Today I'm delighted to have Mercedes Tarasovich-Clark, knitwear designer, teacher and Starship captain, sharing what a life (and business) as a knitwear designer is really like. You can take her awesome online class for the lovely Artemisia sweater or drool over her patterns.
You're a full-time knitwear designer and teacher , which sounds like you get to spend all day knitting with beautiful yarns…what's a typical work day actually like for you?
Not too many days are typical, exactly. I usually need to fit in some combo of marketing (either by blogging, email, or social media), email, freelance writing (I do craft writing for a few websites, besides my own blog), designing (making up submissions for new work, or doing the technical writing for current projects), and production knitting. The knitting is usually knitting while taking exacting notes, but is usually the more relaxing part of my work. I have a sort of rotating to-do list, where new things get added in and prioritized as old tasks get shuffled around or accomplished as needed. I love the iPhone and online app called Orchestra for this; a fellow designer introduced me to it, and it’s been my fave to-do list app so far because it lets me prioritize well.
For the new year, one of my big goals is to try to make out a weekly schedule to have certain regular tasks assigned to fairly regular weekdays, since the place where I lose the most time and momentum is switching between tasks. That’s one of my Starship goals for this quarter!
When I talk to new designers, who have just one pattern on Ravelry, it seems like a ginormous leap to go from there to an actual, regular income. What was that leap actually like?
My path to full-time designer was so circuitous! I went from being a dedicated knitting hobbyist with a degree in fiber arts (Savannah College of Art and Design, 1999), to owning a local yarn shop, to designing part-time for magazines and yarn companies, to being a yarn dyer selling online and at fiber events, to designing full-time. At any point in that path I would usually be juggling more than one career goal. Even now, when planning toward 2013, I would have thought I’d have been more focused on moving to selling my self-published patterns wholesale, but instead I’ve found myself picking up increasing income from freelance writing and teaching. When I developed the Artemisia Seamless Sweater class with Craftsy, it was an unfamiliar experience, and a little scary, but it’s been a great step forward for my indie biz!
I think you have to plan your path up to a point, but not get your focus so honed in on one thing that you miss other opportunities. I’ve gotten to a place in my business where flexibility is key to my success. I say no to some projects, but more often I say yes, because it’s worth exploring and extending past my boundaries.
What's surprised you most about life as a full-time designer?
How many different business models there can be! As I’ve talked to other designers, our ways of planning for our businesses are so different and individual. While some friends make most of their income through their self-published patterns, others make more of their income via traveling and teaching, while others work for yarn companies for their main income source. It’s all based on full-time design work, but the business goals are incredibly tailored to the individual and his or her needs. We get great ideas from each other, but there is no one “right” answer for everyone.
What's the next destination you're working towards?
I just signed on with Interweave Press out of Loveland, CO, to write a book to be published (tentatively) in 2014 (it’s all super top secret for now). Most of this year will be dedicated to the project, with tons of designing, knitting, and writing to be accomplished. It’s exhilarating and terrifying, all at once! While that’s going on, it will be hard to juggle too many other projects, but by the end of the year I’d really like to revamp my pattern collection to get it ready to wholesale to indie yarn companies and local yarn shops.
What new thing are you exploring?
Better organization and planning. From using spreadsheets to organize my projects for the book, to utilizing better apps for my to-do list, to planning out dedicated personal time so that I don’t burn out. I tend to be pretty laid back and just wing it most of the time, but as my schedule gets busier, the chance of missing sight of a long-term goal or dropping the ball on an important task increases. It’s one of the reasons I signed up for the Starship, so that I could begin to put some better planning habits into place, and check in with other indie biz owners for ideas and support.
What's your definition of success for your business?
For me, it’s partially about income goals, like knowing I’ll have enough money every month to pay for my health insurance and build a nest egg, but also having a truly healthy balance of doing the work that I enjoy and having personal time to spend with friends and loved ones (and my dog, Leelu). I’ve been through burnout and health problems that have followed it in the past, so having enough time to take care of myself is a huge goal for me.
What's a recent lesson that you're now applying?
Ask for help when you need it! It doesn’t make me (or any other indie biz owner) less independent or successful. We really do need to take advantage of community, both emotional/moral support and making it clear how people can support us through our business. Make it clear that buying those $5 patterns or signing up for a class really does help us keep producing great work.
On the other side of it, getting together with other biz owners is important, too! My word for 2013 is “collaborate,” meaning not only actual collaborative efforts, like a joint design project or a project with a yarn company, but meeting up with other creative business owners to bounce ideas around and use each other as sounding boards as we plan and grow. The Starship has been a great place for this! I’m finding that as I make an active effort to extend outward and make connections rather than being overly independent, my business has been better for it, and I’m less sabotaged by feelings of self-doubt as I work.