4 lessons I’ve learned running a business online.

4 lessons learned running a business online

Starting a business can be a daunting task. There are so many knowledge areas to learn, especially when you are starting out as owner/creative director/accountant/sales/designer/marketing/social media manager. It’s easy to find resources on the best accounting software or where to host your website, but some of the more nuanced areas are ones that you can only learn with time.

One of my favorite quotes about work is, “You can’t do a good job if your job is all you do.” It’s important to be efficient, stay steadfast in your boundaries, and take creative breaks. In the time that I’ve been running my business, I’ve learned a few lessons that have truly helped me achieve these things and be happier in my business life.

1. Only put projects you want more of in your portfolio. There is no rule that says every piece of work you’ve ever done needs to go in your portfolio. If you want to do more brand design work, put those projects in your portfolio. If you want to stop offering ebook design, then take those projects out! If people see something, they will want it. It doesn’t do any good to show examples of things you don’t want to do anymore. Plus, it will save you time responding to inquiries about a project you don’t want to do. Bonus tip: if you want to start a new avenue and don’t have many portfolio examples, do some self-initiated projects. Follow all the steps you would if it were a real client, and you’ll gain both experience and a new portfolio item.

2. It’s perfectly fine to say no. Whether it’s a potential client that doesn’t seem like a good fit or a favor from a fellow business owner, it can actually be more polite to say no. If you take on a client that is a bad fit either style or personality-wise, you are going to resent the project and not deliver your best work. A client who doesn’t have an excellent experience surely won’t be sending any referrals your way. Same goes for a peer who wants to collaborate or swap services – if you don’t have the time or the interest, it won’t benefit either of you. You can always offer to connect again in the future if the timing is bad.

3. Support your community. It is only going to drive you nuts if you think of others as competition. There is always going to be someone who offers your services at both lower and higher price points, who launches their product first, or has more experience. Rather than waste time worrying about who might be “better” than you, look to those people as inspiration and members of your community. You can choose to be annoyed at a developer who is tweeting about how heavy her workload is, or you could befriend her and maybe she’ll send some overflow work your way! It’s great not only for growing your business, but also for finding confidants in your industry who can truly understand what you’re going through.

4. There will always be ebb and flow. This goes for client work and for confidence you feel in your work and business. You’ll have both busy and slow seasons (psst: read my tips for what to do during slow periods here!) with your work. You’ll have days where you feel on top of the world, and days where you feel like your work is crap. This is also where #3 comes in – lean on your community if you’re feeling down! Always remember why you started, and that will make every moment, good and bad, worth it.

What have you learned running your business? Any tips for those wanting to get started?

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moodboard: black, white, & peach

Peach Moodboard | Dotted Design

I always love creating moodboards. They are such a great way to summarize an aesthetic or a theme when words don’t always work. A client may say they like a vintage style and the color teal. However, once I see their inspiration images, I see that their style in my eyes is more mod and that their color is actually aqua. Building a moodboard visually summarizes everything I have learned about a client to assure that we are on the same page with our visions.

This board combines soft peach and pink colors with some subtle black and white patterns and script text elements. The brand words are feminine, modern, friendly, and cheerful. Can’t wait to share more!

images: drink logo gift tags scarf flowers luxe cards pattern




small biz chats: Sarah Stone

Small Biz Chats with Sarah Stone | Dotted Design

In this week’s edition of Small Biz Chats, I’m chatting with Sarah Stone of cleanline studio. She’s a graphic designer with a beautiful aesthetic, and I love reading her blog where she shares inspiration and life as a designer (I especially love her Color Me Monday series!). She has some great insights to share about how she found her dream clients – let’s dig in!

What is your business, and why did you start it?
cleanline studio is a boutique design studio located in Philadelphia, PA. I started cleanline studio because I wanted to be my own boss, set my schedule to accommodate my young family, and work directly with the kind of clients who matter most to me. I’ve worked hard to create a business presence (both online and off) that identifies my design aesthetic and strengths. I’ve had success in attracting my dream clients: small, mostly female, creative business owners.

I also blog about design, color, style, my life and family, etc. I love how blogging affords me the opportunity to share my tastes and personality with potential clients.



What were you doing before you launched your business?
In 2007 I graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design with a degree in graphic design and photography. Although it was really tough to leave the beautiful city of Savannah, I returned to the Philadephia area (where I grew up) to begin my career in the advertising industry. I freelanced for a few agencies at first and then stayed at a salaried job for about four years before quitting to do my own thing.


How did you find your first paying clients/customers, and what really helped you to grow your business?
I have to chuckle about this one! My first “real” client after branching out on my own was actually the owner of the coffee shop where I spent a lot of time working. I was designing some stationery products to sell on Etsy, which he saw me working on. He owned a handful of small businesses and hired me to do branding and a website for a new business and redesign the website for an existing business.

Every positive interaction with a client, every connection made at a design event, and every referral has helped me grow my business. I never quite know how or when it will come back to me, but the more I keep doing what I’m doing, the more consistent my client inquiries and workload become.

cleanline studio


What tools are most important to help you stay organized and on task?
My to-do list is absolutely crucial to my staying on task for the day! I usually write my list late at night, or before I get out of bed in the morning using an iPhone app called Taasky. Because I’m the only one to keep me accountable, it can sometimes feel like a daunting task to decide what needs to get done (or put off) for the day. I try to limit my list to about 8-10 items each day. I also try to avoid social media and email as much as possible while designing.


cleanline studio

What aspect of your business is your absolute favorite thing that you do?
It’s so hard to only choose one, I just have to share the first two that come to mind!

1) I love when I get a client inquiry from someone who’s either found me because they love a series on my blog, or they stumbled across some business cards I designed on Pinterest, anything like that. I really love the blogging and social media side of my business, and it comes very naturally to me. When something I’ve shared through one of those avenues turns into real deal paid work, I feel super victorious that it’s all come full circle!

2) Whenever I am sending initial design comps to clients, my goal is to fulfill my client’s vision, and then make it even better. I love it when I immediately get an email back from them saying that it’s hard for them to decide because they love them all! Of course I’ll hold their hands and help them narrow it down, but I feel like I’ve done my job well when they have a hard time deciding.

cleanline studio

What one piece of advice would you give to someone wanting to launch his/her own dream business?
Develop a thick skin, and know who you are trying to attract from the start. Building a successful business takes time, no matter what. If you go into it without knowing who your dream customers are, you’ve failed to create a clear goal for your business. If you really want to succeed, ask for advice from people who are already successful in your field. It’s hard not to get overly emotionally invested when your business is your baby… but do it anyway, in the name of success and self improvement!

Thanks to Sarah for sharing her insights!

Find Sarah online: Website  Pinterest • Instagram  Twitter Facebook Bloglovin

All images are copyright cleanline studio.

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recent work: Hadley Boutique

Hadley Boutique identity | Dotted Design

I’m thrilled to share a new project today! Since I’d love to work with more shops and cafes, I took an actual boutique I’ve been to and completed a rebrand as a self-initiated project. The shop sells women’s clothes and accessories, as well as some home items like soaps and decor pieces. Their inventory is feminine and slightly romantic, though not girly, and they have many botanical-feeling items and scents around the shop. (The initial round of logos is here if you want to see the progression!)

Hadley Boutique set | Dotted Design

Hadley Boutique set | Dotted Design

Hadley bag design | Dotted Design

I love building out brands, and creating all the extra brand elements beyond the logo was so much fun. I may even find another shop to rebrand!

P.S. If you are looking to work on logo and brand identity design for your shop or business, I’d love to hear from you! I’m currently booking for August. Get in touch and tell me about your business!

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10 things to do when business slows down.

10 things do to when business is slow | Dotted Design

Running a small business can often run the spectrum of feast or famine. Some weeks the inquiries will fly in; other weeks…crickets. Or, you may be getting requests but not taking on those who aren’t a good fit. Other times, it seems like you’re waiting on feedback from all your clients at once, giving you a slow day in the meantime. Or, perhaps lots of people are taking summer vacations!

Whatever the reason for the lull, rather than waste more time digging through all the Facebook groups you belong to, here are 10 ways you can work on your business or prepare for next clients:

1) Evaluate your website. With everything else that comes up, updating your website is so easy to push to the back burner. Make sure that all your info and content is up to date and reflective of what you do! You could refresh your about page, delete old offerings you don’t have any more, find some new photography to freshen your look, or knock out a few blog posts.

2) Learn a new skill (or brush up on one). Continuing to learn is essential when working in the fast-paced online world. Is there something new to your industry you could learn more about? Or maybe there is something you could learn about more deeply, like if you’re a web designer that is awesome at desktop design but needs to learn more about how to design for a responsive site. This will only make you more valuable to your potential clients.

3) Take a look at your client processes and collateral. When you get a new client, it is often a rush of “let’s get started!” and I know I tend to simply go with what I did with my last client. Take some time to see where you might clarify or simplify the process for your clients, whether it’s through documents you give them to explain what you do, the onboarding process, or how you manage the project. Making things simple and clear for the client means they will love working with you even more.

4) Find a way to help someone else. Look for a peer of yours that has too much work and could either hire you or refer you for the overflow. Write a more in-depth blog post about a problem that a lot of your audience has and you can help solve – or even a short ebook. Go through your social media feeds and see if anyone has a question you can answer. I really think karma is always at play here – if you offer your help, people will notice and hire you in return!

5) Touch base with past clients. Think back to clients that you loved working with and might be able to offer an additional service. If you designed a logo, see if that client is now in the need for any updated marketing pieces. If you took newborn photos, perhaps that family is ready for some whole family photos. Even if they don’t need anything immediately, it will help keep you front of mind should something come up!

6) Read a book or ebook you’ve been putting off. It’s so easy to buy a cheap ebook and save it for reading later, or to save a book to your Goodreads list and then never pick it up from the library. Find one (or a few!) and take a few hours to actually read them.

7) Reach out about a collaboration. Is there an acquaintance, fellow blogger, or a brand that you’ve been itching to work with? Now is the time to write that email or make that phone call! Tell them (concisely) about your idea or interest, and how the collaboration might benefit both of you. They can’t say yes until you give them the chance.

8) Clean up your social media feeds. See if anyone you follow isn’t relevant to what you do or look for anymore, and clear their clutter from your feed. It’s also a great time to sift through and see if there is anyone new-to-you to follow for inspiration or connecting with a potential client!

9) Catch up on your accounting. Ok, this one kind of stinks, but you will totally thank yourself later. Even if you have a bookkeeper, there are probably receipts you need to scan, income or expenses to enter, or even something as simple as making that transfer from PayPal to your bank account. You won’t be in a rush, so you can take some true time to get your accounts up to date.

10) Take a true break. Hopefully you will be busy again soon, so why not take a little time to yourself? Self-preservation is so essential when running a business by yourself or just a small team. Take an entire afternoon to go on a long walk and not look at your email even once. Take a day to go on a mini road trip. Do something creative but totally unrelated to your business. You deserve it!

What do you do when you have a slower day or period of time?

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tools I use for running my business

Tools for Running Your Business | Dotted Design

Running your own business or freelance gig demands organization. There are so many options when it comes to project management, site hosting, accounting — it can get so overwhelming!

I’ve started a new Resources page on my site as a way to track options for everything business-related, and today I wanted to share more about the particular ones that I’m currently using:

Because I’m on WordPress, I use Flywheel. They have speedy customer service and migrating your site is complimentary! Plus, super designer-friendly.

Project Management
While there are tons of options, the one that makes sense for me is Trello. I start a card for each client project, and checklists to keep track of what items need to get done and when. I also keep cards for personal projects or ideas I have that I can save for when I have a slower week.

While for a long time I just kept my own spreadsheets to keep track of income and expenses, I’ve found that Wave does a great job of organizing and keeping track of my accounting. Plus, I can send invoices straight from Wave and accept credits cards. And, it’s free!

Contract Signing
I use HelloSign to get e-signatures. It’s a very simple interface, and you can send three free contracts per month. After that, it’s a low monthly rate for unlimited documents.

I am in love with Boomerang for Gmail. I am very diligent in keeping my client communication to business hours only (I refuse to be harassed on weekends), which includes emails. Because I may occasionally catch up on emails during the week or in the evening, I use Boomerang to schedule my email to send at a later time, during business hours. Then, I don’t set the precedent of weekend replies. You can also schedule to have an email reappear later as new in your inbox if you want to be reminded of it.

While I love Moo as much as anyone, it’s getting a little redundant to see the super thick matte cards that they make everywhere. When I want something a little different, I love the options at Print Peppermint! They are the most reasonable letterpress and foil I’ve seen, and the quality is great.

Web Design
A great tool for web designers is InVision. Once I get a design going in Photoshop, I can upload a png of the page to InVision so that the client can preview it in a browser. It makes it much easier to see how the page will look online vs. trying to envision it from a PDF (and it also can be a nice reference for your developer).

For more options, check out my Resources page!

What are some of your favorite tools? How do you narrow it down so you don’t have too many things to use?

P.S. Save 20% in the paper shop all weekend with the code “LoveWins“! 😀

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Small Biz Chat: Local Spotlight on Lizzibeth

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Small Biz Chats: Lizzibeth | Dotted Design

I love hearing about how small business owners get started. When there is so much activity online and doing business with people around the world, I like to make sure I take a moment to savor the awesome brick and mortar shops right in my own community.

Today, I am so delighted to share a local edition of Small Biz Chats to tell the story of Lizzi Weasler and her company, Lizzibeth, right here in my beloved Milwaukee. Not only does she have the shop, but Lizzibeth hosts shopping events, consults with brides, and does pop up shops.

Lizzi didn’t follow a straight path to shop ownership, and like so many of us, had to go through a few jobs until she found what she loved to do and was able to create her own path. She went from civil engineer to J. Crew to Teen Vogue…and finally back to Milwaukee. I love that she took control of her destiny and made a unique career for herself that worked.

Lucky for you, you can shop her gorgeous collections online at Lizzibeth, but you truly must stop by the shop if you are ever in Milwaukee! (The black and white decor is my ultimate shopping setting.) Enjoy Lizzi’s story!

Lizzibeth Shop

Tell me a bit about yourself and background! What were you doing before you opened the shop?
Hi, I’m Lizzi, and I own a retail and event company called Lizzibeth. I guess you could say I went through a period of time where I changed my career as often as you change your nail color. I graduated with a civil engineering degree and knew after working for a firm for over a year that life behind a computer screen was not my calling. Hopping around from Milwaukee to NYC to Chicago, I got a taste at many careers that got me to where I am today with my business. I dipped my toes into companies like J.Crew, Teen Vogue, The Vintage Twin, and AEP Energy before I finally had the guts to try out the entrepreneurial route and take full control of my every day work life.


What led you to open your shop? What gap did you see in the market before opening?
After working various jobs out out of college, I was able to realize that it wasn’t the type of work I was doing that didn’t suite me. It was going to an office every day, sitting down, and helping a company further their aspirations and never feeling a connection to my work. I knew I needed to begin creating my own path and put 100% of my time into my dreams of owning my own business. Lizzibeth came out of that desperation to be my own boss and take control over my life’s ambitions. I have always loved shopping with people and making them feel good about their purchases. I saw a gap in the Milwaukee market while at school there and knew I could bring my NYC and Chicago style finds to a smaller, more trend delayed city.

Lizzibeth Shop2

How did you find your first paying customers, and what has helped you to grow your business?
The reason I came full circle back to Milwaukee is because my networking that I built from grade school to college was there. Already having that community of people made it easier for me to round up my first paying customers. It has been the love and support of all of these people that has helped me grow my business these past two years. Milwaukee is a tight knit community and everyone has been so zealous to support local businesses that the natural spread of Lizzibeth occurred.

What aspect of your owning your shop is your absolute favorite?
I love structuring my day and having the freedom to never have the same day twice. Even though I’m working more hours than my past jobs, I absolutely love it, which makes time fly and the complaints go out the window. I can be hopping around since my first early morning meeting and still be cooking until the late hours at an event and not even feel an ounce tired. The adrenaline of meeting new people and continually changing your scenery makes working for yourself the best reward.


What is something difficult about owning a shop that an outsider might never anticipate?
The most difficult part would be multitasking and wearing a million different hats. You need to be able to turn on and off various job titles throughout a single day. You may be working on your taxes in the morning, dealing with customer service the next hour, assisting a bride with her wedding accessories and topping off the day updating the website with new merchandise.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to launch his/her own dream business?
The most important advice is to do your homework and make a game plan before you jump into it 100%. By no means do you need to have everything figured out, but it is very important to have a solid idea of what you are hoping to accomplish so you can easily portray your idea to potential clients, customers and funders. I would highly recommend writing everything down and making some financial projections to make sure there is hope for your idea to succeed. Then jump in with both feet and figure out the smaller details as they pop up.

Find Lizzi online:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Lizzi Weasler photo by Matt Haas. All other photos by Lizzi Weasler.

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favorite font sources

font sources | Dotted Design

Choosing the right font for your project is a big task. On the surface, it seems like one of the most simple aspects, but in truth, a font can make or break a design!

Every font has a sort of personality that it brings. (One of my favorite posts I’ve written was one about your personal typographic style over on Studio 404 awhile back!) We all have certain types that we are drawn to, but even our favorites aren’t always the best choice for every project. Everyone has heard about the hate for Comic Sans or the forbidden font Papyrus, but what about finding ones that are great to use? Here are few of my current favorite sources:

Free Fonts

  • Font Squirrel: lots of options that are easy to narrow down by type.
  • Lost Type: a unique collection of great fonts (pay what you can model).
  • 1001 Fonts: a large collection of lots of styles.
  • Behance: it’s a little harder to search, but you can find some great fonts, like this one.

Pro: free fonts are a great way to experiment with font types without having to make a large investment. Con: they don’t always have the extras that come with paid fonts or the attention to detail (like letter spacing) in the design. Also, make sure that you check that the fonts are free for commercial use, not just for personal use, if you plan to use them outside of personal projects!

Paid Fonts

  • MyFonts: beautiful fonts by awesome independent designers and foundries (like this one).
  • Creative Market: a wealth of options, including lots of calligraphic and script fonts.
  • Fontspring: large library of quality fonts.

Pro: you usually get lots of glyphs (or extra characters beyond the basic letters) in paid fonts, attention has been paid to all the details of the typeface, and you are supporting the work of type designers! Con: the best ones can be a hefty investment.

Bonus: one of my favorite tools is Wordmark.it – you can enter a word or phrase and it will show you how it looks in every font installed on your computer! Talk about fast comparison techniques.

What are some of your favorite resources for great fonts?



WIP: Hadley Boutique

Hadley-Boutique-WIP | Dotted Design

When you are building a business and trying to attract your ideal clients, a great way to build an appropriate portfolio is to do some self-initiated projects. If you really want to work with restaurants and small food-related businesses but your portfolio is all wedding invitations, you won’t be attracting those dream clients. Enter: a self-initiated project to fill in those gaps!

One area I’d love to do more work in is with shops and cafes – I love doing all those extra pieces beyond the logo like hang tags, shopping bags, notecards, menus, packaging, etc. I decided to take an actual boutique I’ve been to in Minneapolis for a self-initiated project and do a rebrand (note: I did change the name!). It is a darling shop that sells women’s clothes and accessories, as well as some home items like soaps and decor pieces. Their inventory is feminine and slightly romantic (though not girly), and they have many botanical-feeling items and scents around the shop!

You may remember this moodboard I created to start the project off, and today I’m sharing the Work in Progress of initial logo concepts. I really wanted to incorporate a floral component and keep the typography classic yet not old-fashioned. I’m almost done with the rest of the project elements and can’t wait to share more!

P.S. If you are looking to work on logo and brand identity design for your shop or business, I’d love to hear from you! I’m currently booking for July. Get in touch and tell me all about it!

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quick guide to file types

what file type to use | dotted design

One of the more confusing things to understand is when you need certain file types. You may wonder why you can’t get your image to have a transparent background or why your logo is getting fuzzy if you try to make it larger. Never fear! I have the most-used file types summarized so you can have a quick reference to figure out what you need.

The first thing to understand is that there are two types of files: vector and raster.


Raster images are made up of tiny squares of colors information, aka pixels. They are used most often for photographs and images for the web, and they can’t be enlarged without losing quality.


Raster Files | Dotted Design

Pro: easy to edit down to the slightest detail. Because they are made up of pixels, each one could technically be modified. Con: blurry if you try to make it bigger. Make sure to only size these down, not up!


Vector images are made up of points, lines, and curves, which means they can be scaled to any size without losing quality. They are most often used in logo and font files.

Vector Files | Dotted Design

Pro: can modify to any size without losing quality. This means you can put your logo up onto a billboard! Con: less detail. Because they are made of only points and lines, you can’t do as many stylistic effects that a raster image can handle.

If you know where you are going to use your image, it should be easy to decide which file type you need. Hopefully this will be a great reference and help you figure out what to ask your designer for!