I take my hat off to side hustlers. Not only are they working a full-time job, but they're running a business on the side. Pretty impressive! In this edition of the Side Hustle Blog series, we're going to get to know Kris Taft Miller.
Hey, Kris. Thanks so much for stopping by. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your business.
I started at Disney Animation right out of college and worked there for 8 years. When I left to move across the country to get married, I started my own little graphic design company, which is now about 12 years ago. I have been lucky enough to continue to do projects for Disney, as well as hundreds of other companies around the world. A couple months ago I started looking for creative opportunities that allowed me to explore my own creative interests to balance the corporate projects that make up most of my day. I started making digital wall art, teaching materials, and carving wood holiday ornaments! Definitely changed things up for my daily schedule and keeps things interesting!
Wow, that sounds so cool! Working a side hustle can be challenging. What has been the most challenging aspect of building your business?
Starting two new side business has been a learning challenge. I hadn’t had to search for how to market myself in over a decade. Learning the new online marketing tools and how to use them, from social media to Pinterest and so on, has been the most challenging and the most rewarding.
How do you handle it?
I have enjoyed exploring the many supportive Facebook groups and still have a long way to go with that. I am learning more and more about Pinterest and using YouTube and those same supportive Facebook groups to ensure I am utilizing Pinterest to its fullest.
I find success with Facebook and Pinterest, too. Kris, what’s a typical day schedule for you? How many hours a week do you work?
There aren’t many typical days anymore! Depending on what demands my “real” job has on me, I try to accomplish as much of the corporate project needs as I can in the morning, hopefully allowing some time each day to spend on either digital design projects for my Etsy shop or my TPT shop. At least a few hours a week are spent in the woodworking shop in our garage making state ornaments out of weathered cedar in preparation for the busy holiday season.
How do you manage your projects?
Organization is obviously vital when going in this many directions. Unfortunately, I am not naturally an organized person. I rely on such high-tech tools as post-it notes and lists, lots and lots of lists. From a notepad by my bed to a notepad on my phone to the many notepads in my office.
I'm a notepad girl myself! I've had to say no to some things in order to make my business work. What did you have to let go of or sacrifice in order to allow your business to blossom?
Time. There is never enough time to get what I want to get done. I have two sons who I love spending time with. Luckily, they enjoy hanging out in my office learning about what I am doing or in the workshop, making their own creations. Fortunately, I love what I do, so spending that time seems like less of a sacrifice.
I have two sons also who are learning about social media management and graphic design, simply because of my business. Teach them young, I say! What are some tools or people (professionals included) that have helped you to cultivate your hustle?
I have read it many times since joining TPT (Teachers Pay Teachers) a couple months ago and I could not agree more, that quality over quantity is vital. Along this same line, word of mouth, referrals, references, and so on, have been the key to all three of my business ventures.
How do you know when you need a break from your business? Do you ever get tired?
That is a hard question. Typically, when my eyes are blurry it's a good sign I need a weekend off. I try to always keep a balance of family and work. Since creating my design company 12 years ago I have worked hard at that and still do.
Twelve years is a long time. What is one of your biggest upsets/setbacks/fails as a side hustler/business owner?
I don’t think there is any one big failure or setback that I am plagued by. I think rather that the slow start of my print design business is hard not to be disheartened by. I am slightly overwhelmed by all of the marketing and social media methods available and clearly essential to success in the Etsy and TPT realm. Learning more every day, though!
Kris, what advice would you give to individuals just starting out? What do they need to know?
Everything takes time. So be patient, learn as much as you can from whoever is willing to share their expertise. Do your best work and figure out how to get it in front of the right audience.
How have you adjusted your boys' schedules to your business?
My boys have grown up with me working at home. They are used to the client phone calls that they need to tiptoe around, the late nights that sometimes happen, although not frequently, and their mother’s need to be creative. When they were younger I worked during naps and had a babysitter for six hours a week. Those days were much harder. Now that they are in school and are so much more self-sufficient, I think them getting a front row seat to my businesses every day is great for them. They especially love the ornament store, because there is an actual product they can hold!
Sounds like my house with my boys. What are your top three tips you can give that has helped during your business journey?
Always be open. Don’t close yourself off from an opportunity or a new endeavor. I did not plan on making teaching materials but a good friend suggested it would be a good use of my creativity and interest in designing for myself.
Take your time. Although time is often my enemy in that I never seem to have enough of it, I believe strongly that success takes time. Trying to do something quickly will no doubt produce something less than deserving of your name.
Do something you love. This might seem obvious but I have always loved my job and I have given that advice many times over the years to friends who did not. I also keep telling my sons to find something they love doing because work is every day and for a long long time so make sure you enjoy your day!
That's great advice, Kris. What did you do first to build your clientele/customer base?
This question has a different answer for each business. Twelve years ago, when I started KT Design, LLC I relied on my website and my client's references. That approach worked well for me at the time and I am grateful for that. I cannot stress enough that referrals and word of mouth is the most important thing to my design business and has been responsible for most of my clientele. For the more recent business ventures, I have relied on the power of SEO, social media, and Pinterest.
What was your strategy to charge what you deserve in your business?
In all three of my businesses I believe I work really hard and need to ensure that I am charging what I believe makes it worthwhile. I don’t think undercutting yourself is ever the answer. I think you should start with the top of what you want for your service/product and what you think you deserve. This also leaves you with room to discount occasionally or for special offers for VIP customers.
How were you able to get your spouse on board with your vision?
I am lucky that my husband has always been very supportive of my home business. Even when I took over part of his garage, although that did give him pause, for the woodworking ornament shop. He would love nothing more than for me to be successful so he can retire early and relax on a lake :-).
Your husband sounds like a real trooper! What are your favorite tools that help you manage your to-do lists and time?
This goes back to my high tech post-it notes and notepads. I would be lost without them.
What’s next for your business, Kris? Are you working towards going full-time? Anything else you'd like to share?
I am still super new to the online digital design store and the ornament store. I am hoping to expand both of these into more of my day-to-day endeavors. As I keep saying, though, my “real” work gets in my way. And since that is what pays the bills, so to speak, and something I do still get great reward out of, I will continue to make that a priority. Pursuing my “side” businesses is more of a labor of love.
Kris, you've been awesome. Thanks so much for sharing with our readers.
To learn more about Kris:
Kris Taft Miller owns KT Design, LLC (www.ktdesignllc.com) which specializes in all graphic design projects. Ranging from logos, websites, books, magazines, advertisements, icons, marketing materials and so on. She recently opened US Rustic Designs (www.usrusticdesigns.com) which produces custom state ornaments out of weathered cedar planks. She enjoyed this endeavor so much, she decided to open another store specializing in print designs of her own creativity for wall art, teaching supplies, chalkboard prints, cards and more (www.printdesignsbykris.com).
I'd love to feature other side hustlers so reach out and contact me.