Creative Lady Directory

Betsy Cordes

Betsy Cordes is the art maker-director-lover, creative matchmaker, cheerleader, and strategist behind February 13 Creative, a business advising agency devoted to serving a special breed of creative professionals, one they call the “art brand entrepreneur.” We are so glad to have crossed paths with her through our Creative Lady Directory and excited to share her wealth of knowledge with you today. This is a in-depth and rich interview that is worth slowing down for, enjoy!

Photo by Elizabeth Woollard

Photo by Elizabeth Woollard

Tell us about your path to becoming February 13 Creative.

It’s been a long and winding path, exploring lots of different attractions in the wider field of art—everything from art history, which I studied in college and grad school, to work for non-profits helping to place art in public spaces. I’ve been a publicity director, a graphic designer, a licensing artist, and an art director, and along the way I’ve worked in an old-school advertising department and for a handful of greeting card companies, as well as having a few different businesses of my own prior to this one.

To be honest, it took me a long time to feel like I’d found my calling. Now I can see that I needed this range of experience, combined with time, to work its magic. Ultimately, about six years ago, everything aligned. February 13 Creative is the perfect result of my lifelong interest in art, for sure, but more than that, in artists themselves. I have a lot of faith in artists’ abilities to do great things for our world, and I’m called to help them pursue their dreams with confidence, because I think we all have a lot to gain when creative spirits are empowered to do their thing!

“Discovery” by  Meenal Patel  | When Meenal reached out to me, she had a distinctive style, a strong portfolio, 10+ years of experience illustrating and designing for other brands, and a desire to develop her own art brand vision and voice. Since our sessions together, she’s been steadily applying her signature look to themes and subjects that are personally meaningful to her, such as family, her Indian-American heritage, nature, and childhood wonder—with beautiful results!

“Discovery” by Meenal Patel | When Meenal reached out to me, she had a distinctive style, a strong portfolio, 10+ years of experience illustrating and designing for other brands, and a desire to develop her own art brand vision and voice. Since our sessions together, she’s been steadily applying her signature look to themes and subjects that are personally meaningful to her, such as family, her Indian-American heritage, nature, and childhood wonder—with beautiful results!

Betsy Cordes | on time and experience to settle in | Freelance Wisdom

In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?

It was through my work as an art director that my business as an art brand advisor took shape. I’d hop on the phone with an artist to discuss the details of an assignment, but our conversation would stretch on long after we’d taken care of that bit of business. We’d end up talking about other projects they were working on, questions about offers they’d received and whether the terms were fair, how to get a book published, or deal with clients, or balance administrative tasks with creative time, and on and on… pretty much the full gamut of things that come up in running an art-based business.

I loved these conversations. Through them, I finally had an appreciation for how all my earlier jobs had prepared me for this one. Even better, the artists told me over and over how helpful our conversations were, how they felt informed, focused, capable, and ready to get back to business after our talks.

Many of them asked if I’d consider becoming their agent, but I wanted to be able to help artists in a holistic and individualized way with their businesses, rather than only to represent them for licensing and publishing deals, editorial assignments and so forth. For example, I knew that some of these artists wanted to publish their own book, or develop an e-course, or their own product line—things a traditional agent doesn’t typically help with. Furthermore, I saw that technology was making it easier every day for artists to represent themselves and in many cases to do so far more effectively than an agent could.

So, long story short, my business started with one client: Katie Daisy. Katie was willing to explore and experiment with me and through our work together I developed the business I have today, which has grown pretty much entirely by word of mouth, one artist at a time.

How to be a Wildflower by  Katie Daisy  | Katie was my very first client and continues to be my art brand muse. I’ve helped her behind-the-scenes on many exciting projects over the years, but a sentimental favorite is her first book, the New York Times Bestseller How to Be a Wildflower, published by Chronicle. (Photo by Maggie Jane Cech)

How to be a Wildflower by Katie Daisy | Katie was my very first client and continues to be my art brand muse. I’ve helped her behind-the-scenes on many exciting projects over the years, but a sentimental favorite is her first book, the New York Times Bestseller How to Be a Wildflower, published by Chronicle. (Photo by Maggie Jane Cech)

What advice do you give someone who is interested in working with a brand strategist like yourself? What questions can they ask themselves to help them decide whether or not they are ready?

I can be most helpful when an artist has a very well-developed and individual visual style—a signature look. In addition to that, a sense of mission is important. By mission, I mean a guiding philosophy or passion for a particular theme or subject matter that is endlessly inspiring to them. This can be broad, but it really helps if it’s defined. These assets are at the heart of an art brand, and when an artist comes to me with a strong brand identity in this sense, I can help them achieve some pretty exciting things!

That said, I’m also pretty darn good at working with artists who want to go there. In other words, I can also be effective with artists who might not yet have a signature look or a clearly defined mission, but they can spot a strong art brand; they see the difference between their own art-based business and the businesses of artists that inspire them, and they earnestly want to develop their own brand story and visual identity. I’ve worked with many artists at this stage, helping them bring their brand to life.

Is there a theme to the challenges you see arising for your clients lately?

Part of what makes art brands so inspiring to us (as the audience) is the sense of connection we come to feel with the person behind the art. We see that there’s a real, live, genuine human being creating this amazing stuff, and that it’s a reflection of her bigger life and her values. When our identification with her brand becomes very deep and strong, there’s a kind of intimacy that can be challenging for the artist. The line between her personal and public lives sometimes blurs, and it requires ongoing sensitivity to manage it all in a way that serves the interest of her audience (and therefore her business) and her own boundaries, which will shift throughout her life.

So a strong art brand requires a fair bit of willingness to be the face of your brand, to share your personal story and to engage in a meaningful way with your audience. Some of my clients start off feeling pretty confident around marketing themselves, and their following grows thanks in part to their innate skillfulness in this arena. For these artists, the challenges can come later, when life changes find them reassessing how much of themselves they really want to be sharing. For other clients, there’s a natural reluctance to share more than their art, so they may struggle to engage their audience as successfully as the more “extroverted” artist.

Either way, this seems to be an unavoidable challenge for artists who want to develop a strong and authentic brand. But it’s not insurmountable! It simply requires ongoing self-awareness, self-compassion, and a willingness to reassess and adjust strategy when needed.

Creative Watercolor   by Ana Victoria Calderón | Ana is a successful watercolor artist and a beloved teacher of watercolor technique, so it was natural that her popular classes led to a book deal. As Ana was evaluating the offer she received to develop  Creative Watercolor,  I helped her visualize the full arc of the book development process so she could be prepared for the collaboration ahead. I also explained the implications of certain publishing contract terms, suggesting changes she might want to ask for, and how to ask for them.

Creative Watercolor by Ana Victoria Calderón | Ana is a successful watercolor artist and a beloved teacher of watercolor technique, so it was natural that her popular classes led to a book deal. As Ana was evaluating the offer she received to develop Creative Watercolor, I helped her visualize the full arc of the book development process so she could be prepared for the collaboration ahead. I also explained the implications of certain publishing contract terms, suggesting changes she might want to ask for, and how to ask for them.

You work with your husband and your son! What do you love about this collaboration and what have you found to be challenging?

I do, and it’s really a dream come true. Chuck is an attorney, specializing in intellectual property law. Our son Henry is first and foremost a writer, but he’s pretty much genius at a lot of things (proud mom, much? ;)). We’ve always been a tight-knit little threesome, with lots of shared interests in the creative and entrepreneurial realms. Our skills and thinking styles complement one another very naturally, so the fact that my business has offered ways for us to work together feels like a real gift.

And yeah… it can be challenging. Henry is still finding his way in the wide world of work and he has a lot of interests. I want to give him the space to do his own thing, and at the same time I’d like nothing more than for him to work full-time for F13! For me and Chuck, the biggest challenge is turning off our business brains. We work together from home, and we’re both really intellectually engaged by our work, so it can be very hard to stop talking about it!

Photo by Elizabeth Woollard

Photo by Elizabeth Woollard

Do you have any advice for fellow creatives looking to enter into a familial collaboration whether it be with a family member, a spouse, or a close friend?

Agreements. Even if you don’t have an official written agreement between you and your collaborator (which, admittedly, might be kinda weird between you and your husband or child!), there’s something so powerful about taking the time to think through things as if you were going to memorialize it all in an official legal document. Maybe it’s because I’m the wife of a lawyer (and the daughter of a judge!), but this “agreement” business is something I drill my clients about when they tell me they’re thinking about starting something with a friend or family member. When your informal agreement is put into the legal form and language of a contract—and you imagine a third party having to interpret what the original intention of your collaboration was, with only that contract to explain it—you will discover potential problems and opportunities that you might not otherwise consider.

What has been your greatest struggle as a creative business owner so far?

There were a couple interrelated struggles. For one, it was really hard for me to trust that I would figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up! I’m 55 years old and it’s really only within the last six years or so that I’ve felt like “OK… This is where I’m meant to be.”

But to get here, I’ve had to reinvent myself a few times and the internet makes reinvention a very public process. I’m one of those introverted creatives that I alluded to in a previous answer, so the internet felt really uncomfortable for a good long while. I’m happy to say though, now that I’ve found my groove, it is so much easier and more enjoyable. It was worth the wait!

Scenes from  Julz Nally’s  Hummingbird Art Camp | Julz and I worked together for six very fertile months recently, as she dedicated herself to several big brand- and business-building projects. Hummingbird Art Camp (a summer camp for girls aged 6-9) combines Julz’s passions for art, craft and nature with her love of teaching kids. It’s such a fantastic example of what can happen when an artist dreams big and brings her whole self to her business.

Scenes from Julz Nally’s Hummingbird Art Camp | Julz and I worked together for six very fertile months recently, as she dedicated herself to several big brand- and business-building projects. Hummingbird Art Camp (a summer camp for girls aged 6-9) combines Julz’s passions for art, craft and nature with her love of teaching kids. It’s such a fantastic example of what can happen when an artist dreams big and brings her whole self to her business.

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

This is a constant quest for me—the holy grail of ultimate productivity—but truth be told, at times I’m comically unproductive. I haven’t found any always-reliable method and I do think it’s a very individual thing that requires experimentation. We’re all such different creatures, with different things that motivate us, different ways of organizing ourselves.

Here are a couple things that work pretty well for me… I’ve been using Asana consistently now for a few years as my general project management tool and it’s the best thing I’ve found thus far. But sometimes managing my Asana becomes a huge distraction and time-suck in and of itself! When I find myself going down that rabbit hole, I whip out the sticky notes and write down each of the day’s tasks, one per sticky, then arrange them on my desk in priority order. There’s something super satisfying about finishing a task, tossing that sticky in the recycling bin and moving on to the next one. I don’t do this everyday, but when I catch myself in a rut, it’s a method that really works to keep me focused on my goals and takin’ care of business.

Any podcast or book recommendations that you'd like to share?

I believe that self-awareness—ongoing self-inquiry aided by a solid habit of mindfulness—is crucial to success as an entrepreneur. Running your own business can be, at times, a lonely and profoundly challenging endeavor. It really helps to know your values and to know what works to take care of your mental and physical health. To that end, two of my favorite podcasts are by psychologists with a spiritual bent: Tara Brach and Rick Hanson. For keeping myself “honest” (by which I mean, running my business and conducting my life in alignment with my most deeply held values), I turn again and again to Charles Eisenstein’s book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible.

Mandala Stones by  Elspeth McLean  | Elspeth came to me about a year after her beautiful painted mandala stones went viral on social media… for the second time! In response to that demand, she’d done a great job building and managing her business all on her own, but her existing website was not reflecting the full story of her art brand. In the years since, I’ve supported Elspeth as she’s completely refreshed her brand presentation and website, negotiated her first product licensing deals, and developed the content for her first book—which she’ll publish independently this year.

Mandala Stones by Elspeth McLean | Elspeth came to me about a year after her beautiful painted mandala stones went viral on social media… for the second time! In response to that demand, she’d done a great job building and managing her business all on her own, but her existing website was not reflecting the full story of her art brand. In the years since, I’ve supported Elspeth as she’s completely refreshed her brand presentation and website, negotiated her first product licensing deals, and developed the content for her first book—which she’ll publish independently this year.

Betsy Cordes | Success as an Entrepreneur | Freelance Wisdom

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Jess Levitz

This week, we are so excited to get the full scoop on Jess Levitz's freelance journey. If you don't yet know her, Jess is the graphic designer behind June Letters Studio, co-founder of Shoppe Theory, and the founder and brains behind Freelance Wisdom, the Creative Lady Directory, and the Creative Lady Collective!

Her career began in the tech world as an in-house designer. After years in the start-up world she was ready to strike out on her own, and she hasn't looked back since. As June Letters Studio, Jess focuses on creating thoughtful and beautiful brand identities for her passionate clients.

When not designing, Jess enjoys spending time with her scientist husband and their son Izzie, collecting random vintage memorabilia, and supporting female creatives on this platform right here. 

Enjoy!

P.S. Be sure to let us know in the comments what you'd like to see come out of this creative lady community in the future :)

Photo By Loren Crosier

Photo By Loren Crosier

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance graphic designer.

My journey began in college at American University in Washington DC when I took an “Intro to Graphic Design” course as one of my general education art requirements. I had always been creative but wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go with my career (I was 18 after all!). But the graphic design class really solidified for me that I was meant to be a designer; I adored every project and discovered that it was something I excelled at. I then went on to major in Graphic Design and Communication Studies. At the end of college I applied for a few jobs and ended up landing a Junior Designer role at Yelp back in the California Bay Area (where I am from and my boyfriend now-husband was living). I worked at Yelp for several years as their in-house designer for their community team. I mostly spent my days creating posters and collateral for Yelp sponsored parties, which was pretty dreamy for a first job! I also worked with the marketing team on direct mail, web advertising, and in-house presentations.
After some time as a Junior Designer I was promoted to “Designer” and then I was asked to join the UX team to work on designing the Yelp website. While excited for this promotion and new endeavor I quickly realized that the Yelp engineering team was not the right place for me. Fortuitously at that time a friend of a friend reached out to me about a start-up she was working for that needed to hire their first lead designer. After a grueling interview I was asked to join the team of an e-commerce start-up. I was so excited to have the opportunity to build a brand from the ground-up, touching every aspect of the business from the website design, to marketing materials, to packaging. While I liked many of the people I worked with I realized that I was not the right fit for the macho around-the-clock working style of the company, and I was not given the opportunity to make many improvements to the brand like I had been promised.
So I decided to apply for a company I really admired called True&Co., a lingerie brand that had a vision to improve the bra buying experience. While it was an intense start-up as well, I was a much better fit for the brand and the work culture. I was the lead designer and once again touched every part of the business and truly learned so much about e-commerce, fulfillment, and marketing. At True&Co. I also hired my first junior designer, Do-Hee Kim, who would become my good friend and business partner (I will talk about that more later!).  While working at True I still realized that something was not quite right, I loved the brand and the work I was doing, but I really disliked going into the office (I love working from home!)  and only working with one brand style. At one point we hired a freelance designer to come in on a project and I realized that what she was doing, was what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a freelancer.
Jess Levitz | Freelance Wisdom
Once I made that realization, I started to make a plan. I chose a business name (June Letters Studio), improved my website, started blogging daily, and began taking on any freelance project that came my way. My blog quickly began to get traction and the inquiries were coming in at a steady stream. I was having trouble balancing my full-time job and my freelance career so I decided to make the leap and quit my job. But instead of fully leaving the company I became a retainer client for them and worked for a set amount of hours a week for several months while my own business picked up. It was a great transition to freelance because I still felt financially stable and by the time I left completely, my own business was humming along.
This month is my 3rd anniversary of officially going freelance full-time! While freelancing certainly has it’s ups and downs, I have never regretted my decision to start my own business.

In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?

As I mentioned above the first thing I did was start to blog daily. I created a self-imposed project called The Moody Project where I created a moodboard everyday for 60 days. Doing this project proved to myself that I could create content everyday. So after the project was over I created a loose editorial calendar and started blogging daily. I hand-lettered quotes, created illustrated outfit posts, wrote about my life, created tutorials, and shared my work both for clients and self-initiated. I also made it known on my social channels that I was taking on freelance projects and pretty soon inquiries started to come in! One project for a photographer was a big jumping off point for me. Our taste was very much aligned and the logo and brand I created for her helped to attract a lot more clients. I charged very little compared to what I do now, but it helped springboard my freelance career and was well worth it. In the beginning it is totally okay to charge less because each project when you are first starting out is such a learning process. As you continue to hone your craft, gain more experience, and have more confidence in your client process you can then continually raise your prices as your value increases.
Jess Levitz | Freelance Wisdom
Jess Levitz | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

The times that I am the most productive is when I have a very clear schedule for the week. When I can easily plan out what needs to be done each day, I feel so much more ready and creatively open to accomplish the tasks at hand. I use Asana to plan out my deadlines and exclusively use the calendar page. I love seeing my color-coded schedule and checking off my completed assignments! When I am feeling in a rut, I like to step away from the computer, go for a walk or take some time to sketch. If my deadline is the next day or later, I like to completely step away and try again the next day. Some days I am just not feeling creative, but the next day after taking some time away I always feel better.

What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?

I have quite a few so it is difficult to narrow it down, but I think many of my struggles exist under the umbrella of “wanting to do it all”. I often overbook myself with clients and personal projects because I get really excited about new creative endeavors. I honestly can get pretty manic about it, I will have an idea and am suddenly announcing to the world that I will be doing that thing - then realizing a few days later that I really don’t have time for that thing. When I first had a baby two years ago this impulse went into overdrive as I was re-discovering who I was as a person and a creative (hah Freelance Wisdom came out of that time!). I recognize that part of why I am a good freelancer is this drive to be creative at all times, but sometimes it can be really tiring. As much as I would love in theory to focus on just one thing - I know that I will likely never be that way, so instead I need to learn to be more fastidious about what I pursue.
Jess Levitz | Freelance Wisdom

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

My favorite thing about freelance is pretty simple - I get to work where I want to, and on what I want to. Being freelance and positioning my business in a way that is true to my style has made it so that I attract clients that want to work with me specifically because they like what I do. Of course there can be dud clients and situations that end up being difficult - but overall I feel so lucky to work with clients that really appreciate my work. And on top of it all, I get to work at home in my pajamas, or at a cafe, or anywhere in the world I happen to be - that freedom means so much to me.

You recently launched Shoppe Theory a petite design studio with Do-Hee Kim. What inspired you to join forces and design together?

As mentioned earlier we met when I hired her as a junior designer at True&Co. -  but while it began that I was her superior, her role quickly grew and by the end of our time working together Do-Hee, having found a love for UI design, was taking on all the web work and I was taking on the brand work. We also discovered that we worked together really well - we have similar easy-going personalities and complimentary design styles. We both are very open emotionally, have a strong work ethic, and a passion for design - basically we are pretty much design soul sisters. When I left the company to pursue freelance full-time, I missed working with Do-Hee and would often recruit her for projects.
I don’t remember exactly when it was, but at some point in 2015 (about a year after going freelance full-time) I sent an email to Do-Hee with an idea. That email turned into many phone calls and frantically excited text messages. The idea was this - why don’t we join forces to create brands and websites for e-commerce companies? Our talents and experience were so perfectly aligned for this idea. I discovered that I really did not enjoy web design, and Do-Hee had come to really love designing web experiences, especially for e-commerce. Shortly after this idea was sparked, a perfect project came into my inbox and we decided to give the partnership a shot. We loved working together on the project and thus Shoppe Theory was born. Since then we have worked on numerous projects together and we are slowly shifting all of our work to be through our studio.
We discovered that working together allowed us to focus on the aspects of a project that we really love, and we were better and happier together than apart. We could bounce ideas off one another and we could also vent to someone that really understood what we were going through. After working solo for quite awhile it felt right to join forces and create a studio that was more valuable than what we could create on our own.  Our biggest struggle has been getting our website up since we keep pushing it off to work on more client projects (hoping to launch this summer!!). We have big plans for Shoppe Theory and are excited about where this new venture will take us.
Jess Levitz | Freelance Wisdom
Jess Levitz | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any advice for handling communication as a partnership that works together from different states? Are there any tools that you use to make this easier?

Constantly communicating has been so important to feeling like a real studio. We like to chat online and text, and then once a week we do an hour long facetime check-in. It helps to see each other via video, almost feels like we are together! We also see each other in person every few months which is great - luckily we live in places that we each visit often so it has worked out well. We do hope to someday be in the same city though!

What advice would you give someone who is considering joining forces with a spouse, friend, or colleague to design as a team?

Work together first. And always be open with each other. Nothing is worse (in any kind of partnership) then holding in all your feelings until they explode. I also think it is important to not be afraid to hold each other accountable - we are often checking in with each other to make sure we are hitting our deadlines and being our best with clients.
Jess Levitz | Freelance Wisdom
Jess Levitz | Freelance Wisdom
Jess Levitz | Freelance Wisdom

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

Since I have slowed down on blogging and marketing, most of my clients now come from referrals from friends/acquaintances of past clients. I do though continue to get inquiries from people that found me on Pinterest, Instagram, and Dribbble. Once we have our website up with all of our new work we are hoping to get more direct inquiries to Shoppe Theory.

Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details? 

Even after three years I am still not the best with these nitty-gritty items and am honestly awaiting the day when we can afford a project manager to do all of our invoicing, contracts, and bookkeeping! But until that day comes, I use Freshbooks for invoicing, Asana for project management, and have an accountant that helps me out around tax time!
Jess Levitz | Freelance Wisdom

Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?

It is funny because I wrote this original question and have read so many answers, but I am still struggling to answer it! I don’t think there is such a thing as a perfect work-life balance when freelancing - but something I am trying to do is not work on weekends at all. It sounds like such a simple thing but is a pretty big deal for me!

Your little one is approaching 2 (is that right? how can that be!) How has becoming a mom changed how you work and/or the types of projects you take on?

It honestly changed everything for me. Before my son came along I would work day and night, taking on 10 clients at once. It was crazy and tiring but I had the energy and passion to do it. But after my son was born I just couldn’t work like that anymore. I had much less time to work especially during the first year when I only worked 3 days a week. My first six months back to work I started taking on way too many clients and personal projects and hit a complete breaking point. After that point I contacted a retainer client I had worked with before and fortuitously another client contacted me looking for a regular designer. This allowed me to cut down and only work with 2-4 clients at a time. Now that my son is nearly 2 and in daycare full-time my schedule has opened up a bit, but I am still much more choosey about the types of clients I take on. I notice red flags much sooner and I have raised my prices significantly which has helped me to be able to take on less at once and feel better compensated and appreciated. It is still a constant struggle to balance motherhood and work, but it has gotten so much easier as my son has become older and more independent. So new moms out there - it does get better! Look to simplify your work life and it will help you tremendously.
Jess Levitz | Freelance Wisdom
Jess Levitz | Freelance Wisdom

What do you do to stay creatively inspired?

I love to sketch, visit museums, go to flea markets, visit used bookstores - and most of all walk around. NYC is a goldmine for keeping me creatively inspired!

I know you are constantly taking on side-projects in addition to your client work, what are some of your favorite personal projects that you are are working on right now?

The two projects (besides Freelance Wisdom!) that I am most excited about are the course I have been working on for over a year, and a shop of kids art prints and apparel.
The Hand-Lettered Brand is an online course built specifically for lettering-focused designers that helps you hone in on your unique personal style, learn about my client and creative process designing hand-lettered logos, create a self-initiated project with feedback from me and the class, and create a plan for marketing yourself in a way that feels genuine to you. I am hoping to launch at the end of the summer! If you are interested, get on the list here and get a free download ;)
On the side I have also been designing kids products for fun for my son. Designing these shirts, blankets, and art prints has brought me so much joy that recently I decided to make it into a real business. I am not ready to share it just yet, but stay tuned for Yah Kids!
Jess Levitz | Freelance Wisdom
Jess Levitz | Freelance Wisdom

Since we are lucky enough to have this platform...can you tell us about the motivation to start Freelance Wisdom and what you are dreaming up for it in the future?

I started Freelance Wisdom because I had a lot of questions and I was feeling pretty alone in my desire to freelance. The interview series started on my blog and I was struck by the kindness and openness of the women creatives that I reached out to (many of whom I deeply admired and never would've dreamed would respond to my email!). The series prompted a lot of love from my readers and I saw so much potential in creating a community around female freelance creatives. So during my crazy post-baby time I decided to turn the series into a full website that offered interviews, resources and was a hub for inspiration and wisdom. I was amazed by the response and how quickly the Instagram grew.
I loved having the weekly interviews and Instagram but felt like we needed something more for the community. So a few months ago I launched the Creative Lady Directory and more recently the Creative Lady Collective facebook group. I have been so excited to see the growth of both communities! The CLC facebook group has been especially amazing to watch grow (over 1,000 members!) and I love seeing all of the incredibly kind and helpful conversations that take place on a daily basis. In the future I would love to merge all of these endeavors under the umbrella of the Creative Lady Collective. I would love to help foster meet-ups around the globe, improve the directory so it is easier to search, create fun swag, and eventually plan a retreat. But of course I am curious - what would you like to see come out of this community?
Jess Levitz | Freelance Wisdom

The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:

Talent, kindness, drive.

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China Kautz

China Kautz is the boss lady behind Olive Paper Co. a modern lettering and design studio currently based in Cincinnati, OH. She is also a member of our Creative Lady Directory! We're loving her warm spirit, calligraphic hand-lettering, and grounding productivity tips. Thanks for sharing with us China!

China Frost | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer and letterer.

Becoming a freelance designer came around full circle for me. When I was in high school and even in college I wanted to have my own stationery business. I was always doodling and crafting things but never really knew what I wanted to be when I “grew up.” After bouncing around through jobs I knew I needed to be in a business where I could be creative and be my own boss. So fast forward to 2015, I got engaged and took the challenge to DIY and hand letter everything that I could for my wedding. I started documenting my lettering journey through Instagram and found this amazing community of letterers. After putting my work out there and getting great feedback from people I decided to get a business license in 2016 and do this thing for real, even if there was a possibility for me to fail. It’s crazy to me now when I look back at my past self who wanted to have a stationery business cause now I sorta do!

In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?

I attracted them through Instagram. I never really knew the power of social media until I started a business that uses it on a daily bases.
China Frost | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

Staying productive has got to be the most challenging aspect of running a business. Here’s a few tips that I do to stay productive even when I am unmotivated.
1. I have a to-do list every morning that I draft the night before. This really keeps me on track. Whenever I skip doing a list I find myself doing random  tasks in the morning and my mind doesn’t start to really focus until 11am.
2. I always eat breakfast. I have to thank my parents for instilling this in me when I was in high school. Having a good breakfast really just starts my day off right and puts me in a good mood. I mean, who doesn’t love a healthy avocado toast first thing in the morning?!
3. Now this tip is something that I am still trying to work hard on. It’s staying off social media throughout the day. There’s been days where I know I have work to get done but I find myself scrolling through Instagram and 30 minutes flew by.

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

My favorite thing about freelance is that I control the direction of my business. Every victory and failure is on me. I love being able to have that power. Another bonus is to be able to spend time with my corgis.

"My favorite thing about freelance is that I control the direction of my business. Every victory and failure is on me. I love being able to have that power."


Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?

I think it is important to take time for yourself. A few things things that I've done is make my husband's and amy bedroom a tech free zone. When we would get ready for bed I would continue to check emails. Now I put my phone on the other side of the room so I can’t even reach it. Also depending on the day I have started to set a time for when I stop working, regardless if I still have things on my to-do list. Once I am done working for the day I make a new list of the tasks I didn’t get around to and pick up right where I left off the following morning. My husband has definitely helped me create a work-life balance as well. He works a 9-5, so when he gets home he knows I’ve been cooped up all day and he encourages me to leave the house for a little bit, whether that’s taking a short drive through the city or grabbing a beer at our favorite spot.

"I have started to set a time for when I stop working, regardless if I still have things on my to-do list. Once I am done working for the day I make a new list of the tasks I didn’t get around to and pick up right where I left off the following morning."


What do you do to stay creatively inspired?

I love to explore the city. I really have been blessed to live in Cincinnati where small businesses are popping up left and right and the creative community here is incredible. All of the creatives who I have met here so far are so supportive and we feed off one another. Everything about this city I live in keeps me inspired. Trolling through Pinterest also doesn’t hurt to spark that creative buzz.
China Frost | Freelance Wisdom

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