Jessica Rasmussen of Va Va Vortex, praising the Whole Enchilada

Jessica runs a fantastic art subscription service: Va Va Vortex (full disclosure: I am now a subscriber, and I think you should be too)! She is one of the most delightful, centered, and playful people I’ve yet had in my course. I wish this transcript could capture the magic of her laugh because it is wonderful.

We had a great conversation about her business before and after my Whole Enchilada course. This is one of my exit interviews (which helps me build a better course). I really appreciated what Jessica had to share and I am still ruminating on her thoughts. My students teach me a great deal and I am humbled and delighted to work with them!

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Jessica

Hello Kelly!

Kelly

Good afternoon – how are you?

Jessica

Hi, I’m good.

Kelly

Thank you so much for your patience for our reschedules – twice. Thank you very much!

Jessica

How are your kidneys?

Kelly

They’re fine. I just have a bunch of doctors to meet with. I haven’t been having a lot of pain. My goal is to – with my lifestyle – to not need surgeries anymore. That’s my main goal.

Jessica

Damn. Yeah.

Kelly

I saw you mailed your artwork out yesterday!

Jessica

[laughs]

Kelly

Yeah? How’s everything going with Va Va Vortex?

Jessica

It’s good. I just yesterday met with the SBDC person I was paired with. I was paired with a marketing person, because – what I really wanted was like tax help? But they were like, “We don’t do that.” So – that’s fine. So I went with a marketing person and he was amazing. He was young, he was a photographer, he was wearing a do-rag in our meeting, and he had a British accent. And I was just like, I love you!

Kelly

Wow, that is a lot cooler than some SBDC people I’ve met!

Jessica

[laughs] He was amazing, super hip. And it was different. Because it was such a contrast to the work I’ve been doing with you. He was like, bam, bam, bam, gotta do this, gotta do that! And they were all really good ideas. But I was glad – I was thinking about this meeting that we’re having coming up. And I was just glad that I had that grounding base support before getting hit with this person’s ideas that were really excellent. But – he was like, “You could have 5000 subscribers!” You know, that kind of thing. And that’s what he’s there to help me do. And I get that. But it was a big contrast.

Kelly

Well, you know, there are so many good ideas out there for small businesses. And what I think small businesses and especially artpreneurs need – they need confidence more than anything else. And that’s almost the thing I try to provide the most in the course.

Jessica

Yeah!

Kelly

Honestly that competence and confidence comes from starting to understand all of the wheels and cogs of running a business. Part of that is marketing. But experts often are very excited about their part. And so they have a million good ideas. But to someone without confidence, or someone who’s got a nine to five and who’s barely trying to make this happen… that enthusiasm can actually deter them. And and so that’s one of the things I hope after people take my course, that they they respond exactly how you did, which is: “These are all great ideas, and I’ll be using some of them. Five thousand subscribers isn’t my immediate goal at all -“

Jessica

[laugh] Yeah!

Kelly

– but I believe this guy!

Yeah, so I’m gratified to hear that you found that helpful.

Jessica

Totally! Yeah, it was like the right order of operations for me. Like I said, I knew we were gonna have this meeting. So I’ve been thinking about the cohort a bunch. And I feel like it was not just confidence in me and what I’m doing but also you kept bringing it back to acting with integrity. And the confidence that that’s enough to run my business was really killer. Yeah, yeah.

Kelly

You know, there’s someone in my life who’s gone down the other route, the influencer route? They’ve started taking checks from brands because brands use micro-influencers an awful lot. I think I’d be considered a nano-influencer –

Jessica

[laughs]

Kelly

I think a “micro-influencer” has like ten thousand followers. But my friend departed on that path, which I’m not saying is an unethical path. It’s just the traditional path of “you’ve got to sacrifice your ethics a little bit to make it”. And I’m going to choose to believe that you don’t have to do that *at all*. Not that you can be pure or perfect in a Capitalist system. However, no: I’m not going to partner with a brand where I ask “Hey, where do you manufacture this shit?” and they don’t want to tell me.

Anyway, I just spoke with this person’s partner the other day, and they [told me their partner] made money for a little while, and now they’re not making any money. And I’m like, “Okay, great, because I’m not really making that much money either.” But I’ve got to do exactly what I want with exactly who I want. And it feels pretty – I mean, I joke about not making money, but I’m significantly contributing to my family. And so I do believe we can do that. And I’m willing to bet my students’ futures on that.

Jessica

[laughs]

Kelly

So far it seems to be working for people. So yeah.

Kelly

I want to ask you like two questions, I think. And then I kind of wanted to talk about your business for the next couple minutes because I don’t want to take too much of your time.

What is something that you feel like you were really shaky on or at least nervous about, and the course pretty much removed that issue or at least significantly improved it?

Jessica

So because I’m not relying on my business as my sole income, I was letting it go to not even look at what my COGS were. For example, I didn’t know what my Stripe fees were for processing. And they’re super low. And through the course I actually looked at it and felt really good about it. You know, it was that thing where I felt like it was fuzzy. And I knew it was probably pretty good. But it was really empowering to see the actual numbers, which I think I would have avoided. I could have avoided it forever. Because of my margins – it was just really good to see what my actual COGs and margins were.

Kelly

That that’s so interesting, because I do feel like artpreneurs can be very vague or fuzzy when it comes [to these things]. And then they go to a business advisor, who sometimes is all about margins and quantity. And so that’s the worst of both worlds, because I think it’s you should always look and know what it is. But that doesn’t mean you instantly want to do a volume increase [next]. I mean, that sounds like that’s what one of the things this guy said at the SBDC: volume increase, right away!

Jessica

Uh-hm, yeah.

Kelly

I think sometimes Creatives stay away from quantifying things because they don’t want to go into the the quantity mindset. It’s like, well, you’re not going into that mindset. You’re just looking and actually knowing what’s happening, right?

Jessica

Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Jessica

I have one other one too. At the beginning, um… It’s funny, because it pairs funny with what I just said about knowing the actual numbers. But at some point towards the beginning of the course, you said to me, “If you don’t have to make your living off of this next month, then you can really dig into talking about your art and the story” – and that was really freeing. Like for some reason, I thought that it had to make the numbers even though I’m not relying on them. And that was really nice to hear. Like, “Hello, you don’t need to rely on this! So do the parts you enjoy!”

Kelly

Yeah, well – that makes sense. Again, I mean – my answer is “Capitalism has corrupted everything.”

Jessica

I know.

Kelly

It has! Because you run a little entrepreneurship. And if you’re trying to make money, you have all these pressures. And if you’re not trying to make money –

Jessica

[laughs]

Kelly

– you still feel like you’re supposed to gain.

Jessica

Yeah, yeah.

Kelly

And I don’t think it matters if you’re trying to make money or not, I would teach the same. I do teach the same principles to people who are not planning on doing a heavy duty professionalization. I mean, think about my story. I didn’t start to make money. I started because I couldn’t stop creating. And I stopped wanting to give it away and watch my work be unappreciated. My family was clothed tip-to-tail. I was like, “What am I going to do?”

Jessica

[laughs]

Kelly

So I didn’t start it for the reasons that many people think. And now of course, Bespoke Hogaboom does significantly contribute to our family income, it’s become a career. But same principles, whether it’s a side hustle or a passion project, because once money starts exchanging hands and you’ve got all that passion, well, now a bunch of money is gonna start exchanging hands and you better run it as a business because otherwise the IRS or someone will get on your dick.

Jessica

Uh-huh.

Kelly

So okay – awesome. Well, you know, you seem to have already been pretty well set up when we met. And also – before we met, you also have a career in the arts, which gives you more confidence than your average artpreneur, I think – than the ones that I meet. A lot of people I meet, they ask, “Is my stuff good enough?” And the answer is yes, because you do it all the time. So it’s good enough to start!

Kelly

OK, I have two more questions. One is, is there something you learned that you were surprised by its relevancy?

Jessica

Well, right off the bat, when we did the Personal Net Worth, that was that surprised me because it set up the course as a holistic look at each of us as a whole person. You know, not just the business part of it. And I was surprised that we were doing that. And it was awesome!

Kelly

Yeah! And of course when I first did mine I was like, “I didn’t want to look!” So that was probably another exercise where I feel like: it’s better to look. It doesn’t matter what’s in there. It’s better to look.

So my last question is, what would you add or change to improve the course?

Jessica

… It was pretty stellar. I mean, I can keep chewing on that. But like, honestly, nothing comes to mind.

Kelly

I had one suggestion that for the study buddy sessions that I suggest a tiny assignment for those meetings in case conversation isn’t flowing. So that was a really helpful suggestion!

Jessica

Oh … all mine went pretty smoothly. Maybe I was bulldozing – I don’t know.

Kelly

Don’t second guess yourself now! Some people more shy than others. You’re middle of the road. You’re not shy, you’re not overbearing.

Jessica

[laughs]

Kelly

Okay well I just have to tell you just it was so great to work with you. And I got my little – it looks like this will be my little Jessica wall.

Jessica

Oh wow!

Kelly

I had a student who was gonna do what you’re doing. And she kind of got in the weeds with – life got in the way. So it was pretty cool – just selfishly, for me – to see someone who’s running an art subscription because I know it can work! That was some cool serendipity. But I don’t have to tell you to keep doing it because you can’t stop creating so that’s not going to happen. If there’s ever anything at all I can help you – I don’t look at my students is like further sources of income. I just want to keep a relationship because ultimately, I want more artists in the world who are getting respect and getting what they need. Money or whatever, it doesn’t matter. I want them to create and to not, you know, just go work at Trader Joe’s and stuff that part of themselves down because that’s what people do. That’s not what you’re gonna do – but that’s what many people do.

Jessica

Well, I loved your course and it was even more incredible than I anticipated. Would it be helpful for you if I like wrote out the things that I like most about the course?

Kelly

I would love that! I’ll send you a link to my Google reviews, that’s the best place to write that – anything enthusiastic and truthful, it can be short. It just has to be truthful and enthusiastic. This helps me a great deal because people look for testimonials. They look at reviews. So I’ll email you the link to that.

Jessica

Okay, perfect!

Kelly

And likewise, if there’s ever anything I can do for you in any capacity, please let me know because – it’s so funny. I was gonna give my son Phoenix your art subscription as a gift. And I was like, “Fuck that! I’m getting one for me.” I have other people who could use one so I may order another one!

Jessica

Awesome. All right. Can I ask you real quick? Did you find someone – a creative mentor?

Kelly

No… but I should tell you. Yesterday why I couldn’t be here at our previous time is I got an opportunity to take a college art class for free – a scholarship. And so I started –

Jessica

[laughs]

Kelly

It was called “Beginning Drawing” and I was like, “You better be serious about ‘beginning’. I’m gonna suck so bad!” Who wants to be a beginner, you know? So yesterday, we tried blind contour continuous line drawing. And I was like in tears after two hours.

Jessica

Because – like happy tears or frustration …?

Kelly

Well when I first started drawing, I almost did cry from gratitude, because I left behind drawing when I was a kid when I was I was pushed into STEM. But then, but then by the end of class I was like, “Oh my gosh, training my eye to slow down and my hand to move at the same time is really hard!” Even though that’s literally what I do with chainstitch. And I’m quite proficient at that. Unfortunately, my chainstitch skills do not transfer at all. So during class I kept thinking, “This is really hard work!” It’s going to be rough the whole course, it’s not going to be like my sewing sewing life, where I am pretty much hitting it out of the park every time.

Jessica

You know, I consider myself a lifelong artist, and I think drawing is really hard. So just – yeah, not everyone’s a draftperson.

Kelly

My oldest child is an illustrator. And someday I’ll have to maybe send you some of his work. We talked about my class last night. I think he was pretty proud of me for taking a drawing class. But you know better than anyone I’ve met probably that there’s an ego that gets associated with art. And it can be hard to claim that space and say, “I’m an artist! You don’t have to think I’m good!”

Jessica

[laughs]

Kelly

I’m ready to take up this thing that I left behind at age twelve, when everybody told me I should leave it behind. I did leave it behind. I said, “Okay, I will.” And now I’m forty-five.

Jessica

Yeah. Yay! Okay, well, you have to listen to the opening paragraph of that book, Big Magic.

Kelly

I read about a third of that book.

Jessica

Oh, did you remember the beginning when the woman, she decides to take up ice skating again, in her forties –

Kelly

Oh that’s right!

Jessica

– and it’s the best opening because it’s like, she’s just doing it for her soul. She’s not trying to be a professional ice skater.

Kelly

I seem to remember she had gone through a life change – like a divorce or her kids moved out or it was some situation where there was a sea change in her life. And that’s literally happened to me. While I was teaching the last cohort my oldest moved out. I have all this energy that I was using for my children and now – I still have, I have more energy than I ever have –

Jessica

[laughs]

Kelly

So I have to take up ice skating too probably!

Jessica

Yeah!

Kelly

– but to answer your question, no, I don’t have that creative mentor yet. But you know when I say mentor, I mean someone where I ask them what I should do and I take some direction. I’m often in the mentor position.

Jessica

Right.

Kelly

And I love it. But it’s like, I want someone who’s a little bit ahead of me in some way, not necessarily their career, but just their confidence along the path, you know?

Jessica

Yeah.

Kelly

So if you ever consider offering mentorship, I will be first in line for that.

Jessica

But I’d have to ask you how to do it. [laughs]

Kelly

[laughs] Yeah. You know, I had a mentor earlier in the year, and I think he was really good at making money. But he didn’t understand Creativity. He really didn’t. And I mean, everybody has creativity, but there’s something different… he didn’t understand my absolute need for total freedom in my work. He did not understand that because he was someone who was willing to put up with something for thirty, forty years to make loads of money. But I’ll never do that. I can’t. I’ve proven I won’t do that.

Jessica

Yeah.

Kelly

And not not doesn’t mean he’s better or I’m better. It’s just personality. No. I’m never going to build an empire that’s all about money. It’s just not going to happen.

Jessica

Yeah.

Kelly

Yeah so if you run into any resource for that, or you find someone or decide to try it – you don’t have to learn from me how to be a mentor. If it’s something that calls to you – whether you take me on or someone else – if it’s something that calls to you, you should consider it. People need mentorship, they really do. Not everybody’s willing to discipline themselves to having a mentor. But there are people out there that really will use that resource and benefit from it.

Jessica

Yeah, well, you’ve planted the seed and I have been thinking about it.

Kelly

Yeah. I’ll re-read that Big Magic bit. But I don’t want to read another book or another podcast, because that actually activates my mind. And what I need is someone to help me find discipline, because I don’t need more inspiration.

Jessica

[laughs]

Kelly

My brain is invasive!

Jessica

The opening paragraph about – it just reminded me so much of you taking the drawing class. And just going back to that for yourself, not to be a professional graphic designer. Doing it just for yourself.

Kelly

Yeah. Yep, I do have the courage to be bad at something.

Jessica

[laughs] Not everyone has that! At all!

Kelly

Like I make jokes about about wanting to be good, but the truth is I’m capable of being the shittiest, I can handle it. I learned that through yoga, I’d be in yoga and I couldn’t do what any of these other students were doing but I’d say, “I deserve to be here!”

Jessica

[laughs]

Kelly

Well, thank you so much time, and thank you for your feedback. And I will send you a link – a review is so helpful. So thank you for volunteering that.

Jessica

Yeah, definitely. Thank you, too.

Kelly

Yeah, enjoy the sunshine! And I cannot wait to get my Va Va Vortex!

Jessica

Well, yeah! You’re gonna have it for a while!

Kelly

I know. I’m strapped in! Awesome. All right. Have a great day.

Jessica

Alright, you too. Bye!

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If you like what I have to share, and you’re willing to invest time in your dream – I’d love to work with you formally!

You can read more about my course here (or – get my emails).

You can read about, and apply for, mentorship here.