When the Side Hustle Fails

There has been a huge push in the last decade to turn hobbies into income. This entrepreneurial spirit is embedded in our culture now and is a frequent narrative in the books I read and podcasts I listen to. Everywhere they are preaching the freedom of an entrepreneurial lifestyle. I feel embarrassed when I create work that doesn’t sell or wasn’t made to be sold. It is almost as if spending time on something you enjoy isn’t enough. The time has to be spent bringing in an income. So much so, that I wrapped up my creative musings into a bonafide ‘side hustle’ AKA a side business, and I called it Crazy Cat Lady Katie.

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Crazy Cat Lady Katie was a functioning shop on Etsy. I sold custom cat portraits that I would digitally illustrate. I bought frames and other props at thrift stores, I printed out mock-up products for each, and I staged product photos to show customers what they were buying. I created 20+ individual products and over 25 listings. I also set up a facebook page, a facebook group to help me percolate ideas, and an instagram account. This was a TON of work. And I hadn’t even sold one product yet.

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As time went on I did make some sales. In fact I have made 20 sales. But because I was competing with other shops I had to price my services way below my hourly design rate. $85 below my hourly design rate to be exact. So I was getting frustrated that I wasn’t getting paid for my actual time. And customers kept asking me to do more than I actually offered which caused my rate to get even lower. This was super draining on me. Keeping customer service as a high priority I tried to always put my customers first but that ended with me getting bitter and feeling taken advantage of.

Then my side business received a death blow. I was asked by a local animal shelter to have a vendor booth at an event they were hosting. This didn’t really fit with what I was doing but I couldn’t muster up the ability to turn down such a noble cause. I sell digital products so I had to create my booth display from scratch. I decided to invest in my business and help out this organization. I decided to give it a try.

BIG mistake. They stuck my booth outside by a dumpster and it was a windy day (I have paper products so you can just envision that). Products I created just for the event were blowing off my table and a dog even peed on one of my custom created displays. Not only did I spend $100+ on making all the displays and hours of time putting it together and manning the booth, but I also created a silent auction display and offered my services with all the money going to the charity. This was an even BIGGER mistake. The lady who won my auction item, faught me on a technicality of how I worded the winning prize. The winning prize was one pet portrait but I didn’t specifically say it could only be one pet…

Yep, you guessed it. She demanded I do all SIX of her pets as one portrait. She had won the silent auction paying less than the value of the prize ($30) and was now demanding I do six portraits for free (the auction money went to the charity). I just died inside. It takes me about 2 hours to do each portrait and my freelance design rate (not what I was charging for the items) is $100 an hour. So she was demanding $1200 worth of work on top of the money and time I spent on setting up and manning the booth. Being terrified of a bad review for my new business I tried to talk her down as politely as possible. But she kept insisting I do the work. Time went on and I offered her an apology and a full refund which she declined. I than offered her a full refund and I offered to match her donation to the charity for the auction item which she declined. I would be out $60 but that was a heck of a lot better than doing $1200 of work for free!

When all was said and done I ended up doing three of her pets and having her agree that we were done. This just broke me. I had stuck an unbelievable amount of time (and money) into this side business only to feel resentful, drained, bitter, and completely defeated. Crazy Cat Lady Katie has been closed ever since. My Etsy shop is on permanent vacation, my instagram account is now a place where I feature photos of my cats, and the facebook page and facebook group have gone dark. I have absolutely no ambition to touch the damn thing. What started as a fun idea has now become a constant reminder of failure.

I don’t know if I will ever resuscitate Crazy Cat Lady Katie, but I do know I have learned how being taken advantage of can crush me and any ambition I have for creation. I have to draw a line in the sand upfront in the future and protect my work’s worth and value. Sometimes an opportunity just doesn’t fit with your business. Not everything is a great opportunity for exposure or a good idea. Even if it comes disguised as helping a noble cause.