Dreams Into Dollars: Art Teacher Paints Her Way to a Successful Small Business

Riley Sheehey has been an artist for as long as she can remember. It’s only been the last few months that she can say it’s actually her career.

The Falls Church, Virginia, woman recently took a leap of faith, leaving her job as an elementary school art teacher to focus full-time on her business "Make Things Co." What started as a hobby she shared with friends and family has since evolved into more than she ever imagined.

"It started by word-of-mouth," said Sheehey. "I would do some of my friends’ wedding invitations or do a little portrait of them as a wedding gift."

Once she started posting her creations on Etsy and Instagram, she found herself receiving requests from all over the country.

Like many small business owners, Sheehey decided to test the water before diving in. Last year, she was able to adjust her teaching schedule to dedicate more time to her art.

"I took off on Mondays which gave me a sense of what my job would look like doing this on a day-to-day basis," Sheehey said.

She quickly learned she needed even more time to expand her business.  


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"I was working as soon as I got home from my teaching job on my artwork until ten or 11 at night and on weekends, pretty much the whole time."

Sheehey left her teaching job once the school year let out and began focusing full-time on the company. Instead of teaching, she’s now spending every day learning the ins and outs of running a business.

"I love this job so much. I want to be painting all the time, but there are definitely parts of it that are still work," she said. "I still spend a lot of hours a day emailing and going to the post office – or on the phone with the post office!"

Sheehey relies on Etsy and Square to help with her business transactions. She’s found that Instagram, where she’s followed by more than 15,000 people, can be used for much more than just sharing photos.

"There are so many different things I still don’t know, so it’s nice to be able to use that as a platform not only to share your work but also to learn new things and share what you’ve learned."

One thing Sheehey knows for sure: the life of an artist is not a glamorous one, even her Instagram account appears that way.

"Even last year when I was thinking about going full-time with this, I would picture myself going into D.C. during the day and drinking coffee and going to the art museum," she laughed. "I’ve done that once… but I was stressed out most of the time to be totally honest, thinking I was going to miss an email!"

Even without the glamour, Sheehey has painted her way to the job of her dreams.

Check out her Instagram page here

Find out more about ordering prints of her artwork or commissioning new pieces here

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