V230: Small Biz Betties: When Are You a “Professional?”

Hi again! Welcome to this week’s Small Biz Betties, where I’ll be waxing poetical on how to know when you have taken the leap and become a “professional” in your field.

It’s a hard question to answer, because we often downplay our skills, knowledge, and accomplishments, or use personal measuring sticks that may have nothing at all to do with how others view us.  We also don’t want to seem like we’re bragging, or trying to “talk the talk without walking the walk.”

So when are you a professional?  Ask yourself this question…

Do you make a living at your chosen profession?

That is, are you able to support yourself and/or your family by working in your professional field, be it selling vintage, designing collectible pony figurines, making jewelry, etc?  If you are earning enough to pay your bills, chances are you know what the hell you’re talking about when it comes to vintage, pony figurines, or jewelry.

We should make the distinction between a professional and an expert.  A professional is not necessarily but often is an expert, but an expert is not necessarily a professional.  In the costuming world, there are definitely expert seamstresses, textile experts, tatting and lacemaking experts, hairstyling experts, but perhaps these people do not work in the clothing and textile industries, or cosmotology, museum, or manufacturing industries.  Professional seamstresses, lacemakers, etc., not only know their subjects inside and out, but operate in production environments with demands placed upon them unheard of in hobbyist circles.  And don’t forget…they make a living doing it.

Often times we don’t think of ourselves as professionals, particularly when first starting out.  It is so easy to negate your knowledge and lose confidence when working with others – suppliers, banks, even customers – but as you work through the day-to-day issues that crop up in all small businesses, you will get better and better at being “the boss,” and learn ever more about your industry and how to get things done.

You don’t have to look like this
to be a “professional woman.”

Somewhere along your journey you may also find someone dismissing your knowledge, expertise, experience, and professional opinion, at which point you will know for sure if you consider yourself a professional or not.  This recently happened to me and I was so pissed about it that it very clearly answered my own questions and misgivings about my role in my life/career/my own company.

Very importantly, it is okay to embrace being a professional and project that.  You *need* to project it, especially to your customers, because if you don’t have confidence in your abilities, why should they?  Build your business, your confidence, and your knowledge, and next thing you know, you’ll be a professional, making money, and working on an illustrious career.


If you have questions you’d like answered, or are a small business owner and would like to guest post for SBB, drop me a line – [email protected] .


    • Lauren Stowell

      August 17, 2012 at 10:45 PM

      Hi Beth – I'm reluctant to say that I came up with these things myself, because I spend a lot of time reading business magazines and publications. It's more like a conglomeration of things I have learned from those articles, and experience.

    • Beth

      August 18, 2012 at 4:22 AM

      Sounds to me like you came up with it yourself then! 🙂 In a future post I'd love to know what publications etc. you find helpful. I'm not planning to open a small business anytime soon, but it's the sort of thing I'm interested in. (Wish I'd taken some business classes in school, but I went to a liberal arts school that doesn't value such earthly possessions. 😉

    • Lauren Stowell

      August 18, 2012 at 4:28 AM

      Beth, I highly recommend Entrepreneur and Inc magazines, also the Harvard Business Review, though it's a little dryer than the others. A website I've found helpful is http://www.practicalecommerce.com/ . I also have an art degree and haven't taken business classes. As for this little post, I tried to come up with a series of questions to "ask yourself" but the only one I could come up with that at all mattered was the "are you making a living doing this" one. In the end, business comes down to and is driven by numbers, though that doesn't mean it must be without passion 🙂

  • diana

    August 17, 2012 at 9:38 PM

    Thank you for posting this! We met recently at Costume College and this is an issue that's been floating around my head a lot recently! I quit my "job" 2 years ago to do freelance sewing/craftwork and can definitely say I'm a professional. But as higher profile work is coming my way I'm battling with my own mindset of "just some chic sewing at home".

    One recent highish profile project offer literally asked "do you feel confident enough to" take on the task. After the panic attack subsided I accepted that my accumulation of skills had led me to this job and I couldn't say no. I also have to accept that this will put me at the same level of my teachers and those I look up to. A scary line to cross, but necessary to move forward professionally. So chin up and KBO(keep buggering on)!

    • Lauren Stowell

      August 17, 2012 at 10:46 PM

      Hi Diana – oh man, I know you how feel! It's so easy to downplay what you've achieved in your career, and to wonder if you really do have the confidence to take on a large project. Chances are, though, if you've been supporting yourself working as a seamstress, than heck yeah you have the experience and know-how to do the big projects. They can be intimidating, but you've got the goods 🙂

  • Unknown

    August 17, 2012 at 10:43 PM

    HI Lauren! Great Post! I do both: I fit clothes for a living and make costumes as a hobby. My job is BIG and at times very demanding, its a career in the fashion industry. As a Technical Designer, there are many levels of "expert", and the art of fitting clothes is still one of those professions that can only be learned and perfected through apprenticeship and the passing on of skills from one seasoned "Tech" to another. I LOVE what I do, and hope to turn it into a small business of my own, one day! LONG, RANTING PS: Regarding the part of your post about dismissal- YEAH, I feel ya sister! There tends to be an assumption in the historic costuming community based on age: The younger you are (or appear to be) the less skilled/schooled you are on the subject. I have experienced this throughout my 20's until now (I'm 34). The dismissive, snark-tastic comments and back-handed compliments continue, but they don't hurt as much or keep me from going to events like they used to, because I am a PROFESSIONAL. Reading these costuming blogs helps immensely, as I see that I'm not alone in this experience. "Its so easy to laugh, its so easy to hate, it takes strength to be gently and kind." So next time some old broad at a pirate faire wants to tell me how wrong it is to mix THIS hat with THIS polonaise while complimenting how nicely its all constructed, I just smile like a lady and say, "hobbies are fun" …then sip my beer and think about how pretty I feel 🙂

    • Lauren Stowell

      August 17, 2012 at 10:55 PM

      Kathleen, well said! I've noticed the "younger-you-are-less-you-know" thing too, not just in the hobby, but in all sorts of fields. It really damages one's confidence, but sometimes it also helps to spur more study and honing of skills. Often when I get a challenge from someone the first thing I ask myself is, "am I incorrect in my statement?" and then I go off looking for primary sources and reputable evidence to either disprove or prove what I thought/said. It's good to always be questioning and learning, because then you are always growing, but I agree, it can be really frustrating when someone tries to negate something you, through your professional experience, know to be true.

  • Susan

    August 18, 2012 at 9:52 PM

    This is absolutely spot on: " Professional seamstresses, lacemakers, etc., not only know their subjects inside and out, but operate in production environments with demands placed upon them unheard of in hobbyist circles." Specifically the … DEMANDS PLACED UPON THEM UNHEARD OF IN HOBBYIST CIRCLES part. (Like turning 90 garments in 7 days for a recent NBC thing!) This is what makes or breaks anyone who wishes to turn their hobbyist passion into a business.

    Running your own show is not for the faint of heart but can be worth a million (not dollars- so go ahead and forget that fantasy) if you can transition from the hobby mind set to a business one.

  • KittyKatt

    August 20, 2012 at 6:30 AM

    I have been a hobbyist, an expert, and a professional in various fields related to costuming. I much prefer the former two titles to the latter, and in fact have kind of relinquished seeing myself as a professional mainly because I don't do it for money anymore, and now my sanity is intact! I think I have even settled down into the term "hobbyist" again, because I now try and explore areas that I am not "expert" in on purpose. Plus, being a hobbyist means you can enjoy what you do and still sleep, even when the costume Nazis tear your work to pieces…you can always chalk it up to: This is what I do for PLEASURE. Bugger off.

    • Lauren Stowell

      August 20, 2012 at 7:07 AM

      Hahaha, yes, I agree! There is quite a lot of pressure from varying sources, in any professional field, costuming definitely being one of them. One of my more insanity-inducing issues I get to deal with is getting shoes manufactured at good quality and shipped ON TIME. Often I'm tearing my hair out!

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