FIVE years! 5 years, half a decade, and around 4.5 years longer than expected. Happy Birthday to Katie Cardew Illustrations!! The past 5 years have been a great big Everest size learning curve and I think I’ve aged about 20 years (I live in hope of being ID’d but alas, it no longer happens). Here are my 5 things I’ve learnt along the way – they are the ramblings of someone who is certainly not claiming to know everything (or very much at all) but I feel 5 is a big age and one that deserves some thought, so here they are:
A boring word but oh so important. When I starting taking bespoke illustrations at 23, I was an illustrator. Actually I was also a barmaid, but I feel my skills at pulling a great pint of Guinness and being able to flip a remarkable number of beer mats probably aren’t critical skills on my path to the 5 year mark – in fact the beer probably slowed it down. I digress but basically it was draw, repeat, pull a pint, sleep repeat sort of job. Slowly, I realised the potential of social media. Whenever I say social media I always feel like a dinosaur and I’m sure the kids have got a much trendier word for it but basically, like Captain Cook if he spent his days on his arse staring at a tiny lit up screen, I discovered Facebook and Instagram. I then added ‘marketing’ to my list of skills.
Once I starting taking money, I had to find a way to send invoices and track my expenses – I then became the ‘accounts department’. The emails started heating up and the phone calls starting coming in and you can see where this is going – I then became receptionist and admin extraordinaire too.
Fast forward 5 years and after a pretty hellish period of trying to do all these things solo, I am now pretty good at delegating. Another boring word but MY GOD it’s a corker. I don’t have to worry about the accounts or the orders, the stock control or our stockists. I even get the occasional cup of tea made for me (the main perk, obvs). I am still, however, the co-marketer, commission and product illustrator, the packaging and flyer designer, co-product developer plus I take a decent chunk of the emails. The girl gang are FANTASTIC and make running this business possible but what I suppose I am trying to say is that I am no longer just an illustrator. I have had to learn a myriad of job roles, some with success, some not so (the accounts are not my friend). If you are thinking of setting up a creative business, and you can ask pretty much anyone who has, your time will not be spent solely doing the thing you set the business up to do. The number of tasks per day sometimes makes my head feel like it’s going to fall off but my word you will feel like super woman (or man) once you look back and tick off your new skill set. It’s a massive cliche but everyday at the studio is a school day.
It is no secret that I juggle the business with bringing up my daughter. I am not alone of course, there are a huge number of working parents and I am not about to preach about how to manage it (if I had a penny for every Instagram post about mum/work life I would have many, many pennies). Agnes was born in 2015 – just under 2 years after I went solo and started the business. In hindsight, I think deciding not to take any time off was probably the wrong move but on the other hand it did keep me busy and distract me from what can be a pretty lonely and brutal time of life (and by brutal I am mainly remembering the feeling of sitting down and hoping my stitches didn’t burst open and my undercarriage fall out). There is no easy way of doing it – you either give up 6 months or a year until you feel comfortable having your child looked after or you plough on and switch from breastfeeding to a tax return back to boiling up pears for a puree and then back to dealing with Jo Smith and his query about shipping his order to Uruguay (and that was just a Monday morning). If you take the first option and put the business on hold, will you ever get it back again? No idea, but I found I couldn’t, especially as my business was in its infancy.
After all the hard work in the early days, today, at least, i’m not 100% knackered! Agnes is 3 and she is a happy, smart and funny little girl. I took her to exhibitions in her sling, I dragged her to the accountants and yes, she did have to miss out on baby massage so I could get my emails done (sorry poppet). I think the main thing I have learnt from trying to ram rod together two very different worlds of motherhood and business is that you have to do it your way – there is no one on this planet who has the right to tell you how to do it and I think as long as you love your child and ultimately put them first, there is no reason why you can’t run a business at the same time.
Ok, this is a curve ball but it is one thing I wish I could learn. If I write it down and preach it to others, maybe I will? EAT A PROPER LUNCH. Running a business requires brain power, stamina, patience and communication, none of which can be achieved on a packet of Quavers and a pink wafer (yes, I have been known to call this lunch). I will never be the type of person to prepare a quinoa and radish salad the night before but I feel I could be the person who keeps ham, cheese, mayo, salad and bread in the studio fridge. And sometimes I am, but more often I’m not and that is not ok. When I write my ’10 things I have learnt in 10 years’ post I will be a beacon of lunch time brilliance and deli quality sandwiches will erupt from my clean, well organised handbag, bursting at the seams with well balanced and delicious fillings.
4. REMEMBER WHAT YOU LOVE DOING
No one wakes up and decides to set up a business doing something they have absolutely no interest in. It all starts with a hobby or an area of expertise. The rigmarole of business life (very much given the once over in point 1) can sometimes get in the way of the original point of why you are doing this in the first place. I love drawing – always have and fingers crossed always will. If I spend a day on emails/quotes/admin the next day HAS to involve drawing. There are a fair number of downsides to running a business (no holiday pay, no sick pay, everything on your shoulders when things go wrong) so the payoff HAS to be being able to do what you love and make money from it.
5. TIME OUT
It is no exaggeration to say that I could work a 15 hour day, every day. There’s so much that needs doing, so many people hoping for commissions and so many product and print designs in my head itching to get onto paper. I’m not good at doing this of course but I think the thing I have discovered, and am still learning to do, is to switch off. When I worked in London I used to finish at 5pm and I literally didn’t even think about work until 8.59am the next day – BLISS. I turned up, did the job, left. Ok, I possibly (definitely) wasn’t the most diligent cog in the wheel but I was 21 and was more interested in Clapham highstreet and cheap gin. This doesn’t happen anymore – I wake up panicking about the website at midnight, I check our IG posts while eating dinner and I fairly regularly will put Agnes to bed and crack on with a commission after dinner. It’s a lifestyle and a job – a bind and a blessing (cracking out the cliches today aren’t I!). But seriously – make sure you step away from time to time. The world won’t implode if you don’t post on IG everyday. Saying no to a customer if it’s going to take up your free time isn’t going to mean you never get another customer again. The other evening Agnes and I played shops on the carpet floor for 2 hours. I turned my phone off. It was so nice. More is not always better and sometimes my best ideas have come after having time off doing something completely unrelated.
SO, there I have it, my 5 bestest things I’ve learnt in 5 years of Katie Cardew Illustrations. I have a lot to learn but i’ve also learnt a lot. I am also 100% more wrinkly than I was. But for now, I am off to eat my soup, bread roll and cheese (for today at least, I am a lunch god) and then we have a very important photo to take, involving an enormous balloon and some cardboard animals. 3 guesses which one I’m taking about!!
Katie Cardew Illustrations Ltd • Company No: 11099351 • VAT Number: 285751958
Kings Cliffe, PE8 6XN, United Kingdom