small biz chats: Sarah Stone
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.
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.
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.
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!
All images are copyright cleanline studio.