Digital Nomad Cat Coquillette on Scaling a Side Hustle into a Business

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Between teaching on Skillshare, partnering with brands such as Urban Outfitters, earning her motorcycle license, and traveling the world, it's safe to say that Cat Coquillette keeps pretty busy! We caught up with Cat to learn how she decided to take the plunge and become a digital nomad, where she finds inspiration, and how teaching on Skillshare has contributed to her professional success. 

Tell us a bit about your career trajectory. How did you come to be an artist and designer?

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve gravitated towards the arts. I kept it up throughout high school and by the time I got to college, I declared my double-major in illustration and graphic design. After graduating, I worked as a designer and art director at an agency specializing in branding.

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Painting has always been a passion and I began posting my watercolors on Instagram. Within months, I’d rapidly grown a large following of enthusiastic fans. This gave me an opportunity to scale my side-hustle into a business. I decided to go all-in and embrace entrepreneurship; I founded my brand, CatCoq, and began partnering with licensing companies and retail brands like Urban Outfitters and Modcloth to print my artwork on products. Soon, CatCoq bloomed into a global, well-recognized brand.

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Illustration was my first love, and it’s currently the backbone of my aesthetic. My style is bright, colorful, and typically incorporates intricate details and hand-lettering. My illustration work has been featured by celebrities including Hilary Duff, Khloe Kardashian, Lucy Hale, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Jessica Simpson.

When I’m not creating my signature art pieces or educating others in my field, I’m constantly on the quest to learn new skills and expand my horizons. In the past year while traveling around the world, I’ve earned my motorcycle license, became a certified scuba diver, appeared on my first live TV interview, and was the featured guest on several podcasts. It’s been a wild ride!

Why did you decide to teach on Skillshare?

My vocation goes beyond painting – I’m also passionate about using my experience and success to help other creatives reach their full potential. I believe in community over competition, and devote a large part of my brand to creating resources that allow fellow artists to thrive.

I also believe in embracing new opportunities, especially the ones that toss you out of your comfort zone. When I was first approached about filming an online video course, I wanted to balk. The idea of appearing in front of the camera was terrifying and I’d never taught students before. But despite all this, I said yes. Something in my gut just told me to push past the discomfort, because something worthwhile would be on the other side.

When the class launched, it opened up an abundance of new opportunities for me to help fellow creatives find their own success. There is a unique sense of accomplishment behind tackling a brand new challenge and blasting away any doubts of “What if I’m not good enough?” The more I face my fears and push myself, the closer I get to reaching my full potential. And I can see now how pushing out of my own comfort zone actually gives me the capacity to help others in a much greater way.

I’ve since published a series of video courses on Skillshare that educate fellow creative entrepreneurs in building their businesses. My classes cover a wide variety of topics, including finding your artistic niche, marketing through social media, selling artwork online, working with clients, and making a name for yourself in the online art world.

Curious how teaching can help you build a career you love? Start a class today! 

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What is the best part about being a permanent “nomad”?

I just completed my first year of full-time traveling, which has taken me to some uniquely gorgeous places and introduced me to an incredible group of nomadic/entrepreneurial friends. The past twelve months have been adventurous, hectic, and constantly shifting in trajectory. I wouldn't change a thing.

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Staying in motion and flow is key to fueling inspiration. When I’m comfortable, I’m bored. I’ve found that my personal fulfillment is synonymous with being on-the-move, feeling inspired, and quenching my curiosity. This translates over perfectly to a nomadic lifestyle.

My best artwork comes from the experiences I’ve had exploring the world firsthand, not sitting at home behind a computer screen. I strive to find moments in life that make me take a deep breath and think to myself, “I can’t believe I’m here right now.” These are the moments that help propel myself, my artwork, and my business to the next level.

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I've packed in a ton of travel this year and created some of the best pieces in my artwork portfolio. I spent a good chunk of the year living in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I came for the digital nomad community and stayed for the friends, food, and tropical climate. When I wasn't in Thailand, I was somewhere in Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, Norway, or the USA.

Some highlights from my wanderlust lifestyle:

  • Spending my 30th birthday in Svalbard, Norway, where the summer sun never sets. At just 11° away from the North Pole, it was the furthest north I’d ever been in my life.
  • Getting marooned on a deserted island in Indonesia. After my boat got wedged in a sandbar at low tide, I spent the night on Padar Island in Komodo National Park. (Luckily, I survived being eaten by komodo dragons.)
  • Hiking to the crater summit of Mount Batur, an active volcano in Bali. While I was watching the sunrise, monkeys stole my breakfast.
  • Petting dogs in every country I visit. I’m a major animal lover and usually carry a couple pouches of dog and cat food in my backpack to entice the local animals.
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How has Skillshare contributed to your professional success?

By creating a series of video classes on Skillshare, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to become an educator and directly help thousands of fellow creatives– whether it’s helping my students learn new tricks in Photoshop or provide tips about running your own business successfully.

In addition to the personal fulfillment that teaching provides, it’s also helped me to diversify my business into multiple income streams. Previously, I was reliant almost entirely on licensing my artwork, but now I’m able to broaden my brand’s capabilities and earnings.

What advice would you give to someone looking to take the leap and work for themselves full-time?

Don’t be afraid of change – some of the best things happen after a huge life shift. Taking risks is a vital part of succeeding as an entrepreneur. After all, many people find success because they saw an opportunity that no one else had and were willing to take a risk. For me, the “safe path” was working as an employee at a firm with full benefits. It was daunting to leave all that behind, but ultimately I believed in myself, desired a life of freedom, and embraced entrepreneurship.

Confidence and risk-taking are synonymous to a successful business. Even though my lifestyle is hectic, dynamic, and is constantly in motion, every action I take in my business is steeped in strategy. I may not be able to tell you where in the world I’ll be living a month from now, but I can recite my business goals and the action-steps it will take to achieve them.

There is a huge difference between a risk and a gamble. I’ve learned to embrace uncertainty, but I always weigh my chances of success before I take the full plunge. The best opportunities are the ones where I have little to lose, but massive amounts to gain.

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What tips would you offer new Skillshare teachers?

Your class doesn’t have to be 100% perfect to hit publish. You’ll learn as you go and get better as you become more familiar with the process. The first time I filmed an intro video, I had no idea what I was doing. I thought filming in a jungle cafe would be exotic and interesting, but I was dead wrong– the humidity blurred my camera lens and my voice was overshadowed by the background noise of chirping geckos. I can chalk that up to inexperience and learn from my mistakes.

Now, with several classes under my belt, I’m more familiar with the production process, including what works and what doesn’t. Teaching online is a constant learning curve; every time you publish a new class, it’ll be more polished than the one before.

Don’t forget to get involved with class discussions– this is a great opportunity for you to check in with your students and make sure they’re getting the most from your class. I’ll often answer questions in the discussion thread that give me bonus material for new class content as well.

Lastly, have fun with it! I choose my curriculum based on the things I wish I would have known when I was first getting started. I try to infuse my sense of humor into the content, especially in my more technical classes where it’s probably needed most. My classes are a mixture of art/technical content and business advice. I’m due for another art class, so I might do a full lesson on watercolor techniques next. Stay tuned!