I feel like there are so many things they should have taught us in college (or high school for that matter). So in an effort to keep the school days short but the content valuable, I have a few proposals:
- The basics of taxes instead of diving into the depths of US History for the 4th time
- How to build good credit instead of Chemistry 120 (particularly for future design majors…)
- Bills, book-keeping and other basic life money skills instead of Calculus
Not to mention being a graphic design student. Don’t even get me started on wondering how I was supposed to already know and understand Adobe Photoshop in my Image Manipulation 101 class in college, or why no one taught us how to search for, download, install and understand the licensing on typefaces that aren’t Helvetica or Baskerville.
I graduated college with a BFA in Graphic Design and was expected to go to work for either a design agency in some big city or work as in-house designer for some acclaimed company.
I wanted neither of those things.
Instead, I chose to stay in Chico, California, the beach town without a beach, and start my own business.
I tried to get a job, one that I wanted. Put simply, I wanted to work with companies to help them make their branding visually appealing. I knew that these businesses in Northern California could take it to the next level if they only LOOKED good—along with the quality they had.
That job, turns out, did not exist in my area. So I created it.
Studio 22 was born out of my bedroom in a house 42 miles from town. Now, just under 5 years later, Studio 22 is a thriving boutique design agency in Chico, serving clients around the globe with a team of amazing young, fun people.
Since that little house so far from town, Studio 22 has helped hundreds of businesses get off the ground and embrace their identities as well as building multiple other businesses along the way. So I thought it was time to share how I did it.
1. I found a print shop.
Seriously. I needed someone to print my senior portfolio two days before it was due. Cue, best decision of my life. This little digital print shop and the couple that own it are my saving grace.
2. I shared my dream with them.
It was scary and not articulated even a little bit. I blurted out my plans, and Jessica and Les had it in their hearts to throw me a bone. Soon after, a potential client called me, per the recommendation of this print shop, and behold, my first job. I then asked them what I should charge. They told me, and that’s what I charged.
$35 per hour.
3. Come up with a name.
Literally. Studio 22 was born, simply because I was 22 and the number 22 has done some weird and wonderful things for me. I then made some hideous business cards, and reserved my domain name.
4. Serve my only client as if my life depended on it.
Well, my life actually did depend on it. It was my ONLY source of income. The things I made for this client were actually really terrible, and I won’t show anybody ever for the rest of eternity, but they loved them. So I kept making them. And they kept paying me.
And behold, more people started calling.
It was by chance that someone asked if I had done that yet. I hadn’t, so I Googled how to do it, and did it.
6. Sent announcement cards.
I decided that I had a list of people I knew, and I should probably announce that I was in business. I made some postcards, had Jessica print them, hand addressed them, and out they went.
7. Broadened my horizons.
Google was my best friend, and even though I had graduated with a design degree, I really didn’t understand the ins and outs of creating designs for clients. This was pre-Pinterest days, so I found other graphic design inspiration sites, religiously followed YouTube tutorials and snapped photos of pages in design magazines at Barnes and Noble.
8. Spent all of my money on a deposit for a 150 square foot office in the sketchiest part of town and hoped I could make enough money to pay rent.
I dressed up every day in my pencil skirts and heels and full makeup, drove the 42 miles to town, and worked from that office every single day. Whether I saw anybody or not.
9. Got the following in order:
- Resale license. Jessica said one day, “I could charge you wholesale and you could sell what I print for retail price and make money off printed goods if you get a resale license.” So I did…
- Fictitious name statement. Now, people could write checks to Studio 22 and I could have business bank account.
- Learned Quick Books and USED IT. I hate book keeping as much if not more than the next guy, but I learned it and used it and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my whole life.
- Implemented Admin Mondays. I pay bills, update my Quick Books, review my work from the last week, form my To Do List, make my schedule, etc. All on Mondays and then I never look at it again the rest of the week.
I had a client ask me if I built websites. I said yes. I lied. So I taught myself Wordpress.
Then I got stuck.
11. Got help (see above).
I called another designer I met in town and asked who I should call to get help with a website. She graciously gave me a phone number. I called this web agency, set up a meeting, went to the meeting, and acted as if I was much more successful and experienced than I actually was. They agreed to let me “contract” them for website help.
I promptly called my mother to ask what that meant.
Will, who was this web agency’s admin guy, later would leave that job and come to work as a contractor for me. He’s been with Studio 22 for four years.
12. Decided to network.
After some research and asking around, I started going to some networking events. My Mary Kay representative took me to her Le Tip. Jessica, my printer, took me to her’s (which was 7 am on Thursdays…). I went to Chamber meet ups and Rotary Club events and Women in Business exchanges and Downtown Chico speakers. Anything I could.
It changed my life, and I got BUSY.
13. I branded myself.
I created a logo and brand that was actually good, I built a website with a small portfolio, and I made business cards and a services list. I made myself look expensive.
14. I raised my price. I went from $35 an hour to $50 an hour.
No one even noticed. Not existing clients, not new clients. It was like I didn’t even do anything… the work kept coming.
15. I broadened my services list.
Supposedly I was doing brand management, but really I was designing logos. So I started offering more web services and pitching collateral ideas.
PS - it’s amazing what businesses don’t know they need. Offer up a service, tell them why they need it, and it’s almost guaranteed they will buy it.
In the meantime, I had found my best friend and fellow designer, and we decided over a beer one day that we would rent an office together. We then walked into the prettiest building in town and fanangled our way into renting us a space for much less than it was worth. And then we turned it into the most beautiful office space you have ever seen with furniture we already owned and paint we “borrowed” from the restaurant she waitressed at.
17. Raised my prices again.
And again, no one noticed. This time, I also put together packages, and priced them accordingly. I haven’t looked back since.
18. Actually learned websites.
At this point, I could kind of build them with the help of a good Wordpress template and Will’s help, but I needed to understand how they worked. Skillshare and Pinterest to the rescue. I then put out a Facebook post looking for a developer to contract. Found one. Love him. Still do.
19.Wondered what the heck I was doing.
I like to refer to this as my breakdown season. At this point, I was making money but was also spending money. It takes money to make money, as my dad would say. But I was tired. I was working so hard and felt like I was not where I wanted to be. Was this really what I wanted? I had no work life balance, I created good work and bad work, I was managing a team I didn’t know I needed, and I felt like my dreams were no longer plausible. This step lasted a while…
Now my business partner in Neon Headquarters. Also Studio 22’s project manager. Met her at a party. Now she’s the one telling me to do what and when. Also the one who is telling clients the same thing. I was unsure if I could afford her, since my books were such a mess I couldn’t tell profit from loss. But I prayed and knew I needed a change in my business.
And, Laura. Laura deserves her own blog post, but in short, she helped me figure out that I needed Heidi, and that I could in fact narrow my list of services to do what I actually wanted to do. Some other things she helped me discover:
- How my time was being allocated and where it SHOULD be allocated and how to fix that.
- What my strengths were and how to use them to my advantage rather than seeing them as weaknesses.
- Which team members were strongest at what and how to use them more effectively.
- How to make goals and stick with them.
And so much more.
21. Implemented my Spark Joy attitude.
If the project, client, potential or purpose does not spark joy in me, then I don’t take the project.
The time that I would have been spending on jobs that dulled my spirit is now being spent on bettering the work I do for jobs that spark joy. My work is better, my clients are happier, and I’m surrounding myself with work that is joyous and celebratory.
I am currently in this step. It’s my favorite. And no surprise as it’s #22. By surrender, I don’t mean giving up or throwing my hands in the air and leaving it all up to the universe. Surrender for me means believing that there is a purpose for me and my work larger than I understand. I have and continue to be costumed by my desire to serve: God, my husband, my clients and my tribe. I have surrendered to this desire and now understand that my purpose is valuable. And whether I follow my To-Do List or not, I have served today and am rewarded with the freedom to have done these last 21 steps and the millions of twists and turns in between.
Photos by Whitney Darling