Interview with Barbara Austin – Chief Design Officer of Sweet Dreamz Design
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My love for graphic design began in high school, on the yearbook staff. After experiencing the joys of Photoshop and creating all sorts of lovely things on the computer, my teacher encouraged me to pursue graphic design as a career. I think my exact response was “You mean people actually do this stuff for a living? Cool!” Needless to say, I had a blast majoring in design, with a minor in art, in college.
The three years after college graduation were nothing like I expected, though. I settled for an unrelated job, and did occasional freelance design work on the side. And after two years of that, the idea of having my own full-time freelance practice was becoming more and more appealing. The day I went into my supervisor’s office and was given the news that I was being laid off, I feigned disappointment, but inside I was excited about striking out on my own.
During those first few years in business, I identified myself only as a “freelancer”, and thus had a very limited idea of what was possible. I was happy to have clients, and to do work that I enjoyed, and at the time that seemed like a perfectly reasonable way to operate.
After going through a rebrand earlier this year, though, I’ve had an amazing shift in my mindset and outlook, to the point where I consider myself not just a “freelancer”, but a solopreneur, artist, designer, connector, and even teacher. Client work is still my #1 love and focus, but my business has now expanded to offer e-books and other online resources, and I’m even working on my very first e-course – Rock Your Brand Academy.
At the moment, I feel as though I’m really coming into my element, injecting more of my creative passions into my work, and I’m now much more open to the different paths my business could take in the coming years.
What did you do before launching your own business?
My day job was an administrative position, in the advising/counseling department of the local community college. I made a lot of great connections there, and learned a ton about office administration and customer service, but it wasn’t a very “fun” job – and was downright stressful during peak class registration times.
How did you fund your business?
I basically bootstrapped it; I had some money saved from my day job, but I’ve also done a lot of DIY stuff, like doing my own bookkeeping and administration, to save money and reinvest it back into my business.
How many hours do you work a week and how much is spent in your home office?
I usually work about seven hours a day during the week, sometimes with an additional hour in the evenings, or a few extra hours on Saturday when necessary. Pretty much 99% of that is in my home office, as the majority of my clients are long-distance, and virtually all my marketing and client work is done over the internet. For the other 1%, I go out to attend conferences and special networking events on a monthly or quarterly basis.
How would you rate your success?
Whenever I hear someone talk about their boring desk job, what it’s like to work in a “cube farm”, or the woes of shift work, I thank God that I’m so blessed to have my own little work-from-home business. It feels amazing to do what I love, to fully embrace my passion and creativity, to serve my fellow women entrepreneurs, and live a fulfilled life. I’m so proud and grateful that I stuck with it through the tough times, to get where I am today!
What has been your biggest business struggle as an entrepreneur?
Without a doubt, learning how to market my business and “sell myself” was a huge hurdle. When I first started out, my idea of self-promotion was buying an ad on a blog, listing on Craigslist, and other tactics (most of which didn’t work very well). I’ve had to learn through trial and error how to use marketing to connect with individual prospects, rather than trying to sell to the masses through advertising.
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
First, build your business around something that you love so much, that (if you didn’t have bills to pay or family to support) you would do it for free, just because you enjoy it.
Then, run your business from a place of passion and service, not purely for the pursuit of income. If money is your primary motivation, you can easily become burnt out and resentful, so your business would feel more like a burden and less like a joy. (That’s not to say you shouldn’t be setting revenue goals, or thinking in terms of profit – just that you shouldn’t use money as your reason for getting out of bed every morning. Personally, I’ve found that looking forward to serving others, and making a difference in their businesses and lives, is what gets me excited about starting each day.)
How do you manage all of your personal and business activities?
I stick to my office hours as much as possible, and even if I end up working a little on Saturdays, I make it a point to never work Sundays, so I have that time for family and leisure activities.
As much as I love what I do, I’m not the type to overwork. On the rare occasions when I have worked nonstop, I’ve always felt exhausted and even resentful towards my business, and since I don’t like to feel those things, I make sure to have plenty of downtime in which to relax and recharge my mind, body, and soul.
Connect with Barbara and Sweet Dreamz Design…
- Website: Sweet Dreamz Design
- Blog: Sweet Dreamz Design Blog
- Twitter: @BarbDesign
- Facebook Fan Page: SweetDreamzDesign
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