How My Design Career Started

If you’re new around here, I’m Colleen! Nice to meet you. I’m a graphic designer for entrepreneurs and small business owners who are ready for the brand makeover of their dreams! Today I want to share a bit of my story with you so we can get to know each other better. Keep reading if you’ve been curious about how I got my start in graphic design.

I’m 36 years old and live in a sweet house with my husband, daughter, and pup. I grew up as one of four children, living on a generations-old farm in the middle of Kansas. I didn’t have as many nice things then that I have now, but I did have some crayons and the imagination it took to ultimately create a life I really love.

Growing up, my high school didn’t have an art teacher. But one year, I had the opportunity to take an art class from another school via TV systems. One of our assignments was to design our own stationery and I loved it! That’s when I learned what graphic design was.

I decided to pursue graphic design as my career, and worked really hard in college to get my degree. Like really hard. As in, major anxiety, unhealthy habits, “WTF am I doing with my life???” hard. I kept at it, and in year four when I learned about the concept and theories of branding, I was immediately hooked.

I took my first real job at 23 and worked my tail off to pay the bills and student loans and fund my travel and socializing. Some months were higher spends than others, but I ultimately proved I could be financially independent by myself. Without my dad, without a trust fund, without resorting to the pole dance life (yes, I know people who have done this -- and I understand why).

Then I met a guy. A guy who made me laugh and who laughed at me. A guy who worked as hard as my dad did (and does) on the farm. A guy I really enjoyed spending time with. After working in corporate environment for nine years, I decided to make the leap to move to a new city with him and get a new job. I ended up working for an awesome agency for a year before getting married and deciding to go the entrepreneurial route. I learned a TON in the years that followed that decision.

Truthfully, I'm still learning.

I'm learning what it's like to go from a steady paycheck -- a good one, I might add -- to, well, basically nothing.

I had always wanted to have my own business. At the time of my entrepreneurial leap, I had done a few design jobs on the side over the previous nine years for friends and family (that would have been called a "hobby" side business according to my CPA). But now I was going to do this thing for real. So, with the help of my teeny, tiny savings, my supportive husband, and all the knowledge I had gained during and after college, it was time to do it.

I gave my 2 weeks notice.

Then, blurry bootstrapping happened. I took on a few clients and a few small projects that I poured myself into.

The dollars were slim to none.

I didn't know how to charge for design services.

I didn't know how I, Miss Independent, could not pay for at least some of the bills that I had owned before.

I didn't know how reliant I -- like a child -- would become on my husband for money.

I didn't know how emotional it would make me to give up my "money power."

I had worked so hard to learn and communicate and get that promotion every couple years and I should have had the money to show for it. At least a little bit, right? But I didn't. I had spent it along the way to fund my dreams of making a living as a designer. All of it. (Well... everything except my 401K.)

What I did know was that there was a real need for design work in the world. I knew that literally everywhere I went, some designer had helped in making that card, poster, logo, website, packaging, environment, etc. The opportunities were plentiful. I just had to reach out and grab them.

Fast forward to around six months after my husband and I welcomed our darling little girl (two-and-a-half years into my entrepreneurial journey):

I decided to get my "power panties" from the dark, back corner of the drawer, put them on, and really figure this out. Because I knew I was NOT going to give up. It was time to dig deep and use this education I thought I graduated from.

But that's just it -- I only "graduated" from getting the degree and soaked up all that I could from the time in my life at corporate, and THEN made the decision to quit the full-time job to start a new business.

It was time to earn the life degree -- the one where you don't wear a cap and gown, and you aren't finished when you throw that hat in the air and pray you can find a job to pay the rent. Instead, you wake up in the morning, put your pants on one leg at a time, and do your thing. You are going to figure it out. You have to.

So that’s what I'm doing today.

I'm still learning and figuring out how to both run a successful business AND what "independence" looks like for me now and how it fits into my life.

I love being a designer and helping to develop brand identities for real people. I'm extremely grateful for my clients and love mixing their energy with mine to create something even bigger than we could imagine doing on our own. I'm extremely grateful for everything I've been given these last (almost) five years and in this life so far. I'm extremely grateful for the courage it took for me to write this out because some days are super hard (and only my husband -- love you X infinity -- gets to listen to it). Most of all, I'm extremely grateful that I can put into words that the learning for me will never end because it's SO interesting that I don't want it to!

(Hmmm… Did I just write my own pep-talk?)

Have you taken any leaps in your life that paid off in big ways? Tell me about them in the comments below.