Today’s Biz Ladies Profile comes to us from Tim Mazurek of Lottie + Doof. What started off as a creative outlet for Tim’s cooking, hosting and entertaining interests, eventually turned into a community of likeminded individuals and a platform to launch his freelance career. While Tim still maintains a full time job in education, he has found a way to parlay the success of his blog into other creative opportunities and keep his passion for food writing and photography alive. Today, Tim offers a glimpse into his creative journey. Thanks for sharing your story, Tim! —Stephanie
Read the full interview after the jump…
Photos by Tim Mazurek
Why did you decide to start your own business?
In 2008 I graduated from Northwestern with my MFA in something called Art Theory and Practice, which is basically studio art with a bunch of critical theory thrown in for good measure. For two years I was making and thinking about art full-time, and by the end it started to feel like a real drag. For me, most contemporary art (at least the stuff making it into galleries and museums) seems really out of touch with my experience of life. It is often intensely boring and didactic, including the work I produced. It also has such a limited, and privileged, audience, which is troublesome.
The art I was creating was rooted in feminist ideas and through it I had begun to think about domestic spaces, and in particular about the kitchen. My mom and grandmother both had rejected the kitchen and cooking, and I found myself embracing it. I had always enjoyed cooking and hosting dinner parties.
During one of my last quarters at Northwestern I took a thesis writing workshop where I learned that I had unexpectedly grown to like writing. I liked how direct it could be, especially in comparison to the art I was making. Food writing seemed to combine a bunch of my interests.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
Right after graduating from Northwestern I got a job at a university counseling undergrads and occasionally teaching. I’d worked in higher education prior to grad school, and I had always intended to return. I’m passionate about education, and I like feeling helpful. I have always maintained creative pursuits in my free time. I began paying attention to food blogs while procrastinating during grad school. It was early in their development and I certainly didn’t think of them as a business pursuit. They just seemed like online communities and an outlet for creativity—it all felt very zine-y at the time. I liked the platform of the internet which was egalitarian(ish) and had a broad audience. But to be honest, I was also slightly embarrassed by the idea of starting a blog. Blogs were (and still are?) a bit of punch-line, at least among my friends. I decided to do it anyway (and for the record have grown to be very proud of the title of blogger). At the beginning, I had no plans for what Lottie + Doof would be. If you look back at those early posts, some of them are rough. I had to figure out what I was doing as I went along. My real goal was to have a outlet for creative production and to share what I was making in the kitchen.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
Another blogger told me that I needed to make sure I was having fun, because otherwise I wouldn’t keep doing it. I think it is good advice.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
For me, starting wasn’t that difficult. I happened to be living with someone who could build me a website, I knew what I wanted it to look like, I was competent at writing and photography. It is the maintaining of the business that is a challenge for me—I am great at starting things, I am not so great at following through. I have had to adjust to allow the blog and freelance work to fit into my life. I used to post on my blog much more often, which changed as I have become more involved in other things. Having your business as a side project has it’s own rewards and challenges. My income is not dependent on my creative output, which takes the pressure off. The flip side is that because my income is not dependent on my creative output, I have to be really self-motivated to keep things going. Blogs are kind of great because you have an audience of readers who are very encouraging and hold you accountable, and that helps a lot.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
It sounds like a cliche, but you have got to trust yourself. You know what feels right, and what feels wrong for you. My goal was to make a site that I was proud of, period. Every decision has its basis in that goal. Early on I made the decision not to monetize my site. Hosting ads felt wrong to me for a few reasons. It was primarily an aesthetic choice, ads are ugly. I was also concerned that I would never find advertisers that aligned with my liberal, feminist, pro-environment, pro-gay values. People continue to point out to me that it seems crazy to not be making money off of Lottie + Doof, but I still believe it is the right decision for me. And ultimately, the site lead to freelance work and so it did eventually provide me with an income, just not directly. For me, this was perfect because in a way I was getting to have my cake and eat it—albeit a much less expensive cake than I’d have been able to afford if I had ads on my site. Bottom line: keep it real.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
Well, things that I cook routinely fail, but that seems pretty normal. I recently had a cake I made collapse to the height of a pancake. I’ve never seen anything like it, it seemed to defy physics (and logic!). But generally speaking, my biggest failures come as a result of me trying to do too much. I have a full-time job, the blog, freelance writing and photography work, a husband, friends, and there is so much good stuff to watch on television. I sometimes take on too much work and I am miserable. I am working hard at trying to manage my time so I can continue to do and enjoy everything.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
There are moments, or milestones, along the way that kind of confirm you’re headed in the right direction. This one is silly, but I remember when I first joined Twitter, Dorie Greenspan was the first person to follow me, which meant she had maybe actually seen my blog. I freaked out. The first article I wrote for a magazine was a major milestone. I’ve had opportunities to collaborate with other creative people, which are always meaningful. But honestly, the most successful I ever feel is when someone cooks something from my site and likes it. It feels really good to encourage people to cook.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
I think the most useful thing you can do is study people who are doing what you want to be doing. Pay attention and work hard at assessing what you like and don’t like about other peoples work. I still do this. When I find a new blog that is dealing with something better than I am, I consider how I can incorporate elements of that into my work. I will also look at other types of business or brands that I love and learn things from them. Two of my biggest inspirations, in terms of running a business and being creative, are my friends Sophie and Lisa over at Vena Cava. They make being creative seem so fun and have created such a pure and true brand, whenever I feel stuck I try to conjure their spirits.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
1. Why do you want to start the business? I think that creative endeavors need to be somewhat pure of heart. If the goal is to make money, you might want to find another way of doing that. All of the successful businesses I know were driven by a desire to make things. Income was an important, but secondary, consideration.
2. How much risk are you willing to take? For me, I wasn’t willing to risk much and so I found a way to start off slowly. By developing the blog/brand in my free-time, it took a lot of pressure off of me.
3. That is only two things. Sorry. See, I’m not great at follow-through.