massive weekend-long convention with an attendance of around 70,000 people. Naturally, 70,000 people who are interested in Japanese culture, I thought this would be an obvious place to start.

I booked a table and booked a hotel. Very expensive, by the way, in London, of course. We have to drive down to London, so it wasn’t just, you know, “I’m just going to show up to this convention.” It was quite a lot of money invested on that side of things.

I couldn’t wait to get going with such a great place for my first day in business... Except that it really wasn’t. [Laughter]

I didn’t know a lot of things about conventions. It was my first one. I didn’t know the best way to set up my table. I didn’t have a great location in the venue. It was a really hot day, so people were really tired, and nobody really was doing a whole lot of shopping. A lot of people were just hanging around outside getting some fresh air.

I didn’t know how to talk about my work in a way that would sort of sell myself to people. I still felt very shy about it. I didn’t know really what to do.

But the biggest thing is I suddenly realized that the majority of these 70,000 people who were there were just anime fans. Because I didn’t pander to that audience, I noticed that most of them couldn’t care less about my work.

But I was like, “Well, why?” I thought my work was so good. Well, yeah, but those people, they just want licensed goods. Licensed goods are the only thing that they care about.

We would see people making contact, eye contact, with a Pikachu plushy from across the room, and they would just walk toward it with blinders on. I could have been giving away stacks of cash on my table and nobody would have noticed.

It seemed like a tiny fraction of these 70,000 people were actually interested in the deeper side of Japanese culture, the more cultural parts of that rather than just the media and pop culture. As a result, sales were way, way lower than I imagined. It was actually quite depressing, and I left feeling pretty deflated.

But, of course, this experience certainly isn’t unique to just me. This is something that happens to a lot of people. Instead of just talking about my own experience, I reached out to some other friends of mine who’ve also changed careers or people who have turned their passion projects into a business as well.

My friend Alexandra Cooke is also an illustrator and she’s based in London. She originally studied fashion textiles at St. Martin’s, but she quickly realized the state of the fashion industry when she actually entered the workforce.

During college, she ended up taking a lot of unpaid internships on it, and she basically worked for free doing work that actually ended up not being as creative as she assumed. She thought, well, if she wasn’t making any money, well, she’d rather try doing something that she loved instead. She switched to her second choice, illustration, and she started her brand not long after graduating.

I asked Alexander about her experiences with freelance life and how did she cope with those rough times. How did she cope with the failures when starting her business? This is what she had to say.

She says, “It used to really upset me and, in some ways, I still get very nervous when I’m about to try something new. But I found the best thing to do in these moments is just to learn to accept it and move on to the next thing.

“Make sure you’re always inspired and keep those new ideas flowing. Just because one idea didn’t work doesn’t mean the next one will fail too.

“You have to be kind to yourself. It’s only natural to feel really connected to a personal idea and realize others aren’t exactly on the same page as you. Sometimes it can just be bad timing and being persistent with it can gain people’s attention to it later.

“I don’t really believe anything is ever a true failure. There are always lessons to be learned here.”

She’s got the right attitude, and it does sound a bit cliche, but I do think every success or fail can be turned into a learning experience. It’s something to keep in mind during those inevitable tough times that you have and when you need to power through those difficult parts of your journey.

That of course brings me back to my failure at that convention. After a bit of a debrief and a helpful pep talk from Simon, I actually decided to double-down, and I signed up for even more events. I knew that my work was good, and I really believed in it, but I knew at that moment that I just had to find the right audience.

I know that’s a lot easier said than done. I mean at that point I had a couple of thousand followers on Instagram but, as everybody knows, that’s just not enough.

Over the years, social media has become even more of a losing battle. I think anybody here with Instagram, YouTube account, or anything like that knows that very well.

We need to find new ways to promote our work. It’s a good reason to try to branch out and not put all of your eggs into one social media basket.

In my case, I made a better effort to connect with other like-minded illustrators and makers. I quickly learned that artists who are technically your competitors are often more willing to support your work than some customers are. This was actually mind-blowing to me because I’d come from an industry, like in advertising, where I felt like people were so secretive and they just wanted to keep things to themselves. But no matter what your interest is, don’t be afraid to reach out to those people that you admire because you might be surprised.

I’d like to tell you about another friend of mine, Stephane Casier. Stephane is one-half of Yeaaah! Studio based in the south of France.

Stephane is an illustrator and has a similar background to mine. He also worked in advertising before leaving to start his own business way back in 2006. Alongside his wife, Laura, who focuses on the business side of things, they’ve slowly grown this business together over the past 16 years.

Now, Stephane is a great example of a friendship that I’ve made with somebody who is technically my competitor. Our work both heavily features Japanese-related subjects and our customer base, as a result, overlaps quite significantly.

But he’s always been such a huge supporter of my work. Actually, just this past December, he invited me to be part of a special Christmas giveaway.

To address that kind of issue of poor engagement on social media and fighting that algorithm, we all banded together to do a special advent giveaway. Each day, Stephane -- with his absolutely huge follower base, like over 100,000 people -- shared an item from an artist or a maker that he admired. Then in turn, that artist or maker donated the item to the contest.

This was my donation. I do an annual Christmas ornament, which I illustrate and have manufactured. I donated this to the context. Naturally, Stephane got thousands of comments and entries on this account every single day. But by doing this, he also promoted our work, and it brought me over 1,000 followers just in 24 hours. Which, anybody knows, that’s an absolutely amazing thing in today’s social media landscape. It was quite incredible.

This kind of very simple collaboration between artists, I think it’s a really precious thing that helps lift each other up to kind of beat those algorithms. It gets around those kinds of things that keep trying to hold you back instead of simply protecting your own interests and keeping your head down and working on your own thing.

Collaborations can work in lots of career fields, not just illustration. Always do your best to be kind to others and help each other out wherever possible because you never know what could happen.

I’ll have a few more quotes from Stephane and Alexandra as well throughout my talk, giving their experiences on building their brand.

On the topic of support, one thing that might sound pretty negative, but it’s extremely important to keep in mind, is that not everyone will support you even if they say they will 100% do so. This can be a bit of a hard pill to swallow, and it absolutely does not mean that those people do not care about you or they don’t care about your work.

Sometimes your friends or followers, they want to encourage you so much that of course, they’re going to tell you, “Yes, you should get that design printed on a T-shirt,” or “You should totally make that illustration into a pin and sell it,” or “I’ll buy that,” or “I’ll definitely get this thing.”

But when it comes to actually buying it and backing you up from a financial standpoint, or if you’re asking for donations or any kind of things like that, trying not to be too disappointed when the majority of people don’t actually follow through with that promise.

Of course, there are a lot of reasons for this, and they’re valid reasons as well. Sometimes people are just simply busy. Sometimes people miss your posts. I’m talking about that algorithm.

How many times have you missed important posts from friends? It happens all the time.

Of course, their financial situation may have changed, and that’s absolutely fine. It does not mean that they don’t care.

But for this reason, I would just make sure if you ever have a poll saying, “Should I get this made into a design? Should I sell this thing? Should I start this business?” just take those answers with a pinch of salt.

[Laughter] In my own experience, I would say for every five people who say they’re definitely going to buy something from you, you might get one maybe who will actually follow through and do that. It’s always better to underestimate that potential customer interest than take every single thing you read as some kind of verbal contract of support.

Again, like Aaron, this is a really big one that I think is extremely important. That’s to go out of your comfort zone. Like Aaron said, if you feel like you’re going out of your comfort zone or you feel a bit of fear, that often means that you’re heading in the right direction.

This is one that I’ve definitely tried to do a better job at lately. For me, that was actually applying to participate in an artist residency.

I would never actually consider myself an artist. I don’t call myself an artist. With my background in advertising, I’m what I like to call a problem-solving illustrator. I’ve never really been part of an art scene or anything like that, so just wondering what goes on at artist residencies has always been quite mysterious to me, and it’s always been a bit scary.

But this amazing residency came along that I learned of, and it just felt like it was calling me. I was so nervous to even just think about it, but I just couldn’t resist it.

In the end, I applied to do a three-week stint at a residency called Almost Perfect. It’s a 100-year-old rice shop converted into a gallery space and an artist residency upstairs right in the old town of Tokyo.

I pitched my idea for a solo exhibition and, much to my surprise, I received a pretty excited email accepting my application just a few hours later. I really couldn’t believe it. I basically dove in head first and had to do it.

But, in the end, the experience was absolutely wonderful. I felt absolutely amazing to have my very first exhibition of my entire life in the country that inspired so much of my work.

I flew home with new friendships, new business connections, fresh inspiration, and a whole new series of illustrations to sell. I think that was a pretty good return on a simple leap of faith.

Five years since that seed was planted, Geri Draws Japan has evolved into a substantial side business. I’ve been lucky enough to find an audience who appreciates and supports my work. I’ve learned how to sell myself both online and at in-person events. And I’ve been lucky enough to have a steady stream of sales.

I now offer around 140 different prints, 18 different pins, numerous greeting card designs, stationary, the Christmas tree ornaments, stickers, and a whole lot more. And hopefully, a lot more to come.

Granted, in five years, I could have done a whole lot more than this. I could have had hundreds of products. But I really didn’t want to. I’m happy to do things at my own pace and just see where it takes me.

Yay! I did it. Right? That’s it.

[Audience applauds]

Geri: But... [Laughter]

[Audience continues to applaud]

Geri: This is a long story. If you want me to explain this, just grab me later, and I will tell you about this. I won’t go into it in this talk.

Okay, so you know I started my business, but now, of course, like any work, it’s become a job. Like any job, now you’ve got to show up for it.

As soon as you commit to selling your own work, it’s no longer about your own whims and your own desires. You can’t just let things go and be quite slack around it.

Every week, I have new responsibilities that I can’t ignore anymore. I’m responsible for packaging, shipping parcels. I have to go to the post office once or twice a week. I have to deal with customer service. I have to take care of social media, which [laughter] I definitely do not do a great job at.

I have to ensure that products are always restocked, which is also a pain when you have to deal with different manufacturers around the world. Of course, dealing with manufacturing problems as well. There’s a whole load of unforeseen tasks that can quickly become a burden.

Since I still freelance for clients on the side as well, I’ve had to take a step back and make some changes to ensure that burnout doesn’t take over.

Again, the pandemic, you know we keep coming back to this, but it did make me realize that I needed to make some changes in how I did business. A lot of artists and makers noticed this.

The 2020 holiday season was a surprisingly good quarter for sales. There were a lot of people whose travel plans were disrupted. There were a lot of people who had a lot of spare cash. People were treating themselves a bit more for Christmas this season, and it was a bit of a shock to see how much the sales started to increase quite suddenly.

My ability to keep on top of my client work really started to suffer. Packaging tons of orders at the best of times can be extremely exhausting. I don’t really have the right setup. I don’t have a proper workshop for it. I’m just doing it out of my office at home. I knew I simply couldn’t deliver good client work on top of that after spending hours in the studio every day.

Last year was a pivotal year for me. I decided to stop client work completely in September in order to focus entirely on Geri Draws Japan (up until Christmas). I’m very fortunate that I did because, from September until Christmas, it did become a full-time job, and I know there’s no way I would have been able to cope with client work on top of that.

Now, of course, I am extremely aware of my privilege to be in a position to take client work off for that long in the first place, but it really isn’t something I would have been able to do before 2021. If your passion project does start to grow quite substantially, as mine did, make sure that you can handle that growth. If you can’t, don’t be afraid to outsource or ask for help wherever possible.

I’m constantly trying to improve my efficiency. These are some cards that I used to make in-house (once upon a time). I had to print every single card. I had to cut it. I had to score it. I had to fold it. It was kind of not worth it for what profit I made, so I decided to outsource it to a UK printing partner. He’s done a much better job than I ever could. It saved me hours of printing and cutting.

If you would like to know the single greatest business purchase I ever made, it’s just this label printer.

[Audience laughs]

Geri: I put it off for way too long, and I really wish that I’d bought it sooner. It’s something I wish I had from the beginning. It’s literally changed my life. [Laughter]

[Audience laughs]

Geri: Packaging up dozens of orders, it can still be a bit of a pain, but I would say every time, it removes about ten minutes of manual cutting and taping and sticking things on. Of course, I’m trying to get plastic out of my packaging as much as possible, so it’s also more environmentally friendly.

Ten minutes doesn’t sound like very much, but when you do it a couple of times a week, week after week after week, it really adds up. Ultimately, making your process as efficient as possible will give you more time to make more things that you love making. You can’t put a price on that. That’s what a passion project is supposed to be about.

Again, I asked my friend Alexandra if there was anything that she did to improve the chance of success of her business, whether it was financial, personal, or otherwise. She had quite a bit of feedback to say, actually, about this and the things that she did to improve her business. Here’s what she had to say.

[Video plays]

Alexandra Cooke: This is a great question because, weirdly, I think, from a personal standpoint, the best thing that I ever did to improve my business was to admit that what I have is a real business. To ignore all those family members who are like, “Oh, when are you going to get a real job?” you know, people who want to put you down and not appreciate that a creative freelance lifestyle can be just as lucrative an average 9:00 to 5:00.

That, just changing my mindset, really helped me improve my business because I stopped putting myself down in the same way that other people were putting me down and started believing in myself that I am more than just a hobbyist. You know? That’s fine if you just want to keep your passion as a hobby. But if you want to make it a full career, that’s totally acceptable and lots of people do it really well. It’s a good thing to strive for.

When I then did that, I realized that nobody is going not answer my emails on the weekend because most other people that you are ever going to work with work a usual 9:00 to 5:00 most of the time. They’re unlikely to message you back or do any work of any kind on a Saturday or a Sunday, so I decided that I’m not going to work on the weekend. I’m going to create a more freelance lifestyle for myself, but I’m going to work Monday to Friday like everybody else does. That really sort of helped me feel like what I do is a real job and it’s an acceptable thing to do with my time.

I stopped working really, really late hours. I didn’t really work on the weekend. I mean what’s great about freelancing is the flexibility, so say I want to go do something fun on a Thursday instead of a Saturday. I can do that, so I can chill out on Thursday and then work on Saturday. But in theory, I still only work five days a week like everybody else.

Not to say I probably don’t work an average 9:00 to 5:00, because I probably put in way more hours than that because you just do as a freelancer, one because you kind of have to keep up with everything and, two, you want to. You want to work more than you would do for a company that you don’t really care about.

Yes, giving myself proper time boundaries with work really, really improved my business and my mindset about my business too.

[Video ends]

Geri: Yeah, so I think we can all relate to these feelings of guilt and confusion around that work-life balance that she speaks about. I can tell you it’s even more important to take care to set those boundaries when you work for yourself to avoid any chance of burnout.

I really appreciate what she says about, you know, understanding that what you’re doing is valid and it’s not just a hobby. It’s a serious thing. It does often come from family members, I think, or people who just wonder what it is exactly that you’re doing. But the sooner that you take it seriously, I do believe the sooner that you do improve your business overall.

If you do feel ready to test the waters, just remember there’s absolutely nothing wrong with just going with your gut. I didn’t have a business plan and I still don’t. The idea of treating my side project as some kind of rigid plan simply to make money was something that completely sucked the fun out of it for me, and it never was intended to be my full-time gig. It’s not my full-time gig. It’s my sometimes gig.

I decided that anything positive that came from it would be a bonus. I just wanted to see where things would go from there. I’ve now got enough experience to know that it is worth it and I’m going to keep going as long as it’s fun and as long as it’s still interesting for me.

I asked my friend Stephane if he had a business plan for Yeaaah! Studio, and he laughed at me and said that they still don’t really know what they’re doing after 16 years. I just thought this was amazing. But he does admit that this year might be the breaking point for that and they may have to invest in some more formal marketing and advertising. I just think that is amazing for somebody who is 16 years in business already, so don’t let that scare you too much.

Just remember that you don’t need a whole product line. Just one good product, one good idea, whatever it is, that can be it. Just treat it as something fun and it will likely evolve in a more natural way.

If you don’t enjoy it, maybe that’s not the right path for you. There’s no point in forcing it. That’s not what a passion project should be about.

But if you feel that you haven’t quite found your calling yet, consider what you can actively do to increase your opportunity. Inspiration can come in the most unexpected places.

It’s like Aaron was saying. Putting all of your soul into your job can leave you with a lot of things, like, if you don’t have any hobbies, where does the inspiration come from?

For me, it was my eye-opening trip to Japan, but it doesn’t have to be that complicated. It doesn’t have to be that expensive. It can be something as simple as visiting a gallery. It could be something as simple as taking an interest in learning a new language, learning a new Web technology, or coming to Beyond Tellerrand.

Unashamedly be a fan of whatever it is that you’re interested in. When you love something so deeply, you’re inevitably going to have the knowledge, experience, and a unique angle that you can offer when you do transition that passion into a living.

But don’t forget it’s also absolutely fine if you don’t feel this motivation at all. Having a passion project doesn’t make you any better than anybody else. Don’t let anybody make you feel guilty that you’re not using your spare time in a productive way, if you even have any spare time at all. You have to do what feels right for you.

But if you do feel that spark, you don’t need to wait for your ichi-go ichi-e, once in a lifetime, perfect moment to get started. You can get the ball rolling right now. Hopefully, in a few years, you will be able to look back on this moment and see just how pivotal that was for you as well.

I asked my friends Alexandra and Stephane for some advice that they’d like to give anyone thinking of diving into their passion project. Alexandra was kind enough to make another video, and I think her message is pretty clear.

[Video plays]

Alexandra: This is my favorite question that I ever get. I always have a very similar answer to it, and that answer is stop hesitating. Don’t hesitate. Just start.

If you’re sitting there wondering, “Oh, I really like doing this. Creating this makes me feel really good. It makes me really happy. Should I turn it into a career? Should I not? How shall I do it? Am I good enough? I’m not perfect enough. It’s not right. I’m not ready,” all those sort of questions that you always will ask yourself that will stop you from starting are the worst.

Ignore them. Ignore them all, and just start because the hardest part of doing this sort of thing is always starting it.

At the end of the day, creating the right career for yourself is an everyday journey. It’s about progress. It’s what you spend a majority of your time doing, so you might as well do something that you love.

When I first started, I was not great, and I had no idea what I was doing. I really struggled in the beginning for a while, and it took a while to sort of get it going. But I’m so glad that I stuck at it and I still stick at it now because I love doing what I do and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

That would be my advice. Just get going.

[Video ends]

Geri: I really love how serious Alexandra is about this, but she is absolutely right. I just think it’s important to get started as soon as possible and just try not to worry about the future.

I asked Stephane for his advice, and he says, “Start your project before quitting your job. Just start small. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, and don’t try to go too fast.”

He says, “You will most certainly not make any money for a few months or maybe years. So, unless you come from a rich family and you don’t have rent to pay, don’t take a leap that’s too big. It’s always a series of little steps that will lead you to where you want to be, maybe even further.”

He also says, “You just need to start. I know too many people who overthought everything and ended up doing absolutely nothing. The key is to start small but to start in any way that you can.”

Of course, I totally agree with this.

When I asked him if his decision to start his brand was worth all that effort and all that struggle and the ups and downs, he said, “Yes, of course. There’s no point in living a miserable life, so why would not make the effort if you were given the chance? I’m not the richest or the most famous. I’ve had ups and downs, successes and fails, but most importantly, I do what I love and I love what I do.

“This is exactly what I wanted to do as a kid. I just wanted to make a living off of my drawings. So, yeah, it’s absolutely worth everything.”

By the way, these Japanese sisters I told you about earlier in my talk, well, after years of searching pretty much every route imaginable, somehow I managed to find them. I reconnected with them last year after 25 years, and I was able to tell them directly just how much they impacted my life. We’ve rekindled our friendship, and I’m sure we’ll have plenty more catching up to do.

Thank you.

[Audience applauds]

Speakers