From Art to Salsa | Careershifters

What work have you done in the past?

I was a contemporary artist for fifteen years.

For most artists, you need another job to pay the bills. I was also a co-lecturer in teaching visual culture and related topics, and worked independently for various arts organizations.

I often juggled with three jobs at once.

What are you doing now?

I run a salsa company, produce and sell fresh Texas-inspired salsa.

Why did you change?

The experience of being an artist felt more and more frustrating.

You get pretty fast into your career that you will have to do this juggling act with another job, but you can spread so thinly about everything you do that you can not progress in all of it.

While I did these other works to support my artistic practice, the thing I did the least was make art.

The time I had to engage in my art was perceived 90% with the manager and business side of my work, and I felt frustrated by it.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

My dad died in 2019 in a thunderstorm and it was the catalyst that made me decide to change.

But it did not happen overnight. It took about a year after he died from what I was thinking of making a change before I actually progressed with a shift.

It really makes you think ‘what are you doing with your life’ when something like this happens. I think my dad died was a chance to look at how my life is going and if I’m really happy in that path. And I decided I did not.

I got into the rhythm of working in the studio on my art and my other works, and did not take the time to ask if it was something I wanted to continue to do, or re-evaluate my career.

I decided I was not going to get another freelance job after finishing the projects I was working on then, and decided not to get the next year’s permanent teaching contract I had with an employer.

I finished that year teaching, and it happened at the same time as the first plague of the plague.

How did you choose your new career?

Between Christmas and the closing of the first epidemic I decided I was going to do retraining and do a coding course.

I know it’s a bit leftist, but I thought it would be really interesting and the tech sector attracted me. Unlike all my freelance work and fixed-term contracts, I will have the confidence of a well-paid job in a thriving industry.

I applied and went up to the course, did all the preparatory work, and then the locking happened. The course continued to be delayed, and it reached a point where it was pushed back until after the Christmas of the first epidemic year. So it was shelved for me, and solved for a while.

During the summer I had a lot of picnics with friends as a way to see them while the restrictions on locking up the plague were eased a bit. I had this amazing recipe for salsa, so I made it and brought it for picnics. Everyone said the salsa was amazing, but at the time I didn’t really think about it at all.

One day we were on our way to a wild swim and suddenly in the car I thought ‘Salsa, this is what I need to do!’. But then almost as quickly I rejected it, because I knew nothing about the food industry.

It felt almost like a big jump. I did not know how to move from a good recipe to a product on the shelf in stores.

But the idea did not go away, and its persistence led me to decide that in the new year I would examine its feasibility.

And as we got closer to the beginning of the coding course, I decided that this was not really what I wanted to do, so I shelved it and started realizing my business idea in salsa instead ..

Are you happy with the change?

Yes.

I love it more than I loved being an artist so for me this is the best result possible.

Why do you miss and why do you not miss?

When people ask me this question and I think about it then I do think there are things I miss – the people, the creation of works of art.

But I never really miss them in my day to day life – I do not think ‘oh I wish I was doing art now’. I’m so in love with what I do now that I do not have time to dwell on the thought of it.

How did you make the transition?

I first started exploring the idea of ​​salsa one day a week, and for several weeks I researched the idea full time.

I then managed to get a start-up loan from Virgin StartUp, and applied for a unit at an innovation center for start-ups in the field of food that I received.

It was only a period of six months from the real point of view of the idea until the launch of the product. It was pretty crazy now that I look back on it!

For salsa, I had this amazing recipe as I used to in the United States when I was a kid. My dad stayed in the United States while we moved back to the UK, and we would go back to see him every summer. We always went to the same Mexican restaurant, which was like the highlight of the trip. It closed about ten years ago, and my stepmother told me they gave all their regular customers the recipe for their salsa.

So I had this recipe that I used as a flavor map for my three recipes.

For me the idea of ​​salsa has this nice connection with my dad – he has these memories related to him, and my dad will die was the catalyst for change so it felt appropriate to move forward in the salsa business.

How have you developed (or transferred) the skills you need for your new job?

All the skills I needed as an artist are now applied in business.

When you are an artist it is as if you are your own institution because you have to do all the marketing, come up with ideas for projects, project management, delivery, budgeting and finances, writing applications, etc.

Being an artist is a pretty good education in running a business, so all the transferable skills are well utilized now!

What did not go well? What wrong inquiries did you make?

Since I knew nothing about the food industry, it was great that I got the kitchen at Food Works Southwest when I started, because they had all the expertise.

I could always ask them if I needed help. The kitchen had a particularly high specification – it was a great place to start. But it had a suitable price tag and it was a 45 minute drive from my house.

I have two small children and it was a logistical nightmare to try to negotiate the journey with downloads and collection.

Some people may look at the expense of the kitchen for a new business, but I certainly do not regret that I did it because these overhead expenses meant that I had to make a big effort to make the business work, whereas if I launched it from my home kitchen business it might have taken me much longer to get there. Where I am now, because I did not have the same urgency.

I recently left the kitchen to set it up closer to home and I feel the benefit of not having this trip!

How did you handle your finances to enable your shift?

I got a loan from Virgin StartUp and then I had some of my savings invested in the business over time.

I did not know at first how much business sucks money. I had to keep investing more and more of my money in it.

But now I’m at the point with the business where I pay for myself, which is a lot more fun when you make money!

What was the hardest thing about change?

I think in my head in advance, the idea of ​​giving up an artist’s identity was difficult.

The reality is that I am not a practicing artist right now, but it has not really been difficult. The idea of ​​giving up identity was more difficult than the reality of not being in that identity anymore.

When you take such a big leap and you leave a community behind, there is a worry of ‘well what if it fails massively in front of everyone I know?’. But I think if you worry about such things, it will stop you.

One thing that is hard for me is that a lot of markets tend to be on weekends. Since I have two small children, I try desperately to hire people so I can devote time back to my family. It’s my priority right now, to take people to run market stalls for me.

What did you learn in the process?

I learned so much.

When I started doing markets, I could not just display my product for display because it is a cool product. So I only had a pair in retail packaging, with salsa ingredients around them to decorate the stand. At the time I had two tastes and I would give examples to people.

I then created a third flavor that did not yet have packaging ready, but I wanted to bring it to market to get feedback on it. So I put it in a big bowl and sold so much more because it just seemed more inviting to serve food that way.

So in the markets I have everything in bowls now. And I just discovered it by chance. A classic case of trial and error!

What would you like to do differently?

I was able to apply for a larger loan that would eventually cover everything.

At the time I did not know that I would need as much money as I needed – I thought a smaller loan would suffice.

So in retrospect I would have gone for the bigger loan, instead of using my savings.

What would you advise others to do in that situation?

Do not worry if you do not know what you want to do.

If you know something is wrong and you need to make a change, the next thing you usually think is ‘what else can I do?’. It can be such an immediate blockage when you start thinking ‘well, I’m not qualified to do anything else’, or ‘if I want to move to a new sector, there are already a million people in this sector younger than me and more qualified’. Everything can seem impossible.

I think the more you try to figure out what to do, the harder it gets.

Whereas if you give yourself some space to float and be open to random ideas (like salsa!), You never know what might happen.

And it is important that when you get such an idea, do not dismiss it. There is always a way to make it happen. Even if you do not yet know anything about the new field or idea, there are ways to figure out how to do it.

For more information on Julie’s business, visit www.salsastories.co.uk

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