It’s finally time to launch this big project we’ve been planning for months: The Brand Files! We hope you enjoy this podcast as we discuss building business for longevity and give you a peek behind the curtain of what it’s like running a design agency. If you enjoy our episode, please take a moment and rate + review! We would love to hear from you!
Freelance work is an Option?
How did I get to the point of taking sweaty, nerve-wracking sales calls in my Buick Envision as a baby business owner every day during my lunch break? It all started with an Instagram post on my personal blog page. It was one of those Friday introduction posts that was verrrry 2018 and I mentioned as a fun fact that I was a graphic designer. Would you believe that someone I knew DM’d me and said,”Hey, I need a graphic designer. Would you be interested in working freelance?” I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t thought to share that I was a designer. I could literally do what I did in corporate for my full-time job for small businesses. It was really eye-opening. From there, an entire world of possibilities opened up and that’s where it all began.
I’m Jade Buford, the owner and creative director of J. Alexandria Creative. We are a brand and web design agency for small businesses ready to grow their biz with less on their plate.
The Corporate Yes Girl
I haven’t always owned my own agency. I started as a post-grad working as an intern at a full service agency. I worked on radio spots, I worked on TV campaigns, all the things. It was a really cool first job. And we had big clients like insurance agencies, zoos, and eventually I got hired on as a junior creative there. After working there for a short period of time, I knew that I was looking for something different. I also wanted to be a little closer to home at the time because I was living in a town, a different town than my current hometown. So I took on a role as a digital designer at a financial institution. While there, let me tell you…. I was the “yes” girl. I figured EVERYTHING out. If someone brought something to me, my answer was an automatic yes. I quickly learned how resourceful I actually was at this job and I truly believed that I could figure out how to do almost anything- that’s how I approached my time in corporate. I really tried to make myself as invaluable as possible.But from there, I knew the potential that I had and I knew that long-term corporate was just not for me.
I came from a family of small business owners. I’ve always had a heart for small businesses in general and small business owners. Eventually I knew I wanted to go out on my own. I realized that the level of strategy and the level of execution that we were creating for our agency and for the corporate client that I worked with at my day job even then was EXACTLY what small business owners needed. That’s really how the idea of J. Alexandria Creative began.
A Web Designer without a Website
But… back to that post on Instagram. So I got my first client without a website with just having that “Hey, I’m a graphic designer” Friday introductions post. But that client referred me to two other clients. And after working with those clients and getting those testimonials, I was feeling some type of way because I still didn’t have a website and I was a web designer! It was very much a hairstylist with a bad haircut situation. So I knew long-term if I wanted to put myself out there to clients who didn’t know me, to clients that weren’t referrals, to people who didn’t know that I was trustworthy…. I knew I had to build a website. So I stopped taking clients for a short period of time to get my website up and running and to really focus on some things going on in my personal life. A thing like getting married, you know, little things. I told my husband, I remember explaining that as soon as we get back from our honeymoon, I’m going head first into this business. I’m launching this thing. And I’m not gonna do it passively, you know, like I’m trying to make this thing happen. This is not a side gig at this point. My goal was to get this thing off the ground.
So I hustled to get new clients to get referrals from those clients. I was still taking sales calls and doing strategy calls on my lunch break multiple days a week. I had it planned in my mind for efficiency. I would order my YouPick 2 from Panera on my lunch break from my phone. I would go pick it up and that took like five minutes of my lunch break basically, cause I could go and just pick it up and I didn’t have to wait for my food. It was on the table sitting there when I got there. So I could just pick that up, eat it in my car, and I would work the rest of the time. That’s like how psycho I was during this time period. And I was staying up until 2 a.m. and on the weekends working with clients. I said yes to almost every single project that came my way. And I was tired, but I was so hungry. And you wanna know what happened next?
I left my corporate job in nine months.
Let’s Take This Thing Full Time
So cut to a few months post wedding, post honeymoon, in the season of this serious and somewhat unhealthy hustle. I was on track to match my corporate salary and I knew it was time to take this thing full time. I really remember a lot of things happening during this time. I remember being so tired all the time, but I remember like I had tunnel vision focus. I knew where I was going. I was on a mission and I knew that this was just a means to an end. I knew that this season of hustle was temporary. It was gonna be so worth it when I actually got to turn in my notice for my corporate job because I would be able to prove to myself that I did it.
In those days, there really were two phases of my business. There was the phase BEFORE I had a website and I just had a portfolio from college. I had a single page, like Squarespace, here’s my work from college website. It was not a professional website. And then I had AFTER my website, like when my business website was live. Having that professional website allowed me to showcase my work and my credibility and ultimately allowed me to charge higher prices.
A Professional Website was a Game Changer
The tire kickers disappeared and our ideal clients were like lining up in our inbox to chat with me before we ever even jumped on a call. My website was a representation of what I could do for them. So, yes, I know I could have kept going with my sad little student portfolio and it wasn’t really that great of a design. Eventually, yeah I might could have left my corporate career from there but could I have done it as fast as I did? You know, I could see the potential. I could taste the freedom of being able to work where I wanted and when I wanted and I can envision a life where business casual wasn’t a requirement and corporate politics didn’t dictate creativity. Like, I could just see it and I knew that if I could just get this thing done. If I could just get the clients that I needed, I could get there faster. So do I think that I could have had that, you know, thriving side hustle, not having the professional website? Maybe? But I don’t think I could have left my full-time job as fast as I did. Having that professional website was the springboard to my success in going from a side hustle creative to an agency CEO. And as a bonus, I was able to trade in my business casual slacks for jeans. And I was able to work with clients and projects that made me so excited to start the day.
Just Get Started!
So maybe you’re at this fork in the road like I was back then. You know, like can you get started without your website? Absolutely, you totally should. I will tell anyone, I remember hearing this quote, “go ugly early”. Go ugly early in your business.
And I honestly, like even as a brand designer, as a web designer, I agree with that. Like just get started because you don’t even know what you need in the beginning of your business. But what you do need is sales. What you do need is to get started. You will never get this thing off the ground if you sit and wait and pixel push and try and get everything perfect before you even have a customer or someone paying you. So just get started.
Once you’ve been in business for a little bit, you will realize that a professional website is the fastest way to get to that next level price point, just like it was for me. Do you want to look like a beginner or do you want to look like someone with some experience and some results under their belt? That’s the difference between having that DIY website or having no website to having that professional well put together website.
If you’re ready to take it to the next level, if you’re like me and you were in that side hustle stage of your business…. l’ve been there. I can tell you that having a professional website is going to make you feel so confident in your business and you’re gonna be more empowered to open yourself up to new and bigger opportunities because you decided to make that leap for yourself.
Success Doesn’t Happen Overnight
I am so excited to just kind of, you know, look back at the journey that I been on and to share what I’ve learned, share some clients that we’ve worked with on the Brand Files podcast and to really just pull back the curtain of the hard work that goes into starting and running a business. I think everything is so glamorized on social media. Everyone looks like an overnight success and that is just not true. There’s so much that goes on and I think there’s so many people looking for that viral moment or this viral thing that’s going to take their business from point A to point B overnight. I think the only that can take you there is consistency and time put in. I hope that this podcast shows you that virality and notoriety on social media is not the end game.
We are all about building businesses for longevity. I’m just so excited to shine a light on that, shine a light on people who are doing just that, and to just give you guys a little peek behind the scenes of what it’s like running a brand and web design agency. So I hope you like this episode. I hope you liked hearing a little bit about my journey going from a side hustle creative to a full service agency owner. And I can’t wait to share the next episode with you. I’m so excited for you to Tune into the Brand Files podcast and see what we have in store.
We can’t wait to share more with you via The Brand Files! Visit our website to learn more about our graphic design agency 🙂