TODAY is MKW Graphics’ 3rd Birthday!
I can place myself exactly there. I was sitting on the floor of my parent’s place in Tahoe. I had just been hired by my university to do graphic design for our ‘Creative Zone,’ a campus sponsored design center for clubs and organizations to work with designers for their school posters and flyers. I took the job with little to no design experience, just the jailbroken versions of Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop on my computer. My mom saw what I was doing, and started referring me out to friends and clients of hers to do work. My first job freelance job was a tshirt design.
But what the heck do I charge?! I had zero experience, I learned everything from Youtube and trial and error. I had no contracts, no business plan, no invoicing software… Luckily, I have two very entrepreneurial, business-minded parents. Their advice? Charge more than you would for babysitting. That summer I was making $12/hour babysitting, so I charged my very first client $15/hour. I thought I was making out like a bandit! I didn’t have to leave my house, I didn’t have to watch someone’s screaming kids, I got to be creative and I was making money. This felt like an alternate universe and I was so excited.
So my mom said “Call it ‘MKW Graphics’” and just make a facebook page. That was three years ago and holy smokes look how far I’ve come. Since then, I have learned so many lessons about being a business owner, entrepreneur, girl boss, whatever you call it. Here’s the biggest lessons I have learned.
1. BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME
I was super hesitant in the beginning about sharing my work. I was super self-conscious that I would come off as a faker or a fraud. I didn’t go to school for this stuff! (well kinda… I am a double major in Visual Arts and Art History). I learned on the fly. I didn’t want people to know what I was doing, but the more jobs I got and the more work I did, the more I felt confident in putting my name to it.
- On Social Media
One of the ways I got over my stage-fright (if that’s what you can call it) was to keep my business work off my personal page. I created an MKW Graphics Facebook account and an MKW Graphics Instagram. If you scroll aaaalll the way to the bottom of my feed you can see my work from 2014. I almost thought about deleting it the other day, but I didn’t. It’s part of my story and part of my progression and how my style had evolved over the years. Slowly but surely, I started to invite my friends to follow these pages. The more I played the ‘instagram game,’ the more I liked it. I dove in head first to hashtag theories and optimal times to post. That got old quick. Now, I follow the accounts that inspire me and motivate me to make more compelling work. I connect with other entrepreneurs via hashtags and locations. I share more than just my work. For example, I am writing this from a cafe in Costa Rica so my feed has almost exclusively been images from this trip and that’s okay. Travel is a huge part of who I am and informs a lot of my design style, so I want to share those snippits. I find that most of my clients like to travel, too! So it’s really a win win.
- On my Website
I made my very first website as a requirement for a studio art class. It’s still out there: https://michellewintersteen.wordpress.com/ and is honestly kind of nostalgic to look at. I built it on Wordpress and had the hardest time updating the pages to look the way I wanted. My Dad helped me buy and setup the domain for mkwgraphics.com and I originally built out a wordpress site for that as well. I envisioned each project to be like a paint chip, where some day I would have an entire color palette of projects to show off. It sucked. I absolutely hated how it looked and how it functioned and found myself increasingly frustrated with the platform. So I switched. I took the leap to squarespace, found a theme that I loved and rolled with it.
I STILL change my website up about every 3 days. I am constantly tinkering and playing with margins, fonts, colors, format etc etc. But I am at the point now where I am proud of the material that is there. I now have enough projects under my belt that the ones that don’t fit my aesthetic, or don’t represent the kind of clients I want to work with in the future simply aren’t featured and will only live in the deep, deep folders of my external hard drive.
The biggest compliment I got from a client was when they called me and said “I am not sure I can afford you, but I have been to every page on your website and I am absolutely obsessed with your style and aesthetic and I really, really want to work with you.” Mission accomplished.
2. NETWORK. NETWORK. NETWORK.
I let myself have a really slow month once. Just once. It was May 2015 and I had just stepped back from my biggest client (almost a 20 hr a week client) and was looking to fill the rest of the time with new freelance clients. I figured my email inbox would fill itself. It didn’t.
I tested the waters maybe a little too much. How slow can it really get. Let’s just say I paid for rent, gas, and groceries that month and that was about it. Knowing I didn’t want to have another month like that, I got a little more proactive about my client acquisition.
Now, (well when I am in San Diego) I try to spend one week a month going to back-to-back-to-back networking events, mixers, meetings and coffee dates. I keep my ear to the ground about collab. opportunities and have worked out ongoing gigs with branding agencies, PR boutiques, business coaches, etc. When I found that the traditional networking groups, like Chambers and BNI weren’t really sending me the kinds of opportunities I wanted, I hopped in on a group for young professionals that my client was forming. By hopping in I really mean hijacked. I did the logo, branding and website for Denizen as a way to prove my chops to a new group of peeps. They let me stay.
3. NEVER STOP LEARNING
I never applied for a job after college. I credit my parents here for pushing me to pursue my own business because I was straight up scared I was going to hate it. I was the person that was really good at school. I was a sponge for information and theories. I was the freak that loved writing papers. I was really afraid that if I worked for myself, learning from someone was over.
It’s taken a while, but I have found the opposite was true. While I may not be learning in the traditional sense of sitting at a desk in the classroom, I am still learning every day. Here are my favorite ways to learn:
Podcasts, Youtube, Instastories, Blogs, Facebook Groups
I have absorbed an unreal amount of information for free from social media. Finding Goal Digger Podcast, the Futur, Dazey LA, and Savvy Business Owners completely changed the way I thought about my business in drastically different ways. I love Goal Digger and Jenna Kutcher for her nuggets of inspiration, like her motto of ‘give, give, give, give, give ask’ and ‘repelling and attracting the right clientele.’ I love Chris Do’s advice on the Futur for a major ah-ha moment when he said that if you charge hourly, you actually punish yourself for being good and fast at your job. I have watched Dazey LA grow from day 1 of instastories, and learned Illustrator hacks from her 10 second clips that would have taken me ages to find otherwise. I love how transparent she is about sharing her process from idea to final product. Lastly, the 12.5k members of Savvy Business Owners have helped me at the speed of light when I couldn’t figure out how to change the color of the cart icon on squarespace or how to add opt-in forms. I follow all of these RELIGIOUSLY and for good reason. They provide so much value to what I do and how I do it.
Surrounding myself with like-minded people
I am so motivated and inspired by other entrepreneurs that share my values: work hard and be good at your job. Seems simple enough, right? Like I mentioned, I am currently in Costa Rica with Wifi Tribe. I joke that there are people in corporate jobs that become ‘life-rs’ and if anything I am probably a ‘life-r’ for Wifi Tribe. Completely addicted, inspired and motivated to work and travel all over the world. I also love and adore the group we’ve created with Denizen and love seeing my clients collaborate with each other.
Trial and Error
But what if I fail? I asked myself this in the beginning and asked my parents, too. They said, well if it sucks, go apply for a job. Simple as that. Luckily, I haven’t had to do that yet. Have a been burned? Yes. Have I had really shitty experiences? Of course. Have I had clients that were an absolutely pain in the ass? You bet. Have I had days where everything sucks and I hate all my work and am ready to throw in the towel? Definitely. But I haven’t. For three years, I haven’t. Needless to say, I am so excited to be celebrating 3 whole years doing what i love, working with people who inspire and motivate me, traveling the world and most importantly being my own boss. So thanks, Mom and Dad, for that extra swift kick in the pants to get out there and do the damn thing. This one’s for you.
CHEERS TO THREE YEARS! And many more to come.
If you’re in San Diego, I am going to throw a little shindig and I would love for you to come.