Me: “Tell me about yourself.”
Macy: “I’m Macy. I’m 31 and I went to the University of Arizona for graphic design. Before that I lived in Kansas. I’ve always been a creative person.” Macy says she attended U of A after visiting her brother there. She loved the warm weather and they had a “really great graphic design program.”
Macy has been a graphic designer for seven years, living in Phoenix after she graduated. She has always been creative – painting, reupholstering furniture and making art. Just over a year ago, December 2014, Macy quit her job and ventured out on her own. She started her own business Simon Says Macy and has worked tirelessly on her polymer clay creations ever since.
I first heard about you on Buzzfeed.com and became and instant fan. For those who don’t already know your story, how did you turn something you love into a career?
“Actually, it was totally through social media. Completely and 100 percent through social media. I was playing around with a bunch of different mediums and I just had this desire to pick up some clay – polymer clay. I just really really loved it. I love squishing things, I like soft things, I like bumpy things. I’m a really tactile person. I love texture.”
Macy says she started putting her work – colorful and creative clay creatures – on Instagram @simonsaysmacy. Within a month, people started offering to pay her for her creations.
One day, while watching one of her favorite shows – “Bob’s Burgers” – Macy decided to make one of the characters. Having fun with it, Macy transformed Louise Belcher, the youngest child in the show’s Belcher family, into a tiny snail figurine. Macy posted a picture of her creation on Instagram, using hashtags about the show and her artist medium, and received attention immediately. Bento Box Entertainment, the production studio behind Bob’s Burgers, quickly responded to the post with high praise. So Macy made more snail figurines of the show’s whole Belcher family, using relevant hashtags, which was re-posted by Bento Box Entertainment (@bentoboxent). The studio then commissioned her to make them two sets of the family as snails, which are now displayed in their offices.
The good people at Buzzfeed, a popular online entertainment and trending world news source, saw the Bento Box Entertainment post and interviewed Macy for an article. “That’s when everything just exploded,” Macy explains. “Within 24 hours, my Instagram had jumped from 600 to 2000 people following me.” And the commission requests started rolling in. “I quit my job that week and have been sculpting ever since.” Which, at the time of our interview, was just over a year ago, December 2014.
I can’t wait to hear more about SimonSaysMacy and how things are going now, but first, can you tell me a little more about your education and previous career?
“My whole life I had always done creative things. That’s all I wanted to do growing up.” Macy explains that she wanted to go into art, but her parents wanted her to be secure and have stability. Though they always encouraged Macy to follow her passion, they also encouraged her to try graphic design. So Macy attended the University of Arizona, graduated with a degree in graphic design, and got a job right away. Working in graphic design is more of a “legitimate job,” Macy says.
However, graphic design just “really was not interesting to me,” Macy explains. “I like to make art for the sake of art.”
“I did not like my job. I sat behind a computer all day, and plugged through it for seven years,” Macy says. She explained how, for her, working in graphic design was just like any other office job, but with some art. “It wasn’t my passion. I didn’t put my whole soul into it.”
Though her education was a great background for what she is doing now. She says her parents’ gave her “really good advice.” Graphic design is a visual arts medium too, Macy explains. She was educated about art in a different light – learning about composition, color theory, and rule of thirds, which she applies to the creations she makes now. “I had a huge leg up by doing it first.” By understanding these principles, Macy says she learned how to make her “creatures look really cute.” And she applied that knowledge to the business side of things too. “I made my website,” Macy says. She designed her own web graphic, signage and logo. “Paying for those things is an incredible expense.”
Was it difficult to quit your job and venture out on your own?
“Can I afford to do this?” Macy had to ask herself that question before taking the plunge. She spoke with her dad and one of her best friends, who are both accountants. She looked at potential profit and cost of living. “I’ve always had a steady paycheck and worked for a larger company,” Macy says. Though she would have to take a pay cut, Macy figured out she could make it work for her on a lower income.
What was it like to become an overnight success?
“It was really hard to process, because it was literally overnight.” Macy says, the Bento Box Entertainment posts gained her a flood of new enthusiasts, and she thought that was huge, but after the Buzzfeed article was published, everything changed. “I was super overwhelmed, it was exciting, it was elating. People really loved something that I was doing out of my own brain, for myself. Stuff that I was mainly making for myself. I call them my little brain children. Having someone like something that just comes strictly out of your head is really gratifying. Having someone like that, is like validating a little part of you. When that happened on a large scale, it was amazing.”
How did you scale your business from a hobby to a career and how are you still doing that?
“I had to quit my job. I quit literally within two days. I felt really bad, but I had to leave that day.” After the Buzzfeed article, Macy says she had tons of commissions for Christmas gifts. “I had a business to set up. I’ve worked all day everyday. I see people way less. I used to be a little socialite. But I love it. It’s all for me. I’m not working for someone else. It’s just a lot of work.”
“I dive into one project at a time, and work mainly on that,” Macy explains. The main part of her work is commission based. And Macy mainly just follows her commission list. In the beginning, Macy said she was booked for five months of commissions. “I only gave myself enough time to do my commission. I was just hacking down that list. I’ve gotten better at extending time between commissions,” Macy explains. She works on commissions for two weeks and then moves on to personal projects. “I still wasn’t getting my own creative outlet,” Macy says of working solely on commissioned work and making creations that were of someone else’s design or wishes. “I’ve learned to make things that I really like to make.”
What does a typical day look like for you?
“I kind of dink around a little in the morning,” Macy explains. She wakes up around 9am, feeds her dog and fish, answers emails, surveys her accounting software, goes through her project list, and then she starts sculpting. “There is no exact endpoint,” Macy says. She could stay up all hours of the night working, and on other days it will be all product fulfillment, packaging and shipping her finished creations.
What does your office or workstation look like?
“Right now my workstation is in my kitchen. I have a whole room for my office, but it’s not set up yet.” Right now the room is full of boxes. “I haven’t had time to take two or three days to set it up.” For the time being, her workstation is in the kitchen at a large table with natural light and her fish. “It will be nice to have a work space that is separate from the rest of my house,” Macy says. With her “studio” in the kitchen, she feels like she should always be working.
Have you hired extra hands to help you with your business?
“I don’t have anyone on the payroll,” Macy says. She does it all herself – making the creations, packing, shipping and emailing clients. “It’s still so new. I’m taking a lot of pride in doing it all myself. I haven’t gotten to that point yet.”
What is your least favorite aspect of working for yourself?
“It is way more work than I ever though it would be. There is a ton of other stuff you have to do when you go into business – insurance, packing, shipping, inventory, financial, legal, administrative. That is a good portion of my job now. It is not only being creative and making art. A lot of it is communicating with people – emails, figuring out what people want, when they can get it, refining the design. There is a lot of background that happens before the actual sculpting.”
“Learning the business side of things” was difficult, Macy says. Along with having to answer tons of emails. “I hate writing emails. I send a lot of emails that also go unanswered,” Macy explains.
Macy has an inquiry form on her website, for people to ask some initial questions before commissioning her to make a creation. She goes back and forth with customers, figures out what the customer wants, gives the starting price of commission, and how long the customer would have to wait. “Some people are really detailed; some are really vague,” Macy says about getting a detailed idea of what the customers wants.
As a small business owner, Macy has learned to be flexible. “Dealing with all different personalities, all walks of life, all different countries. There is no one set way that those things go,” Macy explains.
Another difficult aspect is working alone every day, Macy says. “I am very secluded now. I went from being completely surrounded by people to being completely alone. But it has been less difficult than I thought. My dog and I are tight.”
How has social media played a role in your success?
“My entire business is basically [marketed on] Instagram. My business started on Instagram and it still exists on Instagram. I advertise for everything on Instagram. It is my business [platform], how I communicate with other artists – networking and collaborating. For art, it is perfect because it is more of an image based site.”
What advice would you give for someone looking to start their own business/career?
“You can recreate where you are in life at any point. I was really afraid to give up that stability and paycheck, but I could easily get another job in graphic design. I’ve taken a leap,” Macy explains. “It is much more feasible and attainable. Know that you can go back. I don’t think people realize that they can.”
“As far as art goes, start putting it out there. Do what you love and don’t necessarily try to sell it first. Make the things that you love. Don’t make a product you are trying to sell to people. That passion really comes through in your art. That’s what people like,” Macy says. The right people will find and connect to your work. Popular artists “did exactly what they loved and put it out there, and that attracted the right audience. To have the longevity and the fortitude, you have to be doing something that is coming from within you. Do what you love and share it with the world,” Macy says. “And use a lot of hashtags,” connect to artists and companies – “all the people you think your work will resonate with. I got really lucky in that sense. Don’t be afraid if people don’t like it.”
What has been your favorite creation to make?
“I always think of things that I’ve recently made. Because you keep getting better and improving over time,” Macy explains. Currently, her favorite creation was from her first gallery show called “Wayward Beasties,” of a mouse riding a big turtle. “They are these two little creatures that are riding through the world together.”
How do you come up with your artistic creations?
“I don’t know, I’ve always had a weird, twisted, cute, overactive brain,” Macy says. “I’m an avid, lucid dreamer and I’ve met some of my creations in dreams. I like cartoons, I love video games. That all comes out when I’m sculpting, though I have less time now just to sit down with clay and no intent in mind.” Now, when Macy comes up with an idea for a new creation, she types it up in her phone. Macy says she has a list of ideas she wants to create, which helps when she sits down to make some art for herself.
What has been your biggest roadblock or challenge? How did you overcome it?
“I think that I’ve been really lucky in that my business has just kept rolling. There has been no lull. I haven’t had a lot of time to slow down and identify any challenges. Though taking a huge pay cut was a little difficult. But you get what you put into it,” Macy says.
What do you love about your job?
“I love being able to be creative all day. Making cute tiny creatures out of clay is a great reason to get out of bed each morning. I don’t have to ask anyone for time off. I like being completely in charge of my life. I’m not forced to work on anyone’s schedule. It is really what freedom feels like. This feels like what life should be like for everyone. I love really just being in charge of every second of my life. It’s the best. My entire day can be creative.”
Entrepreneurs are outliers in their own right, they are passionate about what they do and they work tirelessly everyday to turn their dreams into reality. Macy McKenny transformed her hobby and passion into a career, using social media and her own creativity. What is your passion? Have you started pursuing it as a hobby or career? Comment below and share this article to inspire a friend.