Kathleen Snyder is a designer who creates PowerPoint templates and tools for businesses so they can work faster and give presentations that project a professional image that is “on brand.” She also consults with companies to create custom presentations for events. According to Snyder, “A lot of clients rely on me to take the big mess of stuff that’s thrown onto a PowerPoint slide and turn it into something beautiful.”
Snyder enjoys the freedom and control she’s gained from self-employment. She shared with us how making the move to freelance work has changed her personal life and professional life for the better.
How did you get started with your business?
I had been working in the field for a long time – always working for other people. Then I realized there was no reason not to go out on my own as a freelancer. I’m essentially doing the same thing I did for others, but now I do it for my own business.
I wanted to freelance because of the freedom of the schedule. In other jobs, you’re at somebody else’s mercy and dependent on them. If they decide to cut your hours because they don’t have enough work, then suddenly you have a big change in your life. If you are the one generating your own work, then you have a lot more control over your life and what’s going to happen. This means a lot fewer surprises.
How did you fund your business in the beginning? Have you taken on any additional funding since?
The only thing I had to do was buy a new computer to get started.
Running the Business
How did you learn to run your business?
I had worked for years in the industry as a presentation designer, a trainer of other designers and a production manager. So I had all these skills in terms of how you actually manage a job, how you speak to the clients, how you budget so that the job is profitable. I already had all the skills that I needed. The only thing I didn’t know about was networking, advertising and social media. That’s something I’m still working on.
Who was your first customer?
I freelanced for a boutique design house. They found me because someone I knew put me in touch with someone who was looking for someone like me. It turned out that I had actually worked with this person about 7 years before that. It was a perfect match because we knew what to expect of each other because we had worked at the same place years before.
It was huge to have my first customer because at the time I had 10-month-old twins. I had just lost a job I had for 7 years because they were going under. They had stopped paying people. After I came back from maternity leave, they missed two of my paychecks. I knew then that I had to leave because I couldn’t pay to have my kids in daycare while I was not getting paid. I was at a loose end. I was looking at want ads, etc. and not sure what to do. Then I got the call from my first customer, which is what started me off with my own business.
What was the biggest mistake you made in your first year?
The only real mistake I can point to is that I let myself be so busy at times that I neglected the development side of the business. That’s what’s really hard, continuing to get the word out when you’re really busy. Because after whatever busy period you have is finished, you’re going to need more work coming in. Sometimes it just does that by itself, but then there may be slow times coming. If you’ve gotten information out there, then you’re more likely to not have those slow times. That’s been the hardest part for me, trying to figure out how to do those two things simultaneously.
What’s the smartest thing you did in the first year?
Buying a computer when I had no income – just taking the leap and saying, “This is the work I do; I need to invest this money.” That was the smartest thing I did because when the work popped up, I was ready.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running your own business?
It is really satisfying to help someone with their template or an important presentation, especially when they have absolutely no idea what to do with it. Helping them organize the information, helping them design the template, and then having them come back and say, “It looks so great! It looks so much better than anything I could have done on my own. Now we have this to go forward from and even if I have to do something on my own next time, I have an idea of how it’s done.” I love that because I’m helping someone and they’ll come back when they don’t have time to do it themselves.
The other thing that is personally rewarding is being able to set my own schedule so I can work around the demands of my family life. I like to be home for my kids when they get home from school. That was especially important when they were going into kindergarten, for example, because they knew that I was there and I didn’t have to have them on a super-long schedule where they weren’t getting picked up until 6:00 p.m. That was a really great thing to be able to do.
What’s the most difficult/challenging thing about running your own business?
Not being a salesperson, not knowing how to go about finding new clients has been a tough thing. I’m slowly learning how to do that. I think that’s a tough thing for many of us. I’ve been lucky that my name has been passed around. I’ve had it happen when I have absolutely no idea how these people found me because the name they gave me as the person who gave them my name did not ring a single bell. I’ve been really lucky that I’ve had enough work without doing a lot of development. I think this is true for a lot of people. We know how to run our own business, but we really don’t know how to promote our own business.
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What’s the most surprising thing about running your own business?
One thing that has been surprising is that I have a lot more freedom. For some reason, when you’re running things yourself you often have more time to deal with things. I think it’s because you’re closer to the source. When you work for a company that funnels the work through to you, you don’t have the luxury of that extra time to think about things.
I’ve found that having that time, even if it’s only a few extra hours, gives your brain a chance to solve problems that you might not solve if you were under the gun and you had two hours to turn something around. Because by the time the job made it through all the channels to get to you and then it had to turn back around and go through the channels to go back out, you might not have that kind of time. It’s sort of counterintuitive, but having your own business gives you the time to be more thoughtful about what you are doing.
What I’ve Learned
What advice do you have for others starting their own business?
It’s hard to get started, but there’s nothing like working for yourself. You can choose with whom you work. You can decide which projects you do and don’t like to do. It really makes your work life a lot happier and a lot simpler.
What do you wish you had known before starting your business?
I wish I had known how to better promote my business. I am finally starting to understand what needs to be done. That has come from networking with other people online who are trying to do the same thing. They’ll say, “When I needed to do X, I did this. This is how you go about it.”
I think if you’ve gone to business school, there’s a lot that you know. But for those of us who didn’t do all that and who came at it from a different angle, I wish I had known more about this. I think it would have made things easier for me in the long run.
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About the Author — Ashley Sweren is a freelance marketing writer and editor. She owns her own small business, Firework Writing, located in San Jose, California.