Bold Broads highlights women founders and creative [read: BADASS] small business owners about how they really deal with the ups and downs of running a BOLD business. These women share honest wisdom and tough lessons to support you in collectively making good shit happen in your own women-led startup or small business. Meet Laura Huebner of Dotted Design. Laura is a brilliant graphic designer and the owner of Dotted Design, a boutique design studio that creates visual brands for small businesses.
Author's Note: Laura is also the creative talent behind The Collective (of Us)' rebrand. We are HUGE fans of her work. <3
Let's meet her, shall we?
1. Starting a business is HARD and sometimes lonely. What the f*ck motivated you to start your own business?
My original motivator was that I wanted to feel like my days had purpose again. I was exhausted by sitting at a desk for an assigned time frame each day, even when I had nothing to work on. It started feeling like a waste of my time and talents.
Around the same time, I had started helping a few family friends with design work as they started businesses: a yoga studio, a realtor, an Etsy shop owner. I fell in love with these small business owners and would rush home from my day job to work on their projects in the evening. It became clear this was something out of which I could build a business, and I officially began taking on freelance design work. I loved getting lost in Adobe Creative Suite without the distractions of a traditional office setting, choosing with whom I wanted to work, and finally feeling creative again. After a few years of hard work, I was ready to take my business full time and now have the space to make it whatever I want it to be.
2. How do you stay motivated to keep thriving in a creative space where everyone seems to one-up each other?
First, I remind myself at the beginning of each day that it is not a competition. There is always going to be someone who is ahead of you in her business journey, as well as someone wishing she was where you are right now. It's so easy to get caught up in comparison when you see someone announce on Instagram that they are completely booked up for the rest of the year or they just landed some awesome new client. But, you don't see the sweat and hard work it took them to get to that place, or the letdown of a dream client who decided to work with another business instead.
One way I keep myself going is through establishing routine. I have set office hours, set time away (no weekend work), a dedicated work space, and certain tasks assigned to days of the week, like bookkeeping on Mondays or client calls on Tuesdays and Thursdays. When I feel like I have a rhythm to keep, it helps me keep moving rather than getting caught up in something distracting or disheartening.
I also make sure to take time for personal projects when I can. Practicing your creativity without the restrictions that a client project may bring is essential for avoiding burnout. Doing something for the love of your craft can be such a reward.
3. Successful businesses are often quietly supported by a collective of women mentors, friends and business owners. What communities and resources have been most pivotal to your own business success?
The internet is really an amazing place. When I was first dreaming about how I could start my business, I found endless resources on other designers' blogs and podcasts, full of useful information. I didn't know anyone in my geographical area who was doing what I was trying to do, so the virtual world became my support. I was surprised and delighted by how those within my industry ended up being the best resources, rather than secret hoarders or "the competition."
I took a few online courses (specific to design or running a design business, all of which are not being offered anymore, unfortunately!), and connecting with those teachers provided more of a personalized mentorship beyond what blog posts could. I could ask questions and get inspiration from someone who had been where I was at the time. Don't be afraid to reach out to those people. I've also found personal support from some of my clients, of all places. I've worked with a few people in related industries, like developers or copywriters, and I keep in touch with them to see how things are going and what the latest cool thing they've discovered is.
I also think it's vital to have at least one person who is completely unaffiliated with your business and industry and who can simply act as your biggest cheerleader. Sometimes, you don't need someone to give practical advice; you just need someone to say, "You can totally do this and I believe in you." My husband has been that for me, never doubting that I could make this work. When I first went to him with the idea of taking my business full time, he was immediately on board. This gave me such confidence to know there was someone who was supporting me, no questions asked.
4. No bullsh*t; what's the MOST CHALLENGING part of running your business? And equally important; how are you working to overcome this?
My biggest challenge is harnessing the energy it takes to talk or meet with clients as an introvert. I used to feel like I would have to find a way to become a super energetic people person to have any sort of success in my own business, like the kind you think of as a stereotypical salesperson.
Instead of trying to change who I am at my core, I've found ways to create situations in my business operations where I can feel as comfortable as possible. For example, many introverts hate to be put on the spot or feel like they don't have an intelligent answer -- we like to process information and organize thoughts before responding. I've implemented a policy of not accepting unscheduled phone calls (no surprises!), and it may sound silly, but I've learned how to say, "I will have to get back to you on that" during calls so that I don't panic about committing to a price, timeline, or idea on the spot.
My takeaway from discovering this challenge is that there is no *one* type of personality that can succeed in business or a single way you must do things. Experiment and find what works best for you and
5. Share the most helpful piece of advice you've ever been given.
One of my favorite quotes that another designer shared with me is, "If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit." So often we take fatigue as a sign that we are weak or that our idea isn't working out. Instead, make sure to prioritize taking care of yourself so that you are at your best to take care of your business. Though it may be hard for you, don't let your clients take advantage of you or feel like the only way to succeed is to hustle all day, every day.
A few things I've implemented include taking work-free vacations every year, take on a personal project that has nothing to do with business, and even find an afternoon to take off once in awhile to get refreshed. You want your business to be a wonderful part of your life -- not the only thing you ever do. It's amazing how re-energized and ready to go I feel when I give myself space just to be and take a mental break from business. It's often during these times that I'll happen come up with my next big move, like a new service offering or writing my ebook.
I unapologetically own my BOLD Broad badassery because...
I take all the amazing aspects of the businesses and translate it into a visual brand that helps communicate it to their audiences. It always feels like I am taking a burden off the plate of the business owners I work with. I design brand identities and websites for small business owners, and very often when clients come to me, they've been bootstrapping their design work themselves up until this point and feel they are in over their head. I love helping them share their stories in this way and see how great design truly impacts their work. They leave the design work to the professional, which provides them more time to work on their businesses, which in turn gives them more time for the other important parts of their lives outside of work.
BOLD BROAD BONUS***FAVE APP?
Love using Streak to keep track of my inbox and organize my client projects. It's a huge timesaver for remembering the steps of my projects and gives me a great way to see an overview of all the client work I have at a given time. I have all the steps of my branding & design processes saved as a pipeline, and I create a box for each client. Then, as emails related to those steps come in, I can assign them to the corresponding step in my process. I can also add in links and documents related to the project so that everything stays in one place. It's great for someone visual, like me
Now, THIS is an app worth exploring!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Huebner is a graphic designer and owner of Dotted Design, a boutique design studio that creates visual brands for small businesses. She is also member of The Collective (of Us) In-House Council. After working in marketing and creative for nonprofit arts organizations for many years, Laura took the leap to launch her own studio and fell in love with the passion and spirit of her small business owner clients. She lives in Milwaukee.