Mattie Tiegreen is the creative behind Green Tie Studio, a small design house with an affinity for minimal design and genuine connection. She has been a full-time designer since 2012 and has experienced meaningful shifts along the way including motherhood and maternity leave this past summer. We loved reading about her journey and don’t want to give too much away, so without further ado, enjoy!!
Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer.
I have always been extremely creative but actually studied education in school. I graduated with a degree in Special Education and went on to teach middle school students with autism for several years before starting a “business” making paper goods to flex the creative muscles. I opened a small etsy shop with a handful of greeting cards and eventually added a wedding stationery collection. Within 1 year it had taken off and I had more orders than I could handle in my few hours after work each day. In January 2013, I turned in my resignation, and on a Friday in May I put my students on the bus on the last day of school and drove to New York City for The National Stationery Show. The rest, as they say, is history. My business has taken many different turns since then but I’ve never looked back and still can’t believe this is my job.
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
This is such a great question. I think it’s often overlooked that even talented designers start out designing for clients that aren’t necessarily ideal but that trust us to create. I have done my fair share of projects that didn’t align with my style but I’m thankful to those early clients for allowing me to hone my skills (and pay the bills!) while I developed my personal style. I started attracting my ideal client when I prioritized making work that I wanted to make, even if it wasn’t a paid project. The more personal work I created and shared, the more clients hired me to design work I was excited about.
You've been full-time since 2012, how do you continue to attract your ideal clients?
Connection, connection, connection. I share my mission, which is that good design is about way more than design. It’s about understanding your audience, building a strategy, and communicating and continually connecting with the people who need what you do. The only way for me to do this successfully with my clients is through genuine connection. I don’t just want to design a logo. I want to work with people who are passionate about their field, excited about growth, and want me to walk alongside them to strengthen their brand. Being clear about this mission has really helped me attract the right clients.
Have you made any meaningful shifts in your business structure in the past 6 years that you feel were the result of "aha" moments?
Yes! From 2013 until 2015, I was designing paper goods - primarily wedding stationery. I loved working with brides and grooms to create paper to reflect their day but was tiring out quickly. The pace was too fast for me and no matter how many efficiency systems I implemented, I always felt frantic. I was losing sight of what I loved so much about design because I was working with so many different people on so many different projects. It occured to me one day that the business I had built on relationships had turned into transactions. Once I shipped wedding invitations and thank you cards, I never heard from clients again, but I wanted something deeper.
I had already been subconsciously “branding” weddings and realized branding businesses might be a better fit because I could work with clients to create strategy, meaningful design, and a lasting partnership. In 2015, I rebranded as a graphic design studio focusing on small business strategy and design solutions and it is the perfect fit for me.
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
Put on a bra. Hot coffee. No TV. Sit at a desk.
As I type this, I’m sitting on the sofa drinking my twice-reheated-but-now-cold coffee so, you know, balance.
You are a new mom, congrats! When you work for yourself it can be hard to imagine fully disconnecting from your own work. Can you tell us a little bit about your process planning for maternity leave?
Thank you! I worried so much about maternity leave.
What if I went into labor before a project launched?
What if people forget I’m a designer?
When do I go back to work?
What if no one hires me again?
I was due mid-June so I booked projects up until May with plans to launch and close out work by June 1. I obviously have no context for other strategies but this worked beautifully for me! I had from June 1 until June 18 to focus on nesting, time with friends and family, and preparing my mind and body for this big shift and it was so nice to “shut down” my work brain before becoming a mother. Then, I planned to begin easing back into work mid-August and see how it felt to use my creative brain again. Looking back, I actually wish I had given myself more time off. The newborn phase is both a haze and a dream and two months was really not enough time for me to get my bearings. Now, three months in, I’m feeling the fog lift and I’m excited about fleshing out new ideas!
Are there any shifts in your work day/workflow that you're looking forward to post maternity leave?
I honestly had no idea how work as a mother would look. I have never envisioned myself as a stay-at-home-mom (BIG kudos to the ladies who rock it!) because I really need to flex my creative muscles. But when Zuri arrived, I suddenly couldn’t imagine being anything but her mother. I had been told that my creativity and itch to work would come back - and it did - but this gave me a new perspective on the balance of motherhood and entrepreneurship. We have decided to do a nanny share with another family for 2.5 days each week and I’m so excited about the set up. My goal is to be fully present with work for those hours each week and then fully present with Zuri the other days. No emails, no calls during nap time, no stress about deadlines. I know it will be a challenge, but it’s important to me that I don’t fill my plate with anything that doesn’t fit into those designated work days.
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
Trusting that the right clients will always come. If I think too much about the future, I get wrapped up in the unknown of next year - even next month. I book projects out several months in advance but not more than 4 or 5 so I really can’t say with certainty that I’ll have income for the whole year. That’s a scary thing. Of course, there has never been a month I didn’t have the work I needed. I am constantly reminding myself that.
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
I thrive on organization! I started using Dubsado last year and am completely hooked. It manages clients, projects, leads, email templates, invoices, automatic reminders, payment schedules, calendars, tasks, workflow, time tracking, and more. It has been such a lifesaver for me to keep everything in one place. I do have an accountant and leave all the “scary” things like taxes, legal structure, payroll, and returns to him.
You recently created Forth, a comprehensive resource guide for small business owners. Can you tell us a bit about your motivation for creating it, the process of creating it, and what the response to it has been like?
Forth has been such a fun passion project. I receive lots of emails asking for business advice and tips on successful freelancing and the more I responded, I realized I was sharing the same information and resources. Over the years, I have tried dozens of different business solutions and resources so I felt like I had a lot of knowledge to offer other entrepreneurs. There wasn’t really anything on the market that was a “one stop shop” for small business solutions - everything I found was a resource for one specific realm of business ownership. When I was starting out, I resorted to Google and a few trusted friends to answer my questions and I wish there had been something more comprehensive to invest in. So, I decided to make it.
I reached out to a handful of industry friends and asked them to share their top 5 business resources. Anything from accounting to inspiration. I then spent almost a year researching, compiling, organizing, and designing a guide with the most loved solutions in every single area of business. I launched Forth in January and the response was overwhelming! It was really important to me to offer something affordable and accessible to every type of business owner - even those just starting out with little to invest in education. I still can’t believe the support I received. Over 400 people have used the guide and I’m still receiving emails about how helpful it is. I’m really humbled and honored to have made something so needed.
Are there any other projects on which you're ruminating that you'd like to make time for someday?
Yes! Hopefully putting the idea out into the world will hold me accountable ;) I have been thinking about making a branding guide for several years and ended up pouring into Forth before I got started on it. I would love to create something for business owners that outlines the strategy behind branding and how important the “under work” is before design begins. Not all business owners have the budget to invest in the branding process with a designer but that shouldn’t be a reason not to have a strong foundation.
What is one thing you wish you knew when you were starting out?
That bigger is not better. When I started my business I was hustling to grow my client base - more projects, more money, more notoriety. I ultimately achieved all three of those but was also more exhausted than I’d ever been. I learned that I function best with margin. I’m not afraid of hard work but I also need space to rest and play. This means scaling back which projects I say “yes” to which sometimes means less money but to me, the breathing room is worth it.
Any music, podcast, or book recommendations that you'd like to share?
Oh so many. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert is my creative lifesong. Her podcast Magic Lessons is also super inspiring. I love anything by Seth Godin to give me kick-in-the-pants motivation to think outside the box. I’m also a huge fan of a good Spotify playlist when cranking out design - Shakey Graves and Tom Petty are my go-to’s.
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are: