Design Milk was one of the first blogs I subscribed to and bookmarked, before I even really knew what a blog was. That was years and years ago, and it’s still one of my go-to resources today for all things design, from art and architecture to furniture, fashion and technology. So, needless to say, I had a bit of a moment when emailing back and forth with Jaime Derringer, the Founder and Executive Editor of Design Milk and Dog Milk (*insert party hat emoji here*). Despite her busy schedule — she’s in the middle of launching Adorn Milk, an online shop dedicated to modern wearables — Jaime was kind enough to share a bit behind her life and business, from happy mistakes and saying no, to knowing what to pay attention to and the importance of people who know more than you. Thanks, Jaime! —x, Sabrina
Portrait photography by Noa Azoulay
Why did you decide to start your own business?
I was at a job that had quite a bit of downtime and I was shopping for sofas and other items for a townhouse I had just purchased. I started using a blog as a way to bookmark things I loved, but also share them. It was a bit of an accident that it all turned into a business! But, no regrets!
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
Blogging wasn’t really a legit kind of business back when I started, so I just played it by ear. I watched what others were doing and talked with them, seeking advice. Actually, Grace was one of the first people in the “design blog” community who I met and I still enjoy sharing ideas with her today.
Defining your business isn’t always as clear as starting out with a business plan and lots of strategy, a roadmap, etc. In fact, for the first few years or so I was really just doing things on the fly. Today, I spend a lot more time thinking about the upcoming year, planning out new projects and putting together an editorial calendar that makes sense. I always look to historical data and information to help me create a map for the future, in addition to consulting with peers. Also, being in an Internet business, it’s really critical to pay attention to the entire landscape of the Internet, such as the way people are consuming content, interacting with devices and so on. I try to make sure that wherever my readers are, they can access Design Milk content.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
Oh gosh, that’s hard. I think maybe the importance of saying “no.” It’s become increasingly easier to say “no” as the years go on. “No” isn’t always a bad thing because you’re saying “yes” to something else that’s more important — like another project — or, even something simple like a nap, a walk, or time with family.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
Knowing absolutely nothing about tech, blogging, social media, accounting, business, marketing, advertising or any of the things that I do every day. I tried to learn as much as I could about every aspect of my business because as a blogger, especially a new blogger, you pretty much do all the work. I was self-hosted, so I even became a server administrator and a website designer there for a while…! You have to learn to wear many hats. Then, as you grow, you can hand off some hats to people who are better at wearing them. It’s important to know what you’re good at, but more important to know what you’re not good at. Then, go find someone who is!
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
Don’t undervalue or underestimate yourself. It’s important to know your value as a human, as a person, as a business owner. Never make excuses or assume other people either can’t afford your rates or won’t pay you what you’re worth.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
Oh boy. I’ve had a few. I’ve hired the wrong people and had disastrous results, invested money in projects that were a flop, said the wrong thing to the wrong people… I’ve probably made all the mistakes there are to make!
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
My free time. In the beginning, I worked a full-time job for three years while running my website and, at first, it wasn’t a big deal but when I started to take it more seriously, I became a workaholic. I don’t think my husband saw me much for two whole years! It was tough. But in the end, totally worth it. I still work more than 40 hours a week, but I do a better job of being flexible and maintaining balance.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
I think I’m most proud of being able to help other people. Design Milk has become a great place for other people to connect. For example, a designer might share his products and get picked up by a manufacturer or a retailer. Or, someone will see an interior designer featured on my site and hire them. We’ve even helped launch a few design careers! I am grateful to be the platform for this, and feel like that’s as successful as you can get!
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
Oooh there are tons of these out there! Obviously the Biz Ladies column [now Life & Business] is awesome, but I primarily know more about the blogging world than general business resources. If you’re interested in starting with blogging, I’d recommend:
– Joy Cho’s book: Blog, Inc.
– Holly Becker’s course: Blogging Your Way eCourse series
– Altitude Design Summit meetings
– Social Media Expo meeting
– SXSW Interactive
The Small Business Administration is actually a very helpful resource, too.
Regardless of your industry, there are meetings, online groups, and other helpful associations, whether it’s on Facebook, Etsy, or a government agency. There’s a lot of help out there!
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
1. What kind of time commitment do you have?
2. Do you have a support system/team — wife/husband, family, friends, etc. who understand your mission?
3. What are your goals? Make an outline with milestones and dates and work toward them. I find that writing things down and checking things off works for me.
4. BONUS! Is there really a need for this business, and if there are similar companies already out there, how can you be different?