One Year of Self-Employment

Samantha Hartman Wood Pallet Wonders

Today is my one year anniversary of being self-employed. One year ago I walked out of my comfy desk job to take the plunge into running my own business. After two years of working at my first ‘real’ job as a graphic designer, I just knew that wasn’t for me. I still enjoy design, but for myself. I was unfulfilled and unsatisfied and I had to make a change. It was a scary decision and I didn’t tell anyone for a few months (sorry, fam) in case it failed and I totally made the wrong decision. I live in a small town and there isn’t much in the design field so I would really be in a bind if it didn’t work out. However, I saved up enough to cover my bills for a few months just in case, and waited until I was to the point where I was working all day at my desk job and then nights and weekends for Infinite Abyss – that’s when I knew it was time.

The past year has been such a whirlwind of ups and downs. It isn’t easy running your own business but at the end of the day I know I am in control of the work I do and it is such a satisfying feeling. One of my biggest accomplishments has been the release of my book, Wood Pallet Wonders. Seeing that on the shelf of a store like Barnes & Noble is priceless – there are just no words to describe that. I told Karl I hope someone I went to school with or met years ago thought, ‘Hey I remember so and so, she had a book published,’ because I totally do that myself. It was a huge project, which you can read about here, but an amazing one at that. A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Realtor.com and the article was published earlier this month – I am so glad so many people are loving my book!

I am not really one to brag about myself; I post the occasional update on social media when something good happens but it is few and far between. However, I have worked hard to get where I am so I think I deserve a post of bragging. Sometimes I think back to a few instances from my past, such as being pushed away for not immersing myself in design in college, or being told I wasn’t successful because I worked in a restaurant – isn’t it funny how some of those insignificant remarks can stay with a person long after the fact? Those little things have kept me going. I have been consistently busy with orders in the past year and last December I had my biggest month to date with almost hitting the 5 digit mark financially – what an amazing surprise. My list of stockists has grown to almost forty and they are always keeping me busy. I would rather have too much to do than too little, but I have a list of backup projects for when it is slow. I would love to focus more on social media and really diving into growing my Facebook page. I learned so much at Craftcation and I am really looking forward to implementing those techniques to reach a bigger audience.

Outside of work, I have had the freedom to travel and I took much advantage of that. Last month I finally attended a craft conference in California called Craftcation, which has been on my list for years. It was so worth every penny and I am so glad I went (I will have a post about it coming soon). Karl and I took a roadtrip back afterwards through Palm Springs, Joshua Tree, and Arizona. I will also be writing a post about that trip – it was too good not to share! In the past year I have also been to Jamaica, back home to Pittsburgh, camping in tons of amazing spots, up to Yellowstone and the Tetons a few times with friends and family, and all over the surrounding states, to name a few places. I got to see the eclipse in its totality and finally got to camp in a yurt for my birthday.

Samantha Hartman Joshua Tree National Park Samantha Hartman Seven Magic Mountains

Yellowstone National Park   Camping at Vedavoo in Wyoming

Grand Teton National Park

Since my schedule is a bit more flexible, I have been able to try new activities. I joined a local gym and ran my first Spartan obstacle course race in March – okay, I ran two in one weekend which was exhausting but so, so fun. I also joined the orchestra. I still have a clarinet that I played in middle school and although it has been a little hard to get back into (how do I read music again?), it is a new creative outlet and that is very important to me. I don’t want to get burnt out on making everyday so one of my goals this year is to try a new medium or activity that is different from my daily tasks. It is very easy to get lost in work when there is no set end time, and I am guilty of checking my email or posting on Instagram late at night. I have tried a few weaving pieces and took a lot of classes at Craftcation that I can do at home, such as block printing and hand crocheting. I am dying to get back into ceramics but there aren’t many options here. Karl and I made our Halloween costumes out of Paper Mache and they turned out SO good. We were the characters from Beetlejuice and ended up winning four contests at the local bars. Last summer we got into backpacking and it has been one of my favorite activities so far. We have been able to camp in some pretty amazing places just by hiking and taking everything we need with us. Our first trip was to some natural hot springs, which are one of my favorite things about living out west, and since then we have been on quite a few trips. This winter we were also able to take advantage of the winter sports here and try snowshoeing and cross country skiing. We have a list of places to visit this summer, when it finally gets here. I would love to explore more slot canyons and go back to Moab.

Hiking Bald Mountain in Utah   Camping in the Uinta Mountains

  Handmade Beetlejuice Halloween Costumes

Let’s be honest though, being your own boss does have its downsides. It is lonely. I share a shop with a talented and awesome guy named Larry and it is nice to take my dog to work with me everyday, but the creativity in my community overall is lacking. In Pittsburgh it was easy to meet those creatives for coffee to bounce ideas off of, but here is it not so easy. Going to Craftcation was like a breath of fresh air to be surrounded by those talented women for a few days and I came back full of so many ideas and feeling refueled. I am hoping to slowly bring some craftiness into Evanston but that is on my list of future plans. Back in November I taught my first craft class here, which was really fun but a great learning experience about myself and others. It is not as easy as it looks!

Teaching a craft class

It is also hard to not have a set income. After a few years of being in business I have a general idea of the slow periods and when my shops will reorder so I can stay on top of that. I try my best at keeping up on having my supplies in stock and planning to get hauls of reclaimed wood before the snow starts to fall. I have had to pay more attention to budgeting and spending; I don’t spend much on shopping or things, per say, but I do love to travel and that is where most of my extra money goes. I also have to keep track of what I spend for my business and save every receipt for taxes. Last year I did pretty well but I have to remember to set aside some time each month to update my books so I am better off in the long run.

Not having a set schedule took me a few months to get used to. I am a night person 100% and there seems to be no changing that over the years. I have my days pretty routine now but it took a bit to figure out how much time it would take me to do certain things, such as packing up orders, responding to emails, or updating listings. Some days it takes hours to pack up large orders and then I don’t have much time for anything else. Although I am not physically building the products that day, I am still working, but it doesn’t really feel that way if I don’t go to the shop. I bought a Create 365 Happy Planner this year to keep track of my tasks and it is literally the only planner that I have kept up with after the first month. Every Sunday I set aside an hour or so to plan the week and decorate it – I can finally use up all the scrapbooking stuff I have that I never use and having an attractive spread makes me want to get things done. I also subscribed to a few subscription boxes. It is easy to wake up, throw on sweatpants, and get to work, so I tried a few months of Birchbox to keep up with the self-care aspect of my life. When I was reading reviews on the different beauty boxes, some people didn’t like that Birchbox only gave sample sizes instead of large bottles. However, I liked that most. I put them all in a makeup bag so I can try them as needed or take them when I’m traveling. I am not really a makeup person anymore so it was nice to have a ‘try before I buy’ type thing, and know which products I’d like to purchase in the future in the regular size. One other monthly box I get is Sparkle Hustle Grow. It is geared towards female entrepreneurs and I have really enjoyed it so far. Their Facebook group is a great resource for staying connected with other creatives and I have received some useful tools and trainings each month. I posted an unboxing video on my Facebook, which I have linked below.

Birchbox Sparkle Hustle Grow box

Overall, I am 100% sure that I made the right decision one year ago. I do not regret it and have so many things great things coming up in the rest of 2018. To those looking to do what I did, I say go for it. You will never know unless you try and it will be a scary leap, trust me. More importantly, trust in your business and your drive to succeed. When I really think about what I wanted to do with my life, it was to be successful on my own accord, and I think I am well on my way there.

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Wood Pallet Wonders

Wood Pallet Wonders - a DIY book of 20 storage and home decor projects made from wood pallets

I am so excited to announce that my latest project, Wood Pallet Wonders: 20 Stunning DIY Storage & Decor Designs Made from Reclaimed Pallets, is officially finished! It has been a little over a year in the making and long hours of hard work, but such an amazing experience and a great feeling to see it all come together.

In my new book, I will show you how to make twenty projects from wood pallets with step-by-step instructions and images. Each piece is based around storage and home decor, while some are a combination of both. I also incorporated some reclaimed and uncommon materials so there are a few surprises in there as well! I wanted to make sure I did not limit the reader to creating just what is in the book – there are tons of other pieces you can make by simply using my directions as a guideline and adding a customized touch.

Wood Pallet Wonders - a DIY book of 20 storage and home decor projects made from wood pallets
Looking past the long nights of photo editing, trying to remember how to write a professional piece, and coming up with original ideas in a Pinterest-filled world, I really had an amazing time writing this book. It was a true test of my creativity and really pushed my skills to the test – truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.

For being a first time author, my publishing company was so easy to work with and really made the process run smooth. They offered loads of photography advice and were very patient in the beginning with my emails full of photos that just wouldn’t work. The woodshop I use is an old warehouse, so trying to get the lighting right in there literally proved impossible. I had to set up a makeshift photo booth with foam core board in the old ‘office’ area since it was the only part with a ceiling low enough to bounce light off of, and the only room with a window. That being said, I could only photograph the steps of each project on the weekends to use the natural light because by the time I got home from work in the winter months it was already dark. That alone was the single most frustrating part of the project – I had holiday travel plans and weekend activities already committed before I knew about the project so the tight deadlines meant spending every free minute in the shop. I had about four months to get all twenty projects built, photographed, edited, written up, styled, photographed again, and sent over. I thought that would be more than enough time but it went by SO fast! I was relieved that my writing did not need much editing. It was a bit harder than I had expected to write out the steps of a project. In my head I knew how to build the piece but getting it out on paper was a whole different story. However, the editor said I had a good ‘voice’ and there was not much to change aside from small things here and there.

Wood Pallet Wonders - a DIY book of 20 storage and home decor projects made from wood pallets Wood Pallet Wonders - a DIY book of 20 storage and home decor projects made from wood pallets Wood Pallet Wonders - a DIY book of 20 storage and home decor projects made from wood pallets

Although I am bummed the book is finished, seeing it all come together is the most rewarding feeling in the world. I am an author with a book at stores such as Barnes and Noble and Target! Not many people can say that. I owe a million shoutouts to those who have already preordered the book and who have supported me along the way – what a great feeling. xo

You can check out Wood Pallet Wonders on Amazon and be sure to check out #woodpalletwonders on Instagram for more sneak peeks!

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