An accidental entrepreneur, that's what I call myself when people ask how I started my own art/craft show and event planning business. Never would I have imagined going into business for myself at the age of 25. What started off as a passionate hobby of crafting, accidentally evolved into a full time job. To fully understand where I'm coming from, maybe I should start from the beginning.
Growing up, I attended a variety of art and craft events with my mother on the weekends. It was definitely a bonding activity we did together for "just the girls," as I grew up in a household with two older brothers. As I got older, I should have noticed my entrepreneurial spirit would end up being my life path. At 10-years-old, I would go around the house trying to sell pencils to my family members for 10 cents. Then, in high school, I would go door-to-door offering to paint addresses on the curbs of the neighbor's homes for $10 per house, a business I inherited from my older brother who just left for college at the time. Later, in high school and college, I held various jobs with sales incentives, and won nearly every sales contest. There was just something about the thrill that made me want to succeed and take on a challenge and lead the way. Funny that at the time I didn't see the entrepreneurial signs. But it was only a matter of time before we crossed paths.
After graduating college in 2008 with a degree in Communications and an emphasis on Public Relations, I worked at a couple of ad agencies specializing in event planning, social media and public relations. On the side, I also began taking cake-decorating classes at a local craft store to feed my creative energy. Upon completing the courses, I came up with the idea to sell my items at local arts and craft shows for fun (again that unknown entrepreneurial drive). Not to mention, being 24 at the time, I could use any extra income I could get living on a Ramen Noodle diet fresh out of college.
As I started to attend these shows, I noticed there was a large generation gap with the products being sold, and what appealed to me vs. the veteran craft scene attendees and crafters. It was only a matter of time before the entrepreneurial wheels in my head began to turn. I began to toy with the idea of starting a new generation of art and craft events, focusing on unconventional, funkier and out-of-the box items. Basically, a show that would wipe away the stereotypical stigma of arts and craft shows being focused on potholders, stockings and doilies. Thus, I launched my first show shortly after my 25th birthday in June of 2011, known as the Avant-Garde Art & Craft Show. The first event featured 45 eclectic vendors I had found through the power of social media, Etsy and recruiting at local handmade events.
The shows were a hit, featuring items such as: vases made out of recycled light bulbs, hand-grown herbal tea, jewelry from upsycled vintage finds, photography that looked like letters of the alphabet, home décor items, including jewelry holders made out of driftwood and wire, and much more. I quickly found as the show gained momentum, the demand and interest in the Avant-Garde show line grew. What started with 45 vendors quickly has grown to more than 135 per show in less than a year. On top of that, we were receiving anywhere from 500-1,200 customers per show, and my vendor lists grew from about 100 vendors to over 2,000 in this same time period. I quickly began to realize there definitely was a market for this, and I was excited. It was also thrilling to be able to combine my love of the arts with my event planning, social media and public relations background. Because of that, I was able to take these shows and begin to transform the local arts scene in my community.
While the process was exciting, moonlighting as an entrepreneur while working a full-time job during the week was definitely trying. My family would actually joke that I worked two full-time jobs, which actually was pretty true. Eventually something had to give, and in April of 2012 it did. After recently landing the cover of a major local magazine for their arts and entertainment issue, I was brought into the office of my-then advertising job and was told by the owners that they needed someone 100 percent committed to the agency. It was their fear that I wasn't, as my side job was taking off and at times, taking time away from my fulltime job. I was fired on April 24, 2012.
At the time, I was devastated, especially never having been fired from a job, and especially because I wasn't planning on losing my job or going solo for at least few years, if at all. It was that night, after having a good ugly cry (as I like to call it), I decided that I was going to pursue this dream and see where it took me. I figured, I'm in my 20s, I'm not married, I don't have kids, I already have a great thing going, if there is anytime to do this, it's now. So I did.
Looking back on it, losing my job was the push I needed to fly from the nest and spread my wings. Without that, I could have missed one of the greatest life adventures and opportunities I've experienced to date. Who is to say I would have never left my day job, and left behind my dream of truly pursuing a career in what I love? To this day, I may never know, but the opportunity that was handed to me that day -- or rather forced upon me -- has been the best I have ever experienced. I can take something I'm passionate about, designate my own hours, work from my home office, and also help others achieve their own goals of selling their items and launching their own businesses.
I'm still definitely a start-up, officially full time since that fateful day in April, and I still have so much to learn. I'm a one-woman show doing everything from logistics, blogging, social media, public relations, managing my books, coordinating with vendors, recruiting vendors and everything in between. I'm fortunate enough to be able to support myself financially with this new career, and have the privilege to be able to work with amazing talent each day.
In addition, I also have the ability to support local charities and give back to the communities surrounding me. From each event that is held, I donate a portion to local non-profits, to help keep money in local businesses and stimulate the economy. A list of supported charities and funds raised can be found at the Avant-Garde Art & Craft Show website.
Overall, my goal is to continue to thrive and grow as a young entrepreneur and evolve my brand. The doors of opportunity that have opened since founding the Avant-Garde Art & Craft Shows occur each day. I've since launched Rebecca Adele Events, a company that specializes in event planning, social media and public relations. I've also learned that asking for help is okay. I've recently brought on an intern, and have a great group of friends and mentors that I turn to for advice when I can't make up my mind on something, or just need someone to listen.
I've never been a numbers person, so hiring a great accountant to triple check my work has also helped tremendously -- something I recommend to anyone who is starting a business. I've also joined Ladies-who-Launch, a networking organization for female entrepreneurs. This has also been a great learning tool and allows me the opportunity to meet like-minded women entrepreneurs. I also make it a point to regularly read books on female businesses, start-ups and the industries in which I work. Each week, I also make it a priority to set aside an hour to read online articles that are relevant to both of my businesses to stay up-to-date and relevant on industry trends.
It really is amazing how far I've come in even just a little over a year. Prior to being a full-fledged entrepreneur, I always thought that I would continue in my career path working at an advertising agency doing event planning, social media and public relations for someone else. I actually used to say I would never want to work for myself because of the stress and responsibility that comes with running your own business. My tune has definitely changed. While it can be stressful, I've actually come to learn that I do my best in leading and making executive decisions, rather than being told how to do something and working under someone else. Paired with the fact that I get bored in doing the same thing every day, working with different vendors at the art shows, and different clients in my event company, allows me the flexibility to be as creative as I want in my day-to-day job. For that reason alone, pursuing my career as a young entrepreneur is something that I would never change, even if it was an accident!
Follow Becki Cooper on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BeccaBeee