Alli Koch, one of our absolute favorite artists, basically embodies entrepreneurial #goals — after graduating college and working in a boutique, she started a side hustle during her free time, and ended up turning it into her full-time job. Now, she’s the owner of Alli K Design and the author of two books (the second one will be released soon — and we can’t wait!). In addition to all that (and being a full-blown Chick-Fil-A addict), she also has a podcast, Breakfast with Sis, where she talks all things life with her dad.
Alli inspires us to never quit the pursuit of our dreams — and she’ll do the same for you too.
What was your first job, and how did you land it?
My very first job was a Starbucks barista. At the time my dad knew someone who worked for Starbucks corporate, so I feel like they took a chance on me because I put her down as a reference. I wasn’t there for very long — I’m actually not a big fan of coffee or the rude people going through coffee withdrawals at 5am.
My first job out of college was part time at a gift boutique called The Vintage House — I’ve known the owner since I was four so they were my second family there. It started out as an internship doing social media and working the front desk. When I graduated I picked up more shifts to help out, because it gave me something to do while I interviewed for jobs. I still had quite of bit of time on my hands, so I started painting and making signs as my other side hustle, which is how Alli K Design started.
Telling them I couldn’t stay there anymore because I decided to make Alli K Design my full time job was the hardest conversation I ever had. The owner was still recovering from breast cancer, I made good friends with the customers, and I knew if I left it would only be three people working (2 of them over the age of 60). I didn’t want to let family down, but they were and still are so supportive.
It kind of started off as a dare. To prove to someone (and really everyone) that I am worth the risk and that I can do it.
You described your career with Alli K design as a “happy accident.” How did you turn a creative passion project into your full-time career?
I needed an outlet and something to fill my time other than laying in bed binge watching Gossip Girl. While I was working at the gift boutique, I started painting — anything from canvases to old vinyl records to vintage globes. I posted my first canvas I ever made of my husband and I’s wedding vows for our bedroom. It was right before Christmas, and my friends started asking for custom canvases as gifts. The word got out and I think I had 75 orders to do in a few months.
Thinking back on it I can’t even remember how people were sending me money. I had all of these sticky notes around the apartment and my oven was only used as a drying rack, but I was on a high. Growing up I never even thought of being a business owner or what entrepreneurship really meant. I just thought you had to invent a cool gadget or open an actual store front to live that life.
In my head the plan was: go to college, get married, work a 9-5 job, have babies, and become a stay-at-home mom. It’s what I saw my mom do and all of my friend’s moms do — I thought that they had the life. But that high — the high of making something with my own two hands and someone wanting to pay money for it — got to me. I could set the rules, I could sleep in and stay up as late as I wanted. I bought craft supplies not just because I wanted to, but because I needed to. I couldn’t shake it. I remember bargaining with my husband to let me make this my job. My husband was a by-the-books guy — the “what about insurance and 401k” kind of guy. He saw it more of a hobby instead of a job, but gave me six months to show him I could bring in more money than what I was spending on art supplies — if I couldn’t, I needed a 9-5. Well, challenge accepted. That six months has now turned into almost 4 years.
Yeah, there were months (okay, maybe a whole year) we dipped way into our savings account, and he was constantly bringing me back to the reality of taxes and expenses. (which was an instant buzzkill). But now, when I have months that I make more than he does, it’s a good feeling!
So I guess to answer the question: it kind of started off as a dare. To prove to someone (and really everyone) that I am worth the risk and that I can do it.
The high of making something with my own two hands and someone wanting to pay money for it — got to me.
Take us through a day in the life of Alli — what tasks take up the most of your day?
I love sleep, so I try to sleep as late as possible, or until I can’t fight turning my brain off. If I wake up before 10:30am, I’ll grab Chick-Fil-A breakfast, come back home, and start answering emails. I’m old-school and have to have a planner; if it’s not written down on there, it doesn’t get done (I have nightmares of losing it). So after emails, I make my top three things to do that day and start with the easiest of the three. It ranges from designs on my iPad and ordering supplies to painting a mural or a custom leather jacket. My work day ends around 7:30pm when my husband comes home with dinner. This was a huge challenge in my career — the first two years I wouldn’t start working until around 4:30pm.
I felt — and still feel — most creative at night, but I was missing that life/work balance and knew I needed to change.
Do you ever get burnt-out? How do you keep yourself inspired?
All. The. Time.
We live in a world where every thing and idea is posted on the web. It’s so hard to think of something new and creative that no one has seen before. I have to constantly remind myself that there is no such thing as creating something new, it’s just finding inspiration and putting your own self into it. Almost everything that is a part of my business started out by creating it for myself first. If I wouldn’t own it personally, I don’t care to create it. Sticking true to this has helped my “oh I can do that” brain and has helped me stay focused on my passion and purpose.
If I get too burnt out I have to turn myself off. I’m running a business that is me; I am the artist and the brand. So turning off is completely distancing myself from my norm — sometimes taking a nap works, but most of the time it’s getting out of the house the whole day or going on vacation with no phone. I’ve also found that planning vacations and friend dates ahead of time and giving myself something to look forward to helps a lot.
If that ‘dream job’ doesn’t add to your purpose in life, you will never feel fulfilled. You will constantly feel burnt out. Finding your purpose is key — once you find it, lean into it. If it is truly your passion, it won’t fail you.
What moment in your career are you the most proud of thus far?
Hmm, I feel like my career just existing in itself is pretty crazy. Every month is different and pivots in multiple directions. I get the same feeling when a bride sends me a thank you for making her a jacket or when someone shares my book on social media. I am still growing and learning my worth, but the minute I land a mural deal I literally scream out loud and I can’t hold all the emotions in. I will hit six figures this year, so to grow this much by myself in four years is definitely something to be proud of. Thanks for asking that, I needed the reminder.
You have a very distinctive style and aesthetic. Did this come naturally or was it something you’ve honed over time? What advice would you give to other creatives looking to create their own distinctive “look”?
Haha oh no. My family jokes all the time about my pink flowers and glittery art I use to make. Working by yourself, you are alone a lot. I didn’t have to pick the right outfits to fit in with what the cool kids were wearing or be confined to what my parents thought was acceptable. I found out who I was as a person and with that, and found my artistic style: minimal and black and white. Everything I touch or create is truly all of me and how I live my life. I drive an all black car and get comments all the time that it’s very on-brand. No people — the brand is me.
For others to find their own style, it has to be what they truly believe in and can personally relate to… not because they know it sells or because someone else makes it look good.
Part of your business has become teaching others how to hone and use their own creativity. How did you take the step into teaching?
It first started out by someone asking me If I could do a private lesson. I was year two in my business and felt so weird about it. I barely knew what I was doing myself. But I did it, going in knowing that they knew nothing and even my little bit of knowledge would be something. I am so glad I did because I instantly found my purpose. I am the happiest when I am teaching someone else what I know and inspiring others.
We’re obsessed with your first book, How to Draw Modern Florals. Tell us about the process of finding a publisher. Did you always know you wanted to write a book?
Definitely not. Want to know a secret? My dad “heavily helped” write every paper I had in school. I feel like I am not a strong writer so a book was not even on my radar. My publisher actually contacted me about the deal. Definitely thought it was a scam at first.
I kept asking, “Why me?”
I was following so many people who were drawing flowers twice as good as my doodles. But then they told me — none of them caught their eye, but I did. I had a presence about me of hustle and willingness to give (which I’ve learned is what it takes to write a book).
Your second book is releasing soon (we’re so excited btw). What inspired you this time around? Is there anything you did differently on the second go-round?
Eeek I am so glad! Honestly I didn’t think I had another book in me. Sequels never do as well as the first and I had a fear that would happen with this project, but the comments and messages flooded in about a second book. So many people wanted another one, which gave me the motivation. I literally took everything they were asking for and put it in this book, so this one is definitely for them.
How do you combat imposter syndrome? Do you have any advice for other creatives dealing with comparison online?
When writing my book it really didn’t hit me that I was teaching others how to draw like me until I actually saw someone draw a flower literally identical to mine in the book. I immediately called my dad in a panic — I felt like I had ruined my career. I didn’t have a mega following nor was I widely known. But of course Dad knew best. He reminded me why I wrote the book in the first place: I’m a giver and a helper.
Yes, I have a certain style that I just shared the secret behind to the whole world, but no one is going to draw it exactly how my own two hands would draw it. When it comes to comparing work to others — step away, far away. There are times where I have to unfollow (and still do) accounts because I know I will get in my head when I look at them. Even though Instagram feeds are annoying at times, we have the freedom to curate what we see. Don’t fill it with people just like you or people you want to be. Should you go and check in on those accounts to give you motivation, yes, but looking at it every day doesn’t help your personal style.
I always get tongue tied when people ask me what I do — it’s never a simple answer. I feel like I can’t just say artist, plus I like the idea of being more.
We’re obsessed with your podcast, Breakfast with Sis, where you talk all things life with your Dad. Why did you decide to start sharing those conversations with your followers?
My dad and I are very similar — we will share and give anything and everything we can. We didn’t even think twice about all the “what ifs” involved with podcasting. The conversations I have had with my dad every Saturday for the past 10 years have been critical to my life and who I am today. I have learned how to be a good leader, a good friend, a good business owner — all from a simple breakfast tradition. These conversations will be with me, recorded and capsuled forever. If we inspire or help someone else out along the way, what a cool extra bonus to have.
You have a lot of irons in the fire — with an online shop, a podcast, a publishing career, and a teaching schedule. How did you go about diversifying your business?
Irons in the fire. I love that, I’ve never heard it phrased that way, but you are very correct. Many many hats. I always get tongue tied when people ask me what I do — it’s never a simple answer. I feel like I can’t just say artist, plus I like the idea of being more.
I definitely have the mind of wanting to do it all, and I am constantly pulling myself in to what I need to focus on. Do I know what my business and two hands are going to make in 2-3 years? Nope! But I do know it is smart to have passive incomes, I call it my job security. When one part of my business is slow I can lean into and grow another part, and then there is the middle that I know will always be steady in income.
What do you love the most about living in Dallas?
My family. I am a huge homebody and family person so would never live more than 30 mins away from them. It’s a plus that everything is pretty much “in my backyard” and there are more warm months than cold months.
What advice would you tell your 22-year-old self?
22 — I was in college living at home with very little friends and napping as my hobby. But I so wish I could tell her how proud she would be of her life. That she wasn’t a nobody and would actually make a difference in the world. She would help create a movement of making flower illustrations approachable and cool. She would have more friends than she can keep up with, and would never have the feeling of unwantedness again.
Alli Koch is The Everygirl…
Your go-to Chick-Fil-A order?
#3 eight count with a large sweet tea 🙂
Favorite product you’ve made?
Definitely my book. It has been the best outlet to inspire and connect with others all over the world. Seeing others either draw a flower for the very first time and amazing themselves or giving artists confidence again. It’s a surreal feeling to witness. I could not have reached those people without it!
The last show you binged?
I’m a game show/challenge TV show junkie. Big Brother, Project Runway, Cake Wars, Ink Masters. Love them. So most likely one of those.
Best way to spend a day off?
In bed napping or at Dave and Busters.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be?
Alicia Keys. Just being in the same room with her would be inspiring, but every time I see her talking on TV I just get this “yeeesss girl, I can do it, I’m going to be amazing” feeling and she’s not even talking to me. So having lunch with her, I think I would be on a forever high of empowerment.