Interview with the woman behind EmmieBean // Photographed by Mollie Crutcher
What's the story behind starting EmmieBean?
I started EmmieBean in 2009, sort of on a whim. I had been working on a series of digital drawings in art school based on some quirky vintage family slide photographs from the '60s, and fell in love with the bright colors and funny, oddball scenes in the photos. I realized that maybe other people would be into similar drawings of their own photos and opened an Etsy store to test the theory. I was lucky enough to get a feature in Apartment Therapy and TODAY soon after opening and that bit of press gave me the initial boost I needed to get the business up and running. EmmieBean stayed a side-hustle for three years while I worked as a graphic designer during the day, and then in 2012 I left my day job to pursue EmmieBean full-time. This September I'm happy to say I'll be celebrating 5 years full-time.
What are your favorite and most challenging parts of running your business?
My favorite part is being my own boss and the captain of my own ship. When I worked as an in-house graphic designer and merchandiser, I found I was never completely fulfilled working towards someone else's creative vision. Creativity is a very personal thing, and if you're not 100% in alignment with the vision of the other creatives you're working with, it can feel like you're not being true to yourself as an artist, and your work will be missing that authenticity factor. Running my own business allows me to be fully in the driver's seat artistically and not have to compromise. That's not to say collaborating with other artists isn't awesome, and the collaborative projects I do with friends are some of the most fun and exciting projects to me, but that's different than working for a company where you're producing work for their brand, which might not be your style. It's a fun exercise at first to interpret and create for a certain style unlike your own, but at some point you're ready to move on and do work that is fully aligned with your own personal aesthetic.
The most challenging thing is also what makes it great... being the captain of your own ship. The success of the business all rests on you and your ability to generate consistently good work, a stable income, marketing content, and keep innovating at the same time. When everything rests on you, it can be hard to take time off or take a sick day. That's when setting up systems that allow the business to run itself for a few days if something does come up is super helpful. And learning not to be too hard on yourself if something does go wrong... you're doing the best you can and it's a constant learning experience and opportunity for personal growth.
What has been a setback that has been the most difficult to overcome?
My biggest setback was hitting major burnout a couple years into running the business. I had been working crazy long hours, not taking adequate breaks, saying yes to projects I should have said no to... basically never shutting off the business, and I just hit a wall where I was exhausted and not having fun anymore. Work was feeling like a chore and I sort of had a realization... so much of running your own business is supposed to be about doing that one thing you love, and having FUN in the process! I was definitely not having fun anymore, and I knew something needed to change.
How do you react in the face of a setback? What are your first steps?
When I faced that major burnout I knew that I needed to add in more acts of self-care and set up healthy work/life boundaries. It honestly made all the difference. I found it helpful to check in with myself on a regular basis and ask, "Are you enjoying this? Are you still having fun? Are there any systems in the business that could work better so things flow more easily?"
I can't state it enough, self-care is really important as a business owner. Doing things outside of work you really enjoy is important- for me, that's taking long walks with my husband, cooking, decorating, researching topics that are interesting to me, playing with my cat and bunny, watching GOT or something on Netflix. Talking to other friends who run businesses, the biggest challenge is often working all the time and never taking time off for yourself. It's easy to see a business as your baby and neglect your basic needs for fear that if you take some time for yourself, you'll be saying no to revenue or that the business will somehow stop functioning. On top of that, I think as women we are often socialized to be people-pleasers, so that adds another layer on top of it because you worry if you take time for yourself you'll be letting your customers down.
One way I've helped negate that challenge is by setting strict hours for the business. I generally work 9-6pm Monday- Friday and try to power down my computer at the end of the day so I'm not tempted to do any more work. I also changed my phone settings so I don't get email notifications, which sets up good boundaries between work time and personal time. I don't work on weekends unless I'm under a crazy deadline because I really need that time to recharge and spend time with my husband and friends. Also, something new I've been trying is taking a day off before a major craft show weekend and that's been huge.
I used to work like a madwoman up until I got on a plane to fly to a show, work all weekend, and then come home and work some more. I'd do that for an entire month and basically come home exhausted, burnt-out, and in serious need of a vacation, which was hard because I'd just booked a ton of orders at the fairs. So what I've been doing now is taking at least one day off before a fair weekend to relax, and also a day off once I get back to California. That keeps me sane and ensures I can power through the busy weeks ahead. It also makes fair weekends way more fun and I get to really look forward to them instead of dreading how tired I'm going to feel afterwards. And finally, don't forget to take a vacation once or twice a year and fully unplug. Set a vacation message for your email, and really be present during your time off so you can head back to work reenergized.
What are your goals for EmmieBean in the next few years? What are you hoping to accomplish?
One of my biggest goals is developing a line of stationary in tandem with my custom portraits. So many customers ask me if they can use their custom portrait for their wedding invites, save-the-dates, or holiday cards and up until now I've always just had to send them the digital file to have printed somewhere like Minted.com. Going forward I'd like to have some offerings in my own shop so customers can do everything through me. So stay tuned! :)
Find more of Sadie at EmmieBean Custom Portraits.
This story was first published in Issue 7: Setbacks.