photo by Michael Newsted
Today’s Biz Ladies Profile comes to us from designer and blogger, Megan Gilger. As a graduate entering a difficult job landscape, Megan decided to take matters into her own hands and start a freelance career. She’s since created a successful creative and inspiration blog, The Fresh Exchange, worked with clients around the world and recently re-launched her joint design and branding company, Wild Measure, with her husband, Mike. Today, Megan gives us a glimpse into her career journey and the lessons learned along the way. Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, Megan! —Stephanie
Read the full interview after the jump…
photo by Mike Gilger
Why did you decide to start your own business?
I decided to start my own business after I left college. Growing up I never imagined myself working for someone else and for the first few years of college I fought the idea of being a graphic designer because of the idea of someone owning my creativity. I was pretty stubborn and the thought of being told to be creative on demand for someone seemed like a really fast way to hate design. I worked in college on many studio projects with major brands and companies that helped me learn the ins and outs of what it meant to work with clients and that demanded work could be pretty great, but it was only the starting point.
When I left college in 2009 there were no design jobs for newbies unless you wanted an unpaid internship in a big city. I applied to a lot of places but was continually told they had no openings or they wanted someone with more experience. It was disheartening, but I still had a lot of freelance work from college and the brands I had worked with previously. That time also pushed me to begin my own creative outlet, The Fresh Exchange which has been a large defining piece in my career thus far. It has shown me truly what I love as a creative. Looking back the bad economy and lack of work lead me to a place where I was given no choice but to follow what my hear knew I always wanted anyways. I feel pretty thankful for all the times I was told no. Sometimes “no” can be the most resounding “yes” to what you know you need to do anyways.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
At the time my business started I was simply working to pay the bills I was not worried about what the next few years would bring. There was no business plan or 5-year plan, I just did what I needed to do to keep rent paid and the loan companies at bay. It was suggested to me by some friends who owned wedding businesses to start doing some wedding invite work. At the time I was getting married so it made sense. I filed a DBA put up my website for Hitch Design Studio and offered wedding invites and branding. It was a start.
The best thing I did at that point in my career was jump in head first without asking. It taught me so much about what it means to be a business owner. Some tough lessons, but great ones. I quickly learned things like how to handle bad clients, how to write a contract properly, how to fail gracefully, and what I really wanted as a business owner. Those first two years was my “master’s degree” in my mind. It was a hard time, but it helped me shape my business in to where it is now.
The blog, The Fresh Exchange, is one of the most important pieces in helping lead me to where I am today. Having a space to freely create and share with the world what I love as a designer and what inspires me from our own travels to the food we grow and eat. That space has allowed me and Mike to explore and create without constraint. I use the space to try new things that I would normally not have the chance to try on clients. Every creative needs that space on some level in order to find themselves. You need freedom to help you define what you would do if you were given no boundaries. Some of our favorite moments of working together have happened on the blog, from our 16 days of Type in Paris series to our Simple Evenings. All of it has shown Mike and I what kind of business we want to build and the people we want to take the ride with. Those creative moments helped teach me how deep my passion was for collaboration, community, and adventure. This all was an important part in defining the business we have now and are working to slowly build.
Now, nearly 5 years later, I have rebranded as Wild Measure and paired up with my husband. I have never felt more sure of what I wanted as a business owner. We are purposely pursuing work with lifestyle brands to help them market and build their brand properly. Our goal is to help them reach the market they want in a deeper way than just a pretty package. Those first three years were what showed me what I sucked at, what I was great at, what set me apart, and what made me the same as the rest of them. Finding your niche and place is an important part of feeling comfortable and confident as a business owner. You don’t always know that straight out of the gate and thats okay. No one tells you that it is okay to not know what you are doing sometimes. It really is, because not knowing gives you the opportunity to truly figure it out without any expectation. The best thing you can do for your business is to begin. The rest of it will begin to some how make sense along the way.
photo by Cory Weber
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
I have a few that have kept me strong in some tough moments:
– Trust your gut. Listen to your heart.
– Do all the good you can even in the hardest moments. Good will always win whether it be now or later.
– In every failure find a new level of strength. In every success find a new level of humility.
– Do not compare. You were never meant to be the people around you. You were only meant to be yourself.
– The journey is just as important as the destination.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
As a creative it has been the financial end. I am terrible at it and so is my husband. We are both far too right brained for our own good. It has been a huge battle to learn and stay up on the financial end of our business. It is by far our greatest weakness. Every year we get better and we are slowly woking on finding the right people to join in our business on that end of it. The power of knowing your own weaknesses is a great thing. It lets you know when you should hire something out. This year we finally got a bookkeeper and a financial planner. They have given us the confidence to start making some big moves in business that we never would have taken if we had tried to keep managing it all on our own. Hard lessons to learn.
photo by Mike Gilger
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
Contracts are powerful in many many ways. It is important to have good contracts even with friends. Always read contracts thoroughly. If you have questions pay for some time with a lawyer because that $100 – $300 to have them look it over can mean you may dodge a bullet later. It is important to keep yourself protected as well as everyone else involved. Everyone is not your friend in business until proved otherwise so a contract is ALWAYS important.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
I fail every day at something. To say I don’t would be a lie. Sometimes I brush them off and sometimes they break me down for the day. When you are your own boss and you are carving a new path there are probably far more failures than there are successes. I am still learning and always will be. I have forgotten emails, missed major deadlines, lied, ignored calls, and really royally f***ed up. I am not perfect and those moments have taught me a lot about myself. They have taught me who is my right client and who is not and the work that I really am good at and the work I am not. All are important things. I have been sick for multiple days because I got screwed on a job and lost over $2,000.00 out of my pocket. Those times are awful and can emotionally and physically pull you in to a terrible place, but the way you choose to handle those moments are what will determine the successes you will have after that. Business ownership is hard. If it were easy we would all be doing it. Everyone has a scary moment as a business owner. We all lose something at some point. Owning a business a risk, but one that can pay off in wonderful and extremely fulfilling ways.
photo by Mike Gilger
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
This year has been a huge success. I went from just me to completely restructuring the company, adding my husband Mike, and then renaming the business. Since then we have grown astoundingly. We are to a point where we are preparing for the next stage of our business – growth. We have landed three large contracts in one year and proven to ourselves that we can do this as a husband and wife team. We are watching many of our clients such as Clyde Oak and White Whale grow in big ways and that is when you feel good about your work. In my mind those are all things I can be really proud of for 2013. Next year we are looking at hiring and potentially investing in a small space to house the studio. We are looking forward to the next year and the big adjustments we know are coming with growing a business the way we are dreaming of. It is amazing what can happen when you finally find your direction, share what your work with the world, and work hard for what you believe in.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
These are a few I suggest.
– Breaking the Time Barrier by Mike McDerment
– Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
– I also read Seth Godin’s daily emails.
– Listen to all of Stefan Sagmeister’s talk on TED
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
1. Are you willing to make this your life? Especially if you are young. To make a business work and make you money you need to be ready to work hard and sacrifice. You will live different than some of your friends and they may think you are crazy, but if it means you can be fulfilled by what you do than it may all be worth it.
2. Are you a risk taker? There is nothing safe about being a business owner. Yes, you can potentially make a lot of money and live the life you are dreaming of, but are you willing to risk it all to have the life and business you want? Many things will be put on hold and you will have to put yourself out there in the world. These are all risks and sacrifices that you must be ready for.
3. Are you passionate about what you believe in? At the end of the day the business you build has to mean more than the paychecks or lack there of that it brings in. You have to love what you are building so much that no matter the price tag it holds it means the world to you. Passion goes a long way in determining success of a business owner.