At the tail end of 2010 while I was designing in house for a sleepwear company, a friend and I were chatting and he asked, ‘If you could do anything and money wasn’t an issue, what would you do?’ My answer came out quickly, surprising even myself. I said, ‘I would start a print studio.’ And a year later, that is exactly what I was doing. Notice how I said a year later? Looking back, I know I went about things all wrong at the start. I gave my notice too soon and was let go almost on the spot. With no paycheck and no work on the horizon, I was put in a position to do things as quickly as possible. What I learned though, was there was a lack of information available to you online around print design or starting up a studio.
I had so many questions around how exactly to build this business. How much to charge, how to grow my client base, what to pay a freelancer, how to get sales appointments, do I need a rep or not, should I attend trade shows, where do I print my samples, do I show on paper or fabric, how many should I have?
I was not prepared financially to begin building a business and that created a lot of stress and tension for me at the start. I waffled between taking a new job, looking for freelance work and starting the studio.
I then found that first steady freelance client and moved to West LA. Shortly after I added on another freelance client and then another. I was having so much fun working for multiple brands and also trying to figure out how to start my studio.
And because my financial needs were being met, I could take my time and be very thoughtful about it.
Eventually, I was working for my freelance clients during the day and the studio at night. I briefly took on a partner. Partly knowing it was too much work for one person and partly because I wanted this experience to be shared. Though it did not ultimately work out, I will always be grateful for the help that was contributed in those early months. It was demanding, heartfelt work. Making prints, finding clients, attending our first trade show, sales, social media, you name it.
There was a point where I went all in with my main freelance client to free up more time to build the business and the worst that could happen, happened. They let me go and hired in house. Having put all my freelance eggs in one basket meant I had to put the studio on hold and again figure out a plan. I ended up in another full time job designing juniors clothing for an amazing brand downtown LA. It was such a fun job that I decided to let the studio go for now.
I had already signed up for my second trade show later that year, the LA Textile show, so I hired someone to sit in the booth while I was at work. A big potential client had stopped by and said they wanted an appointment. I took the appointment, and they ended up purchasing 16 pieces! At the end of the meeting, I was told that there would be many more appointments for us in the future and that my team should get ready.
I knew right then I had to take the path. Even if I failed. I had to know. I had to see what was possible.
I took out a very small loan and invested it into having an in house sales rep and a studio assistant. We went through several different fabric printers until we found one we liked, made our own headers and had dance parties (and donut parties) in my little kitchen while we steamed prints and put collections together.
I have seen this business through the excitement of beginnings, beautiful months of consistent sales and the tough months when things would slow down for whatever the reasons. I have also seen the impact of running a business alone when you have to take a step back. How easily things can fall apart without systems in place or a support team. In 2017 when I had my son I really began to see all the flaws in this business that was running me. I was drowning in the decisions that I had made to keep things small and do it all on my own.
I was forced to slow down and pull back which ended up being the best thing that ever happened to my business.
I became more interested in learning how to create more impact with less time and set growth goals that worked for me. I leaned into marketing and completely fell in love with business. I obsessed over business books and podcasts and even got a coach for a while. I learned so much about my business and about myself.
When you try building a business by do everything yourself, you don’t leave any room for growth. Once I pulled back, took some time off and restructured things from a place of alignment to my desired outcome, as well as setting some healthy boundaries things became so much more clear!
Are there areas you could be spending more or less time to grow your business? Are you implementing the power of no? Are you growing your client list? Do you know your Design Niche?
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