Always dreamed of being your own boss, or want to turn your passion into your job? One of the best ways of doing that is by starting your own side hustle. With lockdown meaning we all have SO much time on our hands, lots of us are starting to rethink about what we really want to do with our jobs and lives.
If you’ve got a great idea for a side hustle but don’t know where to start, then read on; as two of our amazing creators, Laura from Paper Plane, and Kate from Stonefoxes explain how they got started, where they find their inspiration, and tips on turning your start-up dream into a reality.
How did you get started with illustration?
Kate: I’ve loved drawing for as long as I can remember. I was the kid in the corner with the paper and pens, refusing to participate in sport. I’d draw everything from comics to treasure maps. I took art at A Level, but my teacher wasn’t so impressed with my abilities. I was told I should consider another career!
How did you get started with your side hustle?
Laura: I was already running one side hustle alongside my day job as a magazine designer – by upcycling furniture and selling vintage homeware. It was doing well – I rented space in a couple of local shops, and also took on commissions to repaint customers’ own furniture.
I also had a notonthehighstreet shop, but it became clear after a while that selling one-off pieces was very time consuming, as once a piece had sold, the product photos and product listing that had taken hours to stage, edit, write and upload were redundant. With my partner Jack, I came up with a few Christmas card ideas, got them printed and listed in our notonthehighstreet store and it sort of snowballed from there!
Kate: The school experience knocked me back quite a bit. I continued drawing for the love of it, but it stopped feeling like something I could do for a job. I went off to Uni to study advertising, but I kept drawing. At the end of my course, I plucked up the courage to pop into the illustration department with my portfolio and ask whether I could have got on the course if I’d have applied. They said I wouldn’t have had any trouble.
So, from there I decided to focus a bit more on my creative side and, after moving back home, I set up Stonefoxes illustration.
How do you balance your side hustle with your day job?
Kate: My first job after Uni was in a beautiful gift shop in York. It was brilliant because the environment was creative – the boss was an ex-Punch cartoonist! We’d talk about illustration and I’d snoop through the greetings card catalogues and see what was trending at the trade fairs. It kept me inspired. Outside work, I created cards, designed peoples’ tattoos, got commissioned for portraits, had a T-shirt collection featured on ASOS through a brand called Brat and Suzie, and even produced a bespoke collection of products for the Bronte Parsonage Museum.
But after I moved to my first ‘office job’, it was harder. The creative inspiration wasn’t there, the hours were longer, and I found it hard to make time for my projects. I kept advancing in my marketing career and it took me away from Stonefoxes for quite a while.
Today, I’m in a job surrounded by creative people again. I love seeing their passion and it’s definitely rubbed off on me and got me fired up. I’ve been able to find that balance and it’s exciting to be dreaming up new designs.
Laura: With the furniture, we were driving all over the country before and after work and at weekends to collect and deliver. As that was phased out and Paper Plane took off, we swapped driving everywhere for getting up early to pack orders, popping to the local post office in our lunch break, and then packing orders again until late at night. Eventually, Paper Plane was taking up so much time I was able to go part-time in my day job, and Jack was able to give it up altogether to go full-time on Paper Plane.
Do you plan for your side hustle to become your full-time job one day?
Laura: Yes! And then I’ll probably have a new side hustle to my former side hustle!
Kate: I think about this a lot. When I’m drawing, I completely lose track of time and forget about anything that’s bothering me and get totally wrapped up in creating. How wonderful that would be as a job! But I also love what I do day to day. For me now, I feel like I’m still learning, finding my style, developing my skills. But one day, it might be nice to call myself a full-time doodler!
What does your side hustle mean to you?
Kate: At times, it’s been a lifeline. Being able to absorb myself in projects has helped me through stressful moments. I get so much joy when I finish something creative and there’s nothing like that moment when your idea comes to life or when someone compliments your work.
Laura: It’s great to be my own boss; having the freedom to control my own destiny and watch my business grow and evolve and reach new milestones. It’s so satisfying to hit a big milestone and know it’s all from an idea you had.
Has working with thortful enabled you to do something you wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do?
Laura: thortful has allowed our card designs to reach a whole new audience. We can also see how new ideas do without committing to a big print run. thortful has also given me the motivation to move out of my comfort zone and design topical cards in a style I would never have considered before.
Kate: thortful has really opened up a massive potential audience I couldn’t have reached alone. It’s wonderful because the printing and delivery side is taken care of. You can just focus on creating, and really get to understand what works and what doesn’t. I’ve been on the platform since 2016, and it’s been fascinating to see sales grow and learn what makes a bestseller.
What are your favourite designs you’ve created for thortful?
Kate: My ‘Milk it’ card has been consistently popular since the beginning, so I have to shout out to that one! But I think this year particularly, it’s the 2020 Christmas range. It’s been such a strange and frustrating time, so to be able to bring a little humour to how we commemorate (or commiserate) this year and stick two fingers up at it a little bit feels good!
Laura: When Donald Trump gave his ‘Man, Woman, Person, Camera, TV’ interview, we designed a card around it. If we didn’t have thortful, that design would have just remained an idea, or maybe a social media post. Instead we were able to turn it into something people could actually buy.
Where do you find inspiration/get your ideas from?
Laura: Loads of places. I design cards in ranges of 8 or 12 or 16, because that’s traditionally what shops are after, and it also helps to give my design parameters to work within. One range is our Grid range, which is an illustrated collection, all of which features a grid pattern somewhere. Our dog (whose name is Dog – yes, really) also inspired a range of cards that we let him design himself. We tend to write down ideas for cards as we have them, then see which ones fit into new range ideas we have.
Kate: A lot of my cards are food based, which I guess speaks to my preoccupation with snackage. I like a good pun and my dad is a never-ending source of them, which is helpful – I have to turn all that teenage embarrassment into something productive.
What are your top tips for someone who wants to get started with their own side hustle?
Kate: Keep a sketch pad handy for all those random ideas that pop up out of nowhere. Even if an idea isn’t right for now, it might be the basis of something good later. And don’t be afraid to ask people for feedback to help refine those ideas.
There are days when inspiration or motivation just doesn’t come, and sometimes those days can turn into weeks when life and the day job get busy. Try to carve out some time for yourself regularly to just draw and brainstorm. I find that even just committing to doing it often unlocks inspiration and then you’re off again.
Also, talk to other people who are doing what you want to do. I really love the new community for thortful creatives that’s been set up. The calls for designs, tips and insights keep you motivated and seeing how others work is so helpful.
Laura: Just get started. That’s the biggest hurdle. Your starting point doesn’t have to be perfect, just give it a try and see how you get on. Your ideas will probably evolve into something completely different over time, and that’s fine. There’s no better way to learn how to run a business, or to find out what your strengths and weaknesses are, than to just do it. There are so many services and support groups out there to answer any questions you have.
What’s the future for you? Are there any other products you’d like to start creating and selling?
Laura: Although greetings cards are our first love, we’ve developed a whole host of other products, from prints and mugs, to clothing and vegan bath, hair and body products. We’re keen to launch more plastic-free eco bath and beauty products, along the lines of our Bath Noodles – a vegan, 100% natural bath product that looks just like a box of takeaway noodles.
Kate: I’ve been super inspired on the card front over the last few months so I’m definitely going to keep expanding the range and exploring what works. Beyond that, I’d love to illustrate for editorial features so I’m working on a portfolio, setting myself little briefs and challenges to challenge myself.