Your Passion Can Build Your Business
As a small business owner, you have to have an unrelenting passion, not just for business, but to live the lifestyle your business requires. For me, this passion manifested in thousands of hours spent perfecting my skill as a printer and designer. I love creating things, and printing is an extension of that creative need. I started as nothing more than a hoodlum with a bootlegged version of Photoshop. Now, I’m a hoodlum in his second year of business, trying desperately to act like a professional and contain my excitement when I get new print job or meet a new client.
My early twenties were wasted hanging with friends and talking about our dreams but never taking the steps necessary to make any idea a reality. (We just drank a lot and hung out at the bar.) I worked in construction to make money while I taught myself how to be a designer mostly for fun. I carved out a dope studio in the house I was renting and spent countless hours in the lab making stencils, shooting videos, making posters for wheat pasting, stickers, paintings, and eventually setting up a small screen-printing studio. I made a name for myself as a street artist and learned a lot of cool skills, but in terms of a career, I was years away from making any real money.
My first taste of business came selling stencil art. At the time, not many people were making this type of pop art, so when I brought my stencil paintings to the online world, they sold well. I shipped them all over the world through eBay. It was exciting and a really good learning experience. I was never able to get enough sales to stop working. (If I knew then what I know now, I could have made it thrive.) The art did make enough to start buying screen-printing equipment, though. I taught myself screen printing and over time set up a shop in the art studio. I had no interest in printing for other people. I wanted to start a clothing brand, and like most young people, I thought that if I printed myself, I could save money on the printing costs. I ended up investing thousands into screen printing and still wasn’t able to get the result I wanted. I needed bigger better equipment. In time, I would get exactly that at the expense of owning a brand. I don’t regret the money I spent learning the printing trade because I love it. But if I had hired a printer and focused my efforts on creating new graphics, I may be in a different business today.
At age 25, I was done working construction. I set out to get a job as a designer. This was much tougher than I thought it would be. Most companies want a four-year degree unless you have a sick portfolio. I thought I had a good portfolio, but looking back, I was lucky to get a job at all (my portfolio was shit). In spite of my portfolio, I got a shot as a designer for a screen-printing shop. The shop had lost its only designer, and they took a chance on me out of desperation. I was thrown into a sink-or-swim scenario, and I swam my ass off. I also leveraged my free time with the screen printer, learning the ins and out of printing from a guy with 10+ years of experience. I put in one year at the shop before deciding I could do it better. I just needed cash to do it.
My former boss called asking if I wanted to come back to work. He was offering a lot more money than my current design job was paying. I knew I could save the money I needed to open my print shop, but I swore to myself I would never go back to the construction trade, especially after how difficult it was to get my first design job. I almost turned down the job.
Reason prevailed, and I worked for two years as a plumber. The time I spent as a plumber was put to good use. I laid out a business plan and stuck to the plan as best I could. I was investing the money in printing equipment and invested my free time creating a website while working construction. I rented a small space and equipped it as a print shop with a built-in apartment. Piece by piece, the shop came together, and I moved into the shop to cut down on expenses. When the time came to start my business, customers were already calling and placing orders despite the fact that I was working in construction. I was patient and worked my job during the day and printed all night. I did this until I had no choice but to leave the construction job and run the shop full time.
Today, I don’t have loans to pay back or investors to answer to. I own all of my printing equipment, and I keep my overhead low, allowing me to keep my prices low. I live and breathe being a t-shirt printer. I live for the lifestyle and don’t have any plans of changing this lifestyle in the near future.