I was recently chatting with someone who went through my Brand Design Love Academy course and she (gently) challenged me to talk more about me and my story.
This isn’t always the easiest thing for me as someone who is a little more introverted. But, she was absolutely right to push me on it because as humans, we want to connect with other humans, and that means being more vulnerable and open! I know when someone shares something personal with me, I feel an instant connection with them. That’s so important.
It’s Not All Sunshine and Rainbows
First off, let me just say that the story about how I ended up running a profitable design business is a pretty humbling one. Still, I know it’s important to share with you because I think there’s too many stories from entrepreneurs out there that paint the path to success as a fairy tale.
They’re leaving out all of the growing pains and the hard lessons and really only talking about their successes. This isn’t helpful for other people who are a little bit further behind them on the path. It sets them up for disappointment when their story doesn’t end up going the same way.
Starting a business, no matter what, comes with ups and downs. Many ups and downs.
So, needless to say, my story is NOT a fairy tale. It wasn’t always easy but you know what? That’s okay. It has led to some really great things and I have grown so much as a person and a designer since I started out all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
The Phone Call That Changed Everything
The story of my life as an entrepreneur all started with a phone call telling me that I was being laid off from my design agency job. This kind of call is crushing for anyone, but it felt especially crushing because it was the second time I had been laid off in two years.
Talk about a humbling moment. I’m not going to lie: this phone call really made me doubt myself and my skills. Who gets laid off twice? Maybe I just wasn’t good enough. Not to mention, I was feeling so much panic after losing what felt like a stable career while living through a global pandemic and everything felt uncertain. Not a great time, to say the least.
I had to figure out what to do, for myself and my family. I could jump back into a full-time role or I could finally decide to dive into the deep end of my dream to have my own design business. Both options seemed scary at this point. Was there really such a thing as a stable job? Could I really make it on my own? Both paths filled me with doubt, to be honest.
It was hard to ignore the little voice in the back of my head telling me to share everything I have learned about brand design. My dad was a teacher, and after he passed away in the fall of 2020, several of his students shared how he had touched their lives. I was so inspired by his legacy and impact and I felt a renewed sense of urgency about following in his path.
So, I did it, I went full force with my business. Don’t get me wrong: I was terrified. But I have zero regrets about my decision. Of course, there are days where I feel overwhelmed. In fact, when I launched my course early this year, I had a lot of “fraudy feelings” that made me doubt practically everything (you can read about that here).
But even with all that, I am SO glad I chose this option rather than going back to a full-time job at another agency. I feel grateful that my future is in my hands and no one else’s. And if you’ve been thinking about starting a business, let me just say: it’s worth it.
It’s hard for me sometimes to get super personal like this, but I believe it is SO important to connect with people, even if it’s “just” online. So, I would love to get to know more about you! Come follow me on Instagram and introduce yourself to me!
Exactly one year ago, I said “yes” to an opportunity that would change my entire entrepreneurial journey. Let me back up and set the scene for you: It was late 2020. I was recently unemployed and it was starting to look like COVID was going to be around a lot longer than just a few weeks.
I wanted my design business to succeed, but so far, it wasn’t something that could sustain my family on its own. I knew I had to do something, and sitting around feeling sorry for myself was definitely not going to be it.
I was chatting with my friend Lia and she was telling me about a new program she had recently enrolled in called Selfmade, a course for entrepreneurs led by Brit Morin, founder and CEO of Brit + Co. I had been a follower (and fangirl) of Brit + Co for a while, so I was VERY intrigued.
She explained how much clarity she had already received since joining Selfmade, and honestly, I could actually see some of those changes taking place in her business. It was transitioning from a small idea to a big vision, and that was exactly what I needed for my business, too.
After talking with Lia, I knew I wanted to join the Spring 2021 cohort. But, I’m not going to lie: I was a little nervous about investing since I didn’t have a full-time job (or income) to support me. But, I knew that if I didn’t make that investment in myself, no one else would, either.
Just looking at the line-up of coaches and guest teachers that Brit had gathered together for this program, I knew it was beyond worth it. We’re talking Gwyneth Paltrow, Bethany Frankel, Melissa Bernstein (of Melissa & Doug)... you know, people on *that* level.
Of course, the curriculum is impressive, too. It’s a 10-week program that includes all the topics you need to run a successful business. What I really like is how she includes topics that I never would have thought to teach myself, like fundraising, legal, and press.
You’re supported throughout the entire program by a coach, and you have the opportunity to meet most of the other coaches in the program through group and 1:1 sessions. There’s live weekly calls with Brit where you can actually interact with her and ask questions! In other programs like this, the calls are pre-recorded, which feels a little one-sided. You also get the chance to join small group mentoring sessions with her and she's even available via DM!
Working With Brit Morin
It was on one of these small group calls that Brit asked if I would be able to help her with some graphics that she needed to promote the program. Of course, I said yes! I tried to play it cool, but I’m sure she could see how excited I was that she had asked me.
If you know the brand Brit + Co, you know how design-forward it is. To be asked to contribute my vision and skills to a brand like that, a brand I’ve been pinning to my “Design Inspo” board on Pinterest for years… it was a HUGE confidence boost at a time when I really needed it.
I ended up creating a suite of graphics for her, including a set of over 200 ads and stickers to promote the Selfmade program (you can see some of my designs here). I was so pleasantly surprised when they won an American Graphic Design Award!
While I don’t do a lot of this kind of work anymore (I mostly just stick with logos and brand identities these days), it is fun to revisit these projects I’ve done, especially ones that had such an enormous impact on my career.
I learned so much from the Selfmade program and from working with Brit. She really cares about helping people, and she is always looking for ways she can provide opportunities to people who are in the earlier chapters of their entrepreneurship journeys.
If this sounds like something you need right now, I encourage you to check out the program! If you have any questions, I am more than happy to answer them. I also have a 20% code if you'd like to use it. Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me directly at on Instagram!
As I’m writing this, there’s a lot of uncertainty and sadness in the world. There are constant, unrelenting attacks on the people of Ukraine. After two long years, the pandemic is still impacting our lives in ways that most of us didn’t expect it would be in 2022.
Some things are smaller and more personal, like my recent move back home to Connecticut from Mexico, where I had been staying with my mom for the past 9 months. It wasn’t the plan to stay that long, but life happens and I am so glad I got that extra time with my mom and the rest of my family. However, the transition back to my life, the logistics of a long-distance move, it’s all very difficult and it makes you feel like your life has been turned upside down.
In moments like these, I have to remind myself that my discomfort or sadness is allowed to exist, even if other people are dealing with something more serious. I know for me, there have been many times I’ve had to remind myself of this in the last few years. Our feelings are valid, period. No comparison needed.
Finding Order in the Chaos
With so much to distract me, I’m finding it difficult to focus on the work that needs to be done. Luckily, I’ve found something that really works for me when I’m feeling this way and I want to share it with you in case it helps you, too! It’s not some fancy technique… it’s actually incredibly simple: I plan my day by the hour.
After trying lots of different strategies and getting really honest with myself, I discovered that breaking down what I have to do into small, manageable tasks is what really works best for me.
This might seem like a lot of work, but I promise, it isn’t. I spend about 5 minutes each morning planning out my tasks. Sometimes, I even do it the night before so I can just wake up in the morning and get started on the first thing.
It takes all of the decision-making paralysis off the table so I can just do the thing.
I have an hourly “to do” list that I designed a while ago that I just keep printing new copies of. I would love to share it with you. Click below to download a printable version for yourself!
More of a Planner Person?
If you’re thinking, “Ok, this sounds like it might work but I really like to use planners for this purpose” don’t worry. I got you. I am also slightly planner obsessed and I highly, highly recommend the Sprouted Planner. I actually use it along with my hourly to-do list which I have found is the best way for me to focus and move through my tasks.
Also, the owner of this company, Heather, is truly wonderful and I love to support her in any way I can!
Thank you for letting me share my life updates and thoughts with you. It’s a little bit vulnerable to share personal thoughts like this, but I really feel like we find healing and community when we open up and let people in, so I am trying to do that more often. If you are going through personal hardships or just transitions that feel tough, please know that I am holding space for peace in my heart for you, and for the world at large.
I know there are a LOT of virtual assistants out there who want to grow their design skills, either so they can offer a wider range of services to their clients or so they can start to charge more for their branding and design packages. If this is you, I want you to know that I absolutely love that!
Because we are freelancers and self-employed individuals, the best thing we can do is to invest in our skills. We have to give ourselves our own raises, and improving our breadth of knowledge is the key to being able to increase those prices and take home a larger salary!
There’s a lot of value in learning these skills because without a doubt, you’re going to use them. Most of the clients you’ve worked with as a virtual assistant have probably already asked you for some help with branding, right? Wouldn’t it be great to blow them away with your expertise in this area?
I know it can seem overwhelming to dive into something new, so let’s break it down into some easy, implementable steps!
First, Get a Good Design Program
I know a lot of people use Canva, and I do think it’s a great tool. However, it isn’t going to be able to do everything you need it to do as a brand designer. That’s why I use Affinity Designer. It’s not as well known as Adobe Illustrator (yet!), but it does essentially everything that Illustrator does at a fraction of the price.
I highly suggest downloading this program so you can get familiar with it and start using it to grow your brand design skills! It’s especially useful for making vector graphics, which Canva cannot do. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry. You’ll learn more about vectors as you learn about brand design!
Then, Find a Mentor
Some things are easier to learn on your own (like knitting or playing the guitar) and some things are pretty tough to learn without a teacher or mentor leading the way. When I was learning graphic design in college, I had some really great professors, but I would have LOVED to have a mentor as well.
In the classroom, there just was never enough 1:1 time to get the personalized help I needed. So, I often turned to the students around me who were a little bit more advanced for advice and they’re the ones who actually helped me improve my skills the most.
I love mentoring aspiring designers because I remember being there myself, and I always want to give back. I don’t believe there should be any gatekeeping when it comes to learning brand design skills! Every designer has their own perspective and their own vision to contribute to the world, so I believe the more, the merrier!
Invest in a Design Education Program
You don’t have to go back to college to learn design. There are so many amazing courses and programs that are made by designers that can help you learn and grow your skills so much more quickly than a full design program at a college or university.
As a VA, you can’t just pause your career while you learn new skills. You have to learn in the in-between moments, on your own schedule! Online programs are the perfect way to get the high-view instruction you need on an expedited timeline.
When you’re looking at options, make sure to look at the credentials of the person who created the course. Look at some examples of their work and make sure they can walk the walk. Don’t be afraid to ask questions before you sign up for something. If they get annoyed, it’s time to walk away. A good design educator isn’t just out to make a quick buck. They’ll want to make sure you’re a good fit for each other just as much as you do!
Have Questions? I’m Happy to Help!
I want to see you succeed! If you have any questions for me about learning new brand design skills, design programs, mentorship, or design education, let me know!
If you found this post helpful, I invite you to check out my design mentorship resources! Here, I share links to my favorite design tools as well as some mentorship and learning opportunities!
If you want to dive in and learn with me in a virtual immersive setting, I have good news! I will be hosting my 3-day Brand Design Love Method Workshop starting on January 17, 2022. It’s absolutely FREE to join and my past students have learned so much!
Well, friends. We made it to 2022. How are you feeling about it? I’m feeling optimistic and I’m definitely enjoying the extra motivation I always feel at the start of a new year. It’s always my ritual to take some time at the beginning of the year to reflect on what I want for myself.
Once I do some serious thinking and journaling, I choose a word for myself. This word will act as my guiding light and north star as I move through the year.
Having a single word to come back to really helps pull things into focus and align my projects and work for the year. It helps me determine which things I’m going to say “yes” to and which I need to pass on. And, if I feel like I’ve gone off-track, it’s easy for me to remember what I wanted for myself at the beginning of the year so I can find myself again.
For 2022 I’ve chosen the word BELIEVE as my word of the year.
I chose this word for a few reasons but in a nutshell, I really want to instill a stronger sense of confidence in myself as I move out of my comfort zone of only serving clients to serving more aspiring designers with my design mentorship workshop and course.
This year, I want to:
✨ Believe I can do hard things.
✨ Believe I have what it takes to make my life a dream.
✨ Believe I can help others achieve goals.
✨ Believe I can do what I love and become financially secure.
✨ Believe that all challenges bring opportunities.
✨ Believe in miracles.
✨ Believe in myself.
Like a lot of people, I tend to hold myself back from doing things if I’m not sure how it’s going to turn out in the end. I need to remind myself that no one has a crystal ball, and we all face these uncertainties anytime we want to do something new and different.
So this year, I am going to believe that the outcome of my efforts will be positive so I can do more things I want to do. And I know that the more things I try, the more I’m going to realize that it’s not as scary as I’ve convinced myself it would be, and then it’s going to lead to so many more new ideas and opportunities!
I would LOVE to hear what your word or intention for this year is. Leave me a comment below and let me know! If you don’t do this as a yearly practice, that’s okay! You can still share a big dream with me or just anything you’re planning on working on this year. I love to get inspired by other people’s goals.
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
Wishing you all so much growth and magic in 2022!
Karla is an award-winning designer, branding expert and mentor. She has designed for brands including BRIT+CO, Discovery, HGTV, Food Network, Facebook, and more.