When I started my business last year, Jean Coelho was one of the first creative entrepreneurs that I “discovered” via a hashtag on Instagram. (I love hashtags, BTW, because it’s a great way to find and connect with others who have mutual interests. I’ve been following Jean for several months now and I’m so impressed with all of the advice and content she shares on a regular basis. She is a graphic designer and the owner of Sweet Blue Bird Design Co. Jean teaches “exactly how to plan, design + market your creative business.”
I just love that Jean is pursuing her creativity and business all while being adaptive to the different seasons of family life. I decided that I had to pick her brain a little bit to see how she juggles everything. Check out our interview jam-packed with online business tips for creatives below:
1. First of all, let’s get right to it– You are a homeschooling mom of three and a business owner who’s rocking it on Instagram. How do you manage it all and what keeps you motivated?!
Well, I really like Instagram! It has been a great place to for me to build trust (on both sides of the coin) and share a variety of things that other creative solopreneurs are interested in. Because I homeschool and have for almost 7 years, I feel like I do everything alone. Instagram helps me not feel so alone and if I can reach someone else that feels the same way, even better! No one should feel like they are doing something alone. My goal with Instagram has always just been to grow my “tribe”. I haven’t made sales from Instagram, but it has helped me grow a following and meet like minded creative women, even when I had no idea what I was doing.
I never wanted to homeschool, for the record! But, I felt so strongly one day that I was supposed to do it, that I asked God for a sign first. I also said that I wouldn’t tell my husband until I got that sign. I never do that. However, in this case I felt I had no choice! That night my husband, a public school teacher, came home with books up to his chin. They were in every subject and for every grade of our children. We did not know that they were making way for common core in the schools, all we knew is that he had a very successful dumpster dive! There was my sign. I cried.
That change made me slowly pivot. I couldn’t offer full time graphic design services anymore, so I had to find a structure that worked for me and my young family. I started homeschooling first, second and fifth grades, which meant that first year was mostly field trips!
2. You were in business for 14 years “with hardly any money”. What was the turning point and what did you implement in your business in order to grow?
My business was based on taking anyone that wanted to give us money. I had disrespectful client after disrespectful client. We had so little money, that we couldn’t even budget. I would take client calls any time of the day, which was disrupting to the children and their schooling. I also disliked the types of niches that I was designing for. I started listening to podcasts and saw that I had a hunger to change things so that I liked who I was designing for, and that I had to create a schedule and set firm boundaries and look like a REAL professional.
My turning point came when a company that I had been designing for for years, had a meeting without me regarding their Facebook accounts. I was lied to about the meeting and then saw that they quickly started to micro manage all of my social media posts. I had been listening to Ilise Benun, the Marketing Mentor. She had just had a show about firing clients that don’t respect you as a professional. Something clicked inside me and I saw what I had been doing wrong. What I was doing wrong was letting the client call the shots. They always became the boss and I became a pee-on employee that had to dance when they said dance, instead of a well respected, creative entrepreneur.
So, I fired them!
Then I booked a consult call that I couldn’t afford, with Ilise Benun. She was so gracious and helpful. She showed me the world of only designing for one type of client and she helped me start to figure out who that was. That was 3 years ago.
3. What should new creative entrepreneurs focus on first when establishing their online presence?
If I could give any advice about what new creative entrepreneurs should focus on first when setting their business up online, it would be to look professional from the get-go.
How? I started with Pinterest.
I decided to search for other freelance graphic designers that were running their businesses like brick and mortars. I typed in Branding, Brand Boards + Mood Boards into Pinterest’s search bar. That was it! It was the best thing I did for my business and from that day forward my business…my little part-time, side-gig, transformed. I found ladies that were doing what I wanted to do. Finding a virtual mentor or mentors on Pinterest will help you because you will see whose branding you like and how successful graphic designers have set up shop. Make your online presence like the front door to a design studio you would have on main street USA and people will come in.
After I found several different ladies to model my business after, I redid my website with professional photos and created package pricing. I also created a streamlined design process that was spelled out on my design services page. After I created a branded media kit, complete with pricing, services included and payment schedules, I posted everything on my website and provided a downloadable PDF. Within a week I signed my highest paying client EVER after she purchased my most expensive branding design package at almost $6,000. She said that she didn’t want to spend that much, but because I had full disclosure, she changed her mind! I recently finished that project, but am now pivoting again.
Because I homeschool, a full brand like I just did, with a website, two social media cover photo designs and three collateral print pieces (business card, mini cards with quotes and coasters) almost killed me! Now, I will no longer be offering design services and am moving to creating e-courses and pre-made design templates to sell in my shop. Because of the momentum I have gotten, passive income is the logical next step for me and my family.
4. What is the most important thing to spend money on in order to get a business off the ground and why?
I think that the most important things to spend money on when you are first getting your business off the ground, would be:
1. A website and hosting. I love Squarespace. I used WordPress for years and years and will never go back!
2. Boardbooster ($20) for Pinterest, so that when you start blogging, you can create pins that will drive traffic to your website.
3. Styled Stock Photography Subscriptions.
4. A few fonts with different personalities.
5. Hire where you are weak.
6. Join the Savvy Business Owners Facebook Group (FREE!) to find reputable professionals to help you.
7. ConvertKit for email marketing.
8. 17 Hats, Dubsado or Honeybook for project management. (Last but not least!) I use 17 hats, but the other two get rave reviews as well.
5. What are your favorite tips for connecting with your ideal clients on social media?
Post professional looking photos.
I don’t go out much since I work from home AND homeschool, so I had to invest in some styled stock photography. I use Grum.co to post images from my computer to Instagram.
Also, take an online class so you can master one social media platform. For years, my platform was Facebook. Last year I took Caitlyn Bacher’s Wham Bam Instagram class and haven’t looked back. It was the first e-course that I ever paid for and it wasn’t cheap, it was around $300. I used PayPal credit so I could do it. In a year I went from 40 followers to almost 800.
Thanks so much, Jean, for taking the time to share some of your creative “secrets” to online business success!
Be sure to follow Jean over on Instagram at @sweetbluebirddesignco.