This week, we’ll get to know April Speight, a project manager and systems analyst with 5+ years of experience in tech, and creator of Vogue & Code. I asked her about side hustles, and what a junior in tech should know before freelancing or starting their own business in their craft.
(April Speight. Source: Vogue & Code)
This Q & A is from the first issue of the Juniors in Tech newsletter, by Keziyah Lewis. Sign up here.
In the Ask a Mentor series, I’ll be talking to more experienced people in tech about specific topics. This week, we’ll get to know April Speight, a project manager and systems analyst with 5+ years of experience in tech, and creator of Vogue & Code. I asked her about side hustles, and what a junior in tech should know before freelancing or starting their own business in their craft.
Speaking of side projects, The Vogue & Code website and shop is one of April’s. I recently ordered a couple of her stickers and I can’t wait to get them. April just recently launched the site and her shop, so I think she was the perfect person to talk about starting a side hustle while working in tech.
Keziyah Lewis: Tell us about yourself, your professional background, and experience in the tech industry. What are you working on now, and what might you be up to next?
April Speight: I’m a former menswear stylist and visual merchandiser from the luxury fashion industry. I began working in tech shortly after I graduated from undergrad. I’ve since taken on roles as Project Manager and Systems Analyst.
AS: I’m currently working on enhancing my website, Vogue & Code, in order to help people break into tech. I’m hoping to regularly provide advice on the website and help people establish connections with others in the tech space through the platform.
KL: What made you want to start Vogue & Code, and how do you think it could help juniors or newbies to tech?
AS: Honestly, it seems that everyone wants to charge for knowledge nowadays. I wanted to provide a platform to people who may not have the funds to hire a career coach or speak with a consultant. The internet can be overwhelming and I felt that creating a platform that housed various topics on breaking into tech in ONE place would be beneficial.
KL: When does a junior (designer, developer, digital illustrator, PM, etc.) know when they are “good enough” to start a side hustle in their craft? Should they get professional experience at a 9 to 5 or internship first?
AS: You truly never know when you’re “good enough” until you just jump in and see what happens! I only had about a month of experience with Adobe Illustrator before I opened my online shop for my stickers. If you sit around and wait for perfection, you’ll miss out on some very interesting opportunities which may never present itself ever again.
AS: Professional experience has its perks as you’re able to see how other companies operate. However, I’ve never had clients request a copy of my resume before commissioning work. Nor have I had buyers do the same thing. People know talent when they see talent. If anything, put your work in the face of others and someone out there will value whatever it is that you have to offer.
KL: In the interview you did with Tech Entrepreneur Spotlight, you spoke about teaching yourself Illustrator using online videos, and how you originally made the sticker illustrations as branding for your Python tutorial series, but soon realized that people wanted to purchase them as stickers. A lot of newbies, especially those who are self taught, might experience imposter syndrome when trying to do a side hustle or freelance. Did you experience this, and if so, how did you handle it?
AS: Of course! I feel that this feeling is natural. I hadn’t spent years upon years in art school learning graphic design. In fact, I was a business student in both undergrad and graduate school. The only way that I was able to overcome imposter syndrome was to just keep practicing. When I say that I spent an entire month learning how to use Adobe Illustrator, I literally mean it. Not a day went by where I wasn’t in front of the computer creating something in Illustrator.
AS: But you see, that’s the great thing about art. There’s no right or wrong way to express yourself. Unlike coding whereas there is syntax and rules, etc., with art you’re able to do whatever you want. So what if you can’t draw a face? Leave the face off the character! That’s what I did!
KL: I remember when I was freelancing (something I can’t say I’d ever do again) while looking for my first web dev job, I felt pressured to do work for free or lowball myself to adjust for my lack of experience. What do you think about this?
AS: I feel that when you start off, it’s ok to do work for free so long as it’s within the scope of ‘free work’. What that means is, if someone’s asking you to spend 10+ hours on custom work, why would you do that for free? When doing business, the customer typically expects to pay something in exchange for your service. However, what you should be cognizant of is how much you’re charging. When I first started receiving custom work, I charged $7 per design. However, by the time I did my 3rd commission piece, a client left me a significant tip that was triple my prices and insisted that I needed to charge more.
AS: You’re not always going to be fortunate enough to have a honest client to give you that push. Charge early and increment when the work becomes too easy.
(Stickers from the Vogue & Code shop. Source: Vogue & Code)
KL: With any side hustle that involves money, there can be a lot of business, marketing, and legal things to worry about that are taken care of with a 9 to 5. Things like finding clients or customers, contracts, and taxes. I spent a lot of time thinking about those things during my short time freelancing, and it was frustrating because I didn’t want to spend hours trying to find clients or figuring out how to do freelance contracts. I just wanted to code. Is this something juniors should consider if they want to freelance or start a business, knowing that they might have to spend less time on their craft, and more time on business tasks?
AS: I can be a bit biased on this topic since I have two business degrees. The operational side of running your own business is almost like second nature to me. However, if you’re new to business, you may get hit with a significant learning curve. You can either figure it all out on your own OR have someone else do it for you. I would suggest spending some time learning business management, but at the end of the day, if you still do not feel comfortable, feel free to hire someone to assist you.
AS: If you look at the fashion industry, a lot of designers start off as a one-person show. However, once business starts booming, they hire an entire team to help run the operations. I couldn’t imagine Marc Jacobs sitting in an office all day trying to figure out how to run his business. I’m sure he could do it, however, his talent is his money maker.
AS: Once your business starts to take off, everything gets easier. It’s the startup work that can be overwhelming in the beginning.
KL: If a junior or complete newbie to tech decided to leave (or not start) a 9 to 5 job and work full time on their business, what do you think they could gain from this? And what do you think they could lose, especially considering that they have little experience?
AS: Unless they’re leaving their 9–5 for a very profitable side-hustle, they will need to be comfortable with the concept of ‘making it work’. You often hear people say that when you first start a business, you’ll be lucky if you make a profit after considering your overhead. However, that’s not the case for everyone. In fact, my first week of selling stickers brought in more money than I make in a week at my 9–5 — and to be fair I have a pretty decent salary at my 9–5.
AS: But I’m not letting that influence me to quit my job and only focus on my business. It’s not a realistic financial decision at this point. In my opinion, I feel it’s best to spend 6 months consistently matching or earning more than your 9–5 through your side-hustle before quitting your 9–5 altogether. My assumption is that at that point, you’ve ironed out the kinks in your business and know what it takes to make projections about future earnings so that your business has a sustainable business model.
AS: You can easily fall flat on your face if you step out on a limb having done little to no research on operating a business, let alone the market for the goods or services that you have to offer.
KL: From watching the aforementioned interview, it seems like selling tech swag wasn’t something you planned. But once you realized that people wanted it, you ran with it and turned it into a business. How does someone know when to take a business/product idea and start dedicating more time to it, or turn it into a side hustle?
AS: You have to understand the concept of supply and demand. Is there a demand for your business/product? If so, then you should consider bringing the product to market. Same goes for if the supply is low for existing products that are already on the market. That’s where I feel I excelled. When’s the last time that you saw laptop stickers featuring Black people doing various activities in tech?
AS: On the flipside, if you have a business/product idea that you would like to introduce to an already saturated market, that’s fine too. You’ll just spend way more time defining your unique selling features and marketing your product to the masses. Snapchat existed well before Instagram Stories — and practically everyone used Snapchat! However now, Instagram Stories is so popular that it has surpassed Snapchat.
AS: In this business, we all do the same thing. What matters most is execution.
KL: Any other advice for juniors who want to freelance/start a business?
AS: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Freelancing/starting a business isn’t necessarily a cakewalk. It takes a lot of time, effort and dedication. You’ll have to make decisions which could have a significant impact on your business. Sitting back and throwing a pity party won’t get you anywhere. You’ll have to do the work.
KL: What advice would you give to yourself when you were just starting out in tech?
AS: Make connections every chance you can. You never know when someone you met a few years ago could change your professional life for the better. That’s what happened to me!
I’d like to thank April for her time and advice. Be sure to check out Vogue & Code. For more content like this, as well as weekly resources and jobs for juniors, sign up for the Juniors in Tech newsletter here.
If you’re a junior in tech and you want to be featured in the Junior Spotlight series, or if you’re more experienced and you’d like to be interviewed for the Ask a Mentor series, please contact me: keziyah[at]juniorsintech[dot]com.