This is The Solopreneur Life’s “Featured Soloist,” the purpose of which is to give all of us a glimpse at how other solopreneurs operate their small businesses. Today we meet Barbara Austin. If you would like to be the “Featured Soloist,” please send me an e-mail, Larry@TheSolopreneurLife.com.
Name of solopreneur:
Name of business and city:
CreativeGem Designs | Liberty Hill, Texas
Web site address:
Type of business:
graphic design (print, web, and branding services)
When did you officially go into business?
August of 2010
Why did you start your own business?
I had been freelancing on the side for several years, so when I was laid off from my day job in June of 2010, I knew I would be much happier growing my freelance business than looking for another job. I love graphic design, and enjoy the flexibility of being my own boss, so it really felt like the right thing to do.
What was the best thing you did when you were starting up your business?
I read My So-Called Freelance Life by Michelle Goodman. I was pretty clueless about things like taxes and legal requirements, so I needed that basic overview of the ins and outs of self-employment.
What is a mistake that you made that you have learned from?
For the first six months of being a full-time business owner, I had no marketing strategy. I basically just threw money into whatever looked promising: things like Facebook ads, sales letters, and even t-shirt advertising — most of which didn’t work very well. It took a while for me to learn that in order to have a healthy influx of new clients, I needed to have a marketing plan. Nowadays, my strategy is a combination of in-person networking, content marketing, and social media.
What is your biggest current challenge in the business and what are you doing to try to solve it?
I’ve always struggled with budgeting my time effectively, an issue which has at times caused me to fall short of my earnings goals. I’m learning to be deliberate about how many hours I spend on client work, versus marketing and other tasks. It’s best if I start out each morning by diving right into a client project for an hour or two, and save checking email or Twitter for later. I end up spending much less time on those smaller tasks, because I’m eager to get back to that project that is already in progress.
What are your goals for the next 12 months?
To continue improving my online marketing, and expand my client base beyond central Texas. Even with my local clients, most of the business is conducted through email and phone, and many of them I have never met in person. So it seems natural that with email, Skype, and all the other ways of communicating over the internet, that I can serve clients in other states as well.
Where do you want to be with the business in five years?
At that time, I hope to have built my overall marketing strategy to run as a well-oiled machine, with only routine maintenance required. I also hope to outsource some of my administrative tasks, such as copywriting, to other freelancers or virtual assistants, in order to free up more of my time for design work, and be able to grow my earnings to six figures.
What are your main software programs?
For design, I use Adobe CreativeSuite 5 (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Dreamweaver, and Flash). For everything else, I use Microsoft Office 2010 (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Access).
What’s your advice for aspiring solopreneurs?
Don’t jump into it without a plan. Take time to brainstorm and conduct research, and develop a business idea that is not only viable, but that you’re passionate about. If you don’t love what you do, you’ll be unhappy, and you won’t have the motivation necessary to make your business a success. Create a solid foundation from the very beginning; get whatever legal or financial help you need to setup your business properly, and craft a unique brand image that will set you apart from your competitors.
Are you glad you became a solopreneur? Why or why not?
Absolutely! I’m able to make a living doing what I love, and live a much more flexible lifestyle than I would working a regular job. My daily commute takes only seconds, I set my own schedule, and best of all, I shape my business to be what I want it to be, not what someone else wants.
If you could start your career all over again, what would you do differently? Why?
After college, I was unemployed for a long time before getting my first job. If I had known that I would ultimately choose to start my own business, I could have used that down time to take some classes on entrepreneurship, since that wasn’t covered in college. All the things that I’ve figured out by trial and error, I could’ve learned ahead of time, thus saving myself a lot of trouble.