Graphic and web designer Dana Nicole is a one-woman shop who developed her website to provide bloggers and entrepreneurs with helpful resources to make their pages pop.
How did you make the leap to your current role?
I had always wanted to learn graphic and web design but I already had a degree in Business and I didn’t want to go back to school. I decided to teach myself both graphic and web design and over the next couple years, I would take time to learn the theory and how to use the tools. When my husband, who is a professional hockey player, got signed to a team in Europe, I knew that this would be my opportunity to start my own business with what I had learned with graphic and web design! I started up Dana Nicole Designs as a result.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I was convinced I was going to be a professional singer as a kid. I totally thought I’d be the next Christina Aguilera! I grew up singing, dancing and performing, so that’s why I thought I’d be a pop star.
What was your first job ever? Did it help you in your current role?
I’ve been working for a long time! When I was 4 or 5, my parents owned a Dairy Queen and I’d beg them to let me come in and help out. So I’d come in and help clean in the back or do little chores and get paid for an hours work. My first “real” full-time job was helping out with the accounting in an oil & gas company. I learned a lot about organization, and how to manage a busy desk, but in terms of creativity, the job had none. This was the job that inspired me to learn design, I think because I wasn’t fulfilling my need to be creative during the day and I knew I needed a change! I think all the jobs I’ve had throughout my life have given me the work ethic I have today.
What made you want to start your business (or side hustle)? What or who inspired you to do so?
Well, I wanted to do graphic and web design because I just knew that I wanted to do something creative with my life. I credit my husband for keeping me on the right track though. It can get hard at times, especially in the first year of business because you can feel like you aren’t doing enough or have no idea where to go, and just want to give up. But he was there during that first year reminding me to keep pursuing my business and not to give up.
What does your job entail? How do you explain what you do to others?
Explaining my job to others is the hardest part! The easy part is telling them that I do graphic and web design for small businesses, which basically entails creating a logo, a website, and any other marketing materials that the business may need. But that’s only half of my business. The other half is my pre-made logos and the educational side to Dana Nicole Designs (my blog, my newsletter, my e-book and the course I am working on). When I try to explain the last part of it to people, I usually lose them!
How long have you been doing this?
I officially started taking clients on in April 2017, but I had been working on my blog for the past 6 months, working on building up my presence online, and built up a little portfolio.
What is a day for you like? What is your routine?
I like to wake up at 7:30 and enjoy a cup of tea before starting any work. From there, I work from about 8:00 am until 8:00 pm but do take lots of breaks throughout the day. There have been many times where I’ve had to work straight through, but I try to schedule in time to go to the gym, have a lunch break, take the dog on a walk, and have some dinner.
How do you end your workday?
I have no set routine on how I end it, but my husband and I make sure we spend time together. Whether that means watching re-runs of “The Office” or actually going out and doing something!
How did you go about starting your business? What were some of your initial steps that you took?
Well first, I had to learn graphic and web design, but after that, I started my blog and my Instagram as a way to start building up my online presence. I knew I wasn’t ready to take on paying clients yet, but before I did take any paying clients I wanted to have a solid website with a portfolio put together. I did volunteer work for some charities and work for friends and family before I got going.
If you are thinking of starting up a business, I highly encourage you to start a blog and get familiar with SEO. Building a blog takes some time, especially to start getting a decent amount of traffic.
What are your biggest responsibilities as an entrepreneur?
Making sure that I’m meeting my deadlines for my clients. My clients are my number 1 priority and as it’s just me, it can take me a couple extra weeks to finish a project as opposed to an agency. My timelines are a bit longer because of this, but I let my clients know what the timeline will be before they agree to work with me and I always make sure to finish on time.
What has been the hardest part of your transition?
The hardest part of my transition was not having someone sitting in the office next to me when I had a question. I suddenly found myself with nobody to ask questions to and would have to post any questions I had about design on online forums and wait for a reply. Finding a community of freelance designers has helped me grow because I’m able to connect virtually with people who are in similar positions.
What has been the easiest part of your transition?
Managing a business I love. I get up in the mornings and don’t mind one bit if I know I have a 12 hours day ahead of me. I love what I do to no end!
What keeps you motivated?
My husband and family provide me with a lot of motivation, but seeing how far I have grown in the last 6 months really motivates me. I stopped looking at my growth from week-to-week because it’s really difficult to notice any difference and was leaving my frustrated because I felt like my business wasn’t growing. But when I sit back and think of where my business was 6 months ago compared to now, I can’t help but have a huge smile on my face.
How do you define success now?
Success to me is being able to make an income doing what I love. That sounds so cliché but it’s the truth.
How do you prevent burn out?
I’m very proactive with burn out. I can feel it coming on right away, and when I get that feeling I take a step back, and make myself take the evening off or the afternoon off (as long as I don’t have any looming deadlines). I know that I’m much more productive when I’m not burnt out, so it’s better to take an afternoon off and miss out on some work in order to refresh.
What do you think is the most important characteristic to have for someone who wants to take a similar career route to yours?
If someone wants to become a freelance designer, they need to be able to work independently. They need to realize that every aspect of their business is now controlled by them, and they will have a very busy desk to keep track of.
What do you wish you knew before starting out on your own path?
I wish I knew how long it takes to build something up. I would get really frustrated when I wasn’t getting tons of followers on social media or tons of traffic to my website. It can take anywhere from months to years to build that type of reputation up, and for some reason, I thought it would take much less time. I’d love to tell new business owners to enjoy the first year of business and growth because as long as they persist, it will come. It’s just a matter of time.
Did anyone help you in developing your own business or side business?
No. I wish I had more mentors starting out, but I don’t know any graphic or web designers, bloggers, or online business owners. When it came to incorporating my business, my parents were there helping me navigate my way through that, but aside from that, I had to roll up my sleeves and learn the ins and outs myself – which I think is such a great way to learn!
Do you have a work idol? Is there a working woman or man out there that you admire?
Again, my parents! I saw how hard they worked with their business and wanted to be able to do the same.
What is your favorite thing about the industry you work in? I love how the inspiration is limitless and how different everyone’s design style is! I could seriously get lost scrolling through the Instagram feeds of my favorite designers!
What are some tools that you can’t live without?
I wouldn’t be able to do my job if I didn’t have my camera, my design tablet, Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, and Lightroom! They are all paid tools and are the tools that most professional designers use.
What do you have on your desk or working space right now?
Right now I have my notepad, my camera, my tablet and a cup of tea. I always need to have a cup of tea to work.
What do you want other women in similar situations to know about your chosen career path?
I want them to know that if they are wanting to do something similar, all they have to do is start. It takes time to build everything up, but you have to just go for it!