5 things that my design "day jobs" taught me about running a business

I, like many other business owners, have always been a goal setter. Whether it’s an aspiration in my personal life, professional design career or with my show horses (and especially when I was in school) — I am always 110% in, dedicated, focused and determined to get and have what I want. I thoroughly enjoy working for those things, because there is so much more reward, happiness and pride that comes from knowing you put not only your mind, but also your money, your heart and your energy into something that you feel is worth the sacrifices — and you can see tangible (and feel emotional) results from all of the efforts. It’s an incredible feeling, isn’t it? It’s really all the feels. 

One of the big goals that I set for myself at the beginning of my career was to one day be able to quit whatever design day job I was at and work for myself full-time. I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit and saw myself in a cute little office or studio space somewhere one day, decorated in my style, music playing, candles burning, cranking out designs and brands for clients, running in between lunch and coffee dates and having a schedule with flexibility that fit my life, allowed me to have personal freedom (which would then benefit my business even more) and be able to take off when I need to travel, go to horse shows and more. Yes, I would be doing all of this, I told myself. One day. 

I knew that working for myself would not come easily or quickly, right out of college. And, I didn’t want it to. I know some business owners who jumped into running their own gigs at 22 and never really experienced working for someone else (and while that’s great for them and there’s nothing wrong with it) — I knew that I wanted to pay some dues in a different way, really learn how to work hard, have someone else holding me accountable and how to work with a team of people. All of these things would only help me in running my own business one day. 

So, in June of 2008, I was a fresh-faced college grad, 21 years old and ready to take on the world. I held a couple of different design internships that gave me experiences in non-profit and corporate environments. For the next eight years, I worked in mostly agency, which was the best move for me. Agency life taught me how to manage multiple projects, clients, be professional in emails, on conference calls and in meetings. All of the wonderful experiences absolutely taught me so much, including many practices and ways to do business that I use today. 

During those eight years of working for other people, I always freelanced on the side and built up a nice client base of my own, who used me regularly for a multitude of projects (and some still do!) Fast forward to January of 2016, this year. I was 29, engaged, planning a wedding and move to a new city — and it was then that I took the leap to officially opening Untethered. People might have thought I was crazy (heck, I did at times!) because of everything going on at the same time in my life. However, I’ve always been a multitasking queen and figured, “why not?” If I’m doing all of these other big and important “life things” — I might as well add one more to my plate. The one I had been planning on for so long. And, I’m so, so glad that I did. 

And, as I’m writing this, I literally just turned 30 last week. Looking back on the last few years, I feel like I’m in such a great place, between my professional and personal lives. So much goodness has taken place, but it didn’t just happen overnight, or because I “deserved it” or because I’m lucky. All of these different things have come to fruition because of simply time, hard work, dues that were paid, respect for bosses and co-workers, beliefs, faith and okay, a little luck. And, a lot of that time and hard work was spent mostly in an office, behind a computer, working for SOMEONE ELSE for a while. Here are just a few reasons why any design day job that you had (or regular 9-5 that you might have now) absolutely helps mold you into an entrepreneur and running your own biz: 

1) How to point blank, be a PROFESSIONAL.

There are seriously so many things that just being in an office environment around professional people can teach you. I learned how to dress for regular days in the office, meetings with clients, luncheons and evening networking events. I also learned how to answer emails. It sounds simple, but proper etiquette is crucial for communicating with clients and vendors in the best and most efficient ways. I still write many emails in the same tone and with the same messaging and sign-offs that I did at my old jobs. The same goes for phone calls, when you’re sitting in meetings, or you’re presenting in front of an audience. You must know how to be poised, be able to properly enunciate, take your time and communicate your ideas in ways that make sense (and won’t make anyone fall asleep!) Being professional also means always knowing what you’re responsible for, making sure the job gets done, owning your wins and losses and never letting your co-workers or clients be negatively “surprised” by anything that might pop up, that’s really your fault.

2) How to budget your time, write proposals and manage multiple clients/projects and expectations.

This is one of my biggest takeaways from working in an agency environment. In corporate, you probably didn’t have to always “bill your time” back to clients or to specific projects, but it’s still a great skillset to have. When you know how to manage your time, have a quick turnaround on jobs without the quality suffering, write proposals and plans to clients (so that they know exactly what they’re getting from you) and then managing those multiple clients and projects all at once, you will be good as gold. Know how to work efficiently, how much time you will need for certain tasks, how to manage how one client usually is (behavior or expectations-wise) over a client who might be the opposite — and still get the job done. 

3) How to be a team player.

As an entrepreneur, you might enjoy working on your own, or from home, but there is nothing wrong with learning how to play well with others. Having co-workers taught me how to communicate my ideas, how to take constructive criticism, how to find solutions for problems and how to have another person’s back during a time of trouble. I still miss that from time to time now, but I know that having that experience enables me to work well with my clients, vendors/printers and other individuals or designers to whom I might need to delegate or outsource work.    

4) How to have humility, patience and respect.

A lot of people (especially millennials) want it all — and they want it yesterday. It’s great to be passionate and know what you want, but you need to learn how to work for it, take critiques from others, be told what to do and held accountable by others who are older and have been at a job longer than you (and quite frankly, know more than you.) Learn how to wait your turn, know that your time is coming, you need to do what you’re told and SOMEDAY, you too, will be telling someone else what to do. Patience, (and respect) grasshopper.

5) How to be a leader.

I’ve had amazing bosses and some not so amazing. I am glad and thankful that I had the bad, in order to appreciate the good, but I won’t ever miss driving to work every single morning with a pit in my stomach (like I once did, years ago.) Past internship and other job experiences showed me great examples, but the one that sticks out to me the most is the boss who I had for almost 5 years, before I left to get married, move out of the state and run my business full-time. She demonstrated what being a leader was – and that it’s totally different from being a stereotypical “boss.” You know the one, who you see in the movies and who scares you to death when she walks past your cubicle. Very “The Devil Wears Prada.” Not the case with this one. She showed me how to properly manage employees, treat them with respect, REWARD them and in turn, they will keep developing good work for you and your clients. Getting to know them personally, talking to them like a normal human being and not someone that they’re above is key. She also taught me how to take a genuine interest in clients and form trusting relationships with them, so that they will keep coming back for more work. Most of all, she was great at not micromanaging employees with every single thing that they do. She trusted that they would do their job well, like she hired them to do. And, that they needed to learn to fly on their own. Again, when someone is a good person, treats people well, gives constructive advice and feedback and rewards (from time to time) — their employees are going to hit it out of the park, every single time.  

Tell me, what types of things did your (or does your) 9-5 day job teach you? Do they help you in running your business on a daily basis? Leave a comment! 

Something that helps other business owners I know take care of things and makes them look and feel legitimate, is having professional branding in place. Along with client and project management, social media, blogging and advertising, it’s one of the biggest secrets to a business attracting followers and paying clients — and achieving overall success. Sign-up below to receive the link to download my new and free PDF tool “Branding 101: What it is, what it isn’t and why you need it” — right now! This quick and simple guide will walk you through why it’s important to establish consistent and memorable branding within your biz. If you have any questions after going through it, let’s connect and chat some more! If you do decide to hire a professional, I have branding “starter” and “expert” kit packages available for businesses at different stages and budgets. Let me know what you’re interested in today!