Today’s Biz Ladies profile comes to us from the founder of The Design Files, Lucy Feagins. Never one to follow a traditional career path–she started off as a freelance set designer in the film industry–Lucy truly understood the ways of self-employment. Since launching The Design Files in 2008, she has made her way into a full-time blogging career and continues to share the best in Australian design to her loyal fan-base the world-over. Today she shares a bit about her business journey with us. —Stephanie
Read the full interview after the jump…
Why did you decide to start your own business?
To be honest, I have always been very independent and I think I was always destined to work for myself. I’ve actually never really had a ‘real’ job in the traditional sense. Prior to starting The Design Files, I worked in the film industry as a set dresser, and although working in film was a very collaborative process, you’re still a freelancer / contractor – i.e. you’re not really ’employed’. Film work in Australia is never full-time or particularly reliable! Being a freelancer is kind of like running your own small business in a way – i.e. not knowing where your next paycheque is coming from, and running your income and outgoings like a tiny little one-woman business.
So it wasn’t a big shift really when I decided to make The Design Files full-time. I was already used to being responsible for my own income. It really was an evolution. I started writing the site in early 2008, and I went full-time at the end of 2010.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
To be totally honest, there wasn’t a master plan, The Design Files has grown very organically. When I first started TDF I really didn’t plan for it to become a business. As mentioned above, The Design Files started out in 2008 as a little blog, like so many others it was just a fun side project. As the readership grew, so too did the demands on my time, and I started to push myself to improve the site more and more, offering more original content, drumming up more advertising revenue to pay for all the projects I wanted to run and content I wanted to feature. I didn’t rush it and I didn’t plan too much – if anything, now, at the five-year mark, I’ve started business planning in retrospect! Of course these days I do have more outgoings and I have to be more savvy with business decisions, but still I seem to make every decision very intuitively.
To be honest I often feel TDF really knows where it is going, and I’m just racing to keep up!
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
‘Lean in to it’. I read this in a very cheesy motivational book a long time ago called How To Go From Where You Are To Where You Want To Be by Jack Canfield – it really stuck with me! The premise of this idea is simple: when the big picture seems too daunting, stop thinking about the bigger challenge… just lean in the direction you want to go. For instance, it’s really easy when first starting a blog or website to be concerned about little niggles like the design, layout and formatting. You could spend three weeks just deciding on a typeface if you really wanted to. It’s far more important to ‘Lean in to it’ – i.e. get started, lean in the direction you want to go… don’t worry too much about the bigger picture. It will all unfold once you get started and the momentum builds. Momentum is an amazing thing – that’s why getting started is so much harder than changing course slightly once you’re well on your way. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Lean, lean, lean!
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
Being 100% responsible for everything on my own. There were nights in the early days where I was working until 4.am sometimes, whilst juggling my other job, and feeling very stressed that there really was no one to share the load with. Every single task had to be done by me. I remember being an exhausted mess some nights, crying in front of the computer screen, thinking ‘I have to finish this before tomorrow’ and feeling quite overwhelmed. I have an amazing assistant now, and it’s such a weight off my shoulders to know that there is someone to share the responsibility with.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
I’ve actually learnt this one quite recently. I would say the most important thing if you run your own business is your health. My business cannot run without me – if I am having a slow day or a sick day, then my business has a slow day or a sick day too. With this in mind, I have really tried this year to start thinking about my health as a significant asset to my business! I exercise often, I have re-worked my diet with the advice of my doctor and naturopath (no coffee, no sugar, no gluten!). It sounds completely boring but I have SO MUCH MORE ENERGY, and I think with more clarity, especially on days where I exercise before work. I’m no gym junkie, but it does’t take long to realise how much better your mind and body perform when you are disciplined about your health and wellbeing. If you work for yourself, chances are you work twice the hours most other people do… and if you demand that of yourself, your health and wellbeing really needs to be a priority.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
I am not sure I can think of a specific moment, but I would say I don’t have the best track record for delegation! I am a control freak. I usually assume I should just do everything myself because a) no one else can do it like I can and b) it’s too hard to explain to anybody else how I want something done. Wrong on both counts! There is plenty of stuff I am not great at (book keeping, photography, graphic design) and I have found it is SO much better to outsource those things. The end result is always better when I do. I’m getting better at delegating, but it’s a constant struggle!
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
My greatest success in general terms would be running TDF very independently – i.e. maintaining editorial integrity and working direct with a select group of advertisers, whilst keeping TDF profitable and successful. I am stubbornly independent – I have never had to run an ad I don’t agree with or work with brands I don’t respect – I do everything on my own terms, which is such a privilege.
Aside from that, I would say conceptualising and launching our annual ‘Open House‘ events, which is an annual event we run in Melbourne. It’s a huge pop-up where we basically take a real home and transform it into a showcase for local artists and designers, and everything in the home is for sale. It has been a huge success and is highly anticipated every year now. It has been an amazing way to bring TDF into the ‘real world’ and has given me the opportunity to interact with our readers, and work some incredible brands and designers who I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to collaborate with. This year for the first time we are taking the event to Sydney in December this year. Wish me luck!
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
I know this is going to sounds very sucky but I think one of the absolute best resources for creative businesses is the D*S Biz Ladies series! I bookmarked one article a long time ago which I still refer to by NY based jewellery designer Pamela Liou.
It is SUCH A GOOD ONE! Design*Sponge is a goldmine!
Aside from D*S, I must say as I mentioned before I do have a bit of a soft spot for cheesy motivational business books! You have to take what you can from them and leave the bits which become too commercial… but there’s usually some pearls of wisdom along the way. I also quite liked Scott Belsky’s Making Ideas Happen.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
I would say DO NOT consider the top three things, just get started!
Starting is the most important thing. Closely following by very hard work and discipline. If you get started NOW, and work your butt off earnestly everyday for at least 12 months, you will be just fine. Believe in yourself, get started, work super hard.