3 Tips I Learned in My First Year as an Entrepreneur

Author and artist Sara A. Noe standing in front of her booth at an outdoor market


I didn’t plan to become an entrepreneur. To be honest, the pressure of planning and establishing my own business was daunting. I didn’t want to assume all of that risk.

But in the years after college as I jumped from job to job, burning out every time and then looking for something new that could hold my interest for a while and pay the bills, I started to realize that I was getting really, really tired of wasting so much of my time working to make someone else’s dream come true.

I wanted to publish books so I could share the stories in my head with other people. I wanted to create art. And I wanted those passions to become a sustainable career so I didn’t have to spend my life creating content for someone else’s business instead of my own.

I published my first book in 2018 while working a full-time job. After the pandemic, when my work-from-home job became a return-to-the-office job, I quit. I already wasted enough of my valuable time working a day job; I didn’t want to add an unpaid commute back into the equation and lose even more time. I started working remotely, writing website content on a per-project basis rather than an hourly rate. The goal was to continue working as a freelancer while I slowly transitioned my business into a sustainable, full-time career.

Life had other plans. I lost my steady remote job in March of 2022. Faced with the choice of sending out my resume and starting the job hunt again or taking the plunge, I decided to invest in my own business.

It’s been a little over a year since that pivotal, life-changing decision, and I’ve learned a lot. I wanted to take a moment and share three pieces of advice I discovered about entrepreneurship.

1. Set Up Auto-Transfers to Build Your Savings

It’s SO easy to tell yourself, “I’ll transfer some money next time; I need everything I can get right now to pay bills and reinvest in inventory.” And then next time, you tell yourself the same thing. And again. And again.

I was guilty of doing this during the first year of my business being full-time. What happened? When it came time to pay the sales taxes I was supposed to have set aside throughout the year, my procrastination bit me in the ass. I had to scramble to pool enough money together because I hadn’t been proactive enough to tuck away a little bit from each event into one designated savings account.

I actually have two pieces of advice to give on this topic.

One, set up a direct deposit so a small percentage of your revenue gets transferred automatically. This way, you A) don’t risk forgetting and B) aren’t tempted to skip it “just this once” and develop a bad habit.

Two, make sure that auto-transfer goes to a separate bank account that is not easily accessible. Otherwise, even if you’re good about remembering to transfer a percentage of your earnings every time, it can still be tempting to tap into those savings if you can get to them with just a few clicks inside of your usual banking app.

I have two external banking sources that I use and recommend: Barclays and Square.

Barclays vs. Square Savings Accounts

Barclays is a British universal bank that has branches in at least 50 countries outside of the UK. Their online savings account program has 4.15% APY (at the time this article was written). In case you were wondering, the national APY average is only 0.49% for savings accounts, so that’s a HIGH rate! And that’s exactly why I recommend this bank.

With Barclays, you have:

  • 24/7 access to your funds
  • Ability to transfer between your Barclays account and other banks
  • Direct deposit
  • No minimum opening balance
  • No monthly fees

I’ve been using a Barclays savings account as a rainy day fund for several years and have no complaints. Having an external savings account outside of my normal bank makes it easier to save because I don’t regularly see that balance unless I take the time to log in and check. I also don’t have immediate access to those funds. I have to log in, initiate a transfer, and then wait for one or two business days. Those extra steps make me unlikely to tap into those savings unless it’s an emergency.

I’ve used Square to process payments since I started selling my first book back in 2018. Recently, a fellow entrepreneur told me that he’d created a Square savings account and set it up to automatically withdraw a percentage of each sale to set aside for sales taxes. Which… is a really good idea.

At 1.75% annual percentage yield, Square’s APY isn’t as impressive as Barclays’. But what’s nice about this option is that you don’t have to set a fixed direct deposit rate if you’re already using Square for your business transactions. You can choose a percentage of your sales. So, on days where your sales aren’t great, your direct deposit would be smaller. With Barclays, you’d have to set up a recurring withdrawal, such as $50, rather than choosing a percentage.

I recommend setting up a Square savings account with a fixed percentage of your sales for sales tax purposes since that is also going to be a percentage of your revenue. And then, if you can afford it, also set up a Barclays savings account and pick a small deposit amount to tuck away for a rainy day or future investment. Even setting aside $20 a month is better than nothing, and over time, it will grow.

2. Remember to Value Your Time and Skills, Not Just Base Costs

This is a mindset I’m still trying to master (although I am getting better about it).

As an author, I set my book retail prices based on the print cost and the wholesale percentage that sellers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble take out of the profits. It doesn’t matter if it takes me six months or six years to write the book—the price comes from the production cost, not how long it took me to write and publish the book.

But as an artist, the value of my work is different. I’m notorious for failing to factor my time, effort, skill, and talent into the retail price. It’s not enough to strictly look at the base cost and set a price that generates only a slight profit based on what I paid for the materials.

Not only does time and skill need to be a factor, but there are also other product costs that often get overlooked when calculating the base cost per product. Plastic sleeves for art prints, bags so customers can carry their purchases, business cards and promotional materials that are included, etc.

I struggle with pricing my work appropriately, but I’m working on understanding and acknowledging my value. Part of this issue is rooted in the attitude of consumers. Many people appreciate the hard work that goes into creating art, but not everyone. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for a customer to compliment an artist’s work, then see the price and, instead of saying that it’s out of their budget, implying (or sometimes even saying outright) that the art isn’t worth what’s on the price tag. It’s a knee-jerk, defensive reaction when people feel insecure, and it isn’t unique to me. It isn’t even unique to artists. All kinds of vendors I’ve met at events have to endure these encounters.

“I can find something similar for a LOT cheaper on Amazon.”

Of course you can. But there’s a reason mass-produced artwork is so cheap. Consumers shouldn’t expect an artist to be selling their hard work at the same price as a giant corporation that bought the rights and is now selling millions of mass-produced copies.

Unfortunately… some of them do expect that. Society has normalized taking advantage of artists and not paying them what their work is really worth.

It’s easy to let those kinds of reactions get in your head and make you second-guess your worth. (Full disclosure: most creatives struggle with imposter syndrome at some point in their career.) But here’s the thing—just as with any business, artists can’t survive without making profit. Barely breaking even on a sale doesn’t cut it. If an artist can’t pay their bills and afford materials, then they can’t keep creating new art for people to enjoy.

I’ve learned that I can’t let low-quality market demographics undermine my value and drive my decisions. My worth shouldn’t be defined by someone else’s budget. There will ALWAYS be people who want to negotiate for a lower price, and I won’t be a successful entrepreneur if I let them control my business like that. I could be in the red, and they still wouldn’t be satisfied until I gave it to them for free. You just can’t please everyone. It’s not possible.

If you respectfully tell me that my art is out of your budget, I will understand. I don’t want my artwork to be unaffordable, but I also want to be fairly compensated for the work that went into it because it did take time and skill to make, and I put a little bit of my soul into everything I create. You’re not getting something that’s been mass produced. I don’t sell my work in any stores. The only way to get my prints is directly from me.

I make sure to offer different types of products at different price points to accommodate a range of budgets. If someone likes my work but can’t afford a $50 canvas, they might like a $20 artboard or even a $2 postcard instead. I’m learning to set fair prices, stop apologizing, and change my response to, “If this isn’t in your budget, you might be interested in this smaller print instead.”

My point here: don’t forget to value your time, hard work, and talent on top of your base costs. It takes years of practice to develop these skills. It’s okay to charge for that. If someone wants Amazon pricing, then they should be shopping on Amazon. Don’t undersell yourself to accommodate them.

3. Networking is Invaluable

So far, I have 95 events under my belt. That includes festivals, artisan markets, book signings, conventions, etc. It’s hard to believe that I’m almost at 100!

At these events, I’ve met other authors, artists, and entrepreneurs, and each conversation is an opportunity to learn and to teach. Some of these vendors are just starting their journey. I can see that they have the potential to go far. I’m happy to share some of my experiences and give them tips based on what I’ve learned. Maybe, as their career develops, we can mutually benefit one another. Or not, but I still like to help anyway! It can’t hurt, and karma is good to kind people. If you expel positive energy, that’s what you’ll get back.

Other vendors have more experience than I do, and I know that I still have a lot to learn. I enjoy having business conversations, hearing about their successes and challenges, sharing resources, getting recommendations for events, and sometimes even collaborating on projects. I connected with Brooke, the woman who 3D prints my Amínyte pendants, at an event last fall. And I currently have another collaboration in the works with another vendor.

Networking has the potential to lay invaluable groundwork. I’ve learned about events to apply for (and some that I should avoid at all costs). I’ve gotten inspiration for new products, marketing ideas, and displays. I received financial advice and personal recommendations that introduced me to new companies that could transform my art into functional products at a reasonable price.

New entrepreneurs are prone to underestimating the power of networking. I’m here to testify that networking may or may not always turn into something of value, but it never hurts to build those connections and collect pieces of knowledge along the way.

You don’t have to see all the other vendors as competitors. In most cases, they’re not! I’ve befriended other authors and requested to set up next to them at festivals because even though we’re both selling books, we write in different genres. Sure, there might be some crossover with diverse fans, but we support each other. If someone isn’t interested in my genre, I’ll gladly recommend the other author’s work if it seems like a better fit. After all, I don’t want to pressure someone into buying my book if it’s not what they like (and then potentially leaving a bad review because they didn’t enjoy reading it).

It’s possible that a professional relationship might not yield any immediate value in the beginning, but by making the initial introduction, you could open the door to an amazing opportunity down the road. If you need to connect with someone, simply including “we met at this event” when you reach out adds a personal touch that catches attention, even if the person doesn’t remember you.

I hope these tips are valuable for you. They’re based on my own trials and errors as I’ve advanced my career. Save money, value your skills, and network with the professionals around you, and you’ll set yourself up for success.

Good luck on your journey!

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I'm an award-winning fantasy author, artist, and photographer from La Porte, Indiana. My poetry, short fiction, and memoir works have been featured in various anthologies and journals since 2005, and several of my poems are available in the Indiana Poetry Archives. The first three novels in my Chronicles of Avilésor: War of the Realms series have received awards from Literary Titan.

After some time working as a freelance writer, I was shocked by how many website articles are actually written by paid "ghost writers" but published under the byline of a different author. It was a jolt seeing my articles presented as if they were written by a high-profile CEO or an industry expert with decades of experience. I'll be honest; it felt slimy and dishonest. I had none of the credentials readers assumed the author of the article actually had. Ghost writing is a perfectly legal, astonishingly common practice, and now, AI has entered the playing field to further muddy the waters. It's hard to trust who (or what) actually wrote the content you'll read online these days.

That's not the case here at On The Cobblestone Road. I do not and never will pay a ghost writer, then slap my name on their work as if I'd written it. This website is 100% authentic. No outsourcing. No ghost writing. No AI-generated content. It's just me... as it should be.

If you would like to support my work, check out the Support The Creator page for more information. Thank you for finding my website! 🖤