After the amazing response to my post Behind-the-Scenes: A Journey down My Career Path so Far, I started thinking about sharing the paths that other people had been on. So on the last Thursday of every month, I will be introducing all sorts of people in different industries to share their own career journey.
For the first round of posts, I reached out on Twitter to see who would like to take part and got some fantastic responses. I'm hoping the series - which will run permanently - will provide a little insight into how different each of our career paths can be. I also know how much valuable information these people are going to give you and I hope you're as excited about the series as I am.
So here we go with the first interview.
Jessica Freeman is an Atlanta-based designer and the owner of Jess Creatives. Jess works with entrepreneurs to create a brand that shines on and offline. After hours, she enjoys spending time with her husband, Aaron, and their pup, Morgan.
did you always want to go into your chosen career?
My career as a graphic designer -- pretty much, yes! My career as being a self-employed business owner -- not really. I never really imagined myself owning my own business, especially at 25! I remember when I saw the movie, "13 Going on 30" in theatres, I thought, "That is what I want to do -- I want to work for a magazine!"
When did you start to develop a passion for what you currently do?
I grew up loving anything to do with arts (or crafts). My dad and my sister both used to draw as well, so it kind of ran in the family. When I was a sophomore in high school, I remember my dad asking me what I wanted to major in when I went to college. I told him that I knew I wanted to do something with computers, and something with art, but wasn't sure how that would happen. He started telling me about graphic design -- which I had never heard of before -- and I decided I was going to become a graphic designer. I was on the yearbook staff at my high school for two years, which is when I really started to love design. For awhile, I thought I wanted to design yearbooks for the rest of my life, haha!
What were you like at school? Did you enjoy it? What were your favourite subjects?
I was a straight-A nerd, and a teacher's pet. As a 7th grader, I turned in our largest semester project for one class three weeks early. (My classmates hated me for doing that.) I really loved English classes, all of my art classes, and of course, yearbook class. I never was a fan of (or good at) Math and Science, which helped me steer me towards pursuing art more. I was also very involved in sports and clubs -- being busy has always been in my blood!
What happened next? Did you go to university or straight into work?
After high school, I went straight to college. I attended West Texas A&M University. I chose WTAMU because it was affordable, and they had a great design program. I was also really set on not going where everyone from my class was going (there were only 20 of us in my graduating class), and everyone else was planning to attend an in-state college. Choosing to attend WTAMU was one of the best decisions I've ever made -- it was the perfect college for me, and I had an amazing experience there!
How did you get your first experience within your chosen field?
I started doing some freelance in college, just because people knew I could design. I wasn't searching for projects or anything, they just kind of landed in my lap. Even though I am now firmly against this, I did a lot of work for free. My first several freelance projects were very small -- mostly t-shirts and flyers for clubs.
But if we're talking "real" jobs in my field, I worked as an intern for two years in WTAMU's Communication and Marketing Department. The department was in charge of designing any marketing materials for larger, campus-wide events, annual reports, homecoming materials, etc. It was a really great experience, because I was able to see how to work in a design office, and saw the process from start to finish. That job really affirmed my love for design.
What path did you take to get to where you are now?
A few weeks after I graduated from college, I moved to Georgia and started my second internship. I was the design intern at North Point Community Church -- one of the largest churches in the U.S. -- for three months. Again, this job was a really great learning experience! They didn't have a job opening for me at the end of my internship, so I had to move on.
I then began working as the Communications Manager at a small church in Atlanta. I did admin work, as well as managed the website and most of the design for the church. The pastor who was on staff when I was first hired soon left, and the new pastor made a lot of changes around the church in the first few months. One of the changes he wanted to make was to let volunteers do all the design work, and I would just focus on admin work. I did not want to do that, do I found a new job.
My next job was at a different (third) church. This church had a dedicated design team, and was an incredible learning experience. We had a dozen different departments to work with, we printed some of our own work, and then dealt with outside print vendors for larger projects.. I also started learning web design at this job -- but only the design aspect, no coding, templates or anything like that. It was also at this job that my freelance work started to pick up. I started a year-long, personal design project, which I think was a big part in growing my business.
I eventually left this church to find a job with a shorter commute -- which led me to a local design agency. This job was not a good fit for me at all, but luckily, my business began to explode during this time. I was at this job for nine months, and then when I couldn't keep up with my freelance anymore, I quit! It was very scary to quit, because I didn't personally know any other entrepreneurs (besides a few acquaintances through Facebook groups), my husband worked part-time, and we had just bought a house!
When do you think you got a breakthrough with your career?
Is it bad if I don't know if I've had my breakthrough yet? Haha! But, if I had to choose, I think I would say a few months before I went full-time, I enrolled in my first online course, which really made me shift how I ran my business. I went from a disorganized freelancer, to someone with systems, and it helped me really gain momentum and get more clients! A few months later, I was able to quit my job and within one month of going full-time, I had a waitlist!
What's been the biggest challenge in your career so far?
This may not be directly business related, but my largest challenge was dealing with enormous personal tragedies during my first year as a full-time entrepreneur. Just a few weeks after I transitioned to working full-time, my mother-in-law was in a serious car accident that left her in a wheelchair for several months. In early December 2014, my mother was killed in a car accident, on her way to work. While anyone in the world would struggle with these problems alone, and still work a full-time job, it's a completely different ballgame to be in charge of your own business and your own clients.
What would you say is your biggest achievement?
It would definitely have to be being name Gwinnett County's Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2015. Gwinnett County is the county in which I live, and it's the second largest county in the state of Georgia. This award was one of several that were handed out in the fall of 2015, and over 300 people were nominated. People who were nominated had to fill out an in-depth questionnaire (almost like short essay answers), and then three finalists were chosen in each category.
Where do you see yourself and your career going in the future?
This is always so hard for me to answer, because I'm such a "focus on now" person. I'm not a dreamer, and I struggle with having a vision for my business. (I know, kind of a bad thing to say as an entrepreneur.) But, I do hope in the future that I can bring on some other designers so that we can work with more people. If I can ever get over my fear of public speaking, I would love to do in-person workshops with people -- whether solely focused on design or maybe talking about freelancing as well.
If you could share three of your biggest life lessons with ABOH readers, what would they be?
Be generous and helpful -- I know we're all out here to make money and build our businesses, but no one succeeds without the help of others. Some help, people will need to pay for you, and that's totally reasonable. But, I believe that when you go out of your way to generously help someone, that will earn you more respect. I'm not saying I build free websites for everyone, but if someone has a weird glitch on their website, I'll take a look and help them fix it.
Relationships matter -- Whether it's personal relationships or business relationships, cultivating relationships is what's most important. This thought is a driving force behind much of what I do -- it impacts how I interact with clients, with people in Facebook groups, and it's what inspired me to create a local Facebook group for entrepreneurs. It's also a good reminder to myself when I start to overwork myself, instead of spending time with my husband. :)
Take time off -- I'll be the first to admit that I am a bit of a workaholic. I'm fairly decent at shutting down once my husband is home from work, but I'm not perfect and have been known to be on my laptop while sitting on the couch watching Netflix. I'm a go-getter, I like to get stuff done and check it off my list. But as you probably suspect, this can lead to burn-out -- and no one works as well when they're burned out. Taking time off also relates back to focusing on relationships, but sometimes taking off means you just need some alone time.
Let's chat in the comments - did you enjoy this interview with Jess Creatives? Do you have any other questions for Jess?