It’s such a huge leap of faith to move from a secure job to a creative adventure but some entrepreneurs thrive in such situations. Mary Katherine Alderman is one of those amazing ladies, turning herself into a graphic designer who creates humorous cards, invitations, drink cozies, and much more. She’s been so kind to share the story of her business,Studio 9:05, and some wonderful advice with you today!
You made a huge switch from a Fortune 500 company to a self-taught creative business. How long did the switch take and did you have the support of your family?
It took a full year for me to get up the nerve, flush out my business plan and build up my savings. I worked 50 hours/week and my husband and I had a toddler to take care of as well–so I spent almost every lunch break and most evenings brainstorming designs, researching the industry, reading business/design/escape 9-to-5 books and flushing out my business plan.
I am fortunate to have an extremely supportive family. My husband is behind me every step of the way and my parents and in-laws have been some of my biggest cheerleaders. Not to mention my three older brothers, my younger sister, cousins, aunts & uncles and good friends. These are the people I rely on for emotional support and constructive criticism–I know I’ll get the real schpeal from them.
I know that you are entirely self-taught in your graphic design work. Would you say that most people could teach themselves such a skill? Or were there certain resources that you would recommend?
With the abundant resources available online today–I would say that YES–most people could learn to use design software. I am fortunate to have a very good friend who is a graphic designer and has helped me get over more than a few humps–but had a searched long enough, I would have been able to find the answers to my various questions on my own. Google is a miracle–just type out your specific problem and the version of software you are using and you can generally find a forum thread specific to your situation. In addition to forums, you can find an incredible amount of educational videos on YouTube for most any version of Adobe software (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Flash, etc). In the beginning, it was really helpful to keep associated textbooks on my desk–I use the “on Demand” series by Perspection, Inc. The books are really well organized so it’s pretty easy to find what you’re looking for–and the website has activities for virtually every single topic covered in the books. Be prepared to invest some time, but there really is something empowering about being able to funnel your creative energy into digital form (and not have to rely on a graphic designer to produce every single creative thing you will ever need for your website).
Your work includes vintage black and white photographs. Are there any copyright laws you need to uphold?
All of my vintage photographs are family photos featuring my grandparents during their years as expat’s in Cairo, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Before using a photograph, I get permission from my mom and aunt. I also make sure to get their approval on the level of naughtiness to which I can take things. One book I would suggest for anyone questioning whether or not they can use certain material is The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Patents, Copyrights, Trademarks, Trade Secrets, and Licensing by Jill Gilbert.
You mentioned several blogs and community forums that you take part in. What have they offered you during your career change and which are your favorites?
Oh sheesh!–What would I do without them? Megan Auman has been BY FAR the most influential person for me–simply because I’m embarking down the same path that she has trekked–I have a product-based creative business and I want my primary revenue stream to come from wholesale accounts. For me, her blog Crafting An MBA has been my go-to since I first began letting the thought of entrepreneurship creep into my head. By following Crafting an MBA, I learned about another of Megan’s ventures with her friend Tara Gentile: The Creative Empire is an online member-only community of entrepreneurs that fosters supportive conversation, relationship-building, and brainstorming with positive, like-minded business owners.
Some additional resources that I keep up with regularly are:
- And although I no longer look to them daily, when I was working in the corporate world, I got a huge boost of confidence from Michelle Goodman’s books: The Anti 9 to 5 Guide-Practical Career Advice For Women Who Think Outside The Cube and My So-Called Freelance Life-How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire.
- Sixteen Weeks to Your Dream Business-A weekly Planner for Entrepreneurial Women by Nada Jones & Michelle Briody was instrumental in the early days of narrowing down all the possibilities of making it on my own.
Your lovely shop is beautifully branded. What steps did you take to come up with your brand and how did you integrate it into every aspect of business?
First of all, thanks! My branding was an organic process. It began with some creatives that my graphic designer friend came up with (while I was still in the beginning stages of learning the design software)–they sufficed, but they didn’t make my heart hum. They were pretty and feminine and placed on a white background. I knew that I liked a certain level of femininity–but it can’t be all sugar & spice & everything nice with me–especially since most of my designs feature women in the 1950′s partying and getting up to no good. I needed some juxtaposition. The only thing I kept out of that entire brand identity was the font.
As I expanded my collection of designs, developed new patterns, and experimented with varying color combinations, I figured out that I really (I mean REALLY) loved vivid, highly contrasting colors–so I incorporated them into every product offering. Once I had a reasonably sized collection of my own creatives, I created a rough digital collage and tried it on different backgrounds. When I saw my designs on a charcoal gray background, the colors popped. My heart fluttered. I had hit it. I then expanded this theme throughout everything associated with the visual style of my brand including my logo, my website, product photography, packaging, and marketing materials.
My tagline “Vibrant. Fresh. Giftable.” came from an exercise in Megan Auman’s Marketing for Makers course in which she explained that the most effective branding is an extension of your products. I began by weeding out any designs that didn’t seem like they belonged. I then brainstormed all the words that I thought could be used to describe my products and asked my friends and family members how they perceived my products. I made sure that my personal perception and the external perception meshed—and then chose the three words that best represented my brand: Vibrant, Fresh, Giftable.
Isn’t she inspiring!? I hope you were encouraged by Mary’s words today to take a little leap of your own! If you’d like to see more amazing work by Studio 9:05, check out her site!
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