Why I took a big break from my business

Last year I relaunched my brand and web design business with a new niche. I was really excited to lean in to my love of vintage aesthetics, and just my nerdy side when it comes to art history.

By March of this year, I was putting my website into Maintenance Mode and announcing my de-Girlbossification era.

I was suffering with some major burn out. Partially because my business is a “side hustle” alongside my full-time job. My full-time job and business are both design-based, which means one isn’t really a break from another. And I felt tapped out creatively. I felt tired. And I didn’t want to spend my weekends at my desk. I began to resent putting the work in.

This resentment was compounded by the fact that no matter how much I worked on my business, I wasn’t really seeing results. I think this is because while I was really invested in my niche, and I could see the vision, it just wasn’t something that the people really wanted. I saw a gap in the market and wanted to fill it, but it didn’t need filling.

Even after time away, I still love it. I still see the vision. Just imagine: a brand and web designer who specialises in nostalgic design. Nostalgia is a proven sales tool, people eat up retro trends and buy things that remind them of “better” times. I saw myself working with businesses who wanted something timeless, built on solid design foundations, supported by art history (I even took an Art Nouveau art history course with continuing education at Oxford University!). I saw myself working with vintage-inspired fashion brands, historical places like country houses and hotels, antique shops, museums, record stores… you name it.

Maybe if I had 40+ hours per week to dedicate to that vision it would have gone better. But it’s hard to build something from nothing on limited time. And I just couldn’t build the momentum. I couldn’t build the audience. And it frustrated me to no end.

It’s also hard to build an audience and break into a new niche when you don’t have a lot of wiggle room. Because my business is a side hustle on top of my salary, everything I make automatically falls into a higher tax bracket for me. Which means, in order to profit from any of the work that I do, I have to mark it up by 40% to account for that tax. It’s tricky to get people to pay for something at that price point when the business model isn’t very established. And I couldn’t really cut my prices and still deliver to the quality that I envisaged.

Obviously, quitting my job so I have more time and fewer taxes is not an option, and I was so burnt out anyway, that the only choice was to press pause. I did also try to pivot to something that would work for a one-to-many audience rather than a one-to-one, hoping to optimise time and increase impact. But after feeling like a “failure,” my heart wasn’t in it.

It’s hard to not feel jealousy sometimes for the people who are able to just go for it, start their own business, and thrive. The reality of my situation is that I need the income from my salary to live the life to which I have become accustomed and I can’t compromise that.

Half a year later, and I’ve made some big changes in my life, and while I haven’t solved the above problems, I am feeling like taking another stab at business ownership, albeit in a more casual way. I’m un-niching, going back to basics, and looking to offer a more generalised service. And I’m trying to not put too much pressure on myself, and be realistic about my capacity.

But that’s for another entry, which I will hopefully get into soon!