Women Who Work: Graphic Designer, Katelyn Dekle
Graphic designer Katelyn Dekle is the founder of Studio 1862. She is opening about her transition into opening up her own digital business. You can learn a lot about how she started and what she uses to keep her business running at all times.
How did you make the leap to your current role?
I went to college for Graphic Design, and until now I’ve always kind of been stuck in the corporate mindset, thinking I had to do it that way. I’ve been at one particular company as an in-house designer since 2012, and I’m still working there while I grow my side-hustle.
I suppose the idea finally stuck me in 2015. It was like a persistent fly buzzing around my head, while I continued to grow frustrated at my day job with their policies, constant rush orders, and the way things are handled sometimes. I mentioned this in passing to my sister, and she was super supportive and told me to go for it, but it’s excruciatingly slow-moving. After all, I majored in art with a few extra marketing classes, not business, so I really had no idea where to begin with this thing! BUT I am determined and I’ve never doubted that I could do it.
Sometime that year I started an Etsy store, that totally flopped because my heart wasn’t in it, and again, I had no idea what I was doing. I did that for about a year before I realized that wasn’t going to work and I didn’t enjoy it. In 2016, I started a website with a blog where I was sharing information that must’ve had one follower (who commented on most of my blogs). Then I got sick of the limitations of the platform I was on & moved to Squarespace later that year and that’s when things really began to truly grow.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I’ve always been artsy & creative, but I took an aptitude test in the 7th grade that told me I could be a veterinarian. I stuck with that for a long time, because I love animals. I lived on a small hobby farm growing up; we had horses, cows, goats, ducks, cats, dogs, rabbits, and even some peacocks once. So it seemed fitting…until I realized I hated math & wasn’t particularly great at science!
In my senior year of high school, I started talking to my art teacher about possible art careers. He mentioned Medical Illustration, but one of the few schools that offered that near me cost roughly $20-40,000/year in tuition alone…also, there was the science again. I actually enrolled in college as an Interior Design major, then switched to Graphic Design after a year when I realized it existed. So landing on my current career was kind of an accident, but I’m so happy I found it. I could not be happier with my choice!
What was your first job ever? Did it help you in your current role?
Haha! Not really. My first job was a receptionist for my (now) father-in-law’s walk-in medical clinic. I learned to deal with difficult customers, and how to be organized in an office setting, but I think that’s about all that applies to my current roles, besides the basics of filing & answering the phone professionally, etc.
What made you want to start your business? What or who inspired you to do so?
When my husband & I got married, I had an entry-level design job, which I loved. That branch was super small with just 3 employees, which made my inner introvert happy. Plus they worked with my college schedule and I got to work full time at more than minimum wage. Immediately after getting married, we moved to Wyoming (from Georgia). In preparation for that, I thought I’d have to quit, but the idea struck me that I could ask to continue doing work remotely since the job would allow for that. They accepted my offer, and I got to work at home for about another 18 months or so, which gave me the bug for working from home. Unfortunately, they shut down the branch I was working for, and as I was an independent contractor, my work with them just sort of slowed to a stop and I had to go get “a real job."
My Graphic Design professors at the University of Wyoming were my inspiration: Jenny Venn and Jessica Perry. They both had their own successful design studios on the side, and Jenny was winning awards for her conceptual designs with the Art Director’s Club of Denver submissions. Jenny’s designs were amazing & very clever, and Jessica’s were great, but her personal design business was clearly very successful, which helped me realize that it could be done. Jessica & I’s personalities were a lot alike, so I figured if she could do it, so could I.
What does your job entail? How do you explain what you do to others?
I design for digital, print, & web. That covers company branding, social media imagery, marketing materials, printed materials, and web design through Squarespace. I also offer retainer services for repeat clients and ongoing projects.
I believe that a brand should not only look great, but it should also represent the business AND be effective. So when I’m designing, I put myself in mind of their target audience and create something that will resonate with the audience as well as the business owner.
How long have you been doing this?
I’ve been designing since 2006 as an unofficial side-hustle as opportunities come up, and in a company setting for about 10 of those years.
What is a day for you like? What is your routine?
I’m an early riser so I get up, make my coffee & check my emails. I’ll do any small tasks that need to be done before I start my day with my 9-5. I commute 20-25 minutes each way to my full time day job, commute back home, and then I’ll usually have a couple hours to work on my own stuff.
If I don’t have anything pressing, I’ll reserve weeknights for relaxing and catch up on my tv shows; I almost never watch them live anymore. Most of the work for my design studio gets done over the weekend, unless my client needs otherwise. That allows a decent work-life balance, given all the work that I’m cramming into one week!
How do you end your workday?
I suppose I end it by doing mundane household tasks like dishes, making the bed, cooking dinner, etc. My husband’s commute back & forth to his job is about an hour each way, so he gets home a bit later than I do. When our work schedules were reversed (& I got home later than he did) he did the same for me.
I’ll usually listen to my current audiobook while I do those tasks. It forces my brain to become quiet, so that when I’m done, I can work on something of my own if I want to, or I can relax on the couch if it’s been a particularly stressful day at my 9-5.
How did you go about starting your business? What were some of your initial steps that you took?
I knew I needed to learn what I could about running a business. Since I still have the capital from my day job to invest in learning how to run a business, I took several online courses, bought several business books & planners, started listening to business-related podcasts, and joined a lot of free private Facebook groups for entrepreneurs.
I also read a LOT of blog posts, and bookmarked a ton of them. I began following successful bloggers in my niche, and I even joined a couple paid subscription communities for entrepreneurs for a few months, before realizing I was in too deep with ALL of that and backed off a bit, unsubscribing from both.
I also invested in some business software, mainly: Squarespace, Tailwind, and Dubsado.
Courses I’ve taken (& recommend for others too) are: Shareworthy Design by Spruce Rd., Trello for Business and Rock Your Biz by Think Creative Collective, Organize & Automate by Nesha Woolery, Facebook Everything and SEO in a Weekend by Courtney Foster-Donahue, and Pinfinite Growth by Melyssa Griffin. I also attended a workshop with Nesha Woolery & Annette Stepanian (an attorney in the US) who sold a templated contract written specifically for graphic designers, so I bought that, which has been fantastically helpful!
I’ve also taken a beginner’s course through Treehouse on HTML & CSS basics. I have no intention of becoming a web developer, but I appreciate that some knowledge of code will help me further customize my own & my client’s websites and I also find it incredibly interesting.
What are your biggest responsibilities as an entrepreneur?
A big responsibility for clients is giving them something beautiful that actually works. For print that’s pretty easy, but for web my SEO has to be spot on for people to find the site. Even though I have the basics down pat, that can still be an overwhelming thought sometimes. I’ll definitely be hiring out for SEO at some point!
What has been the hardest part of your transition?
Learning how to become more business-minded, niching down, and finding a good work-life balance have been the hardest things so far.
When you run your own business, you wear all the ‘hats.’ The CPA hat, the attorney hat, the SEO hat, the web designer hat, the designer hat, the marketing hat, the customer service hat, the tech support hat, etc. You see where I’m going with this? Haha! It’s a lot of hats to wear, so I’m adjusting to that, but I do enjoy it!
Niching down has been so hard that I haven’t really done that yet. I’ve spent a decade designing for clients with specific needs based on what the company provides. Now I feel free to do anything they need, that I’m also capable of and comfortable doing. After I do that for a while, I’m confident I’ll nail down which types of projects I enjoy doing the most, and I’ll niche down at that point. I am learning though, that where I’m happiest, is teaching others so I expect to offer some courses in the future, teaching Illustrator and possibly Squarespace as well, among other topics. I’ve been told that I explain things well, so I look forward to that!
I’ve put so much time, energy & money into learning how to do this for myself, outside of a corporate environment, but I don’t want any of that to be at the expense of enjoying life a little bit each day. While I’m in this transition, working is a very large part of my life, because I essentially have 2 full time jobs, and I also don’t live alone, so I try to be fair to my husband and not stay constantly glued to my computer or hiding in my office. If it were up to me, and if I did live alone, I’d be working all the time, just because I genuinely enjoy what I do and love learning more about it.
What has been the easiest part of your transition?
The easiest part has been the work itself and learning more about running a freelance business. I love what I do, and I honestly love helping others, so I believe this field is a perfect fit for me. I also love learning more about graphic design and business, so I admittedly had "shiny object syndrome” for a few months last year, taking all those courses. =) When I’m ready, I’ll be sharing all that collected knowledge with others as well, after I’ve put it into practice and tweaked what I’ve learned for my own business.
What keeps you motivated?
FREEDOM. I like the 9-5 hours of corporate and will maintain similar hours when I go full-time freelance, but I want the freedom to choose which clients, what projects I take on and how I handle them. I want the freedom to work from home, from anywhere in the world, and create my schedule as needed.
My husband and I have moved back to Georgia from Wyoming for family reasons, but we don’t intend to stay here long term. My goal is to develop this online freelance business now, so that when we decide to move again, I can take it with me wherever we go (& forever avoid the stress that goes with finding a new job in a new place). ;) That kills all the birds with one stone, right? A career I love & run myself + the freedom to run that business from anywhere & manage however I see fit.
How do you define success now?
Right now I’m still in the baby stages of growth, so I appreciate the small things. Last year my focus was growing awareness of my brand (without paying for ads) so that it’ll be easier to find clients once I have a large audience, and I’ve been successful with that! I’m sharing a lot of helpful info on my blog, and have a free resource library as well.
I have grown my new business Pinterest account from 0 to nearly 500 followers, and now average 35-40k viewers each month, and growing. My email list and my website page views grow steadily each month, and I’ve had a few buyers for my digital mockup on my shop (more to come there), even though I am not marketing it at all!
One thing that really made me happy: in one of the Facebook groups I’m in, I shared a blog post I’ve written about why I love using Dubsado for my business because it helped answer someone’s question. A lady replied to my comment, saying she’d just found that blog post from somewhere else a few days before, loved it and had been sharing it too, because she had found it so helpful. That is exactly the kind of thing I’m hoping to achieve with my blog, and it made me absolutely ecstatic!
How do you prevent burn out?
That’s a toughie. I have come close to burnout twice. The first time was during my complete brand refresh. I re-did my brand and my website all in one go, while I was also taking a couple online courses, learning Squarespace and of course working my full time job. It was a lot of work at one time, but it really needed to be done & I’m so happy I pushed through & did it!
The second was just a few solid months of working myself silly, nights & weekends for months on end and I finally just needed a break. Luckily, our anniversary was a few weeks away, and my husband planned a trip away for us, so we could be in the path of the eclipse last year (which was WAAAY cool!). So we took a long weekend and I used that time to unplug and enjoy being on vacation. It was perfect timing!
Now I know when that feeling starts to creep up on me, and I can usually sense my husband’s frustration beginning to grow when I’m working too much. I try really hard to pay attention to those signs and take breaks when I need them.
I take advantage of him sleeping in on the weekends, since I’m an early riser anyway and we don’t have kids so that time is nice & quiet. I also love to read, and average about 40 books each year (follow me on Goodreads, if you want to see what I’m reading! goodreads.com/rkdekle), most of which are not business related.
What do you think is the most important characteristic to have for someone who wants to take a similar career route to yours?
Motivation/a good work ethic. It’s not enough to want to do something, if you can’t motivate yourself to keep up with the work involved with actually doing it. I figured running my own business would be a lot of work, but I was still surprised by just how much is actually involved and as I grow the workload does too. I love being busy with it because I enjoy it. If I didn’t enjoy it, I’d have quit already, because it can definitely be overwhelming at times.
If you’re not a self-starter, or find it difficult to self-motivate in order to get things done, then I wouldn’t recommend working from home or starting your own business. After all, working for yourself means you are your own boss, and no one is there telling you what to do & when.
What do you wish you knew before starting out on your own path?
Um, everything! Haha! Switching from working for a business where I essentially have one specific job, to running my own business where I have many different jobs & wear many 'hats,’ has been a complete mindset flip.
The most important thing I wish I realized, is that the internet isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it place anymore. It might’ve been in the 90’s, or even in the early 2000’s, but it’s not now. Competition is everywhere, so you can’t just set up a website and hope people find you. Good SEO is imperative in order for your site to remain relevant and for people to find you. That means staying active on at least a couple different social media platforms, blogging, and so many other things. I’ve had to do all my own SEO and I’m still learning new ways to add to what I’ve already implemented on that, but I’ve seen great results from what I’ve implemented so far. I’ve also seen results from websites that don’t implement any SEO or very little, have no presence on social media & don’t blog (hint: they get no traffic). So for an online business, SEO is a must, in order for you to be successful.
Did anyone help you in developing your own business?
Not personally, no. I’ve never had a coach, though eventually I’d like to hire one when I can afford the expense. I don’t really have a family/friend business-mentor either, though it’s kind of in our blood, now that I think about it.
My older sister & her husband run a gym, have been on some TV series/episodes, and have a small online fitness empire. My parents have always had a music side-hustle (30+ years), playing for small events, weekend entertainment at local country-club type environments, or up-scale restaurants as background music. My younger sister does the same with her husband, though they mostly perform with a band, and a few extra gigs with just the two of them. My father-in-law has his own medical practice as well. So I suppose entrepreneurship is all around me!
Do you have a work idol? Is there a working woman or man out there that you admire?
Yes, I have a few, actually! I love Jamie at Spruce Road, Nesha Woolery at Nesha Designs, Carrie Green of Female Entrepreneur Association, and Lauren Hooker with Elle & Company. I particularly click with the girls at Think Creative Collective though: Abagail and Emylee. Their energy, goofiness, sarcasm and somewhat limited use of profanity are all basically what make up my own personality! While I figure out my own voice though, and how to balance being me vs. being professional (again, stuck in the corporate mindset, I guess), you won’t find me cursing much online, yet. ;)
What is your favorite thing about the industry you work in?
I have two favorite things about my industry: helping others and the technology I use to do it. I have my dad’s love of tech; so I love computers, software, apps, and all that stuff! The cherry on top is that I get to use all that cool tech for a business that helps people with the type of work I already love, and eventually, I’ll teach how to do the work itself, which will hopefully help many more.
What are some tools that you can live without?
Well that’s a loaded question! I love finding new tools, but to name a few.
1. A Mac
2. Wacom Intuos tablet for designing on the computer
3. Adobe Illustrator
4. Dubsado!! It lumps so many business-related things into one app and I’m obsessed with it! (free* up to 3 clients, paid thereafter)
5. Tailwind, for marketing on Pinterest (a huge traffic driver)
6. MailerLite for email marketing, free* up to 1,000 subscribers
7. Trello for project management
8. Airtable for more versatile, secure and organized project management
9. Azlo for fee-free digital business banking
10. Later for scheduling Instagram posts
11. Snapseed for photo editing on the go
12. G-Suite email for branded email
13. Wave for accounting
14. Google Analytics, for keeping up with website analytics
What do you have on your desk or working space right now?
Haha! Thanks for asking! I just finished setting up my home office, and building my dream desk with help from my own family & my in-laws. The desktop is huge (8 x 3ft) & made from a felled tree on my in-laws property. Because it’s so big, I have plenty of room to have stuff on my desk without feeling cluttered! Finally!!
I also got some fun office supplies from Target’s new Hearth & Hand with Magnolia line by Chip & Joanna Gaines (love!), so there’s that. Aside from that stuff, a printer, my coffee cup, my Mac & iPhone of course, and a book called HTML & CSS by Jon Duckett, which is my current business read (& a great resource!). :)
What do you want other women in similar situations to know about your chosen career path?
1. That if they want to do it & have the drive to make it happen, they absolutely can. There are tons of female entrepreneur mentors out there to look up to, and one day you can become your own!
2. Other women in your community are not (just) your competition. Look at them like friends and even resources for help & advice; you can even get referrals from some of them, when treated like friends or colleagues instead of rivals. We all have our strengths and weaknesses in whatever field we’re in. If we all support each other, we create a better (more positive) environment, where we can all be successful in our own part of the world!
Do you have any other additional key points that you think would be beneficial to readers?
I feel like I wrote a book already, but there’s just so much to share! One thing I can say with confidence is that running a business, and growing it from nothing, has its ups and downs. Sometimes it will be stressful, and sometimes it’s pure fun, but it’s always work. You will fail miserably at some things, and succeed at others; pick yourself up & learn from your mistakes. Tweak what you failed at, until you succeed at that too. That’s what I’m learning to do, and I believe I’m a better person for it.
I will also say, it’s important that you have a support system if you decide to build an online business for yourself. Get your family/friends on board or your significant other, wherever possible, because it can be difficult if they aren’t. I’ve been lucky on both those counts. Know that, for some of you, your friends & family may not ever (or maybe not for a while) get on board with your business adventure, and you might have to put some distance there. To those people, who have the friends & family members that “don’t get it,” it’s because they can’t understand why you desire the freedom of entrepreneurship. To them it seems crazy to quit a stable job and work for yourself, and it probably is, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, if that’s your dream! Right?
But if you need/want support, or even if you’ve heard my story & you can totally relate, then reach out! I’d love to have new ladies to chat with, and maybe even form a mastermind group where we can bounce ideas off each other, hold each other accountable, and share advice as we grow.
I suppose I should end by saying: come follow along with me! Whether on my blog, Goodreads, or social media, wherever you feel most comfortable hanging out with me online. =)