A New Venture: the Business of Handmade

A new business venture and some thoughts on how to pivot my career for more sustainable income.

Happy new year of the Ox 🐂 everyone! 新年快乐! In case you didn’t know, the Lunar New Year was on Feb 12 this year. It’s a huge holiday in Asia and many people celebrate eating lots of food and receiving/gifting red pocket money. We had a small family dinner. My nephews visited and we played tons of Mario Kart (I had my butt kicked by them, they’re both under 10).


There are two main things I want to talk about in this issue. The first is about a new video series I am doing on my design process. The second is an update on pivoting my career.

My Next Venture: Supporting Handmade Businesses

I have embarked on a new project that I want to try and monetize. It’s based on my framework of designing data visualization on cards. I have been exploring a ton of ideas on what to focus on. The idea I am now leaning into is on quantifying how one develops a handmade business. My goal is to create a series of cards that help people who want to start and grow their handmade business. There are a lot of problems I want to solve for these folks and it’s a really fun challenge for me to tackle.

I am about 4 weeks into this now. I have started a video series on YouTube called “Jane’s Design Process” (I am really bad at naming stuff). It will document my progress working on this project. I created this video series for two reasons. The first is that whenever I ask for feedback on what you want to see me write about, the number one answer I always get is to talk about my process. Process is different for everyone and it is the most important variable in determining the outcome. So, this video is just giving you all what you’ve asked for. The second is to help me reflect on what I’m doing. To give me a chance to regularly look back on the things I am doing and if they make sense or not. It’s a good way for me to think about next steps. The only downside is that the videos take up a lot of my time (around 5-6 hours for everything). I’ve done everything I could to automate this more (making template files, keep my files organized, sticking to a strict workflow). I was initially putting the videos out weekly, I think I’ll shift to monthly instead.

I released the latest episode this week. I hired Michael Janda to help me out with some ideas and it was very, very helpful. The main outcome of the call with him was to broaden my audience more. I was too focused on one specific handmade craft and it wasn’t viable as a business market. You can watch the episode below:

I’m still in the research phase with this project. I am going to enter the development phase quite soon and have a basic prototype to test people on. For now, it’s just called “Project 1” (see, I told you I suck at naming). Once I get a better idea of what I am doing, I’ll give it a proper name.

I’ve been sharing more frequent updates on Instagram about this project in stories and posts. If you want to see more behind the scenes stuff as I develop this piece, then follow my account.

See more behind the scenes

Pivoting

The most important task I need to focus on now is developing Project 1. The reality and viability of this project sustaining me as a business is hard to determine. There’s a very high chance this project will fail and I’ll get nothing out of it at the end. Right now, I am not making sustainable income from dataviz and that’s not a situation I want to stay in for long. Even though I don’t have an urgent need to make money right away, I am looking ahead of my career in the next couple of years.

I’ve heard my mom telling me countless times that you should always have a 后路 in life, which translates directly to “rear road”. Metaphorically, it means to have an escape plan. A short story on this. My mom went through challenging times when I was in my teens. She operated her business while living on 2-3 hours of sleep for a long period of time. She damaged her liver to the point that it could’ve become a terminal illness. I didn’t know any of this as it was happening. As a single mom with few relatives in Toronto, she bought expensive life insurance with the possibility of the worst case scenario. She told me several years later and I was shocked that she thought that far ahead. She said if anything happened to her, the insurance was her way of taking care of us. Thankfully, she is healthy now and stabilized her liver with medication (which she continues to take). My mom’s ability to have foresight has been embedded in me. I am always working towards a back-up in case things don’t work out.

So, what should my back-up plan look like? If everything I’ve worked towards fails by the end of this year, what can I do? One idea that came to mind was to find full-time work in product design at a company. Since I am learning so many skills developing an actual product, maybe the skills could feed into a similar job. I have taken some steps exploring this and seeing if there’s enough alignment with my interest and skills. Another idea is to pivot back into freelancing part-time. I used to focus on social media so I might get back into it. Or, I might consider pivoting into web design. I built a couple of websites for my social media clients, it was the most valuable and tangible deliverable I provided. In any case, I will keep thinking about it and work towards it by the end of the year. I share this thought process because I want to be transparent about it. Lots of folks have reached out to me privately appreciating my honestly. I know that there are many of you reading who are thinking about going independent. The reality to keep in mind is that it might not work out right away, or at all. Keep your options open and keep developing yourself. Stay sharp and watch the market.


In Case You Missed It

I created a fun video celebrating 1,000 Twitter followers. I nerd about my Canadian coin collection and just had fun talking about them. Did you know that Canada was the first in the world to release a glow-in-the-dark coin for circulation (i.e. you can find this in your change)?


About Jane

I am an independent data visualization designer based in Toronto, Canada. I design hands-on learning experiences with data visualization that is user-driven. To see my latest work, check out my website.

Ever since I became an independent designer in 2019, I’ve had many insights about life, work, data visualization, design, and creativity. I have been documenting these insights as much as I can through various mediums. In 2020, I decided to start a newsletter where I can put all these insights in one place. This newsletter is meant for people who want to learn more about what it’s like to be an independent data visualization designer.