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January 26, 2021

Interview: Erika Flores on Balancing Freelancing With a Full-Time Job

Starting a new side business on top of your normal 9-5 can seem overwhelming and unmanageable. But if done right, you can do it too! We spoke with calligrapher and illustrator Erika Flores to reveal some of the strategies she has developed to make this double life more efficient.

Photo 2020-04-25, 7 43 29 PM (1)

First, tell us a little bit about yourself.  What’s your background, and what are you doing now?

My name is Erika (pronouns: she/her) and I’m a Toronto-based calligrapher and illustrator with a modern and minimalistic style for small businesses, events, and the Thoughtful Individual who wants that unique, personal touch. For almost 2 years now, I’ve been running INKSCRPT, my small business and Etsy shop. When I’m not creating art, I’m also a full-time Policy Advisor for the Ontario government. So I guess you can say that INKSCRPT is my side hustle!

What inspired you to start freelancing and how did you find your first client?

I’m self-taught in both calligraphy and illustration but have always been into art and drawing since I was a kid. What introduced me to calligraphy, however, was when one of my close friends asked me to make her seating chart on a mirror for her wedding. I guess you can say she was my first “client”. The thing was, I had about less than a week to learn not only how to make a seating chart, but how to actually letter in calligraphy!

I started INKSCRPT first as an Instagram account (fun fact: it was originally named “Calligs” at one point) to document my calligraphy progress shortly after that wedding, while also posting some of my illustrations. Some people had begun to notice my work and inquire if I offer any services. (Some advice to people: keep on posting your work and don’t give up! People will always eventually notice a job well done 😊) 

Women Who Freelance Interviews Erika Flores

After taking on some commissions and projects, I began to realize how much I enjoyed helping people tell their stories creatively through beautiful handmade art. I started making wonderful relationships and connections and really wanted to continue helping people realize their capacity for creativity, which inspired me to take a step further. Eventually, I launched an Etsy shop in April 2019 and also started freelancing on the side!

Tell us about juggling freelance work with a 9-5 job. What are some challenges and rewards?

I work full-time as Policy Advisor at the Ontario government, which can be a high-demand, time-consuming job. The most challenging part is definitely finding time to work on my side hustle, most especially the administrative duties (that I shamefully sometimes neglect). With INKSCRPT, although I spend a big chunk of time creating and packaging art for each individual client, another large chunk requires the little things like managing finances, scheduling, content creation, invoices, contracts, etc.

However, since my 9-5 and side hustle are two very different jobs with very different skills/needs, the work I do and the relationships I make with my clients with INKSCRPT are always so rewarding. INKSCRPT never feels like another full-time job and provides me the creative break and escape I need. And the sweetest messages I get from customers always makes it worth it!!

In a typical day or a week, how do you divide your time? Are there strategies you use to make sure that everything that’s important is getting the attention it needs?

I’m extremely privileged to have a flexible job with the opportunity to work from home. Typically I try to allocate at least 4-5 hours a day to INKSCRPT work.

On a typical weekday, I leverage any break time I have from my 9-5 to work on side hustle work. I strategize my time based on the priority of tasks I need to do (i.e. deadlines, complexity, etc) and how much mental/physical effort it requires (e.g. if I have to take a longer break from 9-5 or if it can take me 5 minutes).

Some examples of a typical workday:

  • My lunch break, when the sun is out and the lighting is ideal: usually dedicated to product photography and content creating.
  • Any downtime at work (even just 5 minutes): answering emails / client DMs.
  • Around 4:30-6:30pm: using the golden hour for product photography and content creating; dropping off orders at the postal office; working on orders.
  • 9:30/10pm-11:30pm: working on orders / client work; admin work; packaging orders; etc.

Erika Flores on Balancing Freelancing With a Full-Time Job

Are there tools you use to organize your time?

I’m really minimalistic when it comes to organizing my time, as I think having too many apps or methods can be overwhelming and distracting. I find apps that have visual prompts to remind me of the important tasks and events I need to keep track of to be the most useful. Of the top of my head, some of my favourite (free) tools to use are the following apps:

  • Google Calendar (scheduling)
  • Evernote (to-do lists; notes)
  • Reminders
  • Streaks (this is paid, but I use it for the things that are for my well-being that I tend to neglect when I get busy. Ex. Exercise, meal prep, stretches, taking lunch… even drinking water!)

As my business grows, I’m considering using a client management tool such as Honeybook to consolidate the different tools I need, including managing my time and clients… Still doing my research, so any advice will be appreciated!

How do you set boundaries in your side freelance business to avoid overcommitting? Do you tell potential clients up-front that you have a full-time job?

With INKSCRPT, I have both an Etsy shop and commission work. Although I prioritize my Etsy shop, I do get quite a bit of inquiries about commission work and projects outside of Etsy.

To set boundaries and avoid burnout, I typically take on a maximum of 2 commissions outside of Etsy per month. These are usually significantly higher paid as well, to make the extra work worth it. Any more than that are usually scheduled for the next month or turned down.

I also make a point to respond to client work only within certain hours and on weekdays.

Clients usually already know I have a full-time job. I’ve had very understanding and sweet clients and inquirers to date, so I’m very lucky to say I haven’t had a problem with turning down some offers or setting boundaries on time. 

Would you ever consider turning your side-hustle into your main hustle?

As of right now, no. I really enjoy being a Policy Advisor for the government, not to mention the stability of being able to take breaks from INKSCRPT without stressing about the financial repercussions of it. My 9-5 helps me keep up with my 5-9.

Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring calligraphers and illustrators out there, hoping to make it?

I’m also still growing as a small (side) business owner myself, but here are 3 things I’ve learned so far that I hope can give others some hope and motivation as well:

  1. Just do it – Nike knew what they were doing when they came up with this slogan. Make the damn Instagram account. Post the damn picture or video. Message the damn brand or account you’ve been wanting to work with. I personally find that my best work and connections either came out of an impulse or a result of me pushing aside my usual overthinking and just diving in. This is an introvert speaking.
  2. Pace yourself – don’t compare your Day 1 to someone else’s Day 365. Each person has their own unique circumstances and goes through life at different stages, paces, and routes. So work hard, take the breaks you need to, but always remember to go at your own pace.
  3. Be kind and patient to yourself – there’s a reason why they call it “growing pains”. Keep on experimenting with different mediums, surfaces, tools, etc – even if you hate the result. Everything will feel like trial and error (lots of error). You will feel imposter syndrome, but always remember that work of art you created… in the end, it was all you! And in the end, if you still had some fun with it, wasn’t that time worth it anyway?

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