I’ve known Melissa since she was working a 9-to-5 and only flirted with the idea of designing sites. Never did she really fathom starting her own flourishing business. Though in just a few short years, she has already marked her territory on the virtual world getting recognition from prominent websites. As you probably saw, I started a new productivity and career series where I cover women in different industries, living a balanced lifestyle, workwear, and more to help us excel in our careers and professional paths. To kickstart the interview section of the series, I met with Melissa of Jelly Design Studio who is a self-made small business branding and web designer.
What steps did you take to start Jelly Design Studio? I started Jelly Design Studio back in 2012 just to try something new. I didn’t really have any fancy plans or ideas of where this little company of mine would take me. I had a tiny online portfolio (with just 3 sites that I had designed!) and setup an Etsy shop. In just a few weeks I had a few people contact me interested in working with me. I didn’t get every project, but I began building my portfolio. Within that first year I was able to grow my portfolio, learn from my many mistakes, and connect with some amazing people that I still work with today.
When did you know it was the right time to quite your previous job? I worked a 9-5 office job so when I got home exhausted from my day job - I would have to start working on Jelly Design Studio. I felt like I didn’t have enough hours at night and would stay up till crazy hours on the weekday and also work a lot during the weekends just to keep up with all the work.
At one point I had to start turning down projects because I didn’t have enough time. So the Hubby and I sat down one day and did the math and saw that I was making enough for us to pay the bills and save a little. I still waited a little while after that to make sure I wasn’t getting ahead of myself and we made sure to have a good amount saved up for rainy days.
Finally the day had come that I just couldn’t do it all and turned in my 2 weeks notice. As scared as I was to officially make that decision it also felt natural because I knew that I couldn’t tend to my business the way I wanted to.
“I didn’t get every project, but I began building my portfolio. Within that first year I was able to grow my portfolio, learn from my many mistakes, and connect with some amazing people that I still work with today.”
What sort of training do you think people with their own business need? Owning a business is hard work. Everyday I learn something new about being more efficient and how to stay inspired. I make mistakes and learn from them. It’s all a learning process.
Working for myself has definitely been the biggest challenge I have ever encountered. I do think that it’s important to love what you do when you work for yourself. You are the boss, so if you decide to slack there isn’t anyone that will keep you on track. One thing that has helped me is creating to-do lists and making goals that help me meet my deadlines and stay focused on work.
I also grew up watching my Dad run his business and I am grateful for that because it taught me from the beginning that it takes a lot of sweat, long nights, plenty of caffeine, and the occasional tears. Most days are not glamorous and I still work more than 40 hours a week, but I still feel like every second of it is worth it.
What are the pros and cons of having a virtual business? Without the online community that exists out there for bloggers and small business owners I would have never been able to follow this dream. I love having a virtual business because it feels like there are no boundaries. I am just one person sitting in my home office in Orlando that has been able to work with so many talented ladies around the world - from Japan, California, Denmark and so many other places! It’s amazing how the internet can connect us all. The only con with having a virtual business is that I can’t meet all my clients. I have worked with so many different types of individuals and meeting them all would be amazing!
“Owning a business is hard work. Everyday I learn something new about being more efficient and how to stay inspired. I make mistakes and learn from them. It’s all a learning process.”
Do you have any doubts? What are your biggest challenges? Doubts are a constant thing in my head. I do believe that it’s something I need to work on but I sometimes also believe that it’s just part of the game. I am my own boss but that means that I have 1000 things besides making pretty blogs on my mind. I have to do bookkeeping, manage invoicing, respond to emails, manage social media, update my portfolio, schedule calls with clients, and the list goes on.
I sometimes worry that I am not focusing on the right thing and might lose opportunities along the way and I worry the decisions I make for my business today might affect me in the future. It’s scary when you think about it all but it’s a challenge that must be faced as a business owner. I do my best every single day to overcome the doubts that might be holding me back.
What is your best method in developing your client base? When I started Jelly Design Studio I had no idea how important referrals were going to be! I can honestly say that more than 60% of my work comes from previous clients referring me to friends and family. I love getting referrals because it reminds me that I must be doing something right.
So far my method is just be the best you can be with all your clients. Providing the best customer service and the best experience possible will make your clients want to bring more business your way. I actually have one client that has referred me to over 3 of her friends in less than a year. How awesome is that?!
How do you juggle multiple projects? Do you have a scheduling or organizational method? When I first started I was going a little crazy trying to manage it all. Projects start to overlap in your mind, you forget to reply to something, invoice doesn’t get paid - these things happen.
My first step in getting organized was having a planner. For some reason digital planners just don’t cut it for me. I like having a traditional planner where I can jot down things to come to mind quickly. As I started to get more projects I felt that I need a new system.
I went with a simple white board where I can list all the projects that are open, the type of project it is, payment status, and the overall status. It helps me have a visual reminder of where everything stands at the moment. It’s definitely been a game changer for me and I love this system.
What is a typical work day like for you? I am not much of a morning person so I don’t wake up when the sun is rising like some people I know (ex: c&e). Alarm usually goes off around 8:30 and I start the day by making green smoothies. We sit on the couch and watch a little TV until the Hubby goes off to work. I then prep myself a cup of coffee and check my emails on the phone while waiting for it to brew.
With coffee in my hand and my phone on the other I make it into my office and get to work. Emails are usually my first task of the day. I try to answer everything I can (which sometimes takes a lot longer than I expect) and start working on my to-do list.
This list usually consists of projects that I am working on. It helps me stay on track with what needs to be done and by when. My work ranges from creating a mood board for a new client, working on some logos, designing a new blog, and other random tasks throughout the day. I occasionally try to fit in blogging but that rarely happens as of lately.
As my husband works close by he comes home for lunch, which is great because it helps me step away from the computer for 40-60 minutes. It’s a nice break and I get to talk his ear off after having no one to talk to all morning, ha!
After lunch I get back to work on knocking out items from my list. I try to stop working around 6:30, but I usually end up working a few hours at night after dinner. For some reason late nights make me feel more inspired and creative so I take advantage and work on larger projects.
“I am just one person sitting in my home office in Orlando that has been able to work with so many talented ladies around the world - from Japan, California, Denmark and so many other places! It’s amazing how the internet can connect us all.”
To hire Melissa, peruse her portfolio, or purchase one of her templates at Jelly Design Studio.