Tell us about yourself and your business!
Hi, I’m Gretchen. I’m a graphic designer turned business owner. My company, Gretchen Kamp Design, offers branding, logos, web design and development, digital marketing, social media management, and brand photography. Most of my clients are either female millennial business owners, or restaurant/ bars and nightclubs. I absolutely love what I do and I wouldn’t trade being a designer—or being self-employed—for the world.
What inspired you to start your own business?
Starting my own business never really felt like a choice, but rather something I had to do. I really struggled when I was working for other companies. I don’t like being on someone else’s schedule or working on projects that don’t interest me. I would come up with these great creative ideas but I wouldn’t be able to use them. I really just wanted to design logos all day, but that wasn’t my role. It became evident early on that freelancing would be a better fit for me.
Is this your full time job?
Yes! I have been self-employed full time since 2015. However, I was freelancing at night and on the weekends for about 4 years while also working full-time.
How do you structure your days?
I try to keep a regular work schedule (9-5 Monday through Friday) so that I’m on the same schedule as my friends and boyfriend. Because of the creative nature of the work I do, it helps to book all my meetings on certain days, and design on the days I don’t have meetings. It’s impossible to get the creative juices flowing if I know I have to leave for a meeting in 20 minutes.
Where and how do you work best?
I had an office for a while and that was great. However, I’m currently working from home again which also has its advantages. For meetings, I prefer to go to my clients than have them come to me. It’s a nice way to get out of the house and San Diego is such a great city, so it’s fun to be out and about. It’s also nice to switch up the scenery and work at coffee shops occasionally.
Where is your business based?
San Diego, CA, but I have clients all over the US. I have some amazing clients in other states that I have never met in person. The internet makes that possible for the type of work I do.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
First I had to learn my trade. I got my Bachelor’s degree in graphic design from San Diego State University. I did an internship and then worked full time for a few companies while freelancing on the side for several years. I kept getting freelance clients through word of mouth and my business continued to grow. Finally one day I decided to take the plunge and put in my two weeks notice at work. Since I didn’t know much about marketing myself online at the time, I designed and printed flyers and business cards and put them in coffee shops all over San Diego. I actually got some great long term clients that way!
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and attracting new customers?
There isn’t any one thing that will accomplish this. The key is consistently doing a lot of different things. I really believe quality is the best business plan. When you do a great job for each client, chances are you will get referrals. Having a beautiful and informative website is mandatory. SEO is key for showing up on Google searches. If you are a creative professional, make sure you regularly update your portfolio. I utilize email marketing and social media (especially Instagram!) for brand awareness. Ask clients to write you a 5 star Yelp review if you can tell they were thrilled with you. I recently started blogging, too.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
Finding the right designers to hire.
How did you overcome these challenges?
Rather than posting “we’re hiring” and hoping to attract the right people, I went online and started searching on Behance.net for local designers. Design is such a specific thing and people have different styles. I had to find designers whose aesthetic would blend seamlessly with my own.
How do you keep motivated through tough times?
I remind myself how fortunate I am to be able to do what I love, make a good living doing this, and work for myself. The flexibility and freedom is truly priceless.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
My work sets me apart. I always make sure to present myself and my business in a consistent, well-branded, professional way, but at the end of the day it’s what’s in my portfolio that counts and distinguishes me from other designers.
What do you wish you had known when you started your business?
That it is okay to ask for help and to outsource work when it makes sense to. In the beginning I wanted to do everything myself. But I wouldn’t have been able to grow my business and offer all the services I do now if I had stayed afraid to delegate work.
Who are your biggest influences? Who do you admire most? Who or what inspired you to do what you’re doing now?
I love Sophia Amoruso’s story, I read #GIRLBOSS twice. I found her very relatable. My parents have always been very encouraging—thank you! My boyfriend is a brilliant engineer who works harder than anyone I know. His commitment and passion for his work motivates me to work harder on my business. My best friend Kasey is also a business owner. I’m so proud of what she has accomplished with her spa, Glow Skincare in LA.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Don’t quit your 9-5 job until you have saved enough money to live off of for at least 3 months. Preferably 6.
What business tools/resources could you not work without?
I LOVE Quickbooks because it makes accounting really easy.
What surprising lessons have you learned along the way?
Don’t judge a book by its cover. I have met people who made a great first impression but actually had no idea what they were doing and turned out to be completely unprofessional. And vise versa. Don’t underestimate someone because they look really looking young or are covered in tattoos. Especially designers!
Where would you like your business to be 5 years from now?
5 full time employees and a badass office. Or... the business is a well-oiled machine that runs itself, and I’m drinking wine in Spain somewhere.