I had a great time at the Thinklandia event DIY/DNA. 🙂
I did a short presentation called How My DIY Project Became My Career and then sat on a panel and discussed DIY Culture in Victoria BC. The whole night was so fun …
It’s the first “professional” thing I’ve done since the cancer diagnosis and it was nice to be out and about again and just be my regular vegan superstar self. ha ha.
Below is a transcript of my presentation. We were only allowed 6-10 minutes and I tried to make it brief but I probably could have talked about this subject for 3 hours. Ha ha. Let me know what you think of it. 🙂
I first want to say that I’m probably going to have a hot flash while I do my presentation. I’m in the throws of menopause and it’s a nightmare. So if you want to see a middle-aged woman have a hot flash. Sit down and enjoy the show.
The number one question I get is “how do I turn my DIY project into my career?” and truth be told I don’t think there is a magic answer. In our case it was a matter of right place/right time but also when someone handed me the ball – I was prepared and I ran with it.
My first cookbook was HIAV but a lot of people don’t know that it actually started as a 50 page zine that we printed and bound ourselves in my living room.
Behold. The magic of Publisher 98.
We first gave them away as gifts for x-mas and response was so overwhelming that we made 1000 more copies started selling them at punk rock shows and via the internet (which in 1998 was a brand new baby at the time).
We sold out almost immediately and I had a light bulb go off and I naively thought “Let’s get a book deal”. I wrote a cheeky book proposal and we did some research on publishers. It was important to me to have someone Canadian, hopefully a publisher that was local but most importantly I wanted a publisher that had similar politics and wouldn’t stifle our message about veganism because even though on the surface it looks like just a cookbook – it’s actually is a political manifesto about vegansim and with it we are trying to end animal suffering but we are presenting it in a fun and appetizing way because it’s a cookbook.
So we sent out 6 or so book proposals but in truth there was only one publishing house that we wanted and that was Arsenal Pulp in Vancouver. We put all the book proposals in the mailbox but the Arsenal envelope we saved for last. We even kissed it before we put it in the mailbox. And 3 days later Brian Lam from Arsenal Pulp called with an offer to publish our book.
I don’t think that’s how it normally happens but …I really think we got lucky with right place/right time but because we were prepared HIAV became the best selling book Arsenal Pulp has had to date and that success begat our second book Garden of Vegan.
After Garden of Vegan – Tanya decided to leave our partnership to pursue a career in nursing and I decided to keep riding the vegan wave. My solo book La Dolce Vegan was a huge success and then came Vegan A Go-Go, 2 years of Go Vegan calendars and an iphone app called Go Vegan w/Sarah Kramer.
After 10+ years of writing books I decided I wanted to take a little break from writing and stretch some other creative muscles so I opened Sarah’s Place – which was a vegan lifestyle boutique in Market Square in 2011.
So while I don’t think there is one way to turn your DIY project into a career – I would like to share with you a few of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the last 15 years of being a vegan superstar.
I know it doesn’t sound very punk rock to have a lawyer but if you decide to go into business for yourself – whether it’s to be a vegan cookbook author or an artist or to open up your own business. Eventually you’re will need a lawyer.
When I opened Sarah’s Place (my little vegan boutique) Market Square handed me a lease was over 75 pages long and as thick as a phonebook.
You need a lawyer who can make sure you’re not signing something you can’t get out of. I can’t tell you how many of my friends have called me freaking out because they signed some shitty book deal.
They were SO flattered to be offered a book deal that they didn’t even bother to read the contract. You have to have someone look at the contract and make sure it’s something you actually want to sign.
I know it doesn’t sound very punk rock to have a business plan. But I have found that anytime you start a new project having a business plan is very handy.
Every single project I’ve worked on starts with me daydreaming with a pad of paper and a pen. Having a business plan allows you to streamline your idea and when it’s down on paper you can refer back to it when you’re feeling lost and you can make sure you’re headed towards your original goal.
When you start a business plan – you have to ask What Is The Goal? As creative people we are all bubbling over with ideas so it’s important when you start a new project to have a specific goal in mind so you can boil your ideas down to a simple condensed idea.
Your business plan doesn’t have to be fancy. It can be as simple as a list of things things that are important to you.
For example with HIAV and all my other cookbooks I knew that my audience wasn’t just punk rock vegans. My goal was to make the vegan lifestyle simple, not intimidating and most importantly accessible to everyone no matter where you live.
So if you lived in San Fran or Vancouver or Regina Saskatchewan these were easy to make recipes with easy to find ingredients. You could go to Safeway and get everything you needed for a well balanced vegan meal.
The same when we opened Tattoo Zoo. We wanted to create a shop that catered to EVERYONE not just cool kids. We wanted your daughter, your mother and your grandmother to feel comfortable in our shop and we want to give you a beautiful quality tattoo.
Same with Sarah’s Place. My goal was to serve an under served client-base in town and on the web. I also wanted a business that was related to my cookbooks. I wanted to support and promote vegan products. About 80% of what i sold was made by people that I know and almost everything was hand made or made by someone who was making a cool product that also happened to be vegan. And lastly I wanted a place where I could bring my dog to work.
Whatever project you are working on – make it special. When I started writing cookbooks I realized that there are a thousand and one cookbooks in the marketplace and I didn’t want to be like everyone else.
I spent a lot of time looking at other cookbooks and made a list of what I liked and more importantly what I didn’t like – then I added it to my business plan so that when it came time to work on the cookbook I had a clear vision of what I wanted and I was able to voice my vision when working with the Arsenal team. I wanted to do something recognizable as a cookbook but also unique.
I saw Paul Smith (the UK mensware designer) talking about his work and how he looks for that “squirt of lemon” in everything he does and it really resonates with me.
You know when you might go on a lovely holiday and everything’s perfect and then on the last night you’re putting some lemon on your meal and some juice goes in your eye.
THAT’S the thing when you’re telling your friends about your holiday. THAT’S the story you lead with. The time you got lemon in your eye.
With everything you create you have got to have something that people go away with and remember. Ask yourself “where’s the squirt of lemon?” If you don’t see it … you have more daydreaming to do.
The thing you need to always remember is that with any project of any scale – you are going to run into roadblocks but what you do with the roadblocks will determine your success.
The trick is to not panic (easier said then done) and to remember that these roadblocks are actually a blessing and they will push you in a direction you weren’t expecting. But your product will always better for it. I promise you.
So if you don’t panic. Give yourself time to daydream up a creative solution. Try to remember that you need to be a little flexible – but don’t worry – because if you know what your goal is – and you’ve done your homework with the businesses plan – you won’t lose your way – I promise you it always works out in the end as long as you keep moving forward towards your goal.
I think one thing that holds a lot of people back from completing projects is fear.
Fear of failure. Fear of not being smart enough or not being good enough or cool enough of not having enough education or not enough money.
You have to trust the process. Whatever that is for you. Every single one of us has a way of processing information and then expressing it through whatever creative outlet we choose and your job is to figure out what works best for you.
For me? It’s about daydreaming. I used to think I was lazy but now I recognize that laying around staring at the clouds is part of my process.
Like I said before I write all my ideas down onto a pad of paper. Even the crazy ideas and I look at it like a puzzle. This piece fits here and this piece fits here – and as the project starts to come together – everything starts to fit. I don’t think about the final product when I’m daydreaming but I do think about the goal. What is the goal? And then I trust my process.
And it might not look like how everyone else does it but it doesn’t matter because it works for me. You need to figure out what works for you.
My last piece of advice is to get Critical Illness insurance. Again. it doesn’t sound very punk rock to go talk to someone about life insurance but as self-employed people in a creative field (most of us do not have the proper insurance).
My husband and I are both self employed and we decided we needed to make sure our family was protected. We NEVER thought we would need to cash it in but in Jan of 2013 I found a lump in my right breast that turned out to be breast cancer. Because we had purchased Critical Illness insurance I was able to to use that money to close up my beloved Sarah’s Place store without burdening my family’s finances.
We packed everything up and put it into storage so I could focus on the cancer treatment that I needed to do.
If we didn’t have Critical Illness insurance – it could have easily bankrupted us and ruined my husbands business.
So my final piece of advice is if you have a lump – go get it checked out but make sure you have a Critical Illness policy first. Take care of yourself and your family.
Thank you so much.