On being a young person with a business

This subject has been coming up a lot lately in emails and interviews, so I thought I’d do a post on some of my thoughts here! I’ve been blogging and selling things online since I was 16 and then been a full-time working for myself for the past 4 months so here is some of my “wisdom”.


(An art journal I made for my first online class, Life Story. It goes on sale again next week!)

I think the most important advice is just to start. I feel like I have an advantage over other creative professionals my age because I’ve already gotten my foot into the door. I am by no means as established as I’d like to be, but I strongly believe that you are not going to graduate college and magically have an online presence, polished portfolio, and loyal clientele.  This is your time to explore and evolve without the repercussions of not being able to afford rent the next month. You don’t need fancy equipment or even a extremely solid idea of what you want to be able to begin.

Stop wishing and start doing! Take advantage of everything you can. Take those art classes(HELLO free education!), read business books, steal your mom’s sewing machine. Take advantage of your high school. Does your high school have access to a studio with lighting equipment? Learn it. Does your college have an amazing art library? Shut down Tumblr and check out 5 books. Interesting looking girl in your science class you want to take photos of? Take the chance of being a creep and ask her. She’ll probably be flattered. Is your art teacher amazing? Stay after and ask their opinions about college or your personal, non-related art work. Is your teacher not amazing and your classwork lame? Take the lame assignments to the next level and be the best in the class. Bad at drawing? Start drawing.

Start a blogspot blog. Tinker around with ideas and try selling on Etsy. Get a part-time job and stay up one later at night working on your dreams. I’m not saying you must start a business now or start montezing things right now, just to start! See if you like freelancing, see if you like selling handmade, see if you like blogging, see if you whatever!

(A photo I took my Senior year of high school. One the first senior photo shoots I did. With a lense/camera borrowed from school!)

Be careful of what you put online. If you drink underage or do drugs, don’t put it on the internet. Untag yourself from those photos and don’t brag about your hangover on Tumblr. If you still want to(I get it, it’s memories of good times with your friends/youth), use an alias and don’t attach your real name to your less than professional confessions.  You don’t have to be a perfect, moral angel, but do consider the repercussions. I’ve published things I’m not necessarily proud of and have gone back and deleted. But people can take screenshots or find things.

And for goodness sake, keep the passive aggressive drama away from your name. I have a private Tumblr for ranting and use another Tumblr for emo journaling and political rants that don’t belong here. Before I started talking about my blog to my blog or linking it to my Facebook,  I was surprised to find random people who I had no idea who read my blog who read my blog. Teachers/professors, aunts and uncles, random people from high school may eventually find your blog. If you’re talking smack about someone, don’t think they won’t be able to find it.

Don’t be fake, of course. Authenticity is important, just keep the illegal stuff and the drama stuff away.


(Scrapbook pages I made for Hambly Screeprints when I was on their Design Team, age 16/17).

And always keep trying. When I was sixteen/seventeen I really hated taking photos of people. But, I started to take more and more and now people are my favorite thing to shoot. When I first started blogging, writing was super awkward for me. It took time to find a voice. I tried “inspiration blogging” and found that I hated it. You have to try things to get better at it and found out if you enjoy doing it. I have gotten so much better at Photoshop or at drawing or scrapbooking or whatever because I kept going. Don’t lose heart!

And some questions!

How do you juggle school and business?

I had it a little easier with juggling business and school because I was dual-enrolled and only at my high school all day every other day (my school was on a schedule similar to colleges, but I was doing schoolwork at home the other days), but I found the time. I don’t really ever watch TV and I didn’t have a job outside of working for myself. I did stress myself out a lot and online things took the back burner when I needed to study for tests or had other life things to tend to.

I was still able to blog, take photos, work on the Lovely brand things with Kip, and create an online class while at Pratt, but it was a good deal harder than high school because of the class/homework load. It was a combination of stress, days off, and a sort of lame social life. ;)

Would adults take you seriously?

I’m sure there were people who thought that, but I’ve never dealt with it firsthand. I’ve gotten more crap about what I’m going to do with a art degree than me being young and having a business. I think once people go and see what I’ve done, they see that I’m serious and good at it. I’ve been a less than fabulous “freelancer”(in regard to being as on top of things as I should have been) and I’ve been a really good one too. I’ve learned from my mistakes and seen that if I conduct myself in a professional way I’ll be treated in a professional way.  You can only prove yourself by being professional and working hard.

Tangent alert! I’ve struggled with whether or not I do the things I do to prove people who have questioned me or of I do them because I want to or prove to myself. Proving yourself to other people is a mess because you’ll always be stacking your personal worth against what other people think. It’s empowering for about ten minutes when someone says you can’t do something and you’re all “well I’ll SHOW THEM”. But it’s an exhausting way to live. Just push the haters the back of your mind, follow your heart, and maybe feel a little smug when you prove them wrong. Just don’t make that the focus of your energy. It’ll exhaust you. (Trust me).

I was lucky to have supportive parents, but prove your parents wrong if they don’t support you.

What is the most difficult thing that you have to regularly deal with?

Absolutely 100% myself. I constantly struggle if I’m being too hard on myself or being too easy on myself. It’s a struggle for me to stay on top of everything and to be organized and all that. Balance is my personal demon. I’m working on having set hours of working, limiting distractions, prioritizing, and saying no to the things I just don’t have the mental energy to juggle. I think some people are better at this than others, but personally I’ve problems with this for years. Discipline isn’t easy.

When it comes to taxes/registration/other business stuff, did you need a lot of help?

Hmmm. I don’t necessarily know if I’m qualified to answer this because I don’t have a ton of experience yet. So far I’ve been able to figure out things without talking to an accountant. If things start getting bigger, I definitely will talk to one. When I made my business acount at my bank, my banker was really awesome about answering questions about registration/taxes. I also talked with other people from Idaho who own online businesses and was able to get my questions answered there. My advice is just to ask questions pertaining to your state, open a business bank account, and be careful about saving receipts, bookkeeping your Ins & Outs, and being aware of where your money is going. Do this sooner rather than later. Start treating your money as a business.

How do you stay motivated?

Honestly, it’s a struggle. This sounds bad, but money is a big motivator for me. I’ve always been independent with my money. I bought my own cellphone and have been paying the bill since I was 16 and have purchased my computer, camera equipment, everything myself. I’m moving to Portland in January and being able to afford doing that is motivating a lot of my work. I want independence. I want to feel like I can financially take care of myself without the help of my parents or a boyfriend/husband whatever. Also, I enjoy it. I don’t enjoy it all the time and I’m not going to lie and say I don’t freak out about everything at least once a week(not kidding). It’s a struggle, but one that is worth it to me.

Disclaimer: This is all my experience and won’t pertain to everyone. It also has a lot to do with my experiences photographing, blogging, scrapbooking in this little nook of the internet and obviously doesn’t apply to everything. Blah, blah, blah.

I hope that answered some questions! Feel free to ask more or lend your 2 cents! <3

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • La September 19, 2011, 1:28 pm

    I loved this post! I really liked reading about your thoughts and your worries because I feel they are really similar to mine. I too am a young business owner and it really is amazing to read you story. I was so inspired, i decided to write my own experience story. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • katie September 18, 2011, 2:40 pm

    such a great post, Kara. i wish I would have read something like this when I was 19.

  • Libby September 17, 2011, 5:33 am

    Thank you! I’m currently working on maybe having an Etsy or Folksy {the English site} and seeing the experience of someone who actually has to go to school and stuff makes me realise that I can do that. Because, there’s so many amazingly creative people online but they all seem to have worked some rubbish job for ten years before they became completely self employed, & it’s nice to see this view.
    I thoroughly agree with the part about your online presence, which I think is true for everyone. People search you when they consider you for employment so facebook rants and drunken photos are not a good idea. Since I don’t quite trust myself to hold my virtual tongue, I’ve not got a facebook account yet, but have heard all the gossip in class. And seriously, why would you have a massive fight with your friends where everyone can see it? Or, as one girl in my class did, set up a hate group for a teacher? It’s stupid and no one will forget it anytime soon.

  • Cath September 17, 2011, 3:38 am

    I love this! We’re the same age and I’ve been dreaming about having an etsy shop for a long time but I never did anything. This summer I set up my shop and Sunday, when I go to college I’ve everything prepared to work on it while I’m on college. I don’t have any sales but just starting out has given me a lot of motivation. I just need to believe in myself and now that I’ve my shop set up I need to work hard!
    Thank you for all the advice :)

  • Sarah Rooftops September 17, 2011, 2:54 am

    This is a great post – really clear and thoughtful! I wish I had been as motivated in my teens!

  • steven andrew September 16, 2011, 9:39 pm

    This was so inspiring, I have always wanted a little business and this just pushes me towards that goal even more. Awesome post! :)

  • alex September 16, 2011, 7:20 pm

    You really are an inspiration! Thanks for answering the questions!

  • Audry September 16, 2011, 6:42 pm

    I’m going to second going to a library and checking out a bunch of books. I didn’t discover the art section of the library of my university until my last year. I spent all my time in between classes looking up artists, printing styles, textile techniques. University libraries are a treasure trove of ideas and inspiration.

  • Natalie Malik September 16, 2011, 6:03 pm

    LOVED this. Thanks for answering my question about the taxes/registration. :)
    I noticed on twitter how you always say “i’m not productive enough” and what not, and wondered if you read this amazing post by Moorea Seal called “How to Stay Productive when You’re Self Employed!” You might have already read it, but I just wanted to remind you that you can do it! It sucks, I know, but you have to do what you have to do. :/

    Here’s the link if you want to read it!

  • Carrie Rosalind September 16, 2011, 5:59 pm

    Girl, you are my idol! LOVE everything about this post…thanks for being such an inspiration to me!

  • Kaye September 16, 2011, 5:36 pm

    This is such a great blog post…

    I have been running my own business since I was 19 (I’m now nearly 22) and it’s hard to stay motivated, even at the worst of times! I was in such debt when I moved away from home last year and I know that if it wasn’t for the income for the business or my part time work I would have been in a worse position!

    You are such an inspiration though, you have such passion for what you do at such a young age, it’s amazing!

    Im still trying to stay motivated and limit my distractions but it’s proving difficult as I’m not the most organised of people… But after reading your post, ima get my ass in gear and make something of my business! :)

    Thanks for sharing xx

  • Rachel Del Grosso September 16, 2011, 4:47 pm

    What a good post, Kara. You may be young but you will do some great things in the future, I’m sure of it!

  • Marisa September 16, 2011, 4:34 pm

    This is not only great advice for a business owner but great advice for everyone in regards to having an online presence. Some of the things my younger cousins put on their facebook is just cringe worthy. They should know better! Thanks for sharing this!

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