BEING SELF EMPLOYED and all I have learnt along the way

I became self-employed back in 2016 when I gave up university and set up Made by Leah and it was the BEST thing I ever did. I’m writing this blog to let you all into the world of being able to wear PJs for work and do whatever hours you fancy and give you all the pros, cons and tips I have spent the last 3 years building and learning. Hopefully if you’re self employed or thinking of becoming self employed or even just curious as to what someone who is self employed does all day, you’re in the right place!

 

Here are some rules I follow for my work life:

 

1: ALWAYS wake up and have a routine, even if you don’t feel like it. When I first became self-employed I used to lie in here and there and take breaks and finish early. This was OK at the time because I had less work on than I do now and I could actually afford to do that but now I’m busier and have more to do than a 9-5 allows, I have had to learn to be more disciplined and stick to normal hours. I find it easiest to work whenever my husband works whenever I can, so that helps me be normal and keep a routine. I have weekends off when I’m not at an event, I think it’s important to have days off in a working week for sure. I do reply to instagram comments and messages still when I’m ‘off’, but I don’t go to the studio/post office/bring my laptop home. We deserve that Friday feeling too!

 

2: Keep up to your accounts! You can’t avoid taxes and accounts if you’re self-employed. Whether you have an accountant or do it all yourself, it’s still very much there. I learnt the hard way when I didn’t do ANY for the first 6 months and had a long catch up. I now stick to one session a month of knuckling down and doing that months tax (For example, I did Aprils accounts last Friday morning, phew!). But yeah, make sure you’re on top of it ALL THE TIME. This thing happens when you run a business where you become an accountant, a cleaner, a marketing director, a social media consultant, an advertiser, a boss, a walking diary and every other possible job you can think of, it’s incredible really. You have to adapt to become EVERYONE a business needs... And all while eating what you like and watching Disney all day (I’m joking, that’s only some days…)

 

3: Enjoy the freedom. Always. I know as much as anyone that if there’s a job to do, you want to do it ASAP. But as far as being self-employed goes, enjoy life and flexibility as much as you can without it stressing you out! Routine is fab and being disciplined is important, but if you want to go for breakfast with a friend on a Wednesday morning or go swimming at 2 o clock on a Thursday afternoon or just watch a movie because you have a creative block one day, you ARE ALLOWED and absolutely should. Not everyone has that privilege. Here's some examples of me enjoying my freedom...

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4: Don’t expect to cross everything off your to do list super fast.

This especially applies if you work for yourself and it’s only you as a one-man band! You absolutely have to learn that to do lists grow and grow and it’s rare to totally clear one! I’m always adding jobs and getting orders and I used to get really annoyed and overthink things if I went home with things not crossed off my to do list! Thankfully my mindset has changed now and if it hasn’t been done that day, it is allowed to be carried over to the next! You will stress out a lot less if you let the to do list go and focus on prioritising tasks and managing your time as best you can. You can’t do it all in one day, something that has taken me a couple of years to accept…

  1. Wear what you like/need to in order to work your best. This is not a one size fits all kinda suggestion. I used to wear PJ’s to work, literally. Every day. Or trackies or gym wear, but I found I was at my peak when I was wearing ACTUAL clothes. I still fail at this one quite often but honestly, if you feel normal and not slothy, you’ll work better I think! That’s what I’ve found personally anyway. This is a halfway house for me if I need to be comfy but want to feel like I'm dressed, are smart trackies a thing?!

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  1. GET A GOOD WORKING SPACE FOR YOU. You have to be inspired every day. I’m lucky enough to work from a super inspiring and sizeable studio every day. I painted the walls, furnished and decorated the whole room exactly how I fancied and with things that inspire me. I have other small business artwork and products on my desk so I can look at other creative that inspire me as I work. I have a separate space for my computer and laptop and a different desk for painting and drawing and another separate desk for orders and packing up. Honestly, whatever space you have or whatever inspires you, make sure your workspace reflects YOU. Be you and you’ll be more efficient and enjoy work a lot more. Don’t be boring, be inspired. 

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7: Take good care of yourself, don't burn out. It's easy to love or be so committed to your job that you go full steam ahead. Remember to do things you enjoy that AREN'T work, you'll benefit so much from that.

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PROS TO WORKING FOR YOURSELF OR WORKING FROM HOME:

  • You can start and finish work when you like.
  • You can change plans or workdays to work around commitments, super flexible.
  • You get to be your own boss and work your own to do list
  • Wear what you like
  • Take breaks/eat etc. whenever you need to
  • It’s all your own rules
  • You know everything about your job inside out. It’s a project all for you and you learn how to run things down to a T.

CONS TO BEING SELF-EMPLOYED/RUNNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS:

  • You never switch off. It’s on your mind whether you’re at work or in bed or on holiday. It’s not a bad thing as your heart and soul is generally in it but it’s a strange feeling!
  • You have to run every aspect of your job. You have to put on multiple hats multiple times a day.
  • 9-5 goes out of the window a little bit.
  • Money is never the same month to month so you always have to think about not having a regular consistent salary.

I hope this has helped somewhat, and if any of you have any questions about being self-employed I’m very happy to help or answer anything! I’m no expert but I’ve been doing it a few years now and have definitely figured things out over time. This blog could’ve been about 100x longer than what I’ve written but I figured I’d pick out some important parts rather than boring you all! It’s amazing and you’ll love every second of it if you’re thinking of becoming self-employed!

My favourite thing is that I get to do what I love every single day, and the contacts and people I’ve met along the way. It’s great! My business is my baby and I’m so glad I’m involved in every aspect of decision-making, designing and everything else in my studio. Enjoy the flexibility and unique working situation and ENJOY.

 

Leah x

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Imitation is NOT the greatest form of flattery

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This blog is going to cover my recent experience with having aspects of Made by Leah stolen and designs copied and a brief look at the battle I've faced along with the importance of understanding a small business and it's need to be protected...

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To start with…

Building a brand takes time. Sometimes people can successfully build a brand more quickly than others and, for some, reputation and success can take months or years.

For this post I’m going to tell you about my brand ‘Made by Leah’ and let you know a few details about my business and my story before delving into protecting your brand and my story around that, too. Copyright is a touchy subject but one I have been aware of since starting my brand, therefore getting myself sorted on the issue before even setting out as an illustrator! (definitely read up about it if you are starting or already have a small business).

Made by Leah has been an official business since October 2016, which makes it almost 3 years old. Although I didn’t go full time with it until the middle of 2017 so I would personally say that Made by Leah is 2 years old this summer. Still a baby really. My baby!

Made by Leah:

I have always done all things in my business including marketing, social media, designing, packing and everything in between. I know my business inside out (one of the main reasons I can’t imagine bringing anyone else on board, but maybe one day!). For those that think being self-employed is a walk in the park, it is absolutely INCREDIBLE (and I will talk about how incredible it is and give you some tips in next weeks blog) but it definitely comes with its fair share of challenges. My art is how I earn a living. The main challenge being you are basically an accountant and a business manager and a social media director and a marketer and any other job you can think of, and the to do list never ends. That being said, it’s the most rewarding and wonderful thing and I would recommend ANYBODY to chase their dreams if being self employed is something that appeals to you. I love it, genuinely and honestly and have NEVER questioned this being my dream job. (I mean, I can wear PJs and a crown and watch Disney movies whenever, what’s not to love?!).

But, in my opinion (and the main reason for me writing this blog) the biggest challenge I have faced so far has been a recent battle I have encountered with having MY designs and ideas stolen. That, along with the emails and businesses asking for my advice too, which I’ll go into later.

Back to the copying…

The fact I’m on my own in business and the need to sort the problem was all on me really hit hard at first when my designs were taken and copied. Of course, I had my husband and parents for advice but it’s my businesses and therefore was my decision on where to take the problem and how to react to it. No boss to pass the message onto and a full feeling of having worked damn hard for something that someone so flippantly thought, “Nice idea, I’ll take it”. I appreciate not all businesses have their designs stolen and I hope if you have a small business it never happens to you but I have seen FAR too many situations where larger brands have stolen small business ideas. I’m not naming any names or here to shame the few people that have done it to me, but in my personal case, the business that stole my designs was not a “big brand” like a high street store (thankfully, I can’t imagine fighting those ones), but they have been brands with a higher following than me. Seems unfair. I realise numbers aren’t everything but a lot of people view instagram followers to how successful a business is. BUT at the same time, they had not a single leg to stand on so they could literally take their thousands of followers and do one. I wasn’t going to let them steal.

8 of my designs got stolen through the period of my challenge. None of my major best sellers such as my magazine or unicorns or new work (thank goodness) but designs including my rabbits, bunches of flowers, mermaid and a few others. It didn’t feel relevant what they’d stolen at the time; it was a problem and therefore mine. Each took weeks to sort and I’m actually still in contact with one scandal, which is yet to be 100% cleared up.

THIS PARAGRAPH THOUGH:

I just wanted to briefly bring it to your attention to show you all that, even though I’m a small business, this kind of thing can happen to anyone. It is STEALING. Don’t let anyone say ‘Imitation is the greatest form of flattery” because now that it’s happened to me I can safely 100% say I was not flattered, not even slightly. It’s not flattering, it’s stealing and taking something that has taken months or years to create and develop. It’s lazy and it’s ILLEGAL.

I simply can’t stress that enough. That phrase shouldn’t be allowed.

I thought I’d just say at this point, I am so thankful for lots of other illustrators and small businesses that I know and have become friends with. They help me grow creatively and aren’t competition at all, we all help each other along. Businesses can help businesses greatly and I’m sure you all know that! Social media and fellow creatives are amazing and I’m thankful for it all every day and how both have helped made by Leah to grow! I also want to just say I don’t want to come across as ranting or negative and hope I have shared this information without being doom and gloom.

But onto the next point from here, other businesses asking for advice/tips….

Here’s a letter as to why I won’t help people to copy my brand or give people personal advice when it cuts too close to that copycat line…

 

Dear followers/business owners/creatives or anyone who it may concern,

 

I really appreciate your messages always.

My emails and inboxes are FULL to the brim with lovely lovely followers saying things about my work or work they have bought from me. Followers and people dmiring and loving any of my work is something I feel humbled by every single day. But along with these lovely messages come ones such as “Where do you get your work printed?” and “Oooh lovely mugs/tea towels/ notebooks where do you get these done?” or “what paint/brush do use or what techniques do you use to get that effect?” But please appreciate that it has taken me months of product testing, samples and just general hard work and I simply won’t reply to you asking, basically, how to copy aspects of my business. I’m sure many of you are innocently asking and not trying to copy me at all, but I have recently realised I can’t answer a lot of these questions. I’m sorry to anyone not copying me at all, or people not even realising that are just innocent, but I hope you understand that protecting yourself comes first!

If you want answers to your questions, work hard and follow the ‘How to build a brand’ steps to create your own unique one. I worked and trialed to get the perfect product or technique, do the same with your own creativity!

I’m getting on my small business box now and saying to you all that a business is your heart and soul. My heart and soul and individuality makes made by Leah what it is today and to be honest, I want to protect it just as much as if it were my baby.

 

It seems almost laughable now that the months and years of collecting my brains ideas and actions to create my brand would just be dished out to someone I have never even met or hardly know. Please think before you ask for very specific or intrusive advice.

 

Not everyone is out to copy or steal but also, secrets must!

 

Unfortunately it takes hard work and a lot of looking around and trial and error to create something successful, so you’ll have to do that too!

I hope you all know and think I’m always a decent person but this kind of info crosses the line for me. It has taken a few people and businesses to ask questions and copy for me to come to write this post. I used to dish out suggestions and help much more willingly when I first started and had nothing to lose, (and don’t get me wrong, I’d still give as much info to anyone as I’m comfortable with!) but since becoming a little more established myself I am much more aware of copycats and protecting things I have worked hard to build. I hope you all understand that.

Being copied for me has really hit home as to how people can be, and the journey that I’ve been on with having my brand and designs stolen has made me more aware and wanting to share it with you all. It hurts when people take what’s yours.

 

Admiring is the greatest form of flattery. Admire and appreciate and everyone can grow. Leah x

 

To finish:

 

I just want to finish with a short paragraph to say THANK YOU for sticking with this blog and I hope you’ve found it useful (or at least interesting to know!). I hope copying doesn’t happen to me again and I hope you can all appreciate the protection and love in an individual’s brand. I’ve covered the issues of asking other brands for advice that skips the work for you, and also just plain and simple copying. Do share any experiences you have had or your thoughts!

Have a fabulous week all of you, creativity is limitless and I am eternally thankful to everyone who admires and loves my work, which is almost 100% of you.!

Leah x

 

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This is me

Hello and thank you for being on my little corner of the Internet reading my first ever blog post!

I have to admit, I don’t think at any stage I’ll ever be OK with using the term “blogger” for myself, but lets see eh! However, I for one love down to earth articles written by down to earth ‘normal’ people/bloggers, and can hold my hands up and say I am a sucker for being influenced by a cracking blog post or insta story (you just need to look in my wardrobe or at all the things in my house to figure this out about me)… 

Since becoming a creative I have found myself in a social media worldwhere a lot of my followers and people I follow are Mums or parents and I interact with a lot of “Mum blogs” and instas because of the style and attraction of my illustrations tends to be for kids rooms and presents. This means I naturally find myself reading LOADS of blogs about kids and family life; which might seem weird because it’s so opposite to my life (no kids in this house, just a dog…) but I love that it’s so different to my little world which is probably why I can get lost in it!

I just want to start blogging to chat to you, really. Share some of my work and some of my worldand give you some ‘real life’ chat to enjoy reading. I don’t think many people do what I do (does anyone in this world have the same day to day?!) and hopefully that’s enough to help you to enjoy my different world! 

So here goes. I thought with it being my first time, this post should be all about me. If you love it I can share more about work, home, chill, everything. But for now, this is me:

I am Leah. I am 24 and I’m sure I’ve told my little story 100 times so I’ll make it short and sweet (or as short and sweet as it can be). I love art. I studied art all the way through school but always had a “I surely can’t do art, it’s too difficult to make it work” mind set, so I didn’t pursue it. So in 2014 I headed to Cardiff university to start studying Medicine (crazy different to art, but true). It lasted 4 months and then I was back and done, knowing I wanted a different life. I don’t regret going to Cardiff, as I believe it taught me what I really wanted from life.

I made greetings cards for family and friends at this time and always doodled but never knew how to make it more. When I decided to try and start a business I started off very small and naïve. I knew I wanted to be happy and I knew I wanted to work for myself but had no idea how or where to start. I basically started out in the spare room; I started by drawing and painting EVERY SINGLE CARD by hand. That is something that makes me laugh now considering I barely have time to design one card in a week anymore let alone hand paint each one. But I did! And I booked in to a few little markets and craft fairs and made a logo and a name and “Made by Leah” was born.  

Sometimes I can’t quite believe that since those early days I now have a studio, have done over 50 events (that are a tad better than a table top in a local village hall. Although I’m not knocking those little fairs, I still sometimes do them because I love to meet wonderful people at all events), have my own websitehave exhibited at huge trade showshave my designs in over 100 shops across the UK, have collaborated with huge lovelies such as ‘The Royal Academy Of Dance Ltd’ and Lichfield Cathedral, done big projects such as murals and signage for local businesses as well as illustrated a book and started my first magazine AND had a sell out open studio event. I love writing this all down as it really shows how far I’ve come. I encourage you to write down what you’ve achieved this last couple of years, it will be more than you think! 

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Basically I just WENT FOR IT. I sometimes compare my first designs to my current designs and consider how much I’ve grown since 2016 when Made by Leah was born and I thank everyone that follows my journey and has ever believed in me for that! And also want to say that if you have a passion and want to work for yourself, do it. Make it work because it’s amazing.

I work from a double garage conversion at my parents house which is AMAZING, but live a mile down the road with my husband and my sausage dog. Long commute.

Anyway, enough about work and more about me!

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Here are some of my favourite things:

  • Dogs. I would have a million dogs if I was allowed. Thankfully my husband said yes to ONE and so I have my little sausage.

  • Bubble baths. It doesn’t matter what time of day; I’m down for a bath. The hotter the better.
  • Christmas. My birthday is on Christmas day and it’s just magical. I love the run up to Christmas and all the beautiful lights everywhere and just the joy. So much joy.
  • Pink. There is absolutely no doubt that my favourite colour is pink. I have to try very hard to design an illustration with no pink. Very hard.
  • Saturdays. No more needs to be said.

Fun Fact: If I was on I’m a celebrity (please make it happen) and I had to choose my 3 course meal in the final (please also make that happen) it would without a doubt be Lasagne to start, a huge cheese burger for main and a clotted cream rice pudding for dessert. 

From now on I want to share about my weekends, my trips,  things I love, my work, wish lists, people to follow, new things and basically just MY LIFE.

Thanks for reading about me and see you next time.

Leah x

 

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