It’s not all creativity and roses

Cathy ZielskeCZ Life56 Comments
There are days when I sit in my office, first thing in the morning, staring at the cold, harsh light of the 27-inch iMac and think, “Great. Now what?”

As a self-employed woman, I have these days every so often. Days where I’m fairly certain there isn’t a drop of creativity left in this middle-aged body of mine. Days where I’m predicting the great CZ Design Economic Collapse of [insert year here]. Days where I wonder if someone will once and for all discover that I am a fraud.

(Okay, that last line? Just thrown in for dramatic measure. I used to say shit like that when I was younger and less developed. Today, I know for a fact that I’ve got crazy mad skillz. #forreals)

But there are days.

There are days when I think: here I go, promoting this blog post on Facebook again. On Twitter, again. On Pinterest, again.

Here I go with the Pimping Out of the Product. Again.

If you want to make your living online in a creative field, this is par for the course. You have to find ways to let people know who you are, what you do and how they can be a part of it. That’s life. That’s business.

And if you pay attention you can adapt as needed to the ever-shifting landscape of how people obtain their internet information.

I’m not telling you anything you can’t find from a Google search on How to Run a Business Online.

But the part I do want to tell you is that it’s not all creativity and roses.

I work a lot and I love to do what I do. But the tricky part is that I can sink a zillion hours into a project, idea or class with zero guarantee of a financial return. Ideas are king in this crafty, creative little corner of the internet and the better yours are the better chance you have of a) getting noticed and b) getting paid for getting noticed.

But you have to work hard to get there.

Working hard means doing a lot of things that are so much less sexy than just coming up with a killer idea. Working hard means figuring out the hours to actually complete the project. Figuring out how to correctly promote the project without coming off as too self-promoting and annoying. Timing your social media campaign to have the strongest impact. Crafting your posts about the project to inspire people to say, “Hey! I wanna do that!”

Working hard means spending hours doing what you love and not seeing your blog hits rise. Or you sales spike. Or your reader base grow.

Working hard means figuring out other ways to make ends meet while still pursuing your passion projects.

I look at my business as a 15-year-long passion project. I look at it with incredible gratitude and sometimes true awe at the fact that I have managed to be self-employed while married to a man who makes a modest salary. I say that because it’s important to know there are people out there who are not rolling in the dough who still find ways to make self-employment work.

That said, there’ve been many good years for mama.

And many shitty ones.

At the end of the day, I’m still grateful for the fact that I’m sitting in an office of my own and that a bra is optional.

And regardless of the success or failures I’ve had, I still stare at the screen some days and think, “Great. Now what?”


Cathy ZielskeIt’s not all creativity and roses

56 Comments on “It’s not all creativity and roses”

  1. #1

    Your “now what’s?” are all great! So keep on working hard and asking that question; we are truly the lucky recipients.
    Curious to see what’s next!

  2. #2

    Off the wall class idea… but I was thinking about how much I love your writing style and remembering a blog post where you talked about how long it actually takes you to write some your posts because you edit quite a bit. All the attributes of a great writer. Have you ever considered doing a class about writing & offering critiques about the actual writing/journaling? I know that we should write from the heart, etc but I would love a kinder gentler ‘editor’ to help make those journaling words more succinct, readable, etc. I wonder if there is anyone else out there in your blog land that would welcome such a class / opportunity?

    1. #2.1
      Cathy Zielske

      I’ve certainly toyed with some ideas for a journaling class. It’s something I should be thinking about. 🙂

  3. #3

    We love you for your honesty, in addition to your #madskillz and creativity. I live vicariously through you, going to work in a place where bras are NOT optional – ha!!

  4. #5

    Love your mad skillz #forreals LOL That is just awesome! Love following your blog and seeing all you create!

  5. #7

    SAHM… Bra optional. Hardest job EVER! Truth be too, there were days that I took my preschooler to school while wearing a fleece sweatshirt… with my Jammie top underneath, braless. Sports bra and yoga pants are part of my “mom uniform”. Oddly enough, I do NOT exercise… unless housework counts. 😉 Love your blog, love your writing, love your mad design skills. Thanks for keeping it real!

  6. #8

    I really love this post and getting a real glimpse into what it means to be self-employed with an online business, not a store-front. I have a full-time office job (work from home) so I am addicted to the steady income and can’t imagine not having it. It’s just my personality though. I am not a risk-taker. But I love to see the lives and support those that are risk-takers. I have a small etsy shop where I sell digital, personalized cards and I love doing that. Some months I sell a bunch and can buy something fun and frivolous (or invest in more supplies) and some months I just make enough to pay my etsy bill. But it’s still so fun!

        1. #
          Kim Smith

          And here I was told it was the ‘puppies’ that were let out, lol!! Welcome to the bra optional world, ladies! 🙂

          Cathy and Kerri – keep doing what you do cause we sure do love it!

  7. #11
    Barbie Schwartz

    I’ve enjoyed your writing style for years, and would love to take a writing/journaling class from you! I paid big money for a writing class a few years ago, and it was a complete waste of time and money. You could tell the teacher was only interested in the money she was making off us, and her own book she was writing.

    As for being self-employed, it’s hard. You’ll never work harder for anyone else than you do for yourself. My dad was self-employed the last 15 years of his working life, and I spent 10 years self-employed as a photographer. After some huge life changes, including a cross-country move, I am trying to figure out what to do next. Start a new business of my own, or let someone else deal with the hassles of that and just collect wages for work. The idea of working in my yoga pants and sports bra is so appealing…

  8. #12

    Great post. Had to laugh at the bra optional. The other moms at the neighborhood bus stop are lucky I usually try to comb my hair. The best part about fall & winter are that I can throw a jacket over my pjs, pull on jeans and run out sans bra. 🙂

  9. #13

    Let it be said there is not a man alive who will ever truly understand the sheer bliss of removing ones bra and letting the bosoms swing as they will. Sadly, in a home that is generally overflowing with a gaggle of stinky, sweaty, smelly boys and others of their ilk, going braless with generous bosoms is frowned upon…

  10. #14
    Melissa O.

    Thank you so much for this post. My hours were cut in half at work a couple months ago, so I decided to try my hand at digital scrapbook supply design. I started a blog, got on FB & Twitter & Pinterest, put my stuff on Etsy, and…. NOTHING. That’s ok though. I’m realistic enough to know that I might go a whole year before I ever make a sale, but once I do chances are I’ll make another & another. Besides, I’m starting out of nowhere, whereas you had a following through Simple Scrapbooks & what-not to help. You have to start somewhere & it’s ok w/ me that I’m starting from scratch. Maybe it won’t ever pan out, but at least I gave it a try. You never know, right?

    1. #14.1
      Cathy Zielske

      Yes, you never know. I had timing on my side, with the Simple Scrapbooks connection for sure. 🙂 Hang in there.

  11. #15
    Melissa O.

    I should note that I do have a degree in graphic design, so I guess I’m not completely starting from scratch. 😉

  12. #16

    Thank You for sharing Cathy. I am embarking on a creative business venture myself and have felt the same way. Am I creating items people will love? Will I reach new subscribers today? The list goes on and on. It’s nice to hear that it is all a part of the process and it will help me grow and prosper.

  13. #19

    All those things you said: that’s why I’ll never have my own business. (The bra part too…sorry, the girls are a bit to, ahem, ambitious to not be contained.)

    Good on you and for all those who are small independent business owners. I’m happy to fork over part of my paycheck for your hard work. 😉

  14. #20

    I felt like ripping my bra off reading this!

    I’m not a professional in any way any more, but I cherish the idea of women like you and so many others on line who are working to put bread (and oh yes bacon) on the table. Women with supportive husbands who are also doing a job they love or women with husbands who have walked out the door with the next young thing. Women w/o husbands, women whose wives who are or aren’t there with an Atta girl! or women who just are their own selves making a go of it. You all are inspiring and let me know It Can Be Done. Day by day, word by word, there is no shortage in the universe. Just plug away and change direction when the current of the river flow shifts. There’s a place and $$s for everyone.

    The first word is always the hardest. Shit and crap are good ones to start with. 😉

  15. #21

    Thanks for sharing this series. I’ve stopped blogging and lately am inspired to do so again and focus on the WAHM lifestyle and musings. I work at home. Bra optional. But why is it on days I have team calls, leadership calls, client calls, I feel compelled to don the brassiere? Otto Titsling must’ve had something to do with it?!?

  16. #22
    Debbie McIntyre

    And I love that you still keep showing up at that computer. That you keep at it. That one day I’ll understand Photoshop because you sell some great product and I want to use it, not just buy it. Keep showing up…it matters to all of us that are cheering you on.

  17. #23

    For what it’s worth — you have me hooked. I will (and have) take(n) any class you (have) offer(ed), so if there are enough others like me, you should just be rolling in it with class revenue. But we all want MORE classes!!!
    And truth be told Cathy, I don’t buy much of your product — not because I don’t love it (I do!!), but because you have been such a great teacher I can pretty much reproduce all your products with my Photoshop skills (thanks to you!).
    I hope your creative endeavors continue to provide you and your family with enough income to continue doing what you do — if that were to change, I would be sad.
    Keep it up!!

  18. #24
    Paula Corsaro

    I love the fact that you are doing what you love, “through better and worse, through richer and poorer”… I am about to leave a good paying job many would like to have because it makes me so sad and unhappy. Much has been written about following your heart and that you were put here for a purpose … You inspire so many by your realism and sharing your life! I think that’s a part of the big picture – touching people’s lives – something I hope to do and you do so well!

  19. #25

    I am enjoying this series. I am a WAHM, who will soon be unemployed- my youngest is gearing up for college. I have held family friendly jobs over the past 24 years, which translates to school hours, school calendar and the one off 3rd shift. In the process of dipping my toes in the creative world, which I am discovering is not for the faint of heart.

    My wish list for upcoming classes- mastering the art of video, PDF design, and the A-Z of developing and delivering an online class.

    As an aside, you have taught me how to take the crap out of scrapbooking. Now I am wading knee deep in #*!? in the educational material and card making world. Once you see you can’t unsee.

  20. #26

    Catching up on Paperclipping after returning from vacation. The episode after you were on, Stacy Julian was talking about much the same thing, except I think for her it was personal and maybe not so much business related, but she was talking about trying to spark her own creativity and than turned it into a class. She didn’t really touch on the self-employed part, as the rest of the discussion was the new partnership of Big Picture Classes and Studio Calico.

    Maybe you could address (in a future blog) how you think the change at Big Picture Classes has or will (or won’t) affect your business? And what about this new app coming from Project Life? Will you be offering design packs through them (I thought I caught somewhere that you tested the app for them)? And since you offer a lot of items that are photoshopped based, any thought to items that could be used elsewhere, like with an app? How often does that apply, if at all to your overall business plan? (I’ll take my answers off the air.)

    1. #26.1
      Cathy Zielske

      I was just a beta app tester because Becky is a friend and wanted people who she knows to test it out. 🙂

  21. #27

    I know you. Design, GOOD design, is hard. The creative process doesn’t translate to billable hours very well for me–sometimes I laugh at what I make an hour if I truly account for all the thinking time (and not just execution time) I put into a project. But, I do love good design and I do happen to be pretty good at it, too, so in front of the computer I sit every day. Oh, and an added bonus? I just happen to also be a stress eater. “The creative process” is directly responsible for the extra jiggle around my middle and on my thighs. Life is good!

  22. #28

    i am building my event planning and photography business and feel everything you have described. thank you for sharing your thoughts. it is comforting to know i am not alone on this…much love!!! with gratitude, samantha

  23. #31

    thanks Cathy. doing some serious hard work at the moment and this post hit home. thanks. now back to work! And yes, I would gobble up a CZ PL kit too, Irene!

  24. #32

    same here, Cathy.
    …and that days the head is full of ideas, I could spend the day working like a mad woman but the kids have handball, ballet and / or music in the afternoon and three different closing times in elementary school. And I have to cook LOL the joy of being self-employed 😉

  25. #33
    Shelby Thomas

    Oh I looooved this post. Made me smile and was nodding my head in agreement. I worked in healthcare administration for 20 years (awesome money) but can’t fathom giving up teaching and creating even though the hours are longer, risks are higher and no guarantees of anything are included in the package. Thank you for this post and for showing that the rest of us “self-employed” creative types aren’t alone!!

  26. #34

    Great post. It’s nice to know a women can be self-employed in the creative industry without being married to a doctor.

  27. #35

    Cathy, you totally inspire me to say “Hey, I wanna do that!” except, I struggle to carve out the time to actually do that – make photo books and document our lives – in and around the living of our lives.

    I rarely comment, and I’m sorry for that. Thank you for doing what you do and inspiring the rest of us.


    1. #35.1
      Cathy Zielske

      Norine, thank you for leaving a comment today! I know life makes it hard TO carve out that time. I feel you.

  28. #36
    Katie P

    Bras… they are beat man. You have always been a huge inspiration to me. I have a thriving business today – because I read your books and thought “I wanna do that!” I wanna take classic photos and document life for myself and others like this chick. In 5 short years – I now have a studio and a part time assistant – and have also had three kids. Kicking ass and taking names, yo. #zielskestyle You are the guru! Love you!

  29. #38
    Natalie Turetsky

    Well said. Love your honesty. And love your writing style. When I have a free minute to myself to just unwind and relax I find myself tuning in to your blog or your Instagram or your website. You just have such a way with words that is both entertaining and inspiring. You’re incredibly talented and so fortunate to have a job where a bra is optional. Enjoy it! Rolling in the dough does not yield true happiness anyway!

  30. #39

    Cathy — I’ve been a self-employed graphic designer for over 30 years. And you are exactly ‘on point!’ (as my HS senior daughter would say!) about everything!! I’ve gone through the same ups/downs and sideways as you … especially the economic collapse worries and fraud fears. I used to worry about becoming old in what’s perceived as a ‘hipster’ profession – but my clients are aging along with me and aren’t looking for hipster designers – just talented people they can work well with who can deliver their projects on-time and on budget. And HEY … I can do that!! I feel blessed that I have a career that I’ve loved, that I don’t mind working crazy hours doing and the good years have outnumbered the bad. You’ve been awesome all these years! Keep up the great work!! We’re all hanging in there with you!

    1. #39.1
      Cathy Zielske

      Oh man, the getting older part is something that I relate to, yep. This hipster profession. 🙂

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