Entrepreneur of the Month: Sonja Caywood (September 2017)

September 2017
Entrepreneur of the Month

Sonja Caywood
Sonja Caywood Fine Art

It's always peaked my interest when hearing other entrepreneurs and small business owner's stories.  I love exchanging stories with like minded people.  In one of my coaching sessions, with Tracy Moore Photographers, Tracy had mentioned writing a blog series on businesses.  I jumped on the idea.  I am super excited to start talking with businesses throughout Wyoming!

This month's feature is Sonja Caywood with Sonja Caywood Fine Art.  She's incredibly talented.  My parents have her art hanging upstairs in their house. 

Lily and I went to visit Sonja and Poncho the first part of August at the Han's Kleiber museum in Dayton, WY.  We spent all morning talking, petting the dog, and Lily painted some really nice pictures for her room (thank you for that, she loves them).  Sonja is a remarkable woman with an interesting business story.  I've always enjoyed my time chatting with Sonja. 

Here's some stuff you may or may not have known about Sonja!

What is your business?  What products do you sell?
I am an artist, and I've always been an artist, though I've only done it full-time since 2012.  I sell my paintings of livestock, wildlife, landscapes, signs and architecture.

What do you love about your business?
This is what I've always wanted to do, and I am grateful for the freedom that being an artist allows me.  I love that I don't have to punch a time clock, and I can go to work in my pj's.

What is your favorite client experience? (no need for names)
This sounds funny, but they're pretty much all good.  It's great to finally meet someone who's collected my work for awhile.  The first few times I sold work to people from overseas I was especially elated.

What is unique about your business?
My business is not really unique- there are a lot of people making a living in visual art these days.  I think artists today are blessed to have the internet for sharing our work and learning and connecting.  I often think about what it was like for artists even 30 years ago, when sharing your art meant sending slides or prints of your work in the mail.

Do you have set business hours?  How much time on average in a week do you spend on your business? 
In a perfect world I'd like to get about 25 hours a week in studio time.  I usually I have far more hours spent on the "business side" of art: correspondence, website, banking, paperwork, than actual studio (painting) time.  I'm thinking of setting studio hours this fall and devoting a day every week to the business stuff.

What advice would you give a young person who wants to pursue their own business?  
I'd tell a young person, "Be sure you absolutely love what you're pursuing.  Don't do it if you have a half-hearted, 'that'd be fun' attitude.  Learn everything you can from people who are in that field, and be willing to accept the not-so-fun parts along with it.  Prepare for lean times, and prepare to work harder than you though you would.  If you're truly passionate about it, it will be rewarding." I've seen a lot of people buy a restaurant because they think it'll be fun; soon they realize it's much more than they bargained for: staffing, ordering, baking, scheduling, marketing, meeting regulations, payroll, inspections, overhead, planning, etc.  Had they worked in every aspect of the business beforehand (or asked someone), they'd know what they were getting into.  I'm glad I don't own a restaurant!

What's your story?  How did you get to this point in your business?  Was it difficult?  Was it easy?Like I said, I always wanted to be an artist.  It was always on the back burner, after my other obligations.  After our third child was stillborn, a pastor friend told me, "Maybe one day you'll paint pictures because of her; she will have brought you that."  I painted for therapy then- art let me escape the pain and focus on something, and I really developed a passion for it.  I worked full-time and part-time jobs, and art took a back seat after family, our horses, pets and hockey.  When I decided that I wanted to get more serious about art I had to make some decisions; I sold our horses and quit playing hockey.  After four years of devoting more time to it, I lost my full-time job, which turned out to be a huge blessing, as I never would have quit my job to pursue art full-time.  Looking back, it was making the decision to really pursue my dream that started me on track for today's success.  I learned to treat my art like a business, and even though it was just something I did on weekends and summers, I'd built a name and client base that supported me financially when I lost my job.  To a by-stander, it probably looked like, "She lost her job and became an artist," but it was much, much harder and I struggled for a long time before I was given the opportunity to do art full-time.


What are some goals you have for your business?  (not financial goals)


This year's been funny in that I had to make goals for me rather than my business.  I've been working so hard and art is such a part of me, that I couldn't separate myself from it.  So this year I've taken time to work in my gardens and flowers, and spend more time with my family and friends.  I cut down on the painting classes I teach to devote time to me, which makes my studio time more special again.

Who has been your biggest supporter?  What have they done?  Would you be at this point without them?
My husband, Terry's been a huge support, and he's always encouraged me and told me my art would support us one day.  And without his income, it would have been tough to stay in art that first year.  My mom bought me art meager supplies when I was young and we couldn't afford it.  My dad always tole me I could be anything I want to be.


What's your favorite songs to listen to when doing business stuff?  (Pick at least 5)
I actually listen to audiobooks while I'm painting.  I used to listen to The Dirty Heads' "Believe" on the way to my job as a teacher's aid, and dream about when I could do art for a living.  When I hear that song today it makes me so proud & happy that I stuck w/ it, worked, and BELIEVED.

What's your favorite color?
I've never had one, honestly- but recently I've got a thing for aqua-blue.  I'd never wear it, but I really like it.  I just bought a teapot that color, and I can see that hue coming into my paintings soon.

Are you a breakfast person or dinner person?
 Breakfast... at night.

What's your favorite snack?  
ice cream

Tell us about your family?
I was born in Sheridan, WY.  I have three little brothers, and we were raised in a ranching family in Montana, and later, Wyoming.  My husband, Terry, and I have two kids who live in Sheridan.  Our son just got married to a lovely English lass.

What are you passionate about?  
Painting, my family & animals

What other hobbies do you have?
 I love to go on drives in the country for inspiration

Do you have any pets?
Two rescue dogs, Pancho (15) & Agnus (7), and one rescued, feral, cross-eyed kitten, Minnie Purrl. All three were originally our daughter's.

If you could pick three words to describe yourself, what would they be?
 distracted, creative, Christian

Do you have any hidden talents?
I make excellent soup.

Favorite places you've visited? 
I adore traveling!!!  I loved Europe, especially Italy: the loving, happy people, the history, the architecture, and the variety of landscapes and agricultural pursuits.  Paris is a stunning city, and Zambia, Africa is full of amazing people. Stateside, Utah is beautiful, and I really like New Mexico.

Something you're proud of?
 I'm proud that I didn't need a college degree to follow my dreams; I'm happy that I worked hard and did it on my own.

What do you think people would miss, if you passed away?
 They'd say I was funny, generous and kind, but I'm not- it's just an act.


Thanks Sonja!
I loved reading your story! 


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