IDS and Kimberley Seldon’s Business of Design conference are coming up next week and I an so looking forward to it. it’s a great time to connect with colleagues, sharpen the saw, do some visioning for my business, and reflect on what has worked in the past to get me here.
I’ve been asked many times how I began my career. A long time ago I presented a few reasons why I started my business, today I present the “how”. I hope some of the following lessons I learned might be helpful to a budding designer or eager entrepreneur.
How I started my business in sequential order, and anecdotes on what each step taught me:
1. I was very fortunate to be on a TV show on HGTV Canada. To make a long story short, the opportunity came about through a mutual friend from high school. An awesome PTA mom / TV producer Mercedez DeCastro had watched me give many speeches as president of the student council (woot woot Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts in North York!). As a visual arts major at this performing arts high school (think Fame but for real) she knew I could do something with a paintbrush. Combined with my gift for gab / ability to act under pressure she recommended me for an episode of Much 911 I ended up doing two episodes for this MuchMusic reality show while I was in University. I basically made over rooms in a day and appeared on camera with the VJ’s). This was produced by Tricon Films, who would later call me up to be the designer on the hit reality show Marriage Under Construction. The show has now been sold all over the world and my season (Season 1 with Derek and Vanessa) reruns on Slice, HGTV, and loads of other lifestyle networks from time to time. I still get fun text messages and phone calls 5 years after the fact of people catching my 5 year younger self on the tube. Needless to say this got me unique exposure and an opportunity to create my own business was made. Lesson learned: the best jobs often come through who you know. So be nice, network, and leave a positive impression on people you meet. You never know how it might benefit you down the road.
2. I wrote a business plan on 2 pieces of paper. While I do not recommend the short length of my planning, it was helpful in the beginning to begin with some kind of a plan. Mine included how much to charge an hour and what kind of service to offer. In the beginning I offered anything and everything. Since then I have learned it is better to specialize (hence my love of small spaces). Lesson learned: have a plan. You can have all the heart and energy and dreams and aspirations you want- but without strategy, those dreams can remain abstract. A plan makes it reality- and honestly, just smarter.
3. I just did it. Regardless of insecurities and lack of experience, I went for it. I tried hard not to let personal set backs or failures get me down. Being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart- it can be emotionally very trying, especially when doing it as your main source of income. I had to grow up very fast, learn to have a thick skin and not take things personally along the way. I will be honest, in the beginning I was very close to quitting a few times but am so happy I stuck with it. Lesson learned: don’t give up, even if you think you can’t do it.
4. I got help where I was lacking. I enlisted coaches at various points in my career, including family friend Joey Toribio, strategy guru Candice Faktor, social media / PR maven Tatiana Read of Knot PR, Michelle Calvert of Lucid, and more recently the lovely Sharyn Smith of Eventful PR and business coach brainiac Carla Wood. Lesson learned: to quote my friend Donna Bishop, when you’re the smartest person in the room but the only person in the room it is time to outsource some help. You don’t know what you don’t know.