How a Graphic Designer Grows Her Business in Tough Times

Shawndra Cox, founder of New Jersey-based graphic design studio Out of Proportion Studios, was awarded Intuit’s $25,000 Love a Local Business Hiring Grant in January, and she’s now a proud adopter of Intuit’s GoPayment system. We talked with Cox about her decision to go into business for herself, what she’s done with the grant, and how GoPayment helps her do her job.

What made you decide to move from designing for other employers to launching your own design studio?

Starting my own business wasn’t something I consciously set out to do. After graduating from the Art Institute of New York in 2006, I made a choice to never “settle” for a job outside of my field. At the very least, I would only take jobs that would allow me to add to my portfolio while searching for positions that would lead me to a career as an art/creative director at one of those famous firms in downtown Manhattan.

I went on a number of interviews and got rejected plenty of times. I never landed in a swanky studio in Manhattan. I ended up in a small photography studio in Queens, but the work was fun. I was solidifying their brand, building up their marketing collateral and creating yearbooks and journals for some of their clients. The pay was just enough for me to get by, and that was all that mattered. At least, until the checks stopped coming in on time. The studio was losing clients and could no longer keep me on, so I began taking on my own clients just to maintain my standard of living. In 2009, my business was born out of necessity.

What’s been the biggest challenge in starting your own company and building a client base?

The biggest challenge has been breaking out of my shell and making people aware of what I do in order to maintain a steady flow of work. It comes in spurts, but I’m learning. First, I make sure to maintain contact with past clients even if it’s just small talk. Often, they’re experiencing a need for more work, so I develop new ways to help them. I’ve also started networking more. It’s turning out to be a lot more fun than I expected, but I guess that tends to happen when you do what you love.

In January, you were awarded a $25,000 Hiring Grant from Intuit’s Love a Local Business Grant Program. How have you used the grant, and how has it helped your business grow?

With the grant, I was able to purchase office supplies, a new computer, a laptop, software, and a Canon Mark II, 5D camera. I was able to use the camera to launch a videography service and to improve and increase my photography work.

I was also able to redo my entire home office, providing space and equipment for future staff. I am hoping to bring in an intern or two from my old school in the coming months. I really want to take the time to find someone with the right skills, curiosity, and personality to help out. Granted, it will only be for three months as they complete their final semester, but I hope to create a valuable learning experience for them nonetheless.

What design project that you’ve completed are you most proud of, and why?

My favorite project of all time is a wedding video trailer I created for a high school friend. When I first found out she was getting married, I asked if she needed a photographer. The position had already been filled, but she asked if I would be able to do the video. In my mind, there was no way that I was ready for it, but I knew that I could be with some practice, so I said yes and gave her a nice discount. Everything from the stabilizers to the editing software was brand-spanking new to me but I think I managed to put together a pretty good trailer my first time out. I surprised myself with this project, which is what puts it at the top of the list. It represents my growth and marks the start of something new and exciting.

How do you use Intuit’s GoPayment system?

GoPayment has further solidified my credibility in the eyes of my clients. I can take credit/debit cards on the go or over the phone, and send receipts to the phone number or email address of their choice. Customers love signing for their payment on my iPhone or iPad, and it keeps my business and image very professional. Occasionally, I attend events and conventions where there will be plenty of potential clients that don’t necessarily know that I will be attending. My ability to lure, inform, and confirm a client never falls by the wayside due to someone not having enough cash or my decision not to take checks.

About Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins is a principal at the content marketing agency Eucalypt Media. She's written about business, marketing, and entrepreneurship for publications including BNET, TheAtlantic.com, Inc.com, and owns and operates the positive news site Gimundo. Follow her on Twitter at @kathrynhawkins.
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