One of the big goals that I set for myself at the beginning of my career was to one day be able to quit whatever design day job I was at and work for myself full-time. I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit and saw myself in a cute little office or studio space somewhere one day, decorated in my style, music playing, candles burning, cranking out designs and brands for clients, running in between lunch and coffee dates and having a schedule with flexibility that fit my life, allowed me to have personal freedom and be able to take off whenever I needed.
I knew that working for myself would not come easily or quickly, right out of college. And, I didn’t want it to. I know some business owners who jumped into running their own gigs at 22 and never really experienced working for someone else (and while that’s great for them and there’s nothing wrong with it) — I knew that I wanted to pay some dues in a different way, have someone else holding me accountable, really learn how to work hard — and with a team of people. All of these things would only help me in running my own business one day. So, in June of 2008, I was a fresh-faced college grad, 21 years old and ready to take on the world. I held a couple of different design internships that gave me experiences in non-profit and corporate environments. For the next eight years, I worked in mostly agency, which was the best move for me. Agency life taught me how to manage multiple projects, clients, be professional in emails, on conference calls and in meetings. All of the good experiences absolutely taught me many practices and ways to do business that I use today.
And now, as I’m writing this, I literally just turned 30 two weeks ago. I took the leap to officially opening Untethered in January, along with getting married and moving to a new city in May. What a big year 2016 has been for me! Looking back on the last few years, I feel like I’m in such a great place, between my professional and personal lives. So much goodness has taken place, but it didn’t just happen overnight, or because I “deserved it” or because I’m lucky. All of these different things have come to fruition because of simply time, hard work, dues that were paid, respect for bosses and co-workers, beliefs, faith and okay, a little luck. And, a lot of that time and hard work was spent mostly in an office, behind a computer, working for SOMEONE ELSE for a while. Below are just a few reasons why any day job that you have will absolutely help mold you into an entrepreneur, running your own biz.
I learned how (and you will, too) to…
1) Point blank, be a PROFESSIONAL. There are seriously so many things that just being in an office environment around professional people can teach you. I learned how to dress for regular days in the office, meetings with clients, luncheons and evening networking events. I also learned how to answer emails. It sounds simple, but proper etiquette is crucial for communicating with clients and vendors in the best and most efficient ways. I still write many emails in the same tone and with the same messaging and sign-offs that I did at my old jobs. The same goes for phone calls, when you’re sitting in meetings, or you’re presenting in front of an audience. You must know how to be poised, be able to properly enunciate, take your time and communicate your ideas in ways that make sense (and won’t make anyone fall asleep!) Being professional also means always knowing what you’re responsible for, making sure the job gets done, owning your wins and losses and never letting your co-workers or clients be negatively “surprised” by anything that might pop up, that’s really your fault.
2) Budget time, write proposals and manage multiple clients/projects and expectations. This is one of my biggest takeaways from working in an agency environment. In corporate, you don’t necessarily have to “bill your time” back to clients or to specific projects, but it’s still a great skill set to have. When you know how to manage your time, have a quick turnaround on jobs without the quality suffering, write proposals and plans to clients (so that they know exactly what they’re getting from you) and then manage those multiple clients and projects all at once, you will be good as gold. Know how to work efficiently, how much time you will need for certain tasks, how to manage how one client usually is (behavior or expectations-wise) over a client who might be the opposite — and still get the job done.
3) Be a team player. As an entrepreneur, you might enjoy working on your own, or from home, but there is nothing wrong with learning how to play well with others. Having co-workers taught me how to communicate my ideas, how to take constructive criticism, how to find solutions for problems and how to have another person’s back during a time of trouble. I still miss that from time to time now, but I know that having that experience enables me to work well with my clients, vendors/printers and other individuals or designers to whom I might need to delegate or outsource work.
4) Have humility, patience and respect. A lot of people (especially millennials) want it all — and they want it yesterday. It’s great to be passionate and know what you want, but you need to learn how to work for it, take critiques from others, be told what to do and held accountable by others who are older and have been at a job longer than you (and quite frankly, know more than you.) Learn how to wait your turn, know that your time is coming, you need to do what you’re told and SOMEDAY, you too, will be telling someone else what to do. Patience, (and respect) grasshopper.
5) Be a leader. I’ve had a few different bosses — both good and bad. The last one I had before I started working for myself demonstrated what being a leader was – and that it’s totally different from being a stereotypical “boss.” She showed me how to properly manage employees, treat them with respect, REWARD them and in turn, they will keep developing good work for you and your clients. She also taught me how to take a genuine interest in those clients and form trusting relationships with them, so that they will keep coming back for more work. Most of all, she was great at not micromanaging employees with every single thing that they did. She trusted that they would do their job well, like she hired them to do. And, that they needed to learn to fly on their own. If I am managing a team one day, I will always give constructive advice and feedback — and reward — because I know that they will appreciate it and in turn, hit it out of the park, every single time.
Jessie Ford Coots is the owner + designer behind Untethered, a boutique graphic design studio in the Midwest that specializes in logo identity, branding, print advertising, stationery + more. She enjoys giving new and old businesses creative makeovers, as well as partnering with select companies and non-profits to provide monthly design services. When she isn’t designing, she is usually traveling around the U.S. showing her quarter horse in barrel racing events and happily adjusting to married life with her husband, residing outside of Louisville, Kentucky. To learn more about design, branding and what she can creatively do to improve your business, download her free guide “Branding 101: What it is, what it isn’t and why you need it” at www.untethereddesign.com/freebies.