When you start your own business, surrounding yourself with — and seeking out — like-minded individuals is oh-so important, not only in peers, but in clients as well. When graphic designer Cassie Pyle first took the leap to freelancing full-time, her already-established network of online friends through her blog, Veda House, helped make the transition seamless. And it was only after she received a few fun (and paying!) jobs through her blog that she realized that people wanted her; they wanted to hire Cassie and loved her signature work. Even though it meant diving into the unknown and mysterious world of uncertainty, Cassie knew that she needed to pursue and explore this opportunity and has never looked back. Today Cassie’s chatting with us about the importance of just doing, the scary jump into sole-proprietorship, and life as a freelance designer where no two days are alike — and that’s the way she loves it. —Sabrina
Why did you decide to start your own business?
After working at an advertising agency as a digital art director for almost four years, I was really itching for the creative freedom to work with brands I personally admired and find a way to infuse more of my passions into the day-to-day. I was one of those people who felt extremely guilty for ignoring my passions while “slaving” away at someone else’s dream.
Around that same time, my little side project (the Veda House blog) was attracting really fun (and paying) freelance work that aligned with my creative vision. I was also growing a budding network of like-minded individuals that would later prove to be invaluable when I stepped out on my own, doing freelance design work full-time. I realized that connecting and working with other creative solopreneurs, small business owners, and dreamers was where I needed to focus my time and energy.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
I went to design school and graduated with a degree in Visual Communications Design (Graphic Design) and then spent several years developing brands in the online space. When I started freelancing full-time, those types of jobs were a natural starting point.
Over time, I was able to better define the projects that really made me tick and started incorporating photography and styling into the mix. Between traditional web and print design, photography and styling, I’ve been able to create a really great balance. No two days are alike and that’s exactly what I need to continually stay inspired and grow as a designer/photographer. I think sticking to what you know while exploring other avenues is always a good practice.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
Two pieces of advice really stuck with me in those beginning years. The first being, “Just do what you love and what feeds your soul and the money will figure itself out.” I honestly can’t remember where I heard that, but I found it insanely freeing to know that all I had to worry about was spending my days doing what I loved.
The second best piece of advice I heard was from Martha Graham. She said, “ There is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.” I found this quote to be really inspiring and have fallen back on it several times. It’s a reminder to produce high quality, original content and to not necessarily follow trends.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
There are definitely a lot of challenging parts of starting your own business. In the beginning, the excitement of finally taking a leap of faith and just diving in completely overpowered any concerns I may have had. I didn’t have time to worry and I just needed to DO!
Once I started to get into more of a groove, two things really stuck out to me. Running your own business takes lots of “business” knowledge and you have to be okay with not knowing what the future holds. As someone who tries to plan out every day of her future, not knowing when I’d get paid or what clients would find me was a really stressful realization. I still struggle with the unknown factors on a daily basis, but now I know it’s part of the job description and it’s kind of exciting. I’ve also been able to put systems in place that ensure some guarantees.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
Oh boy! I feel like I learn something new about this game every day. For me, it was a real game changer when I was finally able to recognize the “right” opportunities and to have the ability to say NO to those that weren’t the right fit. It’s about learning to be picky in the right way.
Some of the best lessons have come from past failures. During the years working at the agency, I was fully aware my work/life balance was all out of whack. When I set off on my own adventure, creating a really solid work/life balance was one of the first items on my to-do list. I’m still on a mission to master the art of balancing. Today, I try really hard not to work on weekends. I typically end my days at 5 pm. And I frequently take Fridays off. I’ve been able to become extremely efficient with my time. I’ve made a vow to myself to never jump onto the “glorification of busy” bandwagon.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
I tend to feel the biggest sense of failure when there is a hiccup with a client relationship and when communication isn’t going smoothly. No matter how concise your contract is, how incredibly nice your email tone was, or how organized you think you are…you will inevitably have a misunderstanding with a client. When a client is confused or unhappy with any step of the process, I feel I have let them down.
Over time and many “failures” later, I’m learning more effective ways to manage my clients and create seamless processes. I’m constantly revising the way I communicate and the processes I follow to better accommodate my growing skill sets.
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
I think the biggest sacrifice is the guaranteed paycheck every two weeks and the fluffy insurance package. It sounds silly, but just those two things alone were really hard to give up. I don’t think this takes a whole lot of explaining, haha.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
Success is when a client comes to me because they admire the work I do and want to work with me…and only me. Very slowly my business has transformed from working with clients because they paid me well, to working with clients whom I really jive with, have a shared mission, they value the work I do, and who pay me well. It takes a lot of time to refine your portfolio to get the clients you want and thankfully, I think I’m on the right track. With each project, you refine more.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
Some go-to resources for me are listed below:
1. Breaking the Time Barrier (has changed the whole way I price the work I do)
3. After the Jump Podcast via Design*Sponge
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
1. Go into this adventure knowing that it all takes a lot of dedicated time and there is no such thing as an overnight success. Gradual, organic growth will result in the best outcome.
2. Be insanely organized.
3. Grow your network of like-minded individuals whom you can tap into at a moment’s notice. A strong creative network has saved my back and given me peace of mind more times than I can count.