Today’s story is extra special. It’s my story, or how I became a designer and now have my own business where I get to create brands and websites for entrepreneurs just like you!
I have to warn you: it’s a weird origin story. I’m a weird girl. I can’t deny that. I’ve gotten somewhat more normal as I’ve gotten older, if that gives you any context for how much of an oddball kiddo I was.
My sisters and I used to make ‘websites’ on some retro HTML Windows 95 program. I can’t remember the name of and it makes me sad. I remember spending hours dressing up those virtual dolls (who remembers those?!) and adding them to my fake websites. Setting up all the internal links was my favorite part; I loved opening my new ‘website’ and clicking through to the many, many, many pages of dolls. The early 2000s were a weird time to be alive, y’all.
Several years later, my older sister got me into Xanga… and then MySpace (when I was wayyyy too young for it, oops) and that gave me yet another creative outlet to vomit gifs and sparkling text all over. Another win for my young, creative mind.
The floodgates really opened when I got The Sims 2 for Christmas one year. And y’all, I’m about to get real honest with y’all and this will be a little embarrassing. Bear with me!!!! I was an awkward, shy preteen, who loved playing The Sims 2 (basically barbie dolls for the computer, which was totally my jam. I also happened to discover my love for writing around this time. One thing lead to another and I eventually found an online forum (dating myself here) dedicated to… wait for it…. People who used The Sims 2 to write their stories. 🙈
And I thrived. I freaking THRIVED.
GIMP is poor woman’s Photoshop. Not all of us grew up #rich and know the struggle. Yep, photo editing… because one didn’t simply write a story with The Sims 2 and not edit their photos!
As my love for writing grew so did my love for using these design programs. I actually attempted my first NaNoWriMo around age 12, fun fact. Every single thing I made in them was literal hot garbage, but it was so much fun to learn the little tips, and try different things, just by investigating online for tutorials and messing around with the tools late into the night.
I cherished every little dopamine hit I got when I’d post my latest creation, and all my internet friends would comment things like ‘wow!’ and ‘good job!’ and ‘looks good Sophie!’ (yes, I made up a fake name, and catfished everyone, before catfishing was a thing, into thinking I was a Sophie and not a Cara; you’re welcome, Mom! #strangerdanger).
The internet was like the wild west in the 2000s, guys.
When I hit 8th grade I jumped at the chance to take graphic design as an elective. I wish more than anything on earth that I could still find some of my old projects. It would’ve been gold to share those with y’all. There is one I recall distinctly. We had to design a self portrait. I slapped a photo of myself in the middle then made a mis-mash collage all around my little head of all the things I loved. There was definitely a Twilight book in there, or two. Maybe three. Okay, okay, definitely all four.
Throughout the rest of my middle and high school career, I was always taking some type of art class. 2D art, sculpture I, sculpture II, and of course, graphic design. I’d always known I liked art and artistic things, so I kept them in my life. But I never truly considered myself good at them like how other people were.
I considered graphic design. I wanted to do it so bad. But I told myself two things: 1, graphic designers don’t make good money and 2, I wasn’t a good enough artist (as in drawing or painting) to be a good designer.
🤦♀️ Oh the ignorance of youth…
I settled on advertising, which would tap into my writing skills while also allowing me to be creative, and hopefully land a job that would pay me well. I was also a biiiiig Mad Men fan.
Unable to completely let design go, though, I decided to minor in digital media (which at my university, was like applied design, and was through the college of technology, as opposed to graphic art which was taught through the college of art).
Go figure when the courses I had to take for my minor ended up being my favorites 🙈
Over the next four years, I learned quite a lot about design and the Adobe Suite, and got a lot better than I was in my Sims 2 days. I still wouldn’t have considered myself a designer by any means. But… not everything I made was hot garbage anymore; only about 40% of it. Success!
Upon graduation, my very first job was a marketing manager at a local, family-owned furniture store. I was the only marketing person there, and handled everything from their social media, their in-store hosted events, and designing any of their collateral.
Naturally, as someone quite literally 72 hours off of graduation, I was a little out of my depth in that job, and hated the solitary work environment. It wasn’t long until I had landed another job, this time as a social media strategist, at a boutique creative firm in town.
At this new job, though, I was working with a girl I went to college with. We’d had a few classes together, and one of which, we did a group project where I designed our presentation and won our group the award for best design.
She had let it slip to my boss that I was a “great designer” (her words, not mine!). So one day one, my new boss approached me about it. I think she was confused. In my interview, when she asked me about my design skills, I said they were ‘just okay’. Then when she asked if I was interested in a designer role, I immediately said yes.
Life tip: if that sounds like you, I promise you’re probably a way better designer or coach or writer or whatever than you think and you’re just experiencing major imposter syndrome. I know I was.
It was sort of a blessing when I got thrown into yet another new role as ‘art department’. Yes, I was the entire art department. There’s nothing that will force you to believe in yourself quicker than a whole team of people relying on you to do the thing.
Over the next three years, I learned an incredible amount– about design, about business, about client relations, about social media, and so much more. I grew infinitely as a designer myself; as they say, the quickest way to improve is to just do. And I did. A lot.
I designed brands, websites, rack cards, social media posts, email newsletters, direct mailers, packaging design, t-shirts, ecommerce stores, window clings, store-wraps, print collateral, and more.
Branding and web design!
But let’s back up a sec.
Throughout this entire time period, starting my freshman year of college, I had an urge to build something of my own online. I was a blogger for my university marketing department my freshman year. I started my own free WordPress.com blog my sophomore year, and kept up with that inconsistently for almost a year.
Then, I started learning about people who made money by doing cool things online in the blogosphere. I tried to get into that, only to give up a few months in. Shortly after I started my job post-grad, I tried starting another blog. Which I was certain would take off this time. That one lasted for maybe 5 posts. 🙂
After about a year and a half at the agency, I started to think– hey, I could do this on my own. What if I tried doing that? So I did. Aaaaaand I gave up shortly after. I just wasn’t in the right head space to truly make that kind of commitment yet, despite how badly I wanted it.
As the next year passed by, I got that same familiar itch to build something for myself.
You may or may not know that I’m actually smack dab in the middle of wedding planning, and have been since NYE 2020. So naturally, when that itch came back I was adamant that I wouldn’t have the time or energy to work my full time job, plan a wedding, and start a business.
So I told myself I’d start after the wedding, and in the meantime, just start building some content.
That was in May 2021, just 7 months ago. Shows you how well THAT idea went over, right?
As I had started building out the first iteration of my own brand (which never actually saw the light of day), and diving back into the entrepreneur space, I was filled with so much excitement about the opportunity. So I decided, okay maybe I will try and get this going before the wedding… but just as a part-time side hustle.
I threw myself into my business 110%. It was about the time I purchased Booked Out Designer by Elizabeth McCravy that I realized I was in deep. Way deeper than I thought I would be. My new goal was to go full time in my own business before the wedding (motivated by my desire to take a nice loooong honeymoon, without worrying about PTO days).
Finally, my fiancé and I had a long overdue chat. He knew that starting my own business had been a dream of mine for so, so long. We both knew it could mean amazing things for my career and earning potential, and of course, the time freedom in my life. Me starting a business and being able to be location-independent lined up perfectly with some of our long-term goals. It just made sense. And it would be extremely hard to build it alongside my 9-5 while also dealing with all the other things life was throwing at us this year.
Together, we decided that me quitting ASAP was the best course of action. Just to jump in with both feet at once, sink or swim style. We were financially stable. I had more than enough in savings to cover me for a while. We didn’t have a mortgage to make, and I didn’t have any children I was financially responsible for. It seemed like the perfect time to take the leap.
So I ended up putting in my 2 week notice halfway through October 2021, and my last day was October 29th, making Monday, November 1, 2021 my very first day working for myself full time.
Currently, I’m on just my second week and it has been an absolute whirlwind! Both in good and bad ways. But I’ve never felt more at ease with my path or in more alignment than I do now.
And it’s crazy when I think about how I was once the girl who said she was ‘just okay’ at design in an interview, and now I’m the girl who owns her own branding and web design business and is a legitimate designer.
I’m living out the thing I had been dreaming about for years, and always felt like I would never get.
But I have it. It’s mine. I’m friggin’ HERE. And I couldn’t be happier.
All because I decided to take the leap.
And because I was a biiiig Sims nerd (@EA, please sponsor me).