Business, Coronavirus, Features

Student side hustlers find creative spark despite pandemic challenges

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed many businesses into economic hardships, so companies must get creative to preserve through. Boston University Terriers are no exception. Upon the onset of the coronavirus, student business owners and freelancers have dived deeper into their creativity, expanding their business operations in the art and design industry.

Emily Perelman, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, said she de

A sticker designed by Emily Perelman, a sophomore in Boston University’s College of Arts and Sciences who sells her graphic designs on stickers and prints online. Perelman is among many BU students that are continuing to run their independent businesses online during the coronavirus pandemic. COURTESY EMILY PERELMAN

cided to turn her hobby for art and design into a business in the summer of 2018 after realizing the amount of time she had been devoting to it.

“I’ve always been really into art and graphic design, and things of that nature,” Perelman said. “So after pursuing that as a hobby for a while, I got into making actual products and selling them to friends at first and then eventually expanding that circle to friends of friends and the general public.”

In 2019, Perelman was able to develop a more consistent business, selling prints and stickers on Etsy, Society 6 and Instagram, she said, in addition to freelancing designs to companies.

Perelman said she feels as if the market for art has become a bit depressed since COVID-19. However, she said she is optimistic about growing her projects in different ways despite the lack of customers, including developing a strategic business plan and launching new designs.

“I want to take this time to be productive,” Perelman said. “I want to come out with a new line of stickers and try to sell prints and all that.”

Freelance illustrator and designer Emma Cohen, a freshman in the College of Communication, also said that because she is at home, she has been able to dedicate more time to satisfy her passion for designing. She said her freelancing side hustle has given her enjoyment and experience.

“I’ve had way more time to do design … so I’m actually making a lot more money through freelancing right now,” Cohen said. “I know other artists are struggling who own their own businesses because it’s sort of a different thing, where they need customers to come to them, whereas freelancers can seek out work themselves.”

While some artists and designers are struggling with a lack of materials, Cohen said that switching over to digital artwork last semester has helped her continue her designs without relying on materials.

“I’ve always just liked arts and crafts and stuff since I was little, but I got into digital artwork [last] semester at school,” Cohen said. “I was looking for a way to be more creative, but without all the materials.”

Meredith Fein, a freshman in the School of Theatre within the College of Fine Arts, started making clay jewelry as her business to keep herself busy while at home since BU cancelled all in-person classes.

“Since I have a lot of materials and stuff at my house, since I do a lot of very design-based things in my major already, it was pretty easy to do it,” Fein said. “I’ve always wanted to be able to make either clothing or jewelry or something that people can wear and sell it.”

She said the business idea came about spontaneously when she was posting on her Instagram art account, and people started asking to buy her products. She has now sold eight pieces and three commissions to people all around the country, including California, New Hampshire and Virginia.

“I made stuff that I would want to wear and then I posted it with the intention of myself wearing it but then people started [direct messaging] me, asking if they could buy them,” she said.

Fein said that people who are interested in developing their newfound creativity into a business shouldn’t be afraid to invest in themselves and their experimentation.

“It’s a bit cliche, but you have to spend money to make money,” Fein said. “It does cost money to create art, but I think that the final product always makes it worth it.”

Perelman said small business owners can use this time to be creative. However, she said it’s also important to keep in mind that this is a very vulnerable time.

“When push comes to shove, this is a really difficult and hard time, and you need to take time to not be productive,” Perelman said. “You need to take time to let yourself settle in.”

A quick and effective way to help small businesses is to share their products and goods on social media while uplifting others, Perelman said.

“When I’m trying to promote myself,” Perelman said, “I’m also trying to share resources and share support for people that might not be able to give support.”

Perelman said she is glad she can continue creating art in this uncertain time, which she said has inspired her to try to make more in-person connections with her business, expanding from her currently all-online platform.

“Doing art and doing design and selling that really adds a lot to my life,” Perelman said. “It’s something that lets me connect with people in a different way. So I’m definitely going to keep doing it, whether it’s a side business or whether I decide to take it on as a full time thing, which kind of scares me but also is exciting.”

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