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Career changes & running a small business during the pandemic

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A write-up of our recent IG Live with the brilliant Rosie Johnson.

We spoke to Rosie from Rosie Johnson Illustrates about her career changes, making the leap from being a teacher into self-employment and her successful career as an illustrator, and how she’s coping with the current pandemic as a small business.  

Rosie is an Exeter Etsy team captain and champion of the Just A Card campaign, and loves to combine her illustrations with motivation and the odd political opinion on her brilliant Instagram page.

Here’s the write-up of our IG Live chat on career changes & running a small business during the pandemic:

Nicki from Pedddle: Rosie, why don’t you tell us a bit about you, your background and where you are now?

Rosie: I was a Primary School teacher for 15 years, I’m from a family of teachers. I started with a drama degree and made some lifelong friends, and then I decided to do a PGCE. I love kids and my mum’s a teacher too, so for those 15 years (well, maybe the first 10!) it was great and I loved it with all my heart, but after I had kids and went part-time I felt I couldn’t be both the teacher I wanted to be and also parent the way I wanted to. I began to feel it wasn’t for me, when I’d really loved it before. 

I had a children’s book up my sleeve that I’d wanted to work on for a while, some wedding invitations I’d been asked to design and so on, so I decided to give myself a term off from teaching and then thought I’d perhaps pick some teaching supply work up afterwards. I didn’t plan to finish teaching altogether, but in the first year or two I took it a term at a time and had my teaching career as a fallback – but after the first year I didn’t need to supply, my illustration took off! 

Nicki: I was a teacher for 18 years, and dropping down to part time definitely feels more of a disconnect – I felt I didn’t quite have the same relationship with the kids I taught when I was seeing them less. There seems to be a lot of ex-teachers in the creative community! What 3 things do you wish you’d known before making the career leap? 

Rosie: I wish I’d known I could’ve taken the career leap earlier. Looking back, I could have changed path a couple of years before I actually did, but I did question who I’d be if I wasn’t a teacher. I was almost shy of saying ‘I’m an Illustrator’, but now I say it with confidence! 

I also wish I’d know about the process of seeking work and the rotation of doing and seeking more work. At first I found the cycle difficult to get in to – you need to plan ahead and look for work for the coming months, rather than just doing the part you’re on at the moment. As with everything, forward planning is key! However, I’m glad the process was authentic and I learnt as I went along.

Nicki: Did you have any ‘aha’ moments where you realised how good it felt making that leap? 

Rosie: Yes, lots! I LOVE the feeling that if it goes wrong, you don’t have to save it, you can accept that a certain thing didn’t work and just move on and try something else! I’ve also discovered my work ethic – I always thought I was a lazy person, but doing something you love really makes a difference and you work so much harder. 

It’s also taught me to listen to my gut instinct more. I get to say no to things, which feels great! I never feel pushed into anything – if there’s a commission I don’t want to do, I simply decline. 

Nicki: What skills were most transferable from your teaching career? 

Teaching really teaches you to be really good with people! Whether it’s difficult or upset kids, cross parents, stressed parents, you really have it all to deal with. The idea of persuading a little person into something is just like marketing and PR – it makes you a great communicator and great at storytelling – and capturing the imagination is key for creating a brand. 

It also gave me adaptability – as a teacher you have to think on your feet, as lesson plans never go to plan! 

Community is a biggie – at first I really missed my colleagues dearly, it sounds cheesy but this community of creatives, stallholders and small business owners has so much support, these are like my new colleagues. You really do feel so supported. 

Nicki: Working at home can feel lonely at times, but there is such a great creative community and we really are all there for one another, there’s always someone you can reach out and talk to. 

Your posts are so relatable, such as your recent IG post about ‘unskilled’ workers who are now classed as ‘essential’, and the change in thought, language and media labels during the pandemic. You put your opinions and views across really well and the things you write truly connect with people (so your storytelling and creativity comes out really well too).

How did the pandemic affect you personally, especially how you sell and the way you moved forward? 

Rosie: I’ve always loved drawing my reactions to things. Political stuff is massive for me – whether we like it or not, this is a political situation, given the choices made, avoidable mistakes and so on. I really love the Simple Politics Instagram page.

Before, I would have just voiced my thoughts to my friends and family and perhaps had a rant, but now I have a public voice and people appreciate the honesty and the fact I put an opinion forward. It opens up the discussion and it’s nice that people feel able to voice their opinions too, it makes them feel like they’re not the only one who’s had these thoughts. Communication is especially important during this pandemic, when we all feel a bit lost at times.

With selling, at first, like most people, I was worried about pursuing sales during the pandemic, but then I’d have been out of business! People are still happy to pay for things. I’m happy to pay for other people’s stuff and support a small business, so why wouldn’t they feel the same about me? It’s lovely to treat yourself and your friends too. It’s ok to still make money and buy things for yourself as well. 

Nicki: I had the same concerns, as have lots of Pedddle’s stallholders. However, we all need these little services right now, we all need to support one another and buying each other’s goods keeps the economy flowing. 

Has anything changed your opinion on family and friends and the world of buying and business? 

Rosie: It’s really highlighted how well our little home unit works – my husband is brilliant at home-schooling our 2 kids (he’s currently furloughed).

The hardest thing is not being able to hug my parents – they only live down the road, and not being able to cuddle them is awful. It’s definitely highlighted for everyone that the things we need most are love, connection, family and friends.

It’s solidified how lucky I am and how much I really LOVE a cuddle! 

Nicki: In light of that, what things do you love most and what would you ditch or change after lockdown?

1. Community – both online and literally on my road – people are putting toys out for the kids etc, my neighbours have been lovely. I know I can rely on all of my neighbours and there’s an extra layer of security I can count on. 

2. The Key Workers – I appreciated the NHS before, but it’s a real testament to all those amazing people in the NHS and beyond that they haven’t been overwhelmed by everything. Our NHS continues to do us proud, as always. The NHS Million Instagram page is worth a look.

3. Don’t always go for obvious & easy choices! As a consumer, I’ve really appreciated my local grocery stores, and if it costs 50p more than a big supermarket I don’t care – I want to shop more locally, shop more independently and really put my money where my mouth is, for everyday groceries too. It matters less that it’s immediate, and more that I get the right goods and they are of quality, so I’ll be more patient! 

You can find more about Rosie and her brilliant illustrations on her website

Other links: Rosie is a HUGE fan of Leona at Indie Roller – as are we at Pedddle! Her Instagram is also worth checking out.