The path of creative independence is certainly a twisty one. And Emily Thompson of Indie Shopography, wouldn’t have it any other way.  Her love of travel, her ability to work for clients around the country (with a biz trip to Paris peppered in there, which she’d love more of, please) all from her home office (and breathtaking back porch view) deep in the mountains of North Carolina – and her little family’s ability to pick up and move wherever their heart leads them (right now it’s actually away from their cozy mountain hideout, back to sweet home Alabama, but they’ve got their sights on Austin, TX, fingers crossed) is a big part of her self-employed freedom.

Oh, did we mention Emily started this journey as a geography major who fell in love with maps? Pretty fitting that now she plots courses of the online variety. Emily is a creative entrepreneur that we have a certain kind of creative business kinship with, because she actually helps other creatives and artists get their products online, by developing and designing websites that help them grow as they “grow up” (and often times are fed up with hocking their wares on sites that oh... for instance rhyme with Betsy.)

So of course she’s our featured creative entrepreneur this week.

Mine is the twistiest of creative paths.

Emily's Creative Journey

Try everything, but stick to what you love.

Client biz without boundaries

travel yes and travel stress

must haves in the home studio

- - - - what would I do if I weren't afraid? - - - -

"I would pack up my house, put it in storage, and my little family and I would hit the road. I would turn my monthly adventures into daily ones, and I'd work all the merry way. I'd be the epitome of the traveling entrepreneur."

 

How does your being your own “boss” allow you to relocate and travel? What are some pros or cons (if any cons) that come with that kind of geographic freedom?

Emily: This will be the second move that my little family and I have undertaken since I began freelancing as a web designer. Being able to pack up and move, and effortlessly take my business with us, is really a dream scenario, but not without its bumps. Packing up my iMac and backups is causing me sincere anxiety. What if they get too hot? What if they get smashed?! But, the ability to go wherever and whenever we want is worth a bit of anxiety, and the cost of a backup to my backup.

Moving and traveling freely is not something that I think I’ll ever give up, at least not willingly. Travel, places, and foreign experiences are necessary for me, like water (and gin). Having the ability to do so whenever I can, which is more often than most, is simply my favorite thing about my job.

However, it doesn’t come without drawbacks. Like the fact that I can’t turn it off. I’m constantly planning the next great adventure, and I schedule all of my projects with a grudge that I’ll have to stay relatively stationary (or at least tethered to internet) for the next 6-8 weeks. And my savings account never stays very full for long.

So many creative entrepreneurs start out in some sort of creative form of study, but now do something entirely different (yet still creative). What’s your path? Straight or twisty?

Emily: As a kid I did a bit of everything. I started coding websites in high school. It was a nerdy way to pass the time before I got my license and cared too much about boys. I also spent a semester abroad in western Europe, feeding my growing love of far off places.

College began with me as a Psychology major (gross, right?) and ended with a BA in Geography, certificate in Geographic Informations Systems, and minor in Art History. Geography satisfied my constant need to learn about new places and people, and connected me with people who felt the same, but science was not in the cards for me. I’m much too creative and free-willed to be constrained by some scientific method.

So, my early small business career as a creative entrepreneur – began as a jewelry designer. But finally, in the month that I graduated I found my calling. I had spent the last six months designing and redesigning my online jewelry shop so often that I was coding more than I was creating, and so I decided to open up to freelance web design and I haven’t looked back.

What has been a big business victory for you in the past six months?

Emily: Launching my rebrand. I practically started my established business over. When I first started out, I was proving myself. But then, I found I was repositioning myself from a run-of-the-mill web designer to a web strategy and design expert for creative entrepreneurs. It involved a transition of thinking, getting comfortable with who I am instead of how others expected me to be, and created a lull in paying business (it was a little lull, but a lull nonetheless)  as I began targeting a more refined client type.

It was months of work, in which I created the most complex site that I have ever built, brought together weeks of writing content, and months and months of ideas and planning. It was the culmination of what feels like my life’s work.  It was a huge struggle, but with a monumental payoff. A little dramatic, I know, but man did I feel victorious.

How do you embrace being more than a web designer/developer – but a creative expert?

Emily: The word “expert” certainly gives me pause, and used to utterly freak me out. It gives so little room for error. For me, it was realizing that expert was not synonymous with super hero. Being great at something doesn’t mean you’re perfect at it. You’re just really, really fab at it, and you’re there to help others who need you.

To portray my own area of expertise, I strive to help my clients to understand the process of getting their creative businesses and products online. Launching an online shop isn’t the result of some magic spell, but a lot of hard work.

I break this hard work into manageable bite-sized chunks, creating and implementing an easy-to-follow process for launching and managing an online shop. It makes a big job quick and pretty easy, and I’m happy to guide my clients through it to give them a wonderful end result.

What challenges do your own clients struggle with – as creatives in biz for themselves?

Emily: I certainly believe that creative entrepreneurs have very unique challenges. Most of us are self-funding, have families (like, in the next room), and aren’t even usually educated in the field that our businesses are in.

I think the biggest ongoing challenge is both how to separate personal and business, but also how to blend them together to be a relatable face for our businesses.

We eat and sleep our businesses, as we’re completely invested, and we juggle that with taking care of our families and not becoming workaholic drones. Most of us can’t “leave the office” because our offices are where we live. It’s a balance I think we creatives deal with on a hugely different level than other small business owners.

And, as creatives, we’re also expected to share our personal lives as part of our business’s foundation. We’re battling the big box mindset by reminding our customers that they’re buying the people behind the business just as much as the products and services that we sell. It’s a massive thing to balance.

Is there an overlap between personal and business for you? Or do you keep it clearly divided?

Emily: I don’t think it’s possible to be a creative entrepreneur and not have overlap, especially if you work from home. I by no means try to separate them, because Indie Shopography is such a large part of who I am personally. I have, however, made a pretty clear set of rules that I’m very adamant about adhering to.

Things like no (or minimal) phone at the dinner table, absolutely no business emails or phone calls outside of business hours, and at least one day every weekend when I don’t even go into the studio. Not even to get a pen.

I do keep a notebook for brainstorming beside the bed, and I’ve been known to stop dead in the produce section to work through an idea in my head. But, it’s important to me that I don’t let my business completely take over my life. I have to use little things, like my rules, to make me turn my focus to my non-business parts of life. It’s worked pretty well thus far.

Advice for others just starting out like you? In other words, what would you tell yourself if you could go back to the start?

I’ve been a creative entrepreneur for 4 years, and a web designer for almost 3 of those. Looking back, if I were to give myself some advice, or impart some wisdom on others, it would be to take some time. Grow organically. Don’t fight your business’s evolution. I think too many try to fit into a mold not made for them, and it takes a bit to really flow into what you’re meant to be and do. So, go with it, don’t rush it, and do a happy dance when it starts to feel right. Because it’s when you feel it that you know you’re doing it right.

Are you a creative entrepreneur, like Emily, who enjoys location independence? Do you blur the lines between your personal life and business? Let us know on Facebook.


Braid Method Branding for Creatives ECourse

The Braid Method Branding ECourse is for creative entrepreneurs who are ready to support themselves financially with their business, create a blog or consistent online presence, and finally turn the work they’re already doing into a digital product, package, or offering for dream customers. This branding ecourse comes with 7 learning modules in a 300+ page digital download, a workbook with 20+ branding exercises and scripts, a quarterly masterclass, and an exclusive Facebook group so you can connect with us and other students.

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We work with so many creative entrepreneurs – serious guys and gals running their own show, their own life and establishing themselves as creative experts in their own specialities. And though we’ve used our Braid blog as a platform to share some work we’ve created for them (from logos, to business-vision plans, to brand videos), we’ve also tried not to bombard you with “look-what-we-made” posts. But our part aside, we want to show you more.

So we’re adding a new thread. We’re going to start sharing the stories of these creative self-starters (many are just a few years, or even a few months, into their biz.) We want to give you snapshots into how their work/life ticks – when it’s not chaotically rocketing ahead at its own crazy pace, that is. So first up, Allison Barta Bailey, a shop expert (yes, that’s an awesome job) who helps independent shopkeeps – keep on keepin’ on.

What does a shop expert do?

latest big and little victories

A day in the life

favorite work tools and work uniform

on expertise sharing and social media

number 1 advice: define and refine

- - - - self-imposed rule - - - -

“It’s important for me to be able to say that I bought an article of clothing at a local business. My clients have to trust that I will represent their brand. My image needs to be up for that task.”

Allison Bailey quit her corporate job in January of 2010 to pursue her passion – local shops. As a new decade was beginning, she was preparing for her own brave step into self-employment, and starting a new business. Some prep, for example, included taking a class to brush up on her graphic design skills, which she knew would help serve her as a blogger, advisor, and promoter for the shops she wanted to attract as clients.

Fast forward two-plus years, and Allison can tout a list of modern, plucky, (and paying) Oklahoma City shopkeep clients and events. Allison has carved out more than a self-sustaining career, but an expert reputation as a retail consultant for local independents.  So Allison’s sharing with us how she splits up her time, stays on top of all-things-shop, and insists on wearing local-bought (and lipstick) if it’s the last thing she does.

What are some victories for you in the past six months?

Allison: Following in the trend of the national Better Block movement started by Jason Roberts – I recently co-managed Better Block OKC with the executive director of The Plaza District. We took an overlooked, desolate street in downtown Oklahoma City, and transformed it into a vibrant, engaging community for one weekend. Better Block OKC not only gave two entrepreneurs (a flower market and a home goods shop) a chance to set up shop for the weekend, but brought over 2,000 people to an area of the city that most had never walked through. A victory on a smaller level? I was able to hire a marketing assistant to help me one day a week! Baby steps!

What’s a single-day snapshot of running your business?

Allison: I spend about 40% of my time out-and-about with clients and 60% of my time at a desk. Each of my clients gets daily attention from me. Plus, I try to work on one large event, which takes months of planning. I find that it keeps me fresh and interesting to balance this long term versus immediate timeline.

I usually start the day reading up on blogs, current events, and making note of trends and products. I’m not really a morning person, so I ease into my day doing this, still in my pajamas and drinking coffee. Lately, I’ve gotten in the habit of sending out a tweet, “hey, I’m going to be at Elemental Coffee at 10am, come chat with me.” Not only is it fun to see who joins me for coffee, the casual environment breeds an easy introduction to possible business relationships.

Following that, it’s off to client number one for the day – taking photos, discussing communication for their customers, making progress on the next marketing event (right now it’s back-to-school shopping for one client, and Christmas for another).

In the afternoon, I address anything on the to-do list for the event I’m planning – permitting, sponsorships, rentals, insurance, promotional material. Then, I move on to the clients that didn’t get my morning time. Somewhere in there, I like to write an article for Shopcrawlr, or work on a side project that isn’t client related.

What’s the best advice you give your clients?

Allison:  Define, followed closely by refine. Don’t be afraid to say what your shop actually does (or what you want it to do) and exclude products or services that don’t fit into that definition. Shops should constantly be refining their product lines, their customer connections, their marketing efforts and ask “does this product fit into my definition?”

Do you think creative-types have unique challenges as entrepreneurs?

Absolutely. Most challenges that I encounter personally and with my clients relates to valuing creative work. We tend to be passionate people, both about others and the work we do. That’s usually a great thing, but it can interfere with physical financial transactions. I have to remind myself that just because a project sounds like the dream project, it still needs to be a financially valid use of my time.

What three daily “must-haves” can you not live without?

1. My bag-of-the-moment is a must-have. I have a tendency to collect canvas & leather bags. I’ll rotate between several, but currently I’m in a love affair with Shop Good’s Market Bag. I also have a Russell+Hazel leather portfolio that I adore for carrying paperwork, usually as an accessory in the Market Bag. See, what I mean. It’s sick.

2. My app dream team: Wunderlist, Dropbox, & Hootsuite. I have all of these apps on every Apple product that I own, and I use them many times a day.

3. Lipstick. Even if I’ve had a stressful day, putting on lipstick gives me a chance to calm my mind. I also feel put together no matter what I’m wearing.

What cost-of-doing-business necessity do you not mind paying for?

Clothing. Although it wouldn’t be important in every line of work, I think it’s essential to mine. My clients have to trust that I will represent their brand well and that I provide a more modern way to connect with their customers. My image needs to say that I’m up for that task. When asked, it’s important for me to be able to say that I bought an article of clothing at a local business. If I sacrifice a super-duper-crazy-markdown price to do that, I’m fine with that. Also, I think those markdowns are bad business.

Do you keep your work/life time clearly divided, or is there an overlap for you?

Allison: It’s probably unhealthy how much my work and life overlap, but it doesn’t seem to bother me. I enjoy what I do so much that it still feels like a hobby. Solutions or concepts will come to me at all hours of the evenings or weekends and I always allow myself to run with them. I’m thankful for the freedom to be able to do that. A few times a year, I do enjoy putting up an out-of-office away message on my email and heading out of town though. Ironically, my favorite vacation activity is snapping photos of shops.

My “pinch me” moment usually occurs when an idea hits me and I actually jump up and get so excited I can’t sit still. That’s pretty fun – and then I realize that I’m working. Pinch.

What's your favorite way, as a creative entrepeneur, to share your expertise? Face-to-face or via social media? Let us know on our Facebook wall.


Braid Method Branding for Creatives ECourse

The Braid Method Branding ECourse is for creative entrepreneurs who are ready to support themselves financially with their business, create a blog or consistent online presence, and finally turn the work they’re already doing into a digital product, package, or offering for dream customers. This branding ecourse comes with 7 learning modules in a 300+ page digital download, a workbook with 20+ branding exercises and scripts, a quarterly masterclass, and an exclusive Facebook group so you can connect with us and other students.

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Before Tara and I started Braid I was working as a freelance art director with a passion for designing brand identities for microbusinesses and artistpreneurs. I wasn’t sure, moving forward with Braid, how these creative entrepreneurs and teeny-tiny businesses would fit in with The Braid Method but I didn’t want to forget about the little guys. That’s when Tara and I put our heads together to figure out how we can work with this growing demographic. What we came up with is The Brand Starter Kit for microbusinesses and artistpreneurs.

You Might Be A Fit For The Brand Starter Kit:
• if you are committed to your start-up business, but your brand lacks the same conviction
• if you have plenty of vision, but struggle channeling it into a consistent, clean, concise brand
• if you cringe, or even apologize, when you give someone your business card, “logo shame”
• if you want to self-promote more aggressively but you don’t have a clear “brand story” to tell

Your brand is what people see but also what they understand
A Brand Is Showing And Telling
Your brand is what people see but also what they understand. You should be proud to hand out your business card or display your logo on your door or website. Likewise, you should be able to tell someone in just one or two sentences exactly what it is your business does and stands for.

Arriving There Step-By-Step
The Braid approach helps you take a big deal, like creating your brand, and chunk it down into small but powerful decisions, so you’re not running in circles of self-doubt or wasting valuable energy back-pedaling on your brand choices. Plus, you are involved in the steps, so there are no surprise unveilings at the end, only logical steps toward a final brand design and story.

The Brand Starter Kit will give you a key brand component, your logo, but will also serve as a guide to keep your brand in line with the truths of your business – what you want people to know, do and feel – and how those “strands” weave together. It’s like a look, feel and messaging roadmap that helps you ask yourself whenever and wherever you self-promote, “does this fit my brand?”

For more information and pricing for The Brand Starter Kit email me at Kathleen@BraidCreative.com.

Braid Method Branding for Creatives ECourse

The Braid Method Branding ECourse is for creative entrepreneurs who are ready to support themselves financially with their business, create a blog or consistent online presence, and finally turn the work they’re already doing into a digital product, package, or offering for dream customers. This branding ecourse comes with 7 learning modules in a 300+ page digital download, a workbook with 20+ branding exercises and scripts, a quarterly masterclass, and an exclusive Facebook group so you can connect with us and other students.

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