Today’s Biz Ladies Profile comes to us from Jennifer Hill of JHill Design. Starting off as a small design studio, Jennifer worked on projects for a variety of clientele, never really thinking about launching her own product line until an inspiring road trip changed her mind. Her first set of pattern maps won over her clients and soon she was selling her “modern travel posters” to the public. Today she shares a bit about her career journey and the steps she’s taken to get to where she is now. Thank you, Jennifer, for sharing your story with us! –Stephanie
photo by Sarah Winchester
Read the full interview after the jump…
Why did you decide to start your own business?
Growing up I always had the entrepreneurial spark. I used to make catalogs by filling lined notebooks with my “product drawings.” A few years after college graduation I needed a flexible job to help take care of my father who was ill. It was then that I decided to leave my full time job and start JHill Design.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
I wanted it to be a small design studio – small being just me. I worked on design projects for retail/restaurant clients as well as packaging for beauty companies. I didn’t think of it being a studio that designed a product line to sell for a few years into owning the business. That came as a need to fulfill my personal creativity.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
Constantly analyze the business. This has been really important in many different forms. I love pouring through our web site analytics and seeing where we can make improvements. I know how much it costs to make each of our products. I love looking at our sales reports and seeing trends, where we can do better, where we can add/remove products etc… I think doing this has really kept us in business for so long.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
The absence of a constant paycheck can be really difficult. But 10 years later it doesn’t phase me a bit. I always think a sale is just one small email away and I just need to hustle to get it! I know how much we need to make each day to make ends meet, that helps me feel a little more in control of it all. (It also helps to be an optimist. This line of thinking drives my husband crazy).
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
That life is (hopefully) long and there are many opportunities. You have time to make your ideas come to life, you don’t have to do it all at once. Take your time, don’t rush through things – enjoy them. Be really mindful about the decisions that you make. A big one in the last few years: being “really busy” doesn’t make you successful. It can make you sloppy and kind of annoying. Also, be honest. In a Pinterest-perfect world, being honest is really refreshing.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
Oh there have been a few. Years ago I did the Stationery Show in NYC. I was convinced that people would love my work because it was so different. Lots of color and layers! All about travel! Turns out no one got it. All the buyers were looking for letterpress / baby / wedding things – which I had none of. We got zero orders. Luckily I shared a booth so it wasn’t a super expensive failure. I should have researched what people were looking for and had a bigger selection. I should have concentrated less on the excitement of “doing the Stationery Show” and more on the business of sales. I was young, it was a good eye opener.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
Being in business for 10 years, paying employees, renting a studio space, paying for child care and NOT having gone bankrupt! I’ve definitely gone through periods of racking up the credit card debt. But I learned from all that and have been able to make better business decisions because of it. I’m so grateful when I pay myself each week.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
Well of course Design Sponge’s Biz Ladies series! Also, I love process/business memoirs like Kelly Cutone’s If You Have To Cry Go Outside and the documentary Marc Jacobs + Louis Vuitton. I love to hear about the life of other businesses. I watched the last season of “The Rachel Zoe Project” and it was comforting to see someone so successful have the same fears and issues that I have being a working/business-owning mom.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
1. Have you researched all aspects of your field (the competition, what buyers want, what trends are old and what are new…)?
2. Do you have a plan of how to scale your business in case you get MILLIONS of sales (I like to think this would be a good problem to have.)?
3. Money can bring up a lot of emotions, you’ve got to deal with them as soon as they come up.