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How to create your dream job

14 Mar

Catharina Bruns of workisnotajob. won’t let you hate your work

By Amy Schroeder

Catharina Bruns creates print and screen designs, logos, illustrations, and brand identities for a living.

But with the moniker workisnotajob., her company is more than just a design studio—it’s a movement inspiring people to live a creative life and fall in love with their work. With her inspirational shirts, posters, and other cool products, workisnotajob. aims to ignite a paradigm shift in how people approach “work” so that they’re not just reporting to a “day job,” but, rather, contributing their skill sets and passions to the world.

After graduating from Universität Hamburg, Bruns moved to Canada, Austria, and Ireland, working in search marketing and visual design for other companies. “I was chasing the one career that would let me contribute and allow me to create something meaningful,” she says.

“But then I came to terms with the fact that everything that was expected from me in my nine-to-five did not make me happy,” Bruns says. After two years of working for a large Internet company, she resigned in August 2010 to start workisnotajob., and she never looked back.

“I had to learn that you must create dream jobs yourself, because no one else knows what you dream of,” Bruns says.

So how, exactly, do you create a dream job?

“It’s rather simple if you love what you do—you’ll never see it as a job; it’s your lifestyle,” the Hamburg, Germany-based Bruns says. “Do the work you are born to do.”

DIYBA: How did you come up with the concept of workisnotajob.?

Catharina Bruns: My former job looked great on the outside, but there was little self-fulfillment on the inside. When I think about it now, I always lived by that concept but looked in the wrong place, and that’s why I was always unsatisfied with my “career.” It’s that thing people have who are unhappy in their jobs not because of what they take from them, but because the jobs don’t offer the opportunity to give any of what really lives inside of you. Soon your job doesn’t matter enough, and you feel you can’t contribute in the right way.

What are your tips for loving your work?

1.     Work. Find something you love and work on that. Live your art, feed your heart.

2.     Be yourself. To be your most authentic and inspiring self, all you need to do is do it your way.

3.     Make time to explore and play. This is crucial to the creative process.

4.     Conquer convention. Be flexible and willing to think new thoughts. You can reinvent yourself and how things are done anytime.

5.     Have fun. Enjoy yourself and trust the process.


How to make a plan you can stick to

9 Mar

Christen Carter of Busy Beaver Buttons kicks butt(on) with setting goals for business growth—and actually makes them happen

By Amy Schroeder

Christen Carter works with her brother, Joel Carter

Whenever I need a surefire example of a successful creative small business rocking major indie cred, Busy Beaver Button Co. comes to mind first.

Christen Carter founded the Chicago-based custom button-making company in 1995, with encouragement from the band Guided By Voices, who signed up to be her first customer. At the time a college student, Carter targeted independent record labels, which eventually led to Busy Beaver becoming a household name in the independent arts community.

Busy Beaver Button Co.'s Chicago headquarters

Fast-forward to 2011, and the company has grown steadily and surely, with 17 employees on payroll. The boutique-size company still produces buttons for bands and artists around the world, and it has grown to make large quantities of buttons for clients including Third Man Records, The Onion, Bumble and Bumble, Missy Elliott, Adidas, Threadless, Burger King, and Microsoft. 

So what is Busy Beaver’s proudest button moment? It’s hard to pick just one, but a commemorative glow-in-the-dark President Obama button ranks high on the list—it’s part of the archives at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

Here, Carter shares tips for making a plan you can stick to:

DIYBA: You’ve told me that you are “a person who used to wing it a lot.” Can you give an example of “winging it” at Busy Beaver?

Christen Carter: There are just so many ideas and opportunities, and sometimes it’s hard to know which ones are worth doing at all, and which are worth doing now or later. For instance, we want to make our own line of buttons, but, ultimately, we want to help our customers use buttons in a way that complements and supports what they are doing. At the same time, we have so many creative and talented people at Busy Beaver, so we are starting with a button of the month for now. Kinda win-win!

Christen Carter packs a plan

When and why did you kick your planning methods up a notch?

Though we’d done a SWOT [method for evaluating the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of a business] session before, we really acted on it in a real way for 2010. We came up with annual goals based on our SWOT and big company goals—and everyone on staff comes up with their own.

How successful was the plan?

We surpassed our 2010 financial goal by a little bit! But more than that, we made a big internal goal to make sure we were all on the same page about supporting the company’s financial growth and developing our staffers’ personal/professional goals.

What’s more difficult—making a plan or following it?

For me, making a plan. Following a plan is just putting milestones in a calendar and getting them done. I’m a doubter, so while planning, I’m always questioning whether I’m doing it right. There’s a lot I want to do, so focusing on key components is critical. I run my goals by my mentors and other business owners—they always say I should cut down my expectations for myself. When I do, I’m happier and see my friends more!

Etsy SXSW 2011 buttons

What is your advice for creative types who need a plan, man?

  1. Think about where you want to be a year from now.
  2. Write down the things that will get you there. Set deadlines, and do them.
  3. Along the way, ask for help. If you don’t have a boss, get accountability buddies—find people who are doing what you are trying to do well. People are usually complimented that you even notice their talents! When you speak with them, ask concise questions.

Do you have advice for creative small business owners and freelancers? Awesome. Post it here.

The freelancer’s survival guide

22 Feb

Journalist Frieda Klotz shares six not-so-secrets for success

By Amy Schroeder

You’d think that a University of Oxford education and a prestigious position as an ancient Greek literature lecturer would keep someone on a path as a lifelong academic.  

Though that was Dr. Frieda Klotz’s life at age 29, the native Irishwoman left her job at King’s College in London to embark on a “freer life” in New York. In 2008, Klotz accepted a scholarship to New York University’s journalism school with the goal of becoming a freelance journalist.

“I wanted to do something that wasn’t focused on one topic,” she says. “My first experience as a journalist was covering Skin Two Expo in 2007. I interviewed a guy wearing a tutu and a cast on his leg. I realized being a journalist was not work in the traditional sense, and I loved it.”

Fast-forward a few years, and Klotz has attained her goal. As a U.S. citizen, she is able to earn a living stateside as a freelance culture and lifestyle reporter for publications including the Chronicle of Higher Education, the New York Times,, the Irish Times, and the Irish Sunday Independent.

Some of her favorite pieces to produce include the controversial “Two Men and a Baby,” about a gay Irish couple who had an American woman act as a surrogate mother for their child, “Irish prose through a cracked lookingglass” in the Independent, and a review of a book of conversations with Seamus Heaney for Prospect Magazine .

Here, Klotz shares her tips for a successful freelance career.

1. Work for people who pay properly and on time.

Klotz prioritizes high-paying assignments. “If an article covers my rent, I consider that being paid well,” Klotz says. “I have a friend who writes for Cell magazine, and he gets paid something like $5 per word.”

As for unpaid and underpaid opportunities, Klotz says they’re OK so long as they make strategic sense. For example, when Klotz was cutting her chops as a writer, she interned for the Erotic Review in England for three weeks—and the experience quickly led to paying assignments.

2. Work for people who provide feedback.

Granted, it may be difficult for deadline-pressed editors to provide detailed critiques, communication is key to a strong editor-freelancer relationship. “Good feedback builds up my loyalty to a publication,” Klotz says.

3. Work in attractive places.

A clean, well-lit location boosts creativity and productivity. Klotz’s favorites are the Schwarzman Building at the New York Public Library and Brooklyn coffee shops Glass Shop and Sit and Wonder.

4. Stick to a routine.

Whether you prefer to work in the wee hours of the morning or find that you’re most creative following an afternoon nap, create a system of regularity. “A routine will minimize stress and help you avoid freelance madness,” says Klotz, who works from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day.

5. Work on topics you care about.

If a job challenges your morals in some way, turn it down. “It might seem painful to lose a payment, but it’s worth it in the long run, because you live or die by what’s attached to your name,” Klotz says. “And a joy of freelancing is that you’re free.”

6. Collaborate.

It’s fun to work with people, right? Plus, you never know what brave new idea, contact, or experience might arise when you work with fellow creatives.

Follow the DIY Business Association on Twitter.

Rock your most creative self

18 Jan

Brooklyn blogger and street-style icon Lesley Williams talks about her evolution as a creative cookie

By Amy Schroeder

Lesley Williams at New York Fashion Week, 2010. Photo by Kamau Ware (

Lesley Williams is walking creativity.

Like many other Brooklynites, her skillz aren’t limited to just one job description. She’s a blogger (, zinester (nope, the art isn’t extinct yet), stylist, seamstress, event coordinator, and fashionable lady about town.

Lesley Williams in Time Out New York

When it comes to personal style, she’s like the grownup version of Tavi Gevinson—she coordinates her glasses with her outfits, and she makes getting dressed seem like an interpretive dance. Two of my favorite things about Lesley are that she’s a continual work in progress and she and fiancé Kamau Ware host monthly (or whenever-they-feel-like-it) inspirational brunches for their friends to present photography, business ideas, comedy blogs, etc.

Lesley Williams with blogger Magdalena Olek. Photo by Kamau Ware (

Enough of the chitchat, right? Let’s cut to the visuals. After the photo candy, you’ll find a wee Q&A and Lesley’s tips for being your best creative self.

At the Raul Peñaranda show. Photo by Lesley Williams

Lesley took the photo of her friend Sonya in August 2010, and a similar one from the series is featured in the January 2011 issue of Essence Magazine.

Tavi Gevinson in New York in February 2010. Photo by Lesley Williams

The Spring 2011 issue of Lesley William's zine, Easily Inspired

DIY Business Association: Were you encouraged to be creative from an early age?

Lesley Williams: As an only child, I developed a colorful imagination. I had friends from school and in my neighborhood, but the majority of my playtime was spent alone, making things and taking them apart. When I wasn’t crafting, I immersed myself in the lives of my Barbie dolls and stuffed animals while watching ’40s and ’50s sitcoms on Nick at Night. My parents were supportive of my behavior. They never forced me to engage other children—I think they found my creative alone time amusing.

How do you describe your creativity?

My creativity is very ambiguous. I suppose what makes me creative is my willingness to try and explore newness. Even if I’m unsure of the final destination, I’m always open to new creative jaunts.

What’s your advice for getting out of a creative rut?

A few years ago, I decided to hone in and deeply explore my creativity. As I grow, I find that my creative ruts are slowly vanishing, and the process of creating gets easier. But if I start to feel blocked, I tend to shift my attention elsewhere—this could involve writing a short story, visiting the nearest fabric store, or wearing a pair of shoes that sparkle. Stepping away is the best way for me to overcome the ickiness of creative ruts.

When do you tend to have your most creative moments?

I’m very sensitive to my environment—the physical space that surrounds me has always been vital to my creativity. I tend to cover walls in my workspace with decorative papers, images, and words that make me happy. I love lighting and odd office supplies, too. My most creative moments happen when I’m surrounded by things that I find inspiring and inviting.

What tips for being your most creative self?

1. Start small. Set attainable goals, each week, for your creative life. This could simply involve visiting a thrift shop, making a card, or watching a film.

2. Find accountability. Share your creative interest by maintaining a blog, joining a group, or taking a class. By engaging others in your exploration, you’ll find a support system and, maybe, a few champions of your work.

3. Spend time alone—even if it’s only 30 minutes a week to journal, collage, or stitch.

4. Do it now. If you have a creative impulse, act on it. There’s no better time than the present.

5. Never say or let anyone tell you that you are not creative. “There are moments in all of our lives where we might be stagnant, but we all have the innate urge, ability, and right to create something that did not exist before,” Williams says. “We are all creative in some shape or form.”

Knowledge is power (and income)

2 Sep

IndieBizChicks founder Crissy Herron shows you how to make money from what you know

By Amy Schroeder

Want to get paid to share your mad skillz?

“Believe it or not, there are people out there who want to learn what you know,” says Crissy Herron of

This Michigan-based independent business lady knows what she’s talking about. In fact, she earns the bulk of her income from dishing out entrepreneurship tips on her blog and other information products, such as ebooks, workbooks, Mp3 recordings, online classes, and consulting.

As Herron explains, selling your knowledge isn’t as complicated as you might think. The trick is to nail down what you know, how to format it, and who to market it to. Ready to get started?


Do you make red-velvet cupcakes like nobody’s business? Know Flash like the back of your hand? Are you the best listener in town? If you’re able to summarize your skill in a handful of words, you’ve tackled the first step.

Just be sure to avoid one of Herron’s pet peeves, which is claiming to be an expert or guru, unless, well, you really are. “Just be yourself and let your knowledge shine through,” she says. “People will be much more drawn to an honest person giving helpful tips than a person telling everyone how smart they are. This isn’t about you—it’s about how you can help others.”


Invest time into understanding your place in the market—whatever it may be. Whether you’re targeting over-the-hill skateboarders or vampire-loving teens, you need to figure out if people want your knowledge and whether you’re up against competition. There’s nothing wrong with healthy competition—you just have to offer something better and/or different than the pack.

We could dedicate an entire column (and we will at some point) about knowing your target audience like the back of your hand, but to keep this post snappy, we recommend that you put yourself in your prospective customer’s shoes (not literally).

Say, for instance, you want to teach underwater knitting. Ask yourself questions like, “If I’m an underwater knitter and want to advance my skills, what’s the best way to learn?” and “Who else is teaching underwater knitting tips online, at the local Y, via apps, etc.”? Once you know what’s missing from the market, you’re on your way to filling in gaps with your educational business.


When it comes to market strategy, think practically. “For example, if you are great at photography and photo editing, some ideal students would be new moms who want to document their baby’s life, bloggers who want to learn to take better photos, and small-biz owners who need product photos for their sites,” Herron advises.

After you’ve taken the practical route, think outside the box to see what else is up your sleeve. “If you’re a crafter, you may think your only outlet is a craft store,” Herron says. “But what about daycares and senior-citizen centers? Activity directors are always looking for something new to do, and this could be a great way for you to earn a consistent side income.”


Is writing not your thing? That’s fine—don’t waste time writing a blog. Could you give a speech in your sleep? Rad—consider marketing yourself as a public speaker for hire.

While it’s important to hone your skills via the most logical format, also keep in mind that technology is constantly evolving. Plan for the long haul by being flexible and on the lookout for the new opportunities and media formats. Ever thought about creating an app or a workshop series?


Not sure if you’re a good teacher? Before you attempt to teach the world everything you know, do a trial run on your friends to see if they “get” it. If they lose interest after your blog post’s first sentence or if they look confused after the first five minutes of a presentation, ask them to provide honest feedback—and use it to improve your game.


Connect with like-minded folks to spread the word about your info business and form valuable relationships. Herron recommends contacting bloggers who target your goal audience and ask them if you can write guest posts that link back to your site. “Also, use the Twitter search function to find out who is talking about the kind of thing you teach, and follow those users. In many cases, they will return the favor and follow you back,” she says.


If you are just starting out, getting your first few clients may be the hardest part, Herron says. “When I started, I gave away some of my products and services for free, in exchange for testimonials. I’m not saying you should go broke doing this, but if you could get three solid testimonials, it would give you a lot of credibility.”

Confident about your curriculum and ready to expand your client base? Consider ways to beef up your resume and promote yourself like a publicist would.

“Don’t be afraid to give a class for ‘free’ while marketing your products and services,” Herron suggests. “For example, if you are great at search-engine optimization, offer a free class at your local library, small-business organization, or community college. Pass out a tips sheet with your business info on it. Some of those people will just as soon hire you to do it for them, rather than try to learn everything themselves.”

Does your business need a blog?

23 Aug

Load up on these “content is king” tips from DIY entrepreneurs

By Amy Schroeder

Are you ready to take your online business to the next level? You might want to get into the business of blogging.

Blogging is a great way to engage shoppers and beef up your site with additional content. For an August 5 panel called “Etsy Success: Crafty Blogging” at the Etsy headquarters, a crew of DIY bloggerpreneurs talked shop about reeling in readers, crafting creative content, and incorporating a healthy dose of self-promotion. Here, they share a handful of their tips.

Pull the Trigger Already

Is fear standing between you and blogging?

Crissy Herron of

Everyone’s got to start somewhere. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take baby steps. For instance, give yourself a goal to set up a blog on the first day (or week), and on the second or third days, write your bio or “about” page, and then, write your first post, and so-on.

“Don’t be afraid to start blogging until your blog design is perfect or until you have the idea for perfect posts,” says Crissy Herron of “Your blog is going to be a continual work in progress. It will never be perfect, so just get started.” In fact, many first-timers find that once they get rolling, so too does the inspiration.

Show Your Best Side

“Compelling content is the key to an awesome blog,” says Rachel Johnson of

Bethany Nixon of

If you’re not sure what makes for good blog content, similar to dating or applying for a job, it’s best to play up your strengths while playing down your weaknesses. For instance, if writing is not your strong suit, why pressure yourself to crank out 3,000 words of nonsense? If, on the other hand, your strengths are photography, reporting trends and news bits, or writing hilarious captions, rock out those skills.

Also, keep it real by reflecting your personality, says Bethany Nixon of “If your blog reads like an advertisement, readers will only see you as your business,” she says. To avoid sounding like an infomercial, “inject moments from your life to encourage your readers to see your business as you instead,” Nixon says.

Take a How-To, Interactive Approach

Looking for ways to spice up your content? Think of creative ways to involve the readers with a how-to angle.

And by how-to, we don’t mean you have to provide a step-by-step guide on how to make your product. This could be as simple as “Five Looks for This Necklace” or “How to Wear this T-shirt as a Skirt, a Dress, and a Scarf.” Or, better yet, invite readers to get involved with content development and offer up a prize for the winner.

In short, “don’t just talk about you,” advises craftalicious blogger Tonya Staab. Instead, she says, “Ask questions, network, and share information.” The “I’m loaded with info” angle not only juices up your blog content, but it makes for attractive fodder in your social-networking smorgasbord (Facebook, Twitter, what have you).


Lish Dorset of Handmade Detroit

Know Your Readers

Not sure what your readers want? Ask them, says Handmade Detroit co-founder Lish Dorset.

Herron says that once you know what makes your community tick, you’ll be able to cater your content to them—and keep them coming back for more. “Your blog acts like a virtual watercooler between yourself and your reader,” she says. “Write in a conversational manner so that you can develop a relationship with them.”

Rachel Johnson of

Make a Good Impression

Not sure what your blog should look like? “Start simple,” says Johnson. Stick with a white or solid-color background emblazoned with a bold and beautiful header. “Try to resist the urge to clutter your sidebars with lots of icons,” Staab says. “Too many buttons and links will make your blog look cluttered and detract from your content.”

Content is, in fact, king, but if you’re not so much a wordsmith, focus instead on compelling visuals. “Use fun and original photos to engage your readers and pull them into your story,” Nixon says. If photography’s not your thing, invite friends (and even readers) to help.

Stick with the Program

Are you a master procrastinator? To fight the urge to put off blogging until tomorrow, Lish Dorset recommends creating a schedule for yourself—for example, Mondays could be “trends” day, Wednesdays are “customer appreciation,” days, etc. “Many blog platforms offer scheduling options so that you can [pre-schedule] several posts at one time,” she says. “Regular content means regular readers.”

How to transition your business

27 Jul

Does your company need a makeover? Compai creative genius Justina Blakeney gives advice on giving your business a facelift (not that it doesn’t look good already). 

By Amy Schroeder

If constant flux is the key to entrepreneurial success, the owners of Compai are sure to hit jackpot.

Sisters Justina and Faith Blakeney are smack-dab in the middle of expanding their small clothing line into a full-on creative consultancy. It’s a logical next step for the company that’s evolved fourfold since it started as a recycled-clothing boutique in Florence, Italy, in 2001.

In the last nine years, both Blakeneys have produced hordes of creative eye candy, from wearable art to magazine pages to a book series (including 99 Ways to Cut, Sew & Deck Out Your Denim), sometimes under the Compai moniker and sometimes under different business names or their own names. Justina formerly moonlighted as a graphic designer, and Faith worked on interiors and styling. The Compai brand overhaul is all about simplification—the Blakeneys now house their services under one Compai umbrella, with three divisions: consulting, craft, and style.

“Since we had already spent years building up the brand and clients, it made sense to put everything under one roof,” says Justina, who lives in Los Angeles. “I run the creative services division, my sister runs Compai Style, and we do Compai Craft together. We are working toward a common goal but are able to keep things autonomous.”

So what exactly does a creative consultancy do? In short, Compai helps people with their creative needs. For example, one day Justina might help a client brainstorm a new brand identity, and the next, she’ll art-direct a photo shoot. “I help clients make everything look cool—sometimes people just need to talk an idea out. Maybe they want to know what blogs to advertise on, how to put together a look-book, or how to get a coffee-table book published.”

Here, Justina Blakeney shares her jill-of-all-trades advice on how to transition a business.


First things first, think about the money side of things. Sure, it’s fun to get wrapped up in the details of, say, rebranding, launching an online shop, or landing new clients, but what’s the point of making over your business if you don’t reap financial rewards?

Before pulling the transition trigger, figure out how much you need to spend and how much you need to earn in order to break even and/or break a profit. Then, compare your transition plan to your current plan, and mull it over.

For Compai, the biggest challenge was deciding how to bill clients in order to cover costs. With the “old” Compai, the Blakeney sisters focused on earning income for themselves, but the new Compai has additional overhead costs, such as an assistant, a studio space, and other bills.

“It’s been tough to know how to calculate our rates,” Blakeney says. “I ask a lot of questions and am kind of fearless about asking for help when I need to get through rough spots.”

Most importantly, don’t undersell yourself. “It’s easy to lower your rates and give discounts. It’s harder to raise rates,” she says.


Don’t pull any fast and funny moves. “Let your clients and viewers know all along the way what’s going on, so it doesn’t seem like a shock,” Justina says.


Think about some of the world’s most successful brands—say, Apple, Coca-Cola, and Target. The look and feel of their brands, logos, and colors are used consistently, whether they’re online, on TV, or in print.

“Make everything look alike online and in print to smooth out the transition,” Blakeney advises.


Blakeney recommends talking to a business guru to make sure that all the bases are covered on the legal and tax ends of the spectrum. Compai worked with SCORE, a source of free small-business advice for entrepreneurs around the U.S.


The Blakeney sisters recruited interns to help with Compai’s transition. “There’s nothing like fresh blood to keep things running smoothly,” Blakeney says. (Note: The Independent Business Association blog will share advice on intern recruiting soon, pinky-swear.)


Don’t sweat the small stuff and don’t fear change. So, why not start where you are?

Read the Compai blog at


What are your tips for transitioning a business? Post your comments below.