What inspired you to start your own business?
I never thought I would be a business owner, but in hindsight it seems inevitable. I have always been interested in how things work, and never content to work on just one part of anything. The trigger for setting out on my own was basically because I had plateaued at my job and I wanted to find a way to combine a diverse range of skills that I had, from communications to design, in addition to finally making my freelance clients daytime clients. As I looked around for other jobs I realized that I would be giving at least one thing up for nearly every opportunity. I had just finished up my Masters in Communications (a degree which I took on when I thought I would head from design into marketing) and felt confident that I knew how to ask the right questions and find the right resources in starting up a new business.
But the ultimate inspiration? It sounds cheesy but it was my husband and family. The minute I told them I was thinking about starting a business I had their full, unfaltering support. It is so much easier to take a risk when you have support and encouragement.
Do you have any examples of a situation in which you would say you failed? What did you learn from this?
I have had a few situations where project-related problems mushroomed because I allowed a project to go off-course early on and then was never able to get it back on track. This can be completely uncomfortable for both the Studio and the client. I had a few situations where I was extremely accommodating until I hit a wall, then the client was bewildered and couldn’t figure out why I wouldn’t continue to make exceptions for them. What I have learned from these situations is to invest time in the contracting process to make sure that it is clear to both sides what the project contract includes and also to be direct about when a project is going off-course from the beginning. I’m still working very hard on this and trying to develop materials to help educate clients on how the design process works and what to expect.
What is the best lesson you could give a young women who wants to start her own business?
Be open. Be open to learning new things, open to taking risks, open to meeting new people, open to adjusting course, and open to making mistakes. Starting a business is not something that always goes according to plan, and will never succeed if you are in a vacuum. It is a messy, organic process and unless you immerse yourself in it it will never really happen.
Hire smart. if your business has employees, or when your business is ready for employees focus on hiring people who are intelligent. Don’t hire solely for technical skills: a smart person can pick up the technical stuff quickly on the job. After a bit of trial and error I learned that the right type of employee at the Studio is someone who is passionate about learning, curious about the world, and has a sense of humor about what we do.
How do you stay calm when your business stresses you out?
Chocolate… lots and lots of chocolate, taking long runs before work, quick phone calls to my husband, and venting to other small business friends. I also hired a business coach who has helped me think a lot about typical patterns I fall into and help me be more thoughtful and deliberate in new situations.
What do you do or say when you feel like giving up?
I remind myself that I have the best boss ever.
Have you stayed close with clients/peers you’ve met in the field?
Developing a strong network of other small businesses and entrepreneurs has been incredibly important for me professionally and personally. I have become much closer to other professionals than I ever was before I went out on my own. I have met a few “kindred spirits” in business and we chat by phone or meet up for lunches to share our experiences, share tips, and commiserate on some of the challenges. These professionals are both connected to my industry and also in quite different industries: from event planning, to web development, to acupuncture. Common threads we share are: passion for our businesses, entrepreneurial spirit, integrity, and openness.
J Sherman Studio