How this Windsor artist traded a corporate job for online painting classes followed by hundreds of thousands

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3min 52sec
A woman poses in a home studio surrounded by colorful blues and yellows on artworks on the walls around her.
Courtesy of Lacey Walker
Lacey Walker, artist and owner of Rebel Unicorn Crafts in Windsor.

Have you ever wondered what it takes to be your own boss? If so, Lacey Walker has some advice for you.

Walker, the artist behind Rebel Unicorn Crafts in Windsor, teaches people online to paint using watercolors. She also sells art supplies and original artwork — and has a thriving presence on social media.

“It's a company I developed to help kind of spread the joy of creating with our hands,” Walker said. “I think in an increasingly digital world where we do things and then send them off into the ether and never see them again, we need to reconnect and see something we physically made.”

This is a full-time gig for her. But this isn’t how her career started out. She did the office grind for more than 10 years. She worked in marketing and has a master’s degree in digital communications.

Now, she has 531,000 followers on Instagram and 377,000 followers on TikTok who tune in for short, simple videos about techniques for painting everything from flowers to farm animals. It’s a pretty impressive transformation.

A road to success paved by abandoned business plans

Walker always knew she wanted to start her own business, but she wasn’t sure exactly what that business would be.

“I have a lot of abandoned business plans, as I'm sure most entrepreneurs can relate to, where they have lots of different thoughts. For a while, I wanted to do a doggy daycare type thing,” Walker said.

Walker landed on an artistic endeavor after a stretch of long days in the corporate world that left her too tired to do anything creative at the end of the day.

“I think there was five years where maybe once a year I would get my stuff out and do something creative, but it is really integral to me to be able to create and make things,” she said. “I feel the most fulfilled and I feel the most like me when I can make something.”

She took the leap about seven years ago. It was a little nerve-racking, although she had enough money saved to see her through if things didn’t go according to plan. She said she feels lucky she has a supportive partner.

A pandemic-era challenge became an opportunity

The pandemic threw a big wrench in the plans for her budding business, however. At the time, she was teaching classes in person. She had to issue a bunch of refunds when everything shut down.

“I kind of accidentally fell into making videos,” Walker said. “In the early stages of the pandemic … one of the things I would do was every Friday night I would get on, it was originally I think on Facebook Live, and I would just paint and teach a little class that was free and there was no pandemic talk, so it was like an escape.”

Walker’s business is all online now. She misses teaching in person. But there are definitely perks to doing it this way.

“I do quite enjoy the fact that I don't have to lug a whole bunch of stuff around anymore,” Walker said. “Most of my job used to be loading in a car and unloading a car and then reloading a car and then putting it into storage if I wasn't doing that class for a while.”

Tips for other aspiring entrepreneurs

It’s important for aspiring entrepreneurs to come up with multiple revenue streams, she said. That way, when something inevitably changes, there’s a backup plan to generate cash. For instance, corporate classes made up 75 percent of her revenue in one year. But those classes dried up when companies started cutting budgets the following year.

If a business plan relies heavily on income from social media, Walker advises creating something that you can control. The social media giants can be fickle when it comes to paying content creators.

“My online classes are something that I have control of. I get to say how much the prices are. I get to say how much my advertising is going to be,” she said.

There’s a lot of different directions a small business can take, she said.

“If somebody is feeling pressured to try to turn their hobby into a job, you don't have to do that. It can stay a hobby. You can work to support your hobby,” Walker said. “Everybody’s going to be a little bit different in how they do it. I would just say be ready, if you do decide to make the jump, be ready to be flexible.”