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From Desk Job to Dream Job, Artist Recognizes Business Skills a Necessity

Nadia Kaliszewski was 3 years into working her first “real” job in energy research at the University of Wyoming. After pursuing a professional ski career, and then returning to earn her graduate degree in environmental studies, Kaliszewski found that she was less than satisfied at the desk job she worked so hard to land.

As a child, she grew up in a household that embraced creating. She spent her free time painting and making jewelry with her mom, and then dabbled in metal-smithing, sculpture and sewing as she got older. She was raised to believe that being an artist was never going to pay the bills or suffice as a real “job”. However, Kaliszewski realized that the support she found for the custom clothing and jewelry she had been crafting as a hobby for her friends might be enough for a small business venture. “This idea helped supercharge me into embracing my creativity,” said Kaliszewski. 

And she rolled with it. In 2014, Big Hollow Designs was born, a jewelry and clothing design business in Laramie, WY. “The first two years in business with Big Hollow Designs I kept my full-time job at the University of Wyoming,” says Kaliszewski. “But, as soon as I’d get home from work at 5:00, I was in my studio sewing like crazy and making jewelry until midnight. This relentless commitment was a clear sign to me that my real passion was in design.”

Kaliszewski knew she needed more than just the support of her friends to make a real go of her business endeavor. She had initially known about the Wyoming Women’s Business Center (WWBC) from a friend who had been working with them on her own business.

“I actually met up with the WWBC years before Big Hollow Designs was born, but realized that I needed more skills and plans lined up in order to really dive into my business full time,” she says.

She recognized she couldn’t quite end her current desk job and take on her new business full time without formal experience in the field. She began meeting with the WWBC for business and financial support to move forward with her goal. “I took advantage of any opportunity I could to take classes that were key to helping me get the skills I needed to break out of what I referred to as my ‘little glass cage’ – my glass-walled office,” she says.

Kaliszewski received an IDA matched savings grant from the WWBC in 2015 and used it to purchase a computer and a metal smith course. She also took part in the roundtable discussions on a variety of business topics the WWBC offered regularly at no cost. 

“Social media and photo editing work make up a huge part of my time, so the computer was critical,” she says. "And the talks that the WWBC offers are really helpful."

Kaliszewski began selling her items at music and mountain festivals around the Rocky Mountain region in the summer of 2015. And in August of 2016, she quit her desk job and has been working in her studio and on the road ever since.  “I went from doing 5-7 shows per year to 20 shows in 2017,” says Kaliszewski. 

She says that the support, planning and movement toward making her art a “real” job has been in large part due to the support from the WWBC. “I have been very fortunate to have the support of the WWBC through these challenging first years as a startup,” she says. “It has been extremely valuable to have access to knowledgeable business consultants, grant opportunities and the newly opened Karen Lewis Fiber Arts Studio.”

Kaliszewski works with Jonathan Howdeshell at the WWBC for a variety of business counseling services. “Jonathan’s strengths are his overall business consulting,” she says. “He has an eye for new business ideas with relation to social media, and has given suggestions on marketing my business and self that I wouldn’t have thought of. He makes me think outside the box.”

She says that other benefits of working with the WWBC have been their expertise and insight into startups, and an invaluable financial support in her first years of business. 

“Without that financial help and Waldo Smith’s guidance at the WWBC, I would be so much further behind in my financial situation than I am now,” says Kaliszewski. “The fact that they are always open and available to talk with is huge. And the Fiber Arts Studio space is a wonderful place to have access to large tables for projects with huge rolls of fabric. I’m so fortunate to use that space at no cost.”

A full year into making Big Hollow Designs her full-time work, Kaliszewski says she hopes to continue to grow it into a sustainable business that allows her to travel and create unique items. She says that she recognizes that her jewelry provides the biggest ROI, and hopes to put more effort into that part of her collection and find additional wholesale accounts.

“This experience has been a powerful life-changing event for me,” she says, “and I’m more excited than ever to see where I can take Big Hollow Designs in the future.”

Her only problem at this point? It’s no longer wondering if she has the right business resources. “Today my biggest challenge is not enough time in the day to create all the things I wish to create.”

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