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Getting in the Graphics Game

SEA is excited to have Jon Davis from Cushing join us for a series on creative professionals who have found success starting their own design firms. Here is the second article in the series. One thing is certain: creative professionals know early on their penchant for design runs deep.

It is a central theme running through these interviews. Some sense a connection with art in grade school. Others realize their calling when designing logos in high school art class. From young professionals starting careers, to industry veterans who have carved out a niche, design is instinctual.

Do you have an innate desire to share a creative vision? Chances are you share this spirit with professionals in Illinois, and beyond.

Last month we had the opportunity to interview Erin Bonham of Boxberry, a designer with a niche ecommerce greeting card storefront and design firm. For our second interview, we had a chance to chat with Lindsay Chenault Bolton, of Chena Design. From humble beginnings to evolving business-savvy, Bolton is another creative professional who has found success in niche graphic design.

Let’s get started.

Lindsay, thanks so much for taking the time to chat and share your insights! To start, tell us about your design business. What do you specialize in (or is it an assortment of work instead of one niche?)

I am the owner and designer and my tiny design company, Chena Design. While my background is in advertising and design education, I now focus on hand lettering (specifically hand drawn monograms) and custom stationery. If time allows I still work with a few small businesses to create branding and collateral.

When did you realize you wanted to be a graphic designer?

I realized pretty early in high school when we had a project in my art class to recreate a logo. I fell in love immediately.

Did you work at an agency or company before starting your own business?

Yes, I worked with Erwin Penland/Hill Holiday out of Greenville, SC for a couple years out of college, and then worked at BBDO Atlanta during graduate school.

How did you decide it was time to venture out on your own?

I loved advertising, but realized pretty quickly that my true passion was teaching. I went to grad school to pursue my MFA so I could teach. During those three years I gained a few steady and wonderful freelance clients that helped me start my freelance career (which evolved into my business).

How did you earn your first client?

I don’t even really remember, but my first big client was a new small agency in Greenville, SC. It was started by some of my old co-workers and they needed a designer but couldn’t afford to hire one. I helped a lot the first few months. They are now a successful agency and I love that I helped them get started.

When taking on a new client, how do you decide if they are the right fit?

You can really tell right off the bat. Most of my communication is through email, and I can typically tell through their writing style and needs if we’ll work well together. That first interaction can provide insight. I have found you need to be open to any type of job and personality. I have learned (the hard way & more than once) to type exactly what I am providing in the contract/quote.

What’s your top 3 pieces of advice for the freelancer or small graphic design firm BEFORE they start a business?

1. Try to establish an area of expertise. It could be a type of product (wedding stationery), a type of design (hand lettering) or a type of business (working with small start-ups)

2. Have a GREAT contract and pricing set-up so you can give your client a true idea of what they are getting.

3. Be honest with your timing! Respect your time and honor theirs. Set your boundaries. Design is client service so you are always at the “beck-and-call” of the client. However, you also need to value your time and energy. It’s a delicate balance.

How do you manage client expectations prior to the start of a project (for example do you have a set number of design revisions that are included with a project?

I may be repeating myself here, but yes, I include EVERYTHING in my contract: amount of revisions, cost for extra revisions, time-line to receive ideas, timing for response and revisions, etc.

If you could go back in time, and “re-do” one thing when you started your firm, what would it be?

I wish I had been better at setting expectations and saying NO. I spent WAY too many long nights, stressful moments, and times that I wasn’t getting paid enough for the work I was doing than it was worth.

But, hey, I learned a lot from those mistakes. They were valuable lessons!

Thanks for reading the second interview in our design business series. What are your thoughts on getting started? How do you plan on taking those next steps to start a business? We’d love to hear from you. Drop your feedback in the comments section below!

Jon Davis is in the marketing department at Cushing, a commercial printer in Chicago for almost 90 years. Their team works with creative directors, marketing professionals, and graphic designers in Chicago and throughout the United States.

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